AB 426 seeks to silence activists with the threat of felony charges for protesting at “critical infrastructure” facilities

MILWAUKEE —  The ACLU of Wisconsin released the following statement regarding an anti-protest bill passed by the Wisconsin Legislature:  

“While advertised as an effort to protect Wisconsin’s infrastructure, the real impact of this bill would be to criminalize peaceful protesters and suppress the freedom of speech,” said Chris Ott, ACLU of Wisconsin executive director. “The Constitution firmly protects protests even when – and especially when – they stir anger, challenge government policy, and express dissatisfaction with the status quo. Anti-protest bills like AB 426 threaten these fundamental rights by criminalizing peaceful demonstrators for making their voices heard.” 

AB 426 is an expansion of a law passed in 2015, which made it a felony to interrupt or impair services provided by an energy company. The new bill expands those provisions to specifically include companies that operate a gas, oil, petroleum, refined petroleum product, renewable fuel, or chemical generation facility. Specifically, the ACLU of Wisconsin voiced concerns that the bill’s vague and ambiguous language would have a chilling effect on expressive activity and lead to self-censorship among climate activists fearful of criminal penalties. 

“Here in Wisconsin and across the country, climate protesters  — who are often members of Native tribes — have been exercising their constitutional right to protest the impending damage to their lands, homes, and livelihoods,” Ott continued. “This proposal would put these demonstrators at risk of being criminally prosecuted for engaging in peaceful, nonviolent civil disobedience – like staging a march that interferes with a tanker truck delivery or blocking a roadway into a refinery.”

Protesters can learn more about their free speech rights at: https://www.aclu-wi.org/en/news/protests-and-first-amendment-rights