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GOP-Backed Proposals Would Create Penalties For Rioting In Wisconsin

Bills Would Make Rioting, Bringing Weapon To Riot Felony Crimes

Wisconsin state Capitol
DMichael Burns (CC-BY)

People involved in a riot could face harsh penalties in Wisconsin under a set of Republican-backed proposals being discussed in the state Capitol.

Under one of the proposals, sponsored by Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, people who participate in riots could be charged with a felony, with a penalty of up to $10,000 or imprisonment for up to three and a half years.

“In the wake of recent disruptions in both our state and across our nation, it’s important to focus on keeping the public safe and holding those responsible accountable,” Wanggaard said at a public hearing Thursday.

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The bill defines a riot as “a public disturbance that involves an intentional act of violence, as part of an assembly of at least three persons, that constitutes a clear and present danger of property damage or personal injury or an intentional threat of an act of violence.”

Wanggaard, a former law enforcement officer, is also sponsoring bills that would penalize blocking a road and possessing a dangerous weapon while participating in a riot.

Blocking a thoroughfare would come with a fine of up to $10,000 and a jail sentence of less than nine months. People who bring a weapon, including a firearm, to a riot would be fined up to $25,000 and imprisoned for up to 10 years.

Opponents to the bills argued they could have a chilling effect on nonviolent protest.

“In my opinion, the way that it is set up, it really does put us on the track of suppressing speech versus encouraging the expression of speech,” said Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee.

Wanggaard pushed back on that point.

“I don’t think anywhere in the First Amendment it says that you can go out and you can be violent to get your message across and that’s acceptable,” he said. “I’m sorry, that is absolutely not acceptable.”

All three bills passed an Assembly committee earlier this month.

They have yet to receive a vote in the Senate committee.