Republicans at the Wisconsin Capitol continue to say they are protecting free speech by creating new rules that could get students at the University of Wisconsin (UW) expelled for the things they say. 

The Assembly’s Committee on Colleges and Universities on Thursday held a public hearing on proposed speech rules for the UW System. 

“The goal of this bill is not to limit any speech protected under the Constitution,” Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, said. “But rather protect those who have differing opinions, and letting free speech thrive regardless of ideology or politics.”

Kapenga’s plan would punish students who disrupt classes or university events when someone is saying something they do not agree with. He’s also proposing a “three strikes and you’re out” provision that would mandate UW expel students after their third disruption. 

Not everyone is happy with the idea. The conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty has opposed Kapenga’s plan in the past. 

On Thursday, Democratic State Rep. Katrina Shakland, D-Stevens Point, pointed to that opposition as she lambasted Kapenga’s plan for trying to shut down only the speech he doesn’t like. 

“You’re saying, instead of 100 percent of speech on campus let’s allow 50 percent to 65 percent,” Shankland said during the hearing. “You are essentially threatening students with this heavy-handed draconian policy.”

Kapenga countered, saying he is trying to protect the speech of students who already feel threatened to speak their minds on campus. 

“Here in Wisconsin and across the country, we have seen examples of free speech being targeted and suppressed on colleges campuses,” Kapenga said. “Part of this growing trend teaches young people that disrupting speech or acting with violence can shut down any from having their voice heard, or censor speech you do not agree with. This has become the blueprint for the anti-free speech movement in America.”

Lawmakers are considering Kapenga’s proposal, but it’s not clear when it may come up for a vote. If it manages to pass both the Assembly and State Senate, it’s unlikely that Gov. Tony Evers would sign it. And if it somehow did become law, there are serious questions as to whether the proposal would survive a court challenge. 

Benjamin Yount reports on Illinois and Wisconsin statewide issues for The Center Square. Reposted with permission.

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