Joint Finance Committee approves pay increases for public defenders and prosecutors
By Alexandria Staubach
The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee unanimously passed a motion on the budget to include significant pay increases for public defenders and prosecutors across Wisconsin, ensuring pay parity between the two positions.
The measure ensures a starting wage of $36/hour for public defenders and prosecutors, adds positions to both offices, provides state funding for some roles currently funded by federal pandemic aid expiring in 2024, and eliminates pay progression salary caps.
The motion additionally increases the rate at which private bar attorneys are compensated to take on public defender cases. Attorneys’ rates will increase from $70/hour to $100/hour for legal work and from $25/hour to $50/hour for travel.
The number of attorneys qualified to take such cases in Wisconsin declined 17.9% from 2019 to August 2022 according to a recent report by the Wisconsin Policy Forum.
The committee met at the State Capitol on Tuesday.
State Public Defender Kelli Thompson, at a press conference with Republican lawmakers after the hearing, said the measure represented a “historic investment” in the criminal justice system.
Prosecutors agreed that the funds would ensure both offices are better resourced to result in more just outcomes for Wisconsinites.
All agreed that the measure would enhance the ability of each office to attract and retain talent and fill the many vacant positions throughout the state. Filling those positions is needed to combat the immense backlog of cases created by slowdowns resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, they said.
The plan comes in the wake of a January 2023 warning by the State Bar of Wisconsin cautioning that underfunding presents a “constitutional crisis” and the resignation of Dodge County’s district attorney over his inability to retain prosecutors.
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