Wisconsin riot penalty bill vetoed by Gov. Evers

Wisconsin State Capitol

Gov. Tony Evers vetoed a bill on Thursday, March 31 that would have defined a riot and created new penalties for attending or participating such a gathering.

Republican lawmakers introduced the bill in April 2021 in response to chaotic protests against police brutality in Kenosha in 2020. The protests began after a white police officer shot Jacob Blake, a Black man, during a domestic disturbance. The shooting left Blake paralyzed.

The bill would have defined a riot as a public disturbance that involves an unlawful assembly and an act of violence or a threat of violence committed by at least one person.

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Attending such a gathering would have been a misdemeanor punishable by up to nine months in jail with a mandatory minimum of 30 days behind bars. Participating in such an event that results in property damage or injuries would have been a felony punishable by up to three-and-a-half years in prison with a 45-day mandatory minimum sentence. Anyone who attacks or throws a bodily substance at a National Guard member would have been guilty of a felony punishable by up to three-and-a-half years in prison.

Evers said in his veto message that it's already a crime to refuse to withdraw from an unlawful assembly after being ordered by police to disperse. He added that the bill could be used to infringe on free speech rights.

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The governor also vetoed another Republican bill on Thursday that would have required Madison and Milwaukee's police and firefighter oversight commissions to add union nominees. The governor said in his veto message the bill would erode local control.


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