MADISON, Wis. (AP) — One of the Republican lawmakers behind a bill that would require Wisconsin’s state universities to suspend or expel student hecklers who disrupt speeches acknowledged Monday that it may be unconstitutional.
State Reps. Jesse Kremer and Dave Murphy, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and state Sen. Sheila Harsdorf are circulating a bill that calls for University of Wisconsin System regents to suspend or expel students who engage twice in “violent, abusive, indecent, profane, boisterous, obscene, unreasonably loud, or other disorderly conduct that interferes with the free expression of others.”
Critics say the language is so vague that it would be unconstitutional. Kremer told The Associated Press on Monday that he agrees and plans to introduce an amendment that pares down the description of punishable conduct to violence or disorderly conduct. He said he believed the changes would pass constitutional muster.
Critics have also taken issue with another provision in the bill that would require UW institutions to strive to remain neutral in public policy controversies, questioning whether that means UW institutions could no longer lobby. Kremer’s office released a memorandum from legislative attorneys on Monday saying the language doesn’t appear to amount to a prohibition on lobbying.
The bill comes as free speech issues have grown more contentious on college campuses across the country. Republicans are worried that conservative speakers don’t get equal treatment, while some students have criticized invitations extended to speakers who they believe engage in hate-speech.
In Madison, home to the University of Wisconsin’s flagship campus, students shouted down and traded obscene gestures with former Breitbart editor and conservative columnist Ben Shapiro during a presentation in November. And the University of California-Berkeley canceled a speech by conservative firebrand Ann Coulter that had been scheduled for this week due to security concerns. Protests broke out at the school in February ahead of a planned appearance by former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos. Administrators decided to cancel the event about two hours before Yiannopoulos was set to speak.
In February 2016, fights broke out at New York University after protesters disrupted Gavin McInnes’ speech on campus. McInnes, the founder of a group called the “Proud Boys” and a self-described “western chauvinist,” was invited to speak by the NYU College Republicans.
Cara Lombardo contributed to this report.
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