Assembly Democrats back call for special session on Juneteenth to address criminal justice reform

MADISON, Wis. — Assembly Democrats on Wednesday backed up a call from the Black Legislative Caucus for Gov. Tony Evers to call a special session of the state Legislature on Friday.

If Evers decides to call the special session — and he has not said if he will – those pushing for the session want to look at criminal justice reform, saying there are proposals from this session they could hear.

“This moment in our state and nation’s history requires action,” said Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, and the Assembly minority leader. “In order to make the necessary, fundamental changes in our society to address the underlying issues that have allowed systemic racism to permeate in our communities, the legislature must meet to take on these challenges.”

Rep. Sheila Stubbs, D-Madison, is part of the Legislative Black Caucus and is a member of the Dane County Board of Supervisors. She said she is also pushing for changes at the local level and is done with listening sessions.

“There are recommendations we have at the county level from many task force reports that are there that have not been implemented,” she said. “I think what’s really important is we take those recommendations and begin to implement them.”

If Evers calls the special session, Assembly Democrats and the Legislative Black Caucus have asked for it to be held on Friday, the same day as Juneteenth, the celebration of freedom marking the release of the last enslaved people of the Confederacy.

Stubbs and other local leaders held a ceremony at the City County Building in Madison on Wednesday to commemorate the day and raise the Juneteenth flag outside. It was the second year this has been done, and Stubbs is credited with making it happen at all.

Speakers at the event talked about freedom and what work is left to be done. Ruben Anthony, the president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Madison, said he finds it hard to celebrate the day.

“Today we still fight for our freedom,” he said. “Today we still have unequal justice. And so for me, today is mixed. It’s mixed because we have not arrived. We’ve been waiting for justice and we’ve been waiting for justice and justice hasn’t come.”

Those calling for the special session are hoping work can be done to fix injustices, though there are concerns even among them and what the Legislature would do.

“What’s happened in the past is our special sessions have been gaveled in for a minute or so and gaveled out, which is very frustrating,” Stubbs said. “I hope that this country, this nation, this world is at a point where we recognize the injustices have got to stop and that enough is enough.”