GOP votes to impose stiffer penalties on rioters, ban vaccine passports

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MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Republican lawmakers in both chambers passed legislation that would enforce stiffer penalties for people who partake in riots.  

Republicans in the Assembly and Senate voted on the proposal, along with other law enforcement bills, despite the fact that Democratic Governor Tony Evers is expected to reject them.

GOP lawmakers are looking to fire up their base by passing their tough-on-crime agenda ahead of the November election.

Under the bill, people who attend a riot would face up to 30 days in jail. If someone participates with the intent to cause harm to others or damage property, they would face up to 45 days behind bars, under the measure.  

Riot is currently defined under state law as an assembly of at least three people who plan to cause injury or property damage. However, Democrats argue the bill is too vague because it does not clarify whether peaceful protesters would face jail time.

"This bill is an attempt to create anti-protest laws and suppress free speech," said Rep. Francesca Hong, a Democrat from Madison.

Republicans introduced the bill following protests in Kenosha and Madison against racial injustice and police brutality in 2020.

The unrest in Kenosha began after a non-fatal shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, by a white police officer.

"This behavior has to got to stop, people deserve to feel safe in their workplace, their homes, without physical threats of violence," said Rep. Barb Dittrich (R-Oconomowoc).     

The events that unfolded resulted in cars torched, property damage and a 17-year-old, Kyle Rittenhouse, shooting and killing two men, wounding another. During trial, Rittenhouse claimed he acted in self-defense and was eventually acquitted of all charges.

Assembly Republicans also approved legislation that would revoke someone's parole or probation and send them back to jail if they commit another a crime.

Republicans said the bill is necessary due to an uptick in crime and in direct response to Darrell Brooks, the man accused of plowing his car through the Waukesha parade, killing six and injuring dozens, while out on $1,000 bail for another offense.

Opponents say the proposal does not address the root cause of those who reoffend, and rather support measures to reduce recidivism.

Another bill Republicans advanced would use federal COVID-19 relief aid to fund police departments who are struggling to hire officers.

Democrats offered an amendment to the GOP bills to instead increase the state's shared revenue program to allow local governments to make investments in police departments.

"Instead of spending millions not solving the problem, Democrats are proposing investing in local governments…which are on the front lines of keeping our communities safe," said Rep. Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee).

The amendment was rejected by Republicans.

Banning Vaccine Passports, COVID-19 Immunity

Another GOP bill passed in the Assembly would ban government entities from using COVID-19 vaccine passports in Wisconsin.

Republicans approved the measures because they fear the federal government might require proof of vaccination, arguing it's unfair to force vaccinations on millions of American workers.

Another pandemic-related bill would allow employers to accept a previous COVID-19 infection as proof as immunity, instead of facing testing or vaccine requirements.

Opponents argue past infections do not offer the same type of protection as the vaccine and could result in putting more people at risk.

Both proposals are expected to be vetoed by Gov. Evers.

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