June 21, 2021 – The Joint Committee on Finance finished their proposed biennial budget changes last week, while the rest of the legislature moved quickly to advance many pieces of legislation on its agenda before the traditional summer lull. Many of the State Bar’s top priorities had major developments in the past week.
Law Enforcement Reform
The Assembly met on Wednesday, June 16 for a marathon session that addressed several important pieces of legislation. Among them were a slate of law enforcement reform bills that the State Bar supports, including Assembly Bills 329-335, which passed the Assembly with voice votes and now head to the Senate for concurrence.
The Assembly also passed several Senate-approved bills, sending them to Governor Evers, who has promised to sign them. The State Bar supported legislation includes:
- SB 122, Law Enforcement Use of Force Policy - Public Notices, which makes changes to the public noticing requirements for law enforcement agencies’ use of force policies.
- SB 123, Law Enforcement Use of Force Reporting – DOJ, which directs the Department of Justice to collect information and publish an annual report on law enforcement use of force incidents, injuries, and firearm discharges. It also requires demographic data on such incidents to be collected and reported.
The Assembly is pausing on taking up SB 120 for a full vote until it can address concerns raised by the Milwaukee Police Association, according to the Journal Sentinel.
During the June 16 session, expungement reform was taken up by the Assembly in the form of AB 69, which passed easily by a voice vote. The bill will now head to the Senate for concurrence. Last session, the Senate did not schedule an Assembly-passed expungement reform bill for a full floor vote. This session, it is hoped that the increased attention and robust support for such reform from business and conservative groups across the state will encourage the Senate to act and pass the bill.
The Joint Committee on Finance also met on June 16, taking up several budget items. The committee chose to take no action on an increase to civil legal aid—meaning existing funding will be retained at $500,000 per year of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) money, restricted to instances of domestic abuse. A number of committee members expressed support for an increase, but it was determined that a separate bill outside of the budget process might have a better opportunity for success. The State Bar is strongly supportive of additional aid to close the justice gap for low income individuals, many of whom have had additional pressures placed upon them during the pandemic. Further funding could assist veterans, prevent elder abuse and move people back into employment much quicker if their legal matters could be resolved quicker even with minimal assistance from an attorney.
The Committee also approved a measure to borrow $125 million for broadband expansion grants for areas across the state. The provision calls for grants to telecommunications providers to expand internet access infrastructure that meets the current federal guidelines for “broadband,” currently at 25 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload speeds. The Wisconsin Public Service Commission estimates that there are approximately 400,000 residents who lack broadband access, and that it will cost between $740 million to $1.4 billion dollars to expand broadband access to every resident in the state. The State Bar supports increasing broadband as a way to increase access to justice and the ability to practice in rural areas, especially as courts and legal providers have increasingly turned to virtual meetings and hearings in the wake of the pandemic.
The State Assembly plans to be on the floor for debate on the passage of the budget next week, with the Senate soon to follow. The proposal would then go to Governor Evers who could line-item veto provisions or possibly veto the entire document.