My first job as an attorney was working in Appleton for Aid Association for Lutherans (AAL), which operated in all 50 states. AAL’s excellent government relations staff kept us informed of federal and state laws that had passed and legislative developments on anything that could affect our business. Having that knowledge gave AAL and its grassroots program the ability to encourage AAL members in any state to contact and educate their legislators, before a bill came up for a vote, on the ramifications of proposed legislation. It’s a very effective process because good legislators listen closely to the constituents in their districts. Many legislators value this feedback regarding interpretation, intent, and potential effect of bills.
Gov. Tony Evers’ budget included quite a few “justice-friendly” provisions that the State Bar of Wisconsin supports, such as instituting pay progression for district attorneys and public defenders, reforming expungement laws, and discontinuing charging 17 year olds as adults. These provisions support lawyers or the legal justice system, increase access to justice, and reform Wisconsin’s criminal justice system (for example, by removing barriers for first-time offenders). While the legislature will not adopt Gov. Evers’ budget exactly as it was introduced, his budget does serve to increase awareness of these provisions with the hope that they remain in the final budget or are incorporated into another bill.
We need your help in building awareness of these State Bar-supported provisions, including explaining to your legislators why they are needed and their intended effect. Wisconsin’s legislators are certainly no different now than they were when I worked for AAL. All legislators will tell you that they like to hear from their constituents on bills. Connecting by email works, but phone calls or face-to-face visits are even better. So I encourage you to contact your own legislators soon to ask them to support these justice-friendly provisions.
To be effective in helping advance these provisions, start by educating yourself about their intent and effect on the justice system and the clients you serve. Most of us do not have the time or energy to do that research.
Thankfully, the State Bar of Wisconsin’s government relations team has done the legwork for us. Find information about Gov. Evers’ budget provisions and their status in Rotunda Report, published by the State Bar bimonthly. Through the State Bar’s Advocacy Network, you can easily contact your legislators and draft emails on issues that you support. The whole system is designed to be easy, handling the logistics for you.
Together, we can help make Wisconsin become more justice friendly.
» Cite this article: 94 Wis. Law. 4 (April 2021).