New budget gives judges 11% raises
By Gretchen Schuldt
State court judges are slated to get 11% pay raises over the next two years, under the budget signed last week by Gov. Tony Evers.
The raises would boost the pay of state Supreme Court justices by almost $19,000. Circuit court judges will receive the smallest boosts – more than $16,000.
Judges would get pay hikes of 5% starting in January 2022 and another 6% in January 2023, for a two-year total increase of 11.3%. The money for the raises was approved in the budget, but the raises themselves must be approved by the Joint Committee on Employment Relations.
The budget also includes general wage hikes for other state employees of 2% each year, for a total wage increase of slightly more than 4%.
The generosity toward judges means that circuit court judges, who are paid $147,535, would get $154,912 in 2022 and $164,206 in 2023, for a total pay increase of $16,671.
Appeals court judges, who now make $156,388, would make $164,207 next year and $174,060 in 2023, a jump of $17,672 from the current salary.
Supreme Court justices, now paid $165,772, would get $174,061 in 2022 and $184,504 in 2023, an increase of $18,732.
The increased judicial pay was put forward by the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee. The judges-only raises – the 3% in 2022 and 4% in 2023 that other state workers are not getting – would cost about $3 million over the biennium.
Supreme Court Justice Patience Roggensack, as chief justice in 2017, lobbied unsuccessfully for judicial raises that would boost her own salary by more than $20,000, to about $152,000. Her efforts had the backing of corporate interests who appear before the court, including Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce and the Wisconsin Realtors Association.
The Legislature that year approved two-year judicial raises totaling 4%.
Evers proposes $45.8 million for Milwaukee juvenile facility; DOC capital budget totals $119 million
By Gretchen Schuldt
Gov. Tony Evers is proposing to spend $45.8 million on a new juvenile facility in Milwaukee, budget documents show.
"The facility in this request will assist DOC (Department of Corrections) with working towards meeting the requirements of Act 185 and Act 8, which were created with the intent of eventually converting Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake Schools buildings into adult facilities," the proposed budget says.
Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake are the state's secure juvenile prisons.
The proposal is part of the proposed 2021-23 state capital budget. The governor recommended a total of $119.1 million in DOC capital spending.
Milwaukee County last year held off on accepting $15.2 million in state funding to develop a secure residential center for juvenile offenders because the funding was inadequate.
The county earlier sought $41.8 million from the state to increase the number of juvenile beds available. It later reduced the proposal to $26 million, and then $17.9 million. Even then, the county would have to kick in $2.7 million of its own funding.
At the time he rejected the $15.2 million, County Executive David Crowley said that the funding gap and continuing operational costs "creates significant sustainability concerns,” according to the BizTimes.
Crowley said Friday he was encouraged by the governor's general and capital budget proposals.
The proposed youth facility would be about 59,000 square feet with "housing, food services, health services, education, counseling, vocational training, visitation, recreation, administrative services, and other supporting spaces for a population up to 32 juveniles," according to the budget proposal.
It would employ about 70 people and cost $7.7 million per year to operate.
Evers also rejected a $45.4 million funding request for a juvenile facility in Outagamie County.
Other DOC capital spending recommended by Evers include the projects listed below.
$18.6 million for a new health services unit at Dodge Correctional Institution. Dodge is the prison system's intake facility and in fiscal 2019 there were 7,178 intakes; the prison's population is more than 1,600. Each new inmate requires a minimum of 3 HSU appointments, and some can require four to eight appointments.
The existing 12,300-square-foot facility "is very congested," the proposed budget says. "There are no medical observation cells or negative pressure rooms. There are several shared areas, such as the treatment room is shared with ER. There are staff doing data entry for electronic medical records in the X-ray room because there is no space for them."
The new HSU would add 36,558 square feet.
By Gretchen Schuldt
Gov. Tony Evers wants to expand expungement eligibility, do away with the plea-coercing charge of felony bail jumping, and legalize recreational marijuana.
Many of his justice-related proposals are almost certainly doomed in the Republican-controlled state Legislature. But they are alive and well right now, and some, such as establishing a council or commission to review the state's sentencing structure, may not even need legislative approval.
Here's a very quick look at some of his proposals. Most of the language is taken directly from the governor's budget narratives.
Public Defender's Office proposes $4.1 million in savings through changes in charging, revocations
By Gretchen Schuldt
The state could save about $4.1 million in public defender costs over two years by changing the way some criminal cases and non-criminal community supervision revocations are handled, according to budget documents.
The proposed changes also would free up law enforcement and judicial resources to concentrate on more serious cases, according the proposal submitted by the State Public Defender's Office.
The agency's overall two-year budget request is $233.6 million, up $14.8 million, or 6.8%, from its previous budget of $218.8 million, according to budget documents.
Indigent defendants in criminal cases qualify for SPD representation, but are not entitled to that representation in non-criminal cases, such as forfeiture cases. Those cases often are handled in local municipal courts.
Allowing more cannabis possession cases to be handled as local forfeiture violations instead of criminal offenses could save about $595,000 per year, the agency estimated. Currently, state law allows possession of marijuana to be handled as a local ordinance violation. Second-offense possession of marijuana can be charged as a felony in Wisconsin.
The Public Defender's Office is recommending the state allow first and second offenses of simple possession to be pursued as forfeiture violations and that third offense possession be considered a misdemeanor. The office has made similar recommendations in the past.
"In FY20, the SPD represented clients in 6,304 related to possession of drugs," the Public Defender's Office wrote in a budget document. The savings would be realized if a third of those cases were converted to forfeiture violations.
The state would save even more by offering an alternative to prosecution in first-offense misdemeanor disorderly conduct cases, SPD said in its budget document.
"Before issuing a criminal charge under this misdemeanor statute, the district attorney
would be required to offer the alleged first offender the opportunity to either 1) complete
a diversion program by satisfying all conditions of the program, including restitution
when applicable; or 2) pay a forfeiture under a stipulated finding of guilt of a noncriminal
ordinance violation," SPD wrote.
Diverting first-offense disorderly conduct cases could save more than $1 million per year; allowing more cannabis cases to be handled as ordinance offenses could save the about $600,000 per year.
The offers would be made to people who had not been convicted of a previous felony or of a similar offense in the previous three years.
Most defendants who receive the alternative-to-prosecution offer would take it, SPD predicted.
Most of the proposed eligible cases now, as misdemeanors, "do not result in jail time; they
are ultimately dismissed (on the prosecutor’s motion or following an acquittal at trial),
reduced to a conforming ordinance, or addressed with one or more alternatives to
incarceration," SPD wrote.
About half the agency's 7,546 cases could have been diverted if the proposal were in effect during the last fiscal year, saving $1.1 million, the agency said.
The agency also proposed:
DAs seek 26% state budget increase
By Gretchen Schuldt
District attorneys are seeking a 26% budget boost – an additional $28.9 million – for the 2021-2023 biennium, according to state budget documents.
Most of that money would go to new positions and to fund 10% pay raises for qualified staff positions. The raises, with fringe benefits, would cost $3.5 million in the first year of the two-year budget and $7.4 million in the second year, according to the DA's budget request.
"By statute, District Attorneys are authorized to award eligible employees up to 10% of their current salary," the document says. "This funding level would be sufficient to authorize 10% wage increase for all eligible employees."
The request does not say how many employees would be affected or the average amount of the raises.
Several counties are seeking a total of 57.35 additional prosecutor positions at a cost of $7.6 million over two years. Those counties, and the number of positions they are requesting, are below:
Several counties are requesting additional prosecutors or conversion of grant-funded positions to state-paid posts. Granting all the requests would cost $512,000 each year.
Milwaukee County, for example is seeking to move seven prosecutors from grant funding to state funding. They include:
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