A statement by Wisconsin Justice Initiative President Craig Johnson:
The Legislature this spring has the opportunity to do something rare – pass bipartisan legislation that will help address mental health issues that too often result in vulnerable people ending up in prison. The legislation is 2021 Senate Bill 791. It has the potential to increase the use of treatment and “problem-solving” courts throughout the state by expanding the eligibility criteria for Treatment Alternative and Diversion (TAD) grants. Under current law, TAD grants are limited to programs that offer alcohol and other drug abuse services. SB 791 will expand the grants to include deferral and diversion programs that address mental health.
It has long been clear to criminal justice practitioners that mental health issues can result in defendants being caught in the net of the criminal justice system with no way out. As Rep. Evan Goyke, one of the bill’s sponsors, noted in his remarks to the Senate Judiciary Committee about the bill, roughly 40% of men and 80% of women in the prison system have mental health issues. Prisons and jails are the wrong places to treat people suffering from mental health problems. Expanding eligibility for TAD grants will allow counties to set up diversion programs to help people accused of crimes get access to much-needed mental health services and hopefully be able to avoid jail or prison.
Sen. Andre Jacque, Republican lead sponsor of the bill, noted in his remarks that 97% of TAD graduates stay out of prison after completing services through TAD programs. Jacque also called TAD courts a “critical intervention point of the type that we are always pursuing as policymakers.”
In the most recent state budget, an additional $2.5 million was added for the TAD programming. This legislation will allow counties to apply to use some of this additional money for new, innovative mental health treatment courts to address an important community need, help make our state safer, and help those afflicted with mental health issues avoid jail and prison. The need is there – while there are 86 TAD-funded programs around the state in 53 counties and three tribes, there are only six mental health courts in the state, according to the Wisconsin Association of Treatment Court Professionals statement to the Judiciary Committee.
In remarks to the media following the Waukesha Christmas parade tragedy, the mother of the man who has been charged in the incident noted that he suffered from mental health issues as a juvenile but was cut off from further assistance when he turned 18. While we don’t know what role, if any, mental health issues played in that tragedy, addressing mental health, alcohol and drug abuse and other challenges before they result in damaging criminal behavior will make Wisconsin safer.
SB 791 passed the Wisconsin Senate on February 15. It now heads to the Assembly, where it should be put on the calendar immediately. The sooner it gets to Governor Evers’ desk, the sooner these programs can start working in communities across the state.
By Gretchen Schuldt
Darrell Brooks allegedly plowed into a crowd at a Christmas parade in Waukesha, killing six. He was out on $1,000 bail at the time, an amount set too low because of mistakes made by the Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office and court officials.
That incident has prompted the introduction of a proposed amendment to the state constitution that toughens bail requirements and that likely would result in the pretrial incarceration of many, many more people. And since pretrial incarceration is mostly a local cost, the cost of keeping those people locked up would fall mainly on county taxpayers, not the state.
The amendment is vague, leaving the details up to legislative action after the amendment is ratified.
The state constitution now says "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor shall excessive fines be imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted."
The proposed amendment would add the following: "In fixing an amount of bail, the court may take into consideration the seriousness of the offense charged, the previous criminal record of the accused, the probability that the accused will appear in court, and the need to protect members of the community from serious harm, as defined by the legislature by law, or prevent the intimidation of witnesses." (Emphasis added.)
The phrase "serious harm" is deliberately undefined, although the measure makes clear that it goes beyond "bodily harm," a term included in the existing constitution: "All persons, before conviction, shall be eligible for release under reasonable conditions designed to assure their appearance in court, protect members of the community from serious bodily harm or prevent the intimidation of witnesses." (Emphasis added.)
The proposed amendment would simply strike the word "bodily" and the Legislative Reference Bureau makes clear that the word "harm" would apply to "not just serious bodily harm."
The proposed amendment also would do away with the existing requirement that monetary bail be set only when it is required to help ensure that a defendant shows up in court. Instead, the proposal would allow a court to demand cash bail in any criminal case, no matter how minor.
The constitution now reads "Monetary conditions of release may be imposed at or after the initial appearance only upon a finding that there is a reasonable basis to believe that the conditions are necessary to assure appearance in court."
The proposed amendment would change that to "Monetary conditions of release may be imposed at or after the initial appearance.
Last week the Wisconsin Justice Initiative submitted written comments opposing two bills requiring minimum bail for persons with certain prior convictions.
Assembly Bill 838 would set a minimum bail amount of $10,000 for a defendant previously convicted of a felony or violent misdemeanor. Assembly Bill 840 would require bail of at least $5,000 for anyone previously convicted of bail jumping.
The State Assembly’s Committee on Judiciary held a hearing on the bills on Jan. 12. The Committee is chaired by Rep. Ron Tusler (R-Harrison).
Writing on behalf of WJI, Board President Craig Johnson noted how the recent tragic and heartbreaking events in Waukesha County have prompted an examination of bail laws. He then asked the committee members to keep certain principles in mind as the debate on bail policies moves forward.
“First and foremost, it’s important to understand that good bail decisions are made by relying on evidence. The problem that led to the tragedy in Waukesha was NOT that the evidence supported the decision to recommend a risky and dangerous person for release. The problem was that the evidence that was available – evidence that flagged the risk for violence and the risk for flight – was ignored,” he wrote.
The process of setting bail in Milwaukee County (and other jurisdictions) is assisted by a risk tool called the Public Safety Assessment (PSA). Each defendant arrested on new charges receives a risk score, and the results are available for prosecutors and defense attorneys who make bail recommendations and for court commissioners and judges who make the ultimate bail decisions. Among the factors that the PSA “scores” are a person’s prior record of convictions, the type of offense they are currently facing, any history of missing court, their history of violence, their age, and their record of prior incarceration.
“Unfortunately, while both bills sound reasonable, they ignore the principle that good bail decisions are not ‘one size fits all,’ but instead are based on individual evidence in specific cases,” Johnson wrote. Individual risk assessments would likely result in cash recommendations for many of the same defendants that would be covered by these bills, but not all, he said.
For example, a person might have a bail jumping conviction for drinking alcohol while out on bail for a misdemeanor case from a dozen years earlier – absolute sobriety is often a condition of release. If they are now charged with another minor offense and are not otherwise a public safety or flight risk, should they be required to post $5,000? The PSA and other risk instruments instead balance the various risk factors in a validated process that is based on examining data from hundreds of thousands of cases across the country.
Johnson noted that the individual in the Waukesha Christmas parade case should have had high bail because of his elevated score on the PSA. The score resulted from a number of factors, including his history of non-appearance and the fact that he was out on bail already when he was arrested on new charges. “In short, the risk tool worked, but it wasn’t followed. This person should have had high cash bail, but that doesn’t mean that another person charged with (and presumed innocent of) a serious offense can’t be safely released if other risk factors are not present,” he wrote.
Reliance on evidence rather than emotion in making decisions in the criminal justice system should be encouraged because it results in rational decisions driven rather than decisions based on prejudice and fear, Johnson wrote.
Well-informed bail decisions are made by experienced prosecutors, defense counsel and judges relying on the evidence in each case, Johnson said. “The key is following the evidence,” he said. That means setting appropriate high cash recommendations when a person’s history warrants it. But it also means releasing someone on recognizance, even in some serious cases, if the evidence shows that the person is not high-risk, Johnson said.
“We must make sure that future bail decisions are the result of an evidence-based, validated risk assessment that provides information to justice system professionals to make smart decisions in each case. The evidence points the way, but it gets the right result only if it’s not ignored,” he wrote.
Johnson asked committee members to also consider the societal costs of unnecessary pretrial detention and creation of a two-tiered justice system – one for the rich and one for the poor. The $5,000 minimum bail in AB 840 would have a very different impact on a poor person working part-time at minimum wage than a rich person with the money easily available, he said.
"The problem that led to the tragedy in Waukesha was NOT that the evidence supported the decision to recommend a risky and dangerous person for release. The problem was that the evidence that was available – evidence that flagged the risk for violence and the risk for flight – was ignored.” --WJI President Craig Johnson
The State Bar of Wisconsin, though taking no position on the bills at this time, submitted its concerns about the movement away from evidence-based determinations. “After evaluating many studies and reviewing possible solutions, our Board of Governors has concluded that continuing to use cash bail alone as the basis for public safety is contrary to the State Bar’s philosophy. Rather, courts should use validated risk-assessment tools or ‘evidence-based decision making’ to determine the appropriate mechanism to both guarantee a return for court proceedings and protect the public from further harm,” wrote Bar President Cheryl Daniels.
The Wisconsin State Public Defender’s Office pointed to the fundamental principle that those accused of committing crimes are presumed innocent until proved guilty and that detention prior to trial should be the exception rather than the norm. The Defender's Office also suggested that the provisions will violate the state constitution, which allows cash bail solely to ensure that an individual will appear for future court hearings.
Regarding AB 840, the Defender’s Office raised concerns relating to the frequency of bail jumping convictions, as bail jumping can be charged for violation of any condition of pretrial release. “Given that bail jumping is usually one of the top three charges issued in Wisconsin, AB 840 becomes an almost universal minimum bail amount for anyone who may have been convicted of bail jumping years earlier for violating a condition of release,” said the Defender’s Office.
The Wisconsin Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (WACDL) echoed that AB 838 is unconstitutional, as the state constitution allows monetary conditions of release only to assure appearance in court. The bill is also fiscally irresponsible, wrote Anthony Jurek for WACDL. “[T]here are not currently enough jails to house the sort of populations this bill would occasion,” he said.
The main authors of the bills, Rep. Chuck Wichgers (R-Muskego) and Sen. Julian Bradley (R-Franklin), submitted comments in support. Wichgers suggested that the proposed bail reforms are necessary because Gov. Tony Evers has refused to hold Milwaukee County District attorney John Chisholm accountable following the tragedy in Waukesha. Bradley wrote that the package of bills will begin to fix the problem of judges and district attorneys “giving out lax bail” and will rebuild public trust in Wisconsin’s criminal justice system. Bradley added that the Wisconsin Constitution should also be amended to prevent violent criminals from being released.
On Thursday, Jan. 13, Bradley introduced similar proposals in the Senate, Senate Bills 856 and 858. Both bills were referred to the Senate’s Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety.
By Gretchen Schuldt
Wisconsin social media users could sue social media companies for removing or limiting the exposure of posts made by or about political candidates or elected office holders, under a bill pending in the Legislature.
The bill, SB525, gives content by or about political candidates and office holders higher levels of protection than most speech by anybody else, including religious figures and non-politician civic leaders – unless they are talking about politicians.
Its dependence on private enforcement echoes a tactic used in Texas’ new anti-abortion law, which relies on litigation by private individuals to effectively deny women access to abortions in that state.
“It’s time that we ensure that Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, and their Silicon Valley liberal allies cannot restrict Wisconsinites’ political speech in these essential public spaces,” said state Sen. Julian Bradley (R-Franklin), an author of the bill, in testimony prepared for a public hearing. Bradley’s Assembly co-author is state Rep. Cody Horlacher (R-Mukwonago).
Zuckerberg heads the company that runs Facebook; Dorsey, until recently, was Twitter CEO.
The bill was recommended for approval, 3-2 on a party-line vote, by the Senate Government Operations, Legal Review and Consumer Protection Committee. Voting for the bill were Republican Sens. Bradley, Duey Stroebel, and Mary Felzkowski. Voting against were Democratic Sens. Kelda Roys and Jeff Smith.
The Wisconsin bill would flat out prohibit social media companies from blocking or shadow banning content posted by or about political candidates or office holders unless the material is obscene or contains a credible threat.
“This prohibition applies only to official pages, accounts, profiles, or handles relating to a candidate's campaign or an elected official's office and does not apply to any personal pages, accounts, profiles, or handles,” according to the bill.
Successful lawsuits brought by private users could result in statutory damages of not more than $250,000 per day if the post involved statewide candidates and elected officials and up to $200,000 for a claim involving other candidates and elected officials. A judge could award punitive damages and court costs in either instance.
The bill also would allow user suits if a social media company removed, banned, or limited the exposure of posts by a non-politician without providing full detailed notice. Violations would carry maximum statutory damages of $100,000, plus punitive damages and court costs.
A critic of the bill warned that it would discourage social media companies from removing extremely violent or offensive content from their platforms.
Tyler Diers, executive director of Midwest TechNet, an industry group, said the bill would “subject Wisconsin residents to more abhorrent and illegal content on the internet by creating frivolous liability risks for social media companies” that do take down offensive material.
Wisconsin, Diers said, “should encourage these companies to have content policies, as they govern the removal of content showing the exploitation of children, child sexual abuse materials, bullying, harassment, gore, pornography, and spam,” he said.
The bill also would violate federal free speech law that governs content liability on the Internet, he said.
The law, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, has "empowered online intermediaries to remove harmful content while providing them with the same ‘conduit immunity’ that commonly exists in other real world offline contexts -- for example, not holding a bookseller liable for libelous books, but rather the individual who committed the libel,” he said.
By Gretchen Schuldt
A bill to allow courts to strip away the parental rights from incarcerated people was ripped in public testimony by people who said it could well be unconstitutional and could cause more harm than good.
The bill, AB627, could create new pressures on the court system and delay getting permanent homes for children, according to the Department of Children and Families.
The bill was introduced by State Rep. Barbara Dittrich and State Sen. Duey Stroebel as part of a package of bills that Dittrich claimed was designed to seek "both the best welfare of the child while ensuring parents’ rights are upheld."
Many who testified at a public hearing on the measure earlier this month did not think it would do either of those things.
The bill would allow courts to take parental rights from anyone sentenced to at least four years in prison.
DCF, which in a fiscal estimate warned of the potential delays in finding permanent homes, also submitted testimony opposing the bill.
"First, parental incarceration is already a factor that may be considered in a TPR, and adding a ground making parental incarceration on its own a sufficient basis to terminate parental rights could raise constitutional concerns," the agency said.
Elements of the bill may be "unconstitutionally vague, leading to significant litigation.," the agency said. The testimony was submitted by Deputy DCF Secretary Jeff Pertl; Division of Safety and Permanence Administrator Wendy Henderson; Legislative Advisor Amanda Merkwae; and attorney Rachel Nili of the DCF Office of Legal Counsel
The bill would allow a judge to determine whether a parent is likely to be incarcerated for "a substantial period of the child's minority," the officials said.
"This language essentially asks the fact-finder to speculate as to whether the parent is going to re-offend and be incarcerated again in the future once they are released without outlining how one would predict whether it's likely a parent will be incarcerated for a substantial period," they said.
The bill also would disproportionately affect children of color, who are overrepresented in the child welfare system, they said.
"Finally," they said, a "significant bond and relationship may exist or can be formed between an incarcerated parent and their child.
Incarcerated parents continue to exercise responsibility by "maintaining contact through letters, phone calls, and visitation, and being emotionally available for their child, and the parent may reunify with their child and continue parenting them upon release."
The Ho-Chunk Nation Legislature said the bill would "result in a disproportionate impact on Indian families. American Indians represent a disproportionate rate of those incarcerated in Wisconsin. In 2013, Wisconsin had the highest rate of American Indians incarcerated in the country. And those rates do not seem to be going down."
"The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) requires that active efforts be provided to prevent the breakup of an Indian family..." the Ho-Chunk testimony said. "Yet, over and over conditions recommended from county social workers for incarcerated parents are essentially nothing.... Instead of making it easier to terminate parental rights, the system should be enhanced on the prevention side. When a parent is incarcerated, they are the easiest to locate and work with. This is an optimal time to work with them on parental safety."
The State Public Defender's Office noted that a four-year-or-greater sentence could change or be reversed on appeal.
"There is no mechanism to allow for a termination to be undone if a person successfully appeals the criminal case," said the testimony submitted by Adam Plotkin, SPD's legislative liaison. "And even if there were, this will have unnecessarily created trauma for the child."
The bill also would allow the termination of parents incarcerated now even though they had no way of knowing that their imprisonment could lead to the loss of their children.
"This raises constitutional due process issues in terms of not having provided notice in the prior case that is now leading to termination based on this new ground," SPD said.
"AB 627 would do nothing to help parents or families," Legal Action of Wisconsin said in prepared testimony. "Rather, it would break families apart, create additional punishments on parents already incarcerated, and violate parents' constitutional substantive due process rights while removing judicial discretion and adding additional stress to already overburdened systems."
"While we respect and understand the concern for the safety and well-being of vulnerable children, we do not believe that TPR based on incarceration supports survivors of violence and their children," End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin said. "In fact, we are concerned that this legislation would do more harm than good.
"We understand that perpetrators of violence present a danger to children and that custody and placement decisions should be made in such a way that incorporates the significant adverse effects that proximity to an abusive parent has on the child's health and well-being. However, we also know that survivors of violence often accrue criminal records due to victimization and experience incarceration. As a result, abuse victims may be 'likely to be incarcerated for a substantial period of time.' "
Registering against the bill were the ACLU of Wisconsin, Community Advocates, Disability Rights Wisconsin, End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin, the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Association of Family and Children's Agencies, the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault, and the Wisconsin Council of Churches.
No organization or individual registered in favor of the bill.
By Gretchen Schuldt
Penalties for second-offense marijuana possession, already a felony, would increase substantially if butane extraction was used in the production process, under a bill making its way through the Legislature.
Industry officials say that occasional users may have no clue how their product was processed, although frequent imbibers may be able to tell the difference by the taste.
The maximum penalty for second-offense (or greater) possession now is 3½ years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Under the bill, the penalties for second-offense (or greater) marijuana would increase depending on the amount of butane-extracted cannabis involved. The amounts and maximum penalties would be:
The bill also would significantly increase the penalty for manufacturing, delivering, or selling any amount of butane-extracted cannabis. Currently, marijuana manufacturing and dealing carries different sentences depending on the amount involved. Under the bill, those crimes, regardless of amount, would be punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a $50,000 fine. That means a person could go potentially to prison for a very long stretch for sharing a gummy bear with a friend.
Butane extraction is a common method of concentrating cannabis resin. Butane extraction can produce a THC concentration of up to 90%. The concentrate is used in a variety of products, including edibles and vaping juices.
Commercial entities generally use a closed system of butane extraction, which is not considered an explosion hazard. Closed systems keep the butane from escaping into the atmosphere.
Some processors, including those running clandestine labs, use an "open blasting" system that allows the butane to escape into the atmosphere, creating a danger of explosions.
The pending bill does not differentiate between open and closed production methods used or whether any hazards are actually present.
"This is a very misguided effort," said Bryce Brisbin, director of technical sales at Luna Technologies, a cannabis extraction company. Closed-system butane cannabis extraction is safe and provides a high-quality product, he said.
"Open blasting should be banned, totally illegal," he said. "It's incredibly stupid."
State Rep. Jesse James (R-Altoona), a sponsor of the legislation in the Assembly, said in prepared testimony last week that "The criminal elements and punishments of possessing, manufacturing, and delivery of BHO (butane honey oil) is the same as marijuana. I understand marijuana is needed to make BHO, but the process is making a totally different product, with a higher potency, which sells at a higher rate, putting the lives of those who manufacture it and others at risk."
He acknowledged that the closed-loop system was generally more "safer, controlled, and effective" than the open blasting system.
"The societal harms stemming from more prevalent and more potent cannabis is well-established in research exploring the effects on public safety and violent crime, traffic safety and the workforce," said State Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville), another sponsor. "The narrative surrounding the alleged medical benefits of cannabis tends to readily dismiss the aforementioned harms."
By Gretchen Schuldt
Gov. Tony Evers has signed into law tougher new penalties for crimes committed against anyone at least 60 years old.
The bill also allows older people seeking domestic violence, individual-at-risk, or harassment restraining order to appear in a court hearing by telephone or through audiovisual means. Currently, people seeking restraining orders appear in court in person.
“Aging and older Wisconsinites are particularly vulnerable to financial and physical abuse and exploitation, and unfortunately, we are seeing a devastating and concerning rise in these crimes,” Evers said. "This bill is an important bipartisan action to help put an end to elder abuse and protect some of our most vulnerable loved ones and neighbors.”
Evers ran for office promising to reduce the prison population.
Under the new law:
In the abuse category, there were 2,148 cases or calls about financial abuse, 717 about emotional abuse, 650 about physical abuse, 41 about sexual abuse, 14 about unreasonable confinement or restraint, and four about treatment without consent.
Of all the reports, including those for neglect and self-neglect, more than half – 52.5% – were either unsubstantiated or unable to be substantiated.
In another signing, Evers signed a bill that regulates police use of force. It creates standards for when police can use force, creates a duty to report improper use of force, and creates a duty to intervene or prevent improper use of force.
vers vetoed a bill that would have reduced shared revenue payments to counties and municipalities that reduce police, firefighter, or emergency responder funding or personnel.
By Gretchen Schuldt
A bipartisan group of lawmakers is asking its colleagues to co-sponsor legislation to fully fund a new $42 million juvenile prison in Milwaukee County to replace the scandal-plagued Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake facilities in Irma.
The Legislature voted in 2018 to close Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake by July 1 of this year and transfer its residents either to a new Type 1 facility to house serious juvenile offenders, or to secure residential care centers that would be built in different areas of the state.
"That date has come and gone, and we have yet to break ground on the first state Type 1 building," the legislators said in the co-sponsorship memo they are circulating to their colleagues. It was authored by State Reps. Michael Schraa (R-Oshkosh), Calvin Callahan (R-Tomahawk), and Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee), and Senators Van Wanggaard (R-Racine), Mary Felzkowski (R-Irma), and Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee).
A court-appointed monitor reported last month that youth at the facilities were growing more frustrated and the staff seemed defeated.
The new state budget includes $4 million for planning, design, and site selection for a new Type 1 facility, but does not include money to build it.
"In the four years since the passage of 2017 Act 185, the environment at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake has remained unstable," the legislators wrote. "The pandemic only exacerbated the difficulties there, with programming pauses and staff turnover contributing to an explosion of violent activity in 2020."
A petition of no confidence against facility administrators by union employees showed that staff injuries were up 4,700% in the first six months of the year from the last six months of 2020. In addition, youth/staff battery was up 117%, sexual misconduct was up 75%, and use-of-force incidences were up 58%, the memo said.
"It is far past time for this facility to close," the memo said. "The Legislature must do its part and approve the funding for the new Type 1 correctional facility, for the sake of the employees who work there, and the youth that have been placed in the care of the state. It is our duty."
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%.
By Gretchen Schuldt
A State Assembly committee recommended adoption of a bill that would make more people eligible to have their criminal records expunged, but also added four more crimes ineligible for expungement.
Felony stalking offenses, misdemeanor property damage to a business, misdemeanor criminal trespass to a dwelling, and violation of a domestic abuse injunction or restraining order would be ineligible for expungement under an amendment adopted by the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee on an 8-6 vote. The bill then was forwarded to the full Assembly on a unanimous vote.
The Senate's Judiciary and Public Safety Committee recommended Senate adoption of the bill, without the additional four ineligible crimes, on a 5-2 vote.
The full Assembly is expected to consider its version June 16.
Wisconsin's expungement law is stricter than other states' laws. Currently, a person who wants to have a criminal conviction expunged from their Wisconsin record must ask the judge at the time of sentencing, before the judge has any idea how that person does in prison or on supervision. The law also limits the availability of expungement to those less than 25 years old at the time of the crime and to those who do not have a felony conviction record. The offense for which expungement is requested must not be a violent felony and must not carry a penalty greater than six years in prison.
Both the Assembly and Senate versions of the bill would change the law in several ways. It would remove the discriminatory age limit of 25 and would allow people convicted of crimes to request expungement when they complete their sentences.
Other limits, including a prohibition on expunging records related to violent crimes and crimes carrying penalties of more than six years in prison, would remain in place.
Under the bill, once an expunction petition is filed, a judge would review it and either grant or deny it. If denied, a new petition could not be filed for two years.
The bill also would limit a person to one expunction.
The legislation also makes clear what it means to successfully complete a sentence. That would include completing community service, paying all fines, fees, restitution, and completing any community supervision without revocation.
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