New Wisconsin protest bill redefines “riot” and creates harsh new penalties for exercising freedom of speech

October 17, 2021

A new “Riot Bill” in Wisconsin would redefine the term “riot” under Wisconsin law so that peaceful protestors could face steep penalties for just being in the same place as someone else committing a disturbance (see bill below). It has already passed the Wisconsin Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety, and the Assembly Committee on Judiciary has already had its public hearing and could vote on the bill any time. Once that is done, both chambers could pass the bill and send it to the Governor to sign.

October 20 is the anticipated date for the bill to come to a vote.

Why are defenders of our constitutional rights extremely worried about this bill?

Read more to learn what could happen to you if this bill become law. The following description of the bill comes from the US Protest Law Tracker project of The International Center for Not for Profit Law.

WI Assembly Bill 279 and Senate Bill 296:

Would newly define “riot” under Wisconsin law such that peaceful protesters could face steep penalties.

Currently, Wisconsin law broadly defines an “unlawful assembly” as a group of three or more people who cause a “disturbance of public order” and make it “reasonable to believe” the group will damage property or people; the definition specifically includes a group of three or more who assemble to block a street or building entrance.

Under the new bill, an “unlawful assembly” in which at least one person…

§  commits an “act of violence” that creates a “clear and present danger” of property damage or injury; or

§  threatens to commit such an act and has the ability to do so; or

§  commits an “act of violence” that “substantially obstructs” some governmental function,

is a “riot.”

As such, a large street protest where a single participant threatens to push somebody could be deemed a “riot,” with no actual violence or property damage being committed by anyone.

Harsh new penalties for people just exercising their right to free speech.

Under the bill, anyone who attends a “riot” or refuses an order to disperse a “riot” commits a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by a mandatory 30 days and up to 9 months in jail and a $10,000 fine.

If the “riot” results in “substantial” property damage or injury, anyone who attends commits a Class I felony, publishable by up to 3 and a half years in prison.

The bill also creates a new Class A misdemeanor for any person who “incites or urges” three or more people to engage in a “riot;” the bill does not define “incite” or “urge.”

Finally, if a person “obstructs” “any public or private thoroughfare,” or any entrance to a public building while participating in a “riot,” it is an additional Class A misdemeanor.

Contact your State Assemblyperson and State Senator today.  Ask them to pledge to speak out against this assault on our freedoms!  To learn who represents you in the State Legislature, go to myvote.wi.gov, click on My Voter Info, then click on My Elected Officials.  Enter your address and scroll down from President to State Senator and Representative to the Assembly.  Copy each one’s name and title and google that, and you will find their page with contact info.

Reclaim Wisconsin rally, March 2012. Opponents to the issues being protested, on both sides of the aisle, could easily plant a violent protestor and endanger all.

2021 SENATE BILL 296

April 8, 2021 – Introduced by Senators WANGGAARD, MARKLEIN and BALLWEG,
cosponsored by Representatives SPIROS, KNODL, CABRAL-GUEVARA, CALLAHAN,
DITTRICH, EDMING, JAMES, KUGLITSCH, MURPHY, RAMTHUN, WICHGERS, STEFFEN,
MAGNAFICI, GUNDRUM, MOSES, ROZAR and NEYLON. Referred to Committee on
Judiciary and Public Safety.

AN ACT to renumber 947.06 (4); to renumber and amend 947.06 (5); to
consolidate, renumber and amend 947.06 (1) and (2); to amend 940.20 (2)
and 941.375 (1) (b); and to create 947.06 (1m) (intro.) and (a) and 947.06 (6) of
the statutes; relating to: participation in a riot and providing a penalty.

Analysis by the Legislative Reference Bureau
Under current law, law enforcement officers have a duty to suppress an
unlawful assembly. Current law defines an “unlawful assembly” as an assembly of
at least three people that causes such a disturbance that it is reasonable to believe
that the assembly could cause injury or property damage if not dispersed. A person
who fails or refuses to withdraw from an unlawful assembly that has been ordered
to disperse is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.
The bill defines a “riot” as a public disturbance that involves an unlawful
assembly and one of the following:

  • An act of violence by at least one person in the unlawful assembly that
    constitutes a clear and present danger of property damage or personal injury or
    would result in property damage or personal injury.
  • A threat to commit an act of violence made by at least one person in the
    unlawful assembly if there was an ability to immediately execute the threat and if
    the threatened act would constitute a clear and present danger of property damage
    or personal injury or would result in property damage or personal injury.
  • An act of violence by at least one person in the unlawful assembly that
    substantially obstructs law enforcement or another governmental function.

    Under the bill, it is a Class A misdemeanor to attend a riot, incite a riot, or block
    or obstruct the lawful use of a thoroughfare while participating in a riot, and it is a
    Class I felony to knowingly participate in a riot that results in substantial damage
    to property or personal injury. Under the bill, the misdemeanor of attending a riot
    carries a 30-day mandatory minimum period of incarceration and the felony of
    knowingly participating in a riot that results in injury or property damage carries
    a 45-day mandatory minimum period of incarceration.

    Under current law, a person who intentionally causes bodily harm to another
    person commits the crime of simple battery and is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.
    Current law provides greater penalties for persons who intentionally cause bodily
    harm to certain persons, which is special circumstances battery. For example, under
    current law, if a person intentionally causes bodily harm to a first responder,
    including a law enforcement officer, an emergency medical care provider, or a fire
    fighter, the person is guilty of a Class H felony. The bill adds to that list a member
    of the national guard so that it is a Class H felony to intentionally cause bodily harm
    to a member of the national guard.

    Under current law, it is a Class I felony to throw or expel a bodily substance at
    a prosecutor, an emergency medical care provider, a peace officer, a fire fighter, or a
    person staffing an ambulance. The bill adds to that list a member of the national
    guard so that it is also a Class I felony to throw or expel a bodily substance at a
    member of the national guard.

    Because this bill creates a new crime or revises a penalty for an existing crime,
    the Joint Review Committee on Criminal Penalties may be requested to prepare a
    report.

    The people of the state of Wisconsin, represented in senate and assembly, do
    enact as follows:
    SECTION 1. 940.20 (2) of the statutes is amended to read:
    940.20 (2) BATTERY TO FIRE FIGHTERS, NATIONAL GUARD MEMBERS, AND COMMISSION
    WARDENS. Whoever intentionally causes bodily harm to a fire fighter, as defined in
    s. 102.475 (8) (b), to a member of the national guard, or to a commission warden,
    acting in an official capacity and the person knows or has reason to know that the
    victim is a fire fighter, member of the national guard, or commission warden, by an
    act done without the consent of the person so injured, is guilty of a Class H felony.
    SECTION 2. 941.375 (1) (b) of the statutes is amended to read:

    SECTION 2 SENATE BILL 296
    941.375 (1) (b) “Public safety worker” means an emergency medical servic
    practitioner licensed under s. 256.15, an emergency medical responder certified
    under s. 256.15 (8), a peace officer, a fire fighter, or a person operating or staffing an
    ambulance, or a member of the national guard.

    SECTION 3. 947.06 (1) and (2) of the statutes are consolidated, renumbered
    947.06 (2m) and amended to read:

    947.06 (2m) Sheriffs, their undersheriffs and deputies, constables, marshals,
    and police officers have a duty to suppress unlawful assemblies within their
    jurisdiction. For that reason they may order all persons who are part of an assembly
    to disperse. An “unlawful

    (1m) (b) “Unlawful assembly” is means an assembly which consists of 3 or more
    persons and which causes such a disturbance of public order that it is reasonable to
    believe that the assembly will cause injury to persons or damage to property unless
    it is immediately dispersed. (2) An “unlawful assembly” includes an assembly of
    persons who assemble for the purpose of blocking or obstructing the lawful use by any
    other person, or persons of any private or public thoroughfares, property or of any
    positions of access or exit to or from any private or public building, or dwelling place,
    or any portion thereof and which assembly does in fact so block or obstruct the lawful
    use by any other person, or persons of any such private or public thoroughfares,
    property or any position of access or exit to or from any private or public building, or
    dwelling place, or any portion thereof.

    SECTION 4. 947.06 (1m) (intro.) and (a) of the statutes are created to read:
    947.06 (1m) (intro.) In this section:
    (a) “Riot” means a public disturbance involving an unlawful assembly and one
    of the following:

    SENATE BILL 296 SECTION 4
    An act of violence by one or more persons who are part of the unlawful
    assembly that constitutes a clear and present danger of, or would result in, damage
    to the property of any other person or injury to another person.

    A threat to commit an act of violence made by one or more persons who are
    part of the unlawful assembly that has, individually or collectively, the ability to
    immediately execute the threat, if the performance of the threatened act of violence
    would constitute a clear and present danger of, or would result in, damage to the
    property of any other person or injury to another person.

    An act of violence by one or more persons who are part of the unlawful
    assembly that substantially obstructs law enforcement or another governmental
    function.

    SECTION 5. 947.06 (4) of the statutes is renumbered 947.06 (4) (a).
    SECTION 6. 947.06 (5) of the statutes is renumbered 947.06 (4) (b) and amended
    to read:
    947.06 (4) (b) Whoever, being employed in any capacity by or enrolled as a
    student in the institution, is convicted under subs. (1) to (4) sub. (3) or (6) may be
    sentenced additionally or alternatively to not to exceed 6 months suspension without
    pay from his or her employment by the institution if an employee, or suspension from
    enrollment in the institution if a student, or both if both an employee and a student.
    If the suspension is thus imposed, the institution shall not thereafter impose any
    other discipline upon the person for his or her connection with the unlawful
    assembly. Any period of suspension from employment by or enrollment in the
    institution already served shall be deducted by the court in imposing this sentence.
    Any period of imprisonment, whether or not the person is authorized under s. 303.08

    SECTION 6 SENATE BILL 296
    to continue as an employee or student while imprisoned, shall count as a period of
    suspension from employment or enrollment or both hereunder.

    SECTION 7. 947.06 (6) of the statutes is created to read:
    947.06 (6) (a) A person who attends a riot or who refuses an order to disperse
    a riot is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor. The court shall sentence a person who
    violates this paragraph to a minimum term of confinement in a county jail or a state
    correctional institution of 30 days.

    (b) A person who incites or urges 3 or more persons to create or engage in a riot
    is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.

    (c) A person who, while participating in a riot, blocks or obstructs the lawful
    use by any other person of any private or public thoroughfare, or blocks or obstructs
    any positions of access or exit to any private or public building or dwelling, is guilty
    of a Class A misdemeanor.

    (d) A person who knowingly participates in a riot that results in substantial
    damage to the property of another person or bodily injury to another person is guilty
    of a Class I felony. The court shall sentence a person who violates this paragraph to
    a minimum term of confinement in a county jail or a state correctional institution of
    45 days.
    (END)

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One Comment on “New Wisconsin protest bill redefines “riot” and creates harsh new penalties for exercising freedom of speech”

  1. Christine Morrissey October 16, 2021 at 3:17 pm #

    Bet would they find a loophole for Trump and his rally goers if he incited a riot at the WI state capitol.

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