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Wisconsin Assembly revives flag-protection bill

By The Associated Press


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MADISON, Wis. — People could face fines of up to $10,000 and nine months in prison if convicted of trying to incite violence by damaging or destroying a U.S. flag under a bill the Assembly passed yesterday.

Legislators voted 83-16 in favor of the bill, sending it to the Senate.

Opponents say the measure is unconstitutional.

"The flag is a powerful symbol. It is a symbol of what we stand for and what we stand for is freedom of speech," said state Rep. Mark Miller, D-Monona.

But state Rep. Mark Pettis, R-Hertel, who sponsored the bill, said it would not prohibit freedom of speech.

"We have limited freedom of speech in this country. This is just part of it," Pettis said.

A previous flag-desecration law was passed after a man defecated on a flag and left it on the steps of a golf course clubhouse in 1996. The Wisconsin Supreme Court later ruled the law unconstitutional.

A new flag bill was approved by the Assembly in February 1999, but it never was brought up for a vote in the Senate.

The current measure, AB 477, took on added significance in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.


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Commentary Real problem is myriad cases of improper display, disposal — not rare instances of constitutionally protected flag-burning.  08.02.01

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But ACLU, other opponents say vote shows diminished support for efforts to alter Constitution to prevent desecration of national symbol.  07.18.01

State officials seldom give up on flag-desecration laws
Analysis Although U.S. Supreme Court has twice ruled that such laws violate First Amendment, 47 states keep statutes on the books and some keep enforcing them.  03.13.01

Wisconsin Supreme Court rules against flag-protection law
Language of 79-year-old statute is vague and violates free-speech rights, says court.  06.25.98