Laws and Legislation
The WJI Laws and Legislation page aims to provide overviews of new laws and new legislation that relates to the justice system. As we write this, in July 2020, the State Legislature is not in session, Congress is not particularly functional, and the country is mired in the coronavirus crisis.
We will track new legislation as it is put forward or advances to a critical stage.
We are first looking back at justice-related legislation adopted by the State Legislature in the 2019-20 session. The links below will take you to blog posts summarizing new laws and providing information about sponsors, votes, and testimony.
It was not a good year for criminal justice reform in Wisconsin. The Legislature and Gov. Evers approved legislation calling for harsher penalties and the expansion of definitions to create more crimes. Legislation aimed at reigning in the incarceration industry was consistently defeated.
Evers did not veto any legislation that increased criminal penalties. He did, however, veto harmful bills that would have required the Department of Corrections to recommend revoking the probation, extended supervision and parole of anyone on such community supervision accused of new crimes. He also vetoes measures that would have increased the number of crimes for which juveniles could be incarcerated and another that would have restricted access to early release programs for people convicted of certain crimes.
Laws adopted during the 2019-20 Wisconsin legislative session:
2019 Act 8 – Delaying juvenile justice reform
2019 Act 16 – Adding a definition related to child pornography
2019 Act 31 – Mandatory minimum sentence for homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle.
2019 Act 33 – Harsher penalties for trespassing on or damaging utility property
2019 Act 41 – New criminal penalties for unlicensed massage therapists
2019 Act 97 – Harsher penalties for battery to a health worker
2019 Act 106 – $13.6 million to lock up repeat drunk drivers
2019 Act 111 – Inmate possession of unauthorized anything now a felony
2019 Act 112 – Toughening penalties for intimidating a witness who is a domestic violence victim
2029 Act 132 – "Swatting" is now a felony.
2019 Act 144 – Mail theft (and porch pirating) is now its own crime.
2019 Act 161 – Money laundering is a crime
2019 Act 162 – Sex with a non-human animal is now a felony
The latest news
Oct. 21 – New rules to take effect Nov. 20 will prevent many more people from qualifying for asylum. Now ineligible is any non-citizen convicted of:
The rule is here.
Oct. 21 – President Trump signed into law the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2020. Per the summary by the Congressional Research Service:
This bill requires the Federal Communications Commission to designate 9-8-8 as the universal telephone number for a national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Veterans Affairs must jointly report on how to make the use of 9-8-8 operational and effective across the country, and HHS must develop a strategy to provide access to competent, specialized services for high-risk populations such as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) youth; minorities; and rural individuals.
Sept. 28 –The president has issued an order to limit what the military, federal agencies, federal contractors, and federal grant recipients can say about race and gender relations.
Sept. 21 - The House of Representatives approved a bill that would prohibit U.S. Bureau of Prisons personnel from reading emails between persons incarcerated in federal prisons and their lawyers.
Sept. 18 - The U.S. House of Representatives is delaying until after the November election a vote on the MORE Act that would decriminalize marijuana.
The Senate bill, authored by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-California), has five cosponsors. Neither Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) nor Ron Johnson (R-WI) is one of them.
The House version, sponsored by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D- N.Y.) has 87 cosponsors, including U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI).
Sept. 18 – Gov. Tony Evers' powers to release prison inmates during the COVID-19 pandemic. No, he does not need the Legislature.
Sept. 17 - The Wisconsin Department of Corrections wants counties to pay $300,000 per year for each child they incarcerate at the scandal-scarred Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake juvenile prisons.
Aug. 25 – U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) is one of 39 Democratic co-sponsors of the Emergency Community Supervision Act, aimed at reducing the number of people in federal custody during the coronavirus crisis and other national health emergencies. There are no Republican co-sponsors. The House version of the bill was introduced by U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-New York). The Senate version is sponsored by U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and has one co-sponsor - U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA).
Aug. 12 – President Trump signed into a law the Veteran Treatment Court Coordination Act of 2019, which directs attorney general, working with the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, to establish a Veteran Treatment Court Program to provide grants and technical assistance to court systems that already have veterans' treatment courts or that have told the VA they plan to start them.
Wisconsin Representatives Ron Kind and Gwen Moore, both Democrats, were co-sponsors.
More information is available by following the links below.
July 30 – The U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill that would give legal protections for adult-use cannabis programs.
Aug. 25 – President Trump signed this bill on Aug. 14, 2020.
July 29 – The U.S. House of Representatives adopted a bill to establish a commission to study the impact of systemic racism on Black men and boys. The Senate already has approved the measure, which now goes to President Trump for signature.
Wisconsin sponsors were U.S. Reps. Gwen Moore and Mark Pocan, both Democrats. Neither Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D) nor Ron Johnson (R) co-sponsored the Senate version of the bill.
July 24, 2020 – Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) is co-sponsor of the U.S. Senate version of the Law Enforcement Identification Act, which would require federal law enforcement officers, including contractors and members of the military, to wear identification when engaged in crowd control or arresting/detaining people engaged in protests. Not a single Wisconsin representative is co-sponsoring the House version of the bill.
More information is available by following the links below.
July 16, 2020 – A bill in the Legislature would make it a felony to damage just about anything of historical significance on public property. Sen. Tim Carpenter (D-Milwaukee), who is sponsoring the bill with State Rep. Rob Hutton (R-Brookfield) did not respond to a request for a copy of the legislation's wording.
July 10, 2020 – The governor's police reform package and the silence that ensued.