Wisconsin Assembly advances bail reform

"We don't need cooperation." That's what a Republican state representative said Tuesday, Feb. 15 as the Assembly voted to advance bail reform.

You may get a say on a key piece of legislation, but Governor Tony Evers. 

State government in Wisconsin is divided. Republicans control the Legislature while a Democrat sits in the governor's office, but when it comes to changing the state constitution, the governor gets no say, and you do.

"We could tell story after story about people that are out on low bond that commit another violent act," said State Rep. Cindi Duchow (R-Delafield).

Darrell Brooks was the catalyst.

"He should’ve been locked up," said State Rep. Adam Neylon (R-Pewaukee).

The Waukesha parade suspect is just one in a long line of criminal defendants accused of harming others after bailing out of jail.

"Someday, maybe the Legislature will act," said Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Glenn Yamahiro.

"Well, that someday is today," said State Rep. Scott Allen (R-Waukesha). 

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On Tuesday, Assembly Republicans voted to alter the state constitution which currently limits bail to the dollar amount necessary to ensure a defendant comes to court.

"In changing this, a judge can now go back and look at your past criminal history, which is only common sense," said Duchow.

"It isn’t about risk. It isn’t about danger. It’s about money," said State Rep. Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee). 

Goyke wants bail reform but says using cash to measure risk hurts poor defendants most while allowing dangerous criminals with access to cash to go free.

"If they have the money, that individual can buy their way out of jail," said Goyke.

Duchow isn't worried about getting bipartisan support.

"We don’t need cooperation across the aisle," said Duchow.

That's because Republicans control the Legislature, and a constitutional amendment would not go to Governor Evers. Instead, it would go to voters in a statewide referendum which could happen as early as April 2023.

"The voters of Wisconsin are going to decide what kind of people they want to let out on the street," said Duchow.

Thirteen Democrats, including Milwaukee's Sylvia Ortiz-Velez and Daniel Riemer, voted with Republicans in approving the constitutional amendment. There were no Republicans who voted against it, but Republicans are not necessarily united in their approach to bail reform.

Attorney General Josh Kaul released the following statement:

"The constitutional amendment the Assembly passed today, while a small step in the right direction, doesn’t do nearly enough to strengthen Wisconsin’s pretrial system and protect public safety.

"Rich people who commit serious crimes, drug kingpins, and gang leaders shouldn’t be able to pay their way out of jail before trial simply because they have access to money. When people charged with serious crimes present a danger to the public, they should be detained pretrial.

"Based on my experience as a federal prosecutor, I encourage the legislature to look to the federal system for pretrial detention as a model. In my view, that system is both better at protecting public safety and fairer than Wisconsin’s system.

"We can and should do more to strengthen our pretrial system."

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