March 1, 2019 – Governor Tony Evers released his 2019-2021 biennial budget proposal yesterday, beginning a long process of negotiation between the differing priorities of his administration and the Republican-controlled Legislature. The roughly $83 billion dollar budget includes many proposals that will meet stiff opposition among Republican lawmakers.
There are areas of bipartisan agreement, however, and these include increasing funding for Wisconsin’s criminal justice system. Comprehensive reinvestment in Wisconsin’s criminal justice system has earned the support of lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, as well as judges, private attorneys, prosecutors, state public defenders, and the State Bar of Wisconsin. Evers said “we have to connect the dots in criminal justice by tackling this issue holistically. Starting the moment someone encounters the justice system to the moment they re-join our communities, we have to look at everything from alternatives to incarceration to equity in representation to substance abuse prevention to re-entry programming.”
Included in yesterday’s budget proposal is an increase to the private bar reimbursement rate for public defense cases, to $70 per hour. The new rate would become effective on January 1, 2020 and also allows for price indexing, which would tie future rate increases to inflation. This represents the first increase in the private bar rate since 1995, which is currently $40 per hour, the lowest in the nation. The existing rate does not meet the average hourly operating costs for most attorneys and is a major contributing factor to the difficulty many courts have had with securing private attorneys for indigent public defense cases in a timely manner. Securing an increase in the private bar reimbursement rate is one of the top legislative priorities for the State Bar of Wisconsin.
Also included in Evers’ proposal is increased funding to hire more Assistant District Attorneys throughout the state, funding to hire more staff for the State Public Defender office, and funding for pay progression to encourage the retention of existing, experienced attorneys and prosecutors. Similar proposals have already been suggested by Assembly Republicans, who on February 18 unveiled a comprehensive package of criminal justice reform and funding. This includes Treatment Alternatives and Diversion (TAD) programs to help offenders who suffer from addiction issues, investments in the retention of correctional officers, and expanded worker training, reentry programs and health initiatives for ex-offenders. Taken together, we believe these measures will make our criminal justice system more efficient and effective, ensure continued access to 6th
amendment rights for all Wisconsinites, and create more opportunities for ex-offenders to reintegrate as productive and valuable members of society.
The State Bar of Wisconsin strongly supports these efforts. We ask that you add your voice, your experience, and your first-hand perspectives of the justice system by contacting your elected officials
and encouraging them to support these measures by explaining how investments into Wisconsin’s criminal justice system will benefit our state.