State News

Higher education committee passes campus free speech bill

A bill authored by state Rep. Jesse Kremer, R-Kewaskum, to issue higher penalties to students who disrupt campus speakers passed an Assembly higher education committee Tuesday.

Image By: Jay Salvo and Jay Salvo

A Republican bill aimed to protect free speech by issuing penalties to students who disrupt speakers passed an Assembly committee on higher education Tuesday.

The proposal, authored by state Rep. Jesse Kremer, R-Kewaskum, would require the Board of Regents to discipline students who interfere with other student and faculty rights to free speech.

Kremer’s bill has proved controversial, however, because of concerns that it violates the First Amendment and is unnecessary.

Amendments to the bill established the punishments that result from interfering with a speaker or group’s right to expression in a “violent” or “disorderly” manner. For a second violation of free expression, a student could face a semester suspension. For a third offensive, the student could be expelled from their university.

Students can also report other students whom they believe have violated the free expression policy. If two or more reports are made against a student, they will be subject to a formal investigation and disciplinary hearing.

Both the amendments and the bill itself were passed on party line votes.

State Democrats maintain that the amendments did little to improve the bill.

"This bill needlessly restricts this basic constitutional right,” state Rep. Jill Billings, D-La Crosse, said in a statement following the bill’s approval. “Assembly Bill 299 is legislation drafted to address a problem that simply does not exist on University of Wisconsin System campuses.”

Kremer has argued that the updated bill is an improvement on existing UW free speech policies.

“This bill is a good balance that will ensure everyone has the right to be heard and has the right to free expression on our college campuses,” Kremer said during the hearing.

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