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2017 June 13 - 03:08 pm

GOP Lawmaker Alters Campus Free Speech Bill

Proposal Would Expel Students Who Repeatedly Disrupt Free Speech

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A Republican lawmaker wants to alter a contentious bill designed to clamp down on campus protesters by spelling out the behaviors that disrupt free speech and could lead to suspensions and expulsions.

Critics of state Rep. Jesse Kremer’s original bill said it was too vague and unconstitutional. Kremer acknowledged as much to The Associated Press soon after it was introduced. The original bill would’ve punished a range of behaviors that disrupt free speech, including “boisterous” or “profane” conduct.

An amendment by Kremer would limit punishable behavior to violence or other disorderly conduct, require a formal investigation after two complaints and clarify other aspects of the proposal. Opponents of the bill quickly pounced on the changes, saying they make a bad proposal worse.

Under the amendment, a student would be suspended for a minimum of one semester after interfering with free speech twice and would be expelled after a third offense. Under the original version, a student could be suspended or expelled after two offenses. Schools would be required to carry out a formal investigation and hold a disciplinary hearing if two or more people submit reports alleging that someone’s behavior has violated the policy.

The original bill proposed including representatives from each of the UW campuses on a newly created UW Council on Free Expression, but the amendment would replace them with Board of Regents appointees. Campuses would also be required to train new students and employees on the policies and provide annual training to instructors.

Scot Ross, executive director of liberal group One Wisconsin Now, said Kremer’s amendment makes his original proposal even worse.

“They’re trying desperately to make this constitutional by adding another layer,” Ross said. “Current laws already exist to protect the rights of people to speak freely on campus.”

At a public hearing held by the Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities, supporters said the bill would address pushback that conservative organizations face when they try to invite controversial speakers to campus. In November, protesters at UW-Madison’s campus shouted down former Breitbart editor and conservative columnist Ben Shapiro before he spoke.

Follow Cara Lombardo on Twitter at https://twitter.com/CaraRLombardo

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