Voting is the start, not the end, of the self-governing process. The hard job now begins. It is time to roll up our sleeves and work with elected officials.
The State Bar of Wisconsin is focused on ensuring the voices of Wisconsin’s lawyers are heard in Madison and Washington, D.C. In addressing disparities through our policy priorities, we will aggressively advocate on the following key issues and need your help to move each initiative forward.
Expungement: Expunging criminal records helps qualifying individuals get a fresh start. Studies have shown even minimal contact with the criminal justice system can have a significant detrimental effect on a person’s life. A criminal record can be a life-long barrier, presenting obstacles to employment, housing, education, and family reunification and often resulting in significant debt.
Bail Reform: Wisconsin’s form of cash bail is counterproductive to public safety, likely contributes to disparities in the justice system, and makes liberty depend on economic position. Wisconsin should move toward a more equitable system.
Juvenile Jurisdiction: Wisconsin is one of the few states that sets the age of criminal responsibility at 17 years. If treated as juveniles, teenage offenders are less likely to commit more offenses and more likely to learn from the situation, receive adequate treatment and services, and find success in the future.
Pay Progression and Private-Bar Rate: Ensuring prosecutors and defense counsel are adequately compensated is important to advancing justice. These professionals make long-term decisions that affect the lives of all Wisconsin residents. By providing fair pay, Wisconsin will encourage experienced prosecutors and defense counsel to continue service to the system.
Student Debt: Wisconsin is on the brink of a constitutional crisis when it comes to individuals of limited means exercising their right to counsel in criminal matters. During the last legislative session, an increase in the private-bar payment rate was passed with the help of a coalition that included the State Bar. However, student debt remains a deterrent to taking these cases for some attorneys. We will continue to advocate for loan forgiveness programs that enable attorneys to take assignments from the Public Defender’s Office and similar work. In addition, we must work for meaningful and comprehensive reform efforts at the federal level.
Civil Legal Aid Funding: Civil legal aid funding supports eligible individuals and families, and resolving civil legal issues has far-reaching effects on the judicial system. When individuals have legal representation or receive proper legal advice, the court system becomes more efficient and less crowded and public confidence in fair and impartial justice improves.
We will also focus on numerous other important issues, including physical restraint of juveniles and compensation to people exonerated of crimes, as well as the many items that get considered in developing the biennial state budget.
But we need your direct involvement. Democracy is not a spectator sport. Subscribe to Rotunda Report, the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Government Relations newsletter, to stay up to date and engaged with legislative developments. We need your voice now more than ever.
Cite to 94. Wis. Law. 9 (January 2021).