Education funding bills put off as criminal justice reform, rape kit testing fills Assembly agenda

Leaders of the state Assembly are ignoring the governor’s call to take up bills that would put hundreds of millions of dollars into education.

They were supposed to be part of a special session scheduled for Tuesday.

Gov. Tony Evers wants to put $250 million of the projected $450 million surplus into education in the state. The money is split up into various programs, from special education to mental health to rural schools.

Republicans said they want to use the entire projected surplus to fund tax cuts, but a democrat from the education committee told reporters that people across the state want this funding for their schools.

“These bills are a product of hearing from administrators, teachers, school board members, community members all over Wisconsin telling us this is what they want,” said Rep. Sondy Pope, D-Mount Horeb. “This is what they need. It’s urgent, and we should be responding to it.”

Instead lawmakers discussed 23 bills that deal with the state’s criminal justice system.

One bill makes caller ID spoofing illegal, with the intention to lower the amount of scam calls Wisconsinites get. Another bill puts a criminal penalty on “porch pirates,” the nickname given to people who steal packages from someone’s front door. There were also a few bills related to OWI arrests, including one that increases the statute of limitations for charging those crimes.

A few of the criminal justice bills are contentious.

One such bill would require the Department of Corrections to recommend revoking a person’s extended supervision, parole, or probation if the person is charged with a crime while on that release.

“I think we’re trying to send a message to the community that republicans are serious about community safety,” said Rep. Rob Hutton, R-Brookfield, the author of the bill. “We’re serious about all the headlines we continue to see on the news every night of individuals out continuing to victimize in many cases to the point of killing people because they’re out on parole and community supervision.”

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimated the measure would permanently increase operations costs approximately $156 million, which Hutton and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said was exaggerated.

Democrats spoke Tuesday in opposition to the proposal.

“The authors of the bills today have not offered any bit of data, any analogous state any sort of social science or scholarly articles to tell us what we should expect on return on investment,” said Rep. Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee.

The bill passed the Assembly 61-38.

Another bill is not popular among the sexual assault survivor or law enforcement communities, though it is expected to pass the Assembly on Tuesday.

The bill sets up a timeline for the testing and storage of rape kits, which is meant to prevent a backlog of untested kits from piling up again. On top of that, it adds in a victim’s bill of rights.

There are two pieces advocates don’t like. One mandates that law enforcement notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement if a person they arrested for sexual assault is not a citizen, which sexual assault victim advocates said will lower reporting in Latinx and immigrant communities. Another would enroll student victims in school voucher programs even if they don’t qualify.

A bill that included the timeline, but not the other pieces, passed the state Senate last year, but it did not get a hearing in the Assembly Committee on Health, despite support from advocates, law enforcement and multiple attorneys general.

Vos said there’s no reason the bill up Tuesday shouldn’t get the support since he said it is more complete.

“Giving options for young people who have been assaulted to go to a different school so they’re not forced to go back to their perpetrator, that should not be partisan,” he said.

Democrats noted how unpopular the legislation is among advocates. While the original Republican-authored bill had the input from organizations like the Rape Crisis Center and the Wisconsin Coalition against Sexual Assault, the replacement bill does not.

“No one testified in favor of this bill,” said Rep. Debra Kolste, D-Janesville. “Law enforcement, advocates, nobody had any input into this bill.”

The bill is scheduled to have two and a half hours of debate, a full hour longer than any other bill on Tuesday’s agenda.

Evers has not responded to multiple requests for comment on what he will do if the replacement bill gets to his desk, but Assembly Minority Leader Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, said he hopes the governor will scrap it and try for the original bill next year.