April 3, 2019 - Spring is here! Not only is the weather warming up, but so is activity at the Capitol. In this article, we’ll give a rundown on the status of legislation important to the State Bar of Wisconsin.
The State Bar supports expanding the ability of certain persons to expunge court records. Research has shown that even minor contact with the criminal justice system can have severe negative consequences that can last a lifetime. While many other states have moved forward in allowing one-time offenders of minor crimes the chance to clear their records, Wisconsin trails the nation in its policies on criminal record expungement. Many state lawmakers today see this inflexibility as a barrier to effective employment who are working to improve their lives, leading to recidivism and government dependency.
This year saw the introduction of a bipartisan expungement bill by Senators Darling and Risser and Representatives Steffen and Goyke. It would retroactively allow offenders of class H or lower felonies or misdemeanors to be eligible to petition for expungement, regardless of age. It also would remove the requirement that a judge order expungement at the time of sentencing, and allow a judge to order a person’s record not eligible for expungement at the time of sentencing.
Assembly Bill 33 / Senate Bill 39 currently has 75 co-sponsors, a majority of the Legislature. If you haven’t already done so, please take a moment to send a note to your legislators to thank or ask for support for this bill.
Private Bar Rate, Justice System Funding, and Juvenile Justice
Increasing the private bar rate for attorneys working on public defense cases has consistently been one of the State Bar's top priorities. This year, there are two proposals to increase the rate: the Governor's proposed budget, and a Republican criminal justice reform package. Both propose an increase in the rate from $40 per hour to $70 per hour. The GOP proposal also includes a loan payback program for private attorneys who take at least 50 public defense cases per year in counties with populations less than 25,000.
We feel that securing this increase is vitally important to ensuring access to justice in our state, upholding 6th Amendment rights for our citizens, and keeping our communities safe. If you agree, please send a message to your lawmakers and ask them to include a private bar rate increase in this year’s budget.
In addition to the rate, adequate funding—both criminal and civil—is of critical importance to provide a system of justice which is fairly administered and impartial to all people, regardless of financial circumstance. This includes ensuring all stakeholders are adequately compensated to attract and keep our highly knowledgeable and experienced judges and attorneys. Both the Governor's budget and the GOP package include funding for new DOJ and DA positions, as well as pay progression to retain existing staff.
The State Bar supports returning 17-year-olds to juvenile justice courts. Juvenile courts have targeted resources, staff, and programming available to help provide juveniles with programming that can improve their lives and keep them out of the criminal justice system as adults. The Governor's proposed budget would do just this, and allocates funding to help cover some of the costs of the transition. There is currently no stand-alone proposal to increase the age that the accused are tried as adults.
Over the next few weeks, a series of public hearings will be held on the proposed annual budget. We encourage you to attend one of these hearings and share your opinions about funding priorities for criminal justice. Written comments can be emailed to the Committee at BudgetComments@legis.wisconsin.gov.
Budget Public Hearings
Friday, April 5
10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Pontiac Convention Center
2809 North Pontiac Drive, Janesville
Wednesday, April 10
10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Oak Creek Community Center
8580 South Howell Avenue, Oak Creek
Monday, April 15
10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
UW- River Falls
University Center, Riverview Ballroom #260
500 Wild Rose Avenue, River Falls
Wednesday, April 24
10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
UW - Green Bay
University Union, Phoenix Room
2430 Campus Court
Unnecessary pretrial jailing is a burden on taxpayers, can lead to job loss and enhanced financial distress for poor defendants and their families, and tends to increase the recidivism risk posed by low-risk defendants. The State Bar supports efforts to reform the bail system by moving away from the use of cash bail, in favor of using validated, science-based risk-assessment tools as the basis for pretrial detention decisions.
The State Bar is currently monitoring the legislative recommendations that have come from the 2018 Legislative Council Study Committee on Bail and Conditions of Pretrial Release, including: 2019 Senate Joint Resolution 13,Senate Bill 98, Senate Bill 99, Senate Bill 101.