Assembly to OK rape kit bill, tough-on-crime proposals

MADISON — Assembly Republicans were set to hand Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul another defeat Tuesday, scheduling a vote on a bill creating sexual assault evidence kit testing protocols after tacking on divisive provisions critics say are designed to ensure it never becomes law.

Kaul has made testing sexual assault evidence kits one of his priorities. He has spent much of the past year advocating for a pair of bipartisan bills that would create submission and tracking protocols. The Senate passed both bills in October but Assembly Republicans refused to do anything with them.

With the two-year legislative session set to end in March, Kaul has been pressing Republican Rep. Joe Sanfelippo, chairman of the Assembly Health Committee, to hold a hearing on the bills.

Kaul's efforts backfired. Sanfelippo accused the attorney general of bullying him. Earlier this month, Assembly Republicans ripped the issue away from Kaul, introducing a third bill. The measure includes the submission and tracking requirements in the original bills, but it also contains provisions that require police to notify immigration authorities if sexual assault defendants and convicts are in the country illegally and to allow student victims to enter Wisconsin's school choice programs.

Republicans hailed the bill as more comprehensive than the original proposals. But both the immigration and choice provisions are non-starters with Democrats. Gov. Tony Evers' spokeswoman didn't return a message inquiring about the governor's stance on the bill but it's all but certain he'll veto it if it reaches his desk.

The Assembly was poised to vote on the new bill Tuesday afternoon or evening. Approval would send the measure to the state Senate.

Republicans have been working to weaken Kaul since he won election in November 2018. They passed sweeping lame-duck legislation that December forcing him to get permission from the Legislature's Republican-controlled finance committee before he can settle any lawsuits. They have also ignored his pleas to pass gun control legislation.

Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz told reporters during a news conference before the Assembly took the floor Tuesday that Republican Speaker Robin Vos made a transparent decision to include “poison pills” in the bill to ensure Evers won't sign it into law.

“How sick do you have to be to play political games when we're talking about the testing of rape kits?” Hintz said.

Vos said during his own pre-session news conference that Hintz is “a bomb-thrower” who works to create division. He said the new bill is better than the two proposals that passed the Senate before and that there's no reason anyone should oppose it.

“The only ones who are making this into a partisan issue are my Democratic colleagues, who are ... objecting to it just because of their own personal ideology.”

The Assembly also was set to pass a package of bills Tuesday that would impose tougher sanctions and sentences on criminals. The legislation would:

— Require the Department of Corrections to recommend revoking a person's extended supervision, parole or probation if he or she is charged with a crime. According to department estimates, hundreds of people could end up back in prison and the agency would need to build two new prisons to house them. Operation costs could jump by $54.7 million in the first year of the bill's enactment, according to the estimates. Vos told reporters he believes the department is exaggerating the projections because Evers, who campaigned on cutting the prison population in half, controls the agency.

— Expand the list of crimes that could land a child in a youth prison.

— Prohibit prosecutors from amending charges of illegal firearm possession against violent criminals without a judge's permission.

— Forbid the Department of Corrections from ending probation early for violent convicts and expands the list of violent crimes that disqualify prison inmates for early release.

It's unlikely any of the crime bills will win Evers' signature. But Republican lawmakers on the campaign trail this summer can say they tried to crack down on criminals.