Evers vetoes ‘Riot Bill,’ says it duplicates existing law and could criminalize nonviolent protest

By: - April 1, 2022 12:53 pm
Kenosha law enforcement form up with riot shields, long rifles, and armored vehicles. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

Kenosha law enforcement form up with riot shields, long rifles, and armored vehicles during unrest in the city in August 2020 after the police shooting of Jacob Blake. (Isiah Holmes | Wisconsin Examiner)

Gov. Tony Evers has vetoed the so-called Riot Bill that passed the state Legislature on party lines, saying that the measure duplicated existing law and that it also could be used to infringe on the First Amendment rights of peaceful protesters.

Senate Bill 296 created a definition of “riot” and would have authorized criminal charges against participants in a protest at which rioting broke out. Critics of the legislation warned that it left the door open to criminalizing nonviolent protest

In his veto message Thursday, Evers said that the bill prohibited behavior that was already illegal, including refusing to disperse an unlawful assembly as well as battery, property damage, arson and other offenses. 

“Moreover, this bill inadvertently creates ambiguity, inconsistency and contradictions  that could be used to infringe on rights guaranteed under the First Amendment,” Evers stated.

The bill was one of 13 that Evers acted on Thursday, signing six and vetoing seven.

Five of the bills that the governor signed were related to education. SB-235 requires that when the state Department of Public Instruction assembles its annual report cards on school district performance, the department must exclude data relating to the school-age residents in juvenile detention or other secure facilities located in the district, if half or more of the pupils at the facility are there for less than a full school term. 

Other signed bills add September 11 as a special observance day for schools, update the state’s reading test and expand the number of school districts that can take part in a pilot online learning program.

Other bills that Evers vetoed included SB-89, bypassing a national exam for emergency medical technicians; SB-117, putting new requirements on the police and fire commissions of Milwaukee and Madison; and SB-597, allowing private schools to institute early admissions for kindergarten and first grade pupils enrolled in the state’s voucher school programs. Evers said in his veto message that the provision would likely redirect funds from public school districts, forcing them to raise local property taxes.


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Erik Gunn
Erik Gunn

Deputy Editor Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, health policy and related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary.