Wis. bill to add penalties for harassing lawmakers

2013-04-28T15:00:00Z Wis. bill to add penalties for harassing lawmakersThe Associated Press The Associated Press
April 28, 2013 3:00 pm  • 

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A Wisconsin lawmaker is pushing for tougher laws to deter people who would intimidate or harm members of the Legislature and their families.

Under legislation introduced by Rep. Garey Bies, a Republican from Sister Bay, acts such as striking, shoving, or kicking a lawmaker or a family member with no legitimate reason would face harsher penalties.

Bies said harassment of lawmakers is a longstanding issue but has worsened since Gov. Scott Walker signed a law in 2011 that effectively ended collective bargaining for most public workers. Opponents of that measure "would stand in your face and bump into you," Bies said. "They chased you down the hallway and all the way to the office."

Bies said he has personal experience. During that tumultuous period, he said he got enough derogatory calls at home that he got caller ID. The restroom of his restaurant was vandalized twice within two weeks during September 2011, which he attributed to his status as a legislator.

Under current law, people who intentionally harm a public official can be convicted of a Class I felony, punishable by up to 3½ years in prison. Bies' legislation would create a Class A misdemeanor — punishable by up to nine months in prison — for acts of repeated intimidation or use of force to influence a lawmaker's action, or for lingering within 100 yards of his or her private property.

Acts that cause a lawmaker or family member's fear of death would be a Class H felony, meaning up to six years in prison.

Bies said he supports freedom of speech, but there's a line people shouldn't cross when they disagree.

Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, and Rep. Samantha Kerkman, R-Randall, are co-sponsoring the proposal.

In her decade at the Legislature, Taylor said she has been disgusted and disheartened to be the target of offensive emails, postcards, Facebook posts, and broken windows at her house.

A piece of mail containing human feces was delivered to her Capitol office last session during debates over changes to state mining regulations. The envelope was labeled "Milwaukee trade union want the iron mine," possibly referring to Taylor's vote against the measure.

"How could that be a form of free speech?" Taylor asked.

Kerkman said a person threw firecrackers at her Kenosha home in 2010 and drove away. Others would honk outside the house in the middle of the night. Kerkman said the family has filed three police reports in the last two years.

Madison police last year cited a Racine man who they said was involved in dumping a glass of beer on the head of Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. The suspect's motive was unclear. Vos and many other Republicans were targeted by protesters last session for his support of Walker's collective bargaining law.

At least 26 states have statutes specifically covering threats to lawmakers or public officials, said Kae Warnock, a policy specialist with the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Opponents of the legislation called it redundant and said it could ultimately infringe on free speech.

"This bill is a solution in search of a problem," Chris Ahmuty, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin said in a statement. "We would have no objection covering immediate families, but even since 2011, instances of harassment have been few, and it's unclear why such incidents wouldn't already be covered by an existing law."

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(11) Comments

  1. Sal Yodada
    Report Abuse
    Sal Yodada - April 29, 2013 5:27 pm
    “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.”

    ― Voltaire
  2. mullman71
    Report Abuse
    mullman71 - April 29, 2013 8:22 am
    Sounds to me like the law is already sufficient to punish people guilty of mis-behaving. I see no reason for more laws.

    "Under current law, people who intentionally harm a public official can be convicted of a Class I felony, punishable by up to 3½ years in prison."
  3. Balancr
    Report Abuse
    Balancr - April 28, 2013 9:22 pm
  4. Seriously Now
    Report Abuse
    Seriously Now - April 28, 2013 6:40 pm
    In der Valerland ve do not take ze dissent too kindly. May I zee your papers?
  5. Boss
    Report Abuse
    Boss - April 28, 2013 6:16 pm
    Great, the Lawmakers can get away with drunken driving and now we can't express our opinion on them?
  6. Jobaba
    Report Abuse
    Jobaba - April 28, 2013 5:32 pm
    We already have laws that cover this - those laws apply to all. Special rules for special people I suppose.

    How 'bout this? Do your job with respect and dignity and do it in plain view like an honest person.
  7. David Lee
    Report Abuse
    David Lee - April 28, 2013 5:08 pm
    Only read the headline before deciding a republican sponsored this garbage. Scooter will sign the bill because like the sponsor, and the supporters he is a coward that is afraid of the people they are supposed to represent. For the 51 % in this state, you should hang your head in shame.
  8. dande
    Report Abuse
    dande - April 28, 2013 5:05 pm
    @lookout, if Assemblyman Garey Bies is "nothing but a scared little rabbit afraid of his own shadow" what is Senator Lena Taylor? Over half of the 50 states "have statutes specifically covering threats to lawmakers or public officials". Are they all "scared little rabbits" too?
  9. The Veteran
    Report Abuse
    The Veteran - April 28, 2013 4:58 pm
    lookout More liberal BS from you!!!!
  10. ahasp
    Report Abuse
    ahasp - April 28, 2013 3:23 pm
    So a separate law for the plebes than for the rulers? Welcome to Walker's Wisconsin!
  11. lookout
    Report Abuse
    lookout - April 28, 2013 3:22 pm
    He's nothing but a scared little rabbit afraid of his own shadow I agree no one should be harassed but writing a law for it because a politician's afraid of his own shadow. He's someone who sits in a little room trying to think of some thing that makes it look like he's busy doing the people's work. If you can't take the heat Sir you shouldn't be in politics.
Add Comment
You must Login to comment.

Click here to get an account it's free and quick