A Republican bill toughening penalties for disruptive campus protests that passed the state Assembly last week likely won’t come up in the Senate until this fall.
The legislation, which would require University of Wisconsin System institutions to suspend and expel students who are repeatedly found to have impeded someone else’s ability to speak, has been put on the back burner as lawmakers try to reach an agreement on the state budget, officials said.
The bill passed the Assembly on a 61-36 vote last week, with all Democrats against it and all but one Republican in favor.
It’s not yet clear whether Republicans in the Senate will embrace the legislation as eagerly as their counterparts in the Assembly. Myranda Tanck, a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said members “haven’t had a chance to discuss” the campus speech bill in a caucus.
“We kind of are all-hands-on-deck on the budget,” Tanck said.
The Senate’s current floor period lasts until the body approves a biennial budget, she said. If the speech bill does not come up for a vote before the budget it will have to wait until the Senate’s next floor period, which starts Sept. 12, Tanck said.
Although the bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Universities and Technical Colleges, which is led by one of its co-authors, Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls, it has not been scheduled for a hearing or committee vote.
Terri Griffiths, Harsdorf’s chief of staff, said the senator is focused on the budget and there is no timeline for when the committee will take action on the speech bill.
Rep. Jesse Kremer, R-Kewaskum, introduced the bill along with Harsdorf, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Rep. David Murphy, R-Greenville, in May, saying it would help ensure all speakers can present their ideas on college campuses without protesters shouting them down. The bill has 28 Republican co-sponsors in the Assembly and five in the Senate.
Democrats and several faculty members have said the legislation is a heavy-handed response to a crisis manufactured by conservatives. They have criticized the bill’s mandatory student punishments, warning they would chill free speech rather than protect it, and its call for UW institutions not to take stances on political controversies.
The legislation would also require UW officials to provide orientation training on the free speech policies for all new students, as well as annual training for campus employees.
Kremer’s office did not respond to an interview request Monday afternoon.