Lawmakers are scheduled to vote Tuesday on a constitutional amendment that would direct courts to consider past criminal records when setting cash bail, as well as bills that would allow guns in vehicles on school grounds and prohibit some offenders from having dogs.
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers would likely oppose the measures, which align with Republicans’ election-year strategy of being tough on crime while expanding Second Amendment rights, though the constitutional amendment would not need Evers’ approval before going to voters.
The proposed constitutional amendment coming before the Assembly would change the state Constitution by requiring courts to consider alleged violent offenders’ charges, criminal record and risk to public safety, as well as “the need to prevent the intimidation of witnesses,” in determining bail amounts.
Judges currently can’t impose cash bail to prevent future crimes, only to ensure defendants appear in court. Judges may, however, add conditions to a person’s bail that seek to address public-safety concerns.
The proposal is a narrower version of an earlier proposal, which pertained to all alleged offenders, not just violent ones. The original also would have authorized the Legislature to create a law allowing courts to deny release to alleged felony offenders upon finding they pose a threat to the community.
Amendment backer Rep. Cindi Duchow, R-Delafield, said the new proposal comes after Republican lawmakers encouraged her to narrow the scope of the effort.
“None of us want innocent people sitting in jail, but we walk a fine line to make sure we don’t have violent felons out on the street where they can harm other people,” she said. “So this way, by tying it back to just violent crime and past violent offenses, we’re assuring that we’re not going to just have someone who’s a shoplifter sitting in jail.”
She said her conversations with the state public defender’s office did not play a significant role in her choice to amend the measure.
The public defender’s office issued a statement last month saying the amendment would lead to the increased detention of people presumed to be innocent and create the likelihood that judges would set excessive bail amounts.
The proposed constitutional amendment dates to before a man out on bail drove through a Waukesha Christmas parade in November, killing six and injuring more than 60. It was first proposed in 2017 by Duchow and Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, who said the Wisconsin bail system had long needed changes. Wanggaard’s companion Senate measure was reintroduced in December, and Duchow’s in January.
To take effect, the amendment would have to pass two consecutive legislative sessions and be approved in a statewide referendum.
“I think there will be some debate, but I don’t know who doesn’t agree that violent offenders with a past violent history should not be out on the street,” Duchow said.
Guns at school
With Republican lawmakers saying current law needlessly exposes law-abiding citizens to potential prosecution, the Senate will vote Tuesday on a bill that would allow concealed carry license holders to bring guns in their vehicles on school property.
The bill passed the Assembly last month. It would likely be headed for a veto if the Senate approves it Tuesday.
Bill opponents, including the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, say increased gun access near schools would jeopardize student and faculty safety.
The bills’ supporters argue that people who forget their weapons in their cars and then drive onto school grounds to drop off or pick up their children should not be at risk for arrest.
Another bill coming before the Senate Tuesday would prohibit some people with felonies from owning dogs deemed “vicious” by a humane or law enforcement officer.
For a dog to be deemed vicious, it would need to have seriously injured or killed someone, or twice bitten a person or “behaved in a manner that a reasonable person would believe posed a significant, imminent threat of serious physical injury or death to a person.”
Under the bill, people with convictions for homicide, felony battery, sexual assault and felony drug possession would face a fine of up to $10,000 and up to six years in prison if their “vicious” dogs cause significant harm or death.
A bill coming before the Senate would require employers to allow proof of prior COVID-19 infection as an alternative to requiring vaccination and regular testing. The bill passed the Assembly on a party-line vote in January.
Another COVID-19-related bill would prohibit businesses and government from requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination before providing services. The bill passed the Assembly on a 60-37 vote last year, with Rep. Sylvia Ortiz-Velez, D-Milwaukee, joining Republican lawmakers in voting for it.
Evers, whose office did not respond to a request for comment, would almost certainly veto the bills if they reached his desk.