Gov. Tony Evers has vetoed an effort to establish a $5 million down payment on a new state prison to replace the aging Green Bay Correctional Institution.
"I object to building a new maximum security correctional facility as we continue to explore needed criminal justice reform in Wisconsin," Evers said in his veto message.
"The current population pressures facing the Department of Corrections are being experienced primarily in minimum and medium security facilities, and while I am supportive of finding a solution to these pressures, I am not supportive of the insertion of a project for the construction of a new maximum security correctional facility late in the budget process and without the opportunity for more robust public input," he wrote.
The Legislature's Joint Finance Committee approved the $5 million amendment last month to buy the land to build a new prison, and take other steps toward construction.
Evers said the Department of Corrections could use the money to meet other needs.
The governor also rejected the Legislature's attempt to delete $25 million from the budget he proposed to fund replacements for scandal-plagued Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake juvenile prisons.
"In order for the Department of Corrections to close these facilities as soon as possible, funding must be provided to build replacement facilities," he said. "This section, if adopted, would leave the department without a facility in which to place juveniles."
Evers also directed that $22 million of $25 million the Legislature wanted to go to unspecified building projects be used for the Lincoln Hills / Copper Lake replacement.
"This will ensure that, as soon as possible, the state is able to provide housing for youth closer to their homes and in the least restrictive appropriate setting," he said.
The governor let stand the Legislature's addition of 35 prosecutors, raising the total added through the budget to 65. He vetoed, however, a legislative provision that assigned the 65 to specific counties "instead of assigning them to where they are most needed."
"I am directing the Department of Administration to work with the State Prosecutors Office to allocate the positions to counties in a manner that considers need holistically, including staffing needs based on creation or expansion of treatment alternatives and diversion programs, meeting with victims prior to charging, addressing backlogs, and utilizing available workload analyses," Evers said.
The new budget does not add any assistant state public defenders to address the increased caseload that will result from the increase in prosecutor ranks. The Legislature and governor did approve a $30-per-hour pay increase, from $40 to $70, to private lawyers who accept State Public Defender appointments to represent clients who cannot afford to hire lawyers.
The $40 rate was the lowest in the nation. Skeptics question whether the $70 rate will be enough to solve the crisis-level shortage of defense lawyers willing to take SPD assignments. The shortage is especially acute in rural and northern counties.
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