By Gretchen Schuldt
The Republican-led Legislature is full-speed ahead on bills to crack down on reckless driving by subjecting some offenders to immediate impoundment of their cars and substantially increasing the forfeitures imposed on reckless-driving offenses.
The Assembly Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee is holding a hearing on the bills on Tuesday in Madison.
Here is a rundown of some of the latest justice-related bills introduced.
Senate Bill 75/Assembly Bill 54 – Implementing cash bail changes yet to be adopted
Voters will decide in April whether people accused of certain crimes may be held in jail without bail prior to a determination of whether they are guilty of any crime at all, but that is not stopping Republican legislators from taking their first swing at deciding what kind of criminal charges would qualify a person for higher bail or no bail at all.
Currently, cash bail is meant to ensure that a person appears in court, protect members of the community from serious bodily harm, or prevent the intimidation of witnesses.
The constitutional amendment would allow judges to consider more factors when ordering and setting bail, including whether the person is accused of a "violent crime," however the legislature defines that, and the need to protect community members from "serious harm" (not just serious bodily harm), and however the legislature defines that.
Under the bill, "serious harm" would include property damage or economic loss of over $2,500, according to the Legislative Reference Bureau. It also would include any personal physical pain or injury, any illness, any impairment of physical condition, or death. It would include mental anguish or emotional harm related to the injury, illness, or death.
Currently, theft of less than $2,500 is a misdemeanor, but a separate bill would make theft of more than $1,000 a felony. That bill also is set for the public hearing on Tuesday.
The bill defines "violent crime" to include offenses including homicide, aggravated and special circumstances battery, mayhem, sexual assault, false imprisonment, human trafficking, hostage-taking, kidnapping, stalking, disarming a police officer, arson, felony burglary, and carjacking, according to the LRB. It also would include crimes where a domestic abuse or dangerous weapon penalty enhancer could be applied; the violation of a domestic abuse, child abuse, or harassment injunction; or the solicitation, conspiracy, or attempt to commit a Class A felony, the state's most serious felony classification.
While the bill would prohibit "excessive" bail, that is undefined.
Senate Bill 76/Assembly Bill 52 – Calling out carjacking
The maximum penalty for carjacking would be increased by 20 years in prison, under this bill. Taking a vehicle without the owner's consent, with a weapon and use or threat of force, is now punishable by up to 40 years in prison and a $100,000 fine. This bill creates a separate offense of carjacking and increases the maximum penalty to up to 60 years in prison.
Senate Bill 90/Assembly Bill 55 – Increasing reckless-driving forfeitures
This bill would increase the forfeiture for first-offense reckless driving from the current range of $25 to $200 to $50 to $400.
The penalty for the second or subsequent offense would jump from the current fine of $40 to $500 to a fine of $100 to $1,000 if the second or subsequent offense is committed within four years. Currently, the increased fine applies only to offenses that occur within one year of the first offense. The additional potential penalty of a year in jail remains unchanged.
The $435 driver improvement surcharge and the $50 safe ride surcharge also would be imposed on people convicted of reckless driving.
Other changes to fines and forfeitures proposed in the bill are shown in the chart below.
Senate Bill 92/Assembly Bill 56 – Impounding some vehicles used in reckless-driving offenses
This bill would allow communities to adopt ordinances allowing police to immediately impound a vehicle used in a reckless driving offense if the driver owns the vehicle and has not fully paid an earlier forfeiture for a reckless driving conviction.
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