Wisconsin Assembly revives flag-protection bill
By The Associated Press
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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Language of 79-year-old statute is vague and violates free-speech rights, says court.