June 27, 2019 – After months of debate and deliberation, the Assembly and Senate have voted upon a final budget bill, which will be sent to the desk of Governor Tony Evers. The governor has six days to either sign the budget or exercise his full or partial veto powers. If the does not sign or veto it, the budget will implemented as passed by the legislature. Information on the governor’s partial veto powers can be found here.
Below is a recap and review of the priority issues that the State Bar of Wisconsin has tracked and advocated for over the course of this year.
Private bar rate
A longstanding priority issue for the State Bar, this year marks the first time an increase has been approved since 1995. The Republican-controlled legislature supported increasing the private bar rate to $70/hour (an increase also proposed by Gov. Evers) beginning January 1, 2020. There was no increase in the $25/hour travel rate and Gov. Evers’ proposal to index the rate with inflation was not included in this budget.
The legislature also appropriated $3.6 million for counties’ expenses as a result of the Supreme Court decision increasing the rate for court-appointed lawyers made at a county expense to $100/hour, also beginning January 1.
District Attorney pay progression
This week the legislature adopted a final amendment on the floor that gained enough votes to finalize the budget’s passage. Included in the amendment was a provision providing a one-step pay progression increase to eligible assistant district attorneys each year of the biennium. Gov. Evers had proposed the equivalent of a 2% pay increase each year of the biennium.
Additional Assistant District Attorney positions
Also included in the final budget amendment was a provision to increase the total number of ADA positions throughout the state by an additional 34 attorneys. The Joint Finance Committee had originally supported Gov. Evers’ proposal to add 30 prosecutors. This brings the total number of new prosecutors to 65.
Salary increases for State Public Defender (SPD) and Department of Justice (DOJ)
The legislature appropriated the equivalent of 2% increase for DOJ and SPD staff attorneys each year of the biennium, as requested by Gov. Evers. They did not, however, include public defender staff in the stepped pay progression increase that was provided to assistant district attorneys in the final budget amendment. By not approving a step increase for Public Defender staff, it will create a gap in salary parity for these two important staff positions. The State Bar is hopeful that the legislature and the Governor will work together to address this pay issue going forward in the 2019-20 legislative session.
Civil legal aid funding
The legislature supported Gov. Evers’ proposal to fund legal aid services at $1 million over the biennium, maintaining the current budget appropriations. The funds would continue to be restricted for use only on solving legal problems faced by survivors of domestic violence and/or abuse cases.
Issues the State Bar supported that were not found in the final budget included funding for Judicial Council and a proposal by Gov. Evers to raise the age of adult court jurisdiction on individuals from 17 years of age to 18 years of age.