The Wisconsin Senate & Assembly have passed the Riot Bill: Gov. Evers must veto it – contact him today!

February 1, 2022

Our constitutional rights are in danger – take action! 

In October we told you about this incredibly bad bill that could put our members in jail, with huge fines, for peacefully protesting. In late January we warned you that it was suddenly up for a vote in both houses. On January 25,  it passed both houses of the Wisconsin Legislature on party lines, with the Republicans supporting it and the Democrats opposing.  Our only hope now to preserve our constitutional freedoms is for Gov. Evers to veto this dangerous bill.  With so much on the line, we cannot just assume that he will.

Heard enough? Take action right now. Contact Gov. Evers by phone at 608-266-1212, by email at eversinfo@wisconsin.gov, or by mail at P.O. Box 7863, Madison WI, 53707.

Read more to learn what could happen to you if this bill becomes a 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 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” becomes a “riot” when at least one person…

  • commits an “act of violence” that creates a “clear and present danger” of property damage or injury, or
  • threatens to commits such an act and has the ability to do so; or
  • commits an “act of violence” that “substantially obstructs” some governmental function.

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.

These 35 groups called upon the legislature to reject these dangerous bills. Now Gov. Evers needs to hear from you.

 ###

Sample Letter to Gov. Tony Evers:

I’m writing to you today to ask you to veto Senate Bill 296, the anti-protest bill being referred to as the Riot Bill. 

This bill is unconstitutional and would undermine the freedom to protest. Under this bill, 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.  This means that someone attending a protest could be punished for what someone else there said.  This is unfair and an entire group of people could end up punished for the actions of one person who may not even be affiliated with the group or cause.

Additionally, the punishments proposed are severe.  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. These punishments could be given regardless of whether or not you did anything wrong.

We don’t need to be turning peaceful protesters into felons.  The vague language in the bill, like “incite” and “urge” means that the law could be interpreted differently and applied unfairly.  The concern that someone may be charged under this bill could result in a ‘chilling effect’ with people being too scared to attend demonstrations or other acts protected under the First Amendment.

I urge you to veto this bill and look forward to hearing back from you.  

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One Comment on “The Wisconsin Senate & Assembly have passed the Riot Bill: Gov. Evers must veto it – contact him today!”

  1. recubejim February 1, 2022 at 7:50 am #

    This B.S. bill has ALEC written all over it.

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