Dec. 14, 2017 – After a relatively slow fall session floor period, legislators have started to ramp up a number of issues as they prepare to end the 2017–18 legislative session in March. With almost 50 committee hearings scheduled in the month of December it is anticipated that the legislature will finish with a flurry of activity during the next few months.
Legislative leaders from both houses have indicated the possibility of adjourning session early and it is still unknown how much impact the budget battles from this past summer will affect relationships between the legislative houses and members. There is a sense of urgency by legislators to get their priorities and business done as quickly as possible to avoid being caught up in any last minute session wrangling that may impact the passage of pending legislation.
State Bar Priorities on Track for Consideration
A number of issues of interest to members of the State Bar have started the legislative vetting process. Assembly Bill 93/Senate Bill 53 authored by Representative Joe Sanfelippo (R–New Berlin) and Senator Leah Vukmir (R–Brookfield), which permits the expungement of criminal records has passed the State Senate and is awaiting action in the Assembly. The issue of expungement has received considerable attention by legislators this session. Assembly Bill 331 authored by State Representative David Steffen (R–Green Bay) and State Representative Even Goyke (D–Milwaukee) was also drafted in response to the issue of requesting expungement at the time of sentencing.
Both expungement proposals eliminate the requirement of judges to grant expungement at the time of sentencing, but diverge on the number of times a person can request expungement and the cost to make those requests. The State Bar is on record supporting both proposals and will continue to work with legislators to address issues with this important piece of public policy.
The State Bar continues to work on a number of other issues that will impact the justice system. The Second Chance legislation, supported by the State Bar and a coalition of juvenile justice advocates, was introduced earlier this month. Wisconsin is one of a handful of states that treat 17–year olds as adults in the justice system. The Second Chance legislation was highlighted in an article in last month’s Rotunda Report.
Issues of importance to private bar attorneys taking assigned counsel cases from the State Public Defenders office have received considerable interest by the legislature. AB 567/SB 467 sponsored by State Senator Patrick Testin (R–Stevens Point) and State Representative Ron Tusler (R–Harrison) received public hearings and were extensively covered by an article in this edition of Rotunda Report. The legislation would create a pilot program allowing private bar attorneys to receive tuition relief by taking 50 or more assigned counsel cases in a county with a population of 25,000 or less.
During the public hearings for AB 567 and SB 467, the issue of the low rate of pay for private bar attorneys taking assigned counsel cases was discussed at length. The private bar reimbursement rate continues to be the lowest reimbursement rate of any state in the country. The $40 per hour rate has not been changed since 1995, while overhead costs for attorneys continue to rise. The $40 rate is the focus of Supreme Court petition 17–06, which as numerous criminal justice advocates have indicated, establishes that the low rate is severely impacting the constitutional rights of Wisconsin citizens. The State Bar is hopeful that bipartisan legislation will be introduced soon to address this important issue.
Summary of Legislative Bills of Interest Being Considered by Legislature
Currently there are hundreds of legislative proposals moving through the legislative process. Below is a short summary of proposals that might be of interest to State Bar members. Some of these proposals listed are supported by either the State Bar’s Board of Governors or by one of the Bar’s 13 active lobbying practice sections.
For questions or more information on pending legislation please feel free to contact State Bar Government Relations Coordinators, Lynne Davis (org ldavis wisbar wisbar ldavis org) or Cale Battles (org cbattles wisbar wisbar cbattles org). To stay up to date with current state government issues please subscribe to the Rotunda Report or read the helpful links article on decoding the legislative session.
The first day of the spring 2018 session is scheduled to begin on January 16, 2018.