To strengthen penalties against harassing lawmakers and their family members, a representative began circulating bipartisan-backed legislation to that goal last week.

Rep. Garey Bies, R-Sister Bay, said current law offers some protection for legislators, but none for their family members. 

Bies’ bill proposal would impose misdemeanor charges on individuals for repeated acts of intimidation or force against lawmakers. The same penalty, which could result in a many as nine months in prison, would also apply for people who loiter within 100 yards of a legislator’s private property, he said.

Since Gov. Scott Walker instituted the Act 10 bill striking down collective bargaining to most public workers, Bies said harassment issues have escalated.

Bies said protestors have since often tried to intimidate legislators and convince them to change their views by standing nose-to-nose with lawmakers yelling and screaming derogatory words at them as saliva sprays from their mouths.

Bies noted other legislators have fallen victim to more severe harassment than he has. Assembly Speaker Rep. Robin Vos, R-Burlington, had beer spilled over his head in public and Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, had human feces mailed to here, according to Bies.

“I don’t think that’s right,” Bies said, adding he now pays an extra $10 a month to screen his house’s home phone calls after incidents of callers screaming, yelling and swearing at his wife. 

Penalties to punish such harassment do not inhibit freedom of speech, according to Bies.

He said frustrated residents can sit down with him and discuss issues in a controlled manner, but his job does not entail dealing with such “disorderly,” “uncivilized” and “undemocratic” conduct.

“I don’t think myself or any other legislators have to put up with that type of crap,” Bies said. “Freedom of speech goes to a point. You have a right to express your opinions and your thoughts, but I don’t think using loud voice and absurd speech and downright vulgar comments is right.”

American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin Executive Director Chris Ahmuty disagreed. He said in a statement Bies’ legislation is a “solution in search of a problem.” 

Ahmuty said increasing protection to immediate family members of lawmakers is not an issue, however he cited few harassment instances against them since 2011. Ahmuty added such incidents are also already prohibited from current law.

Bies countered the ACLU should consider his right as well if the organization is committed to protecting liberties.

Rep. Samantha Kerkman, R-Powers Lake, said she has been the victim of three harassment incidents and therefore felt obligated to add her name as a co-sponsor to Bies’ bill proposal.

Kerkman said someone threw firecrackers at the window of her house when her husband was running for judge of Kenosha County Circuit Court, people protested at the house when she was not home and another person staking out her house in the middle of the night.

“Somebody coming up into my yard and throwing firecrackers at my window at 10:30 on a Wednesday night is not something normal people do – I thought someone was shooting at my window.” Kerkman said, adding legislators on both sides of the aisle do not want to deal with those sorts of events. “I don’t think throwing firecrackers at someone’s house is a free speech issue.”