Wisconsin parole commission bill, Assembly approves

Wisconsin Capitol, Madison

Wisconsin's parole commission would be forced to meet in public and post its decisions online under a Republican-authored bill the state Assembly overwhelmingly approved Wednesday.

Republicans have heaped criticism on the commission after it decided to parole convicted murderer Douglas Balsewicz last May. He had served 25 years of an 80-year sentence for fatally stabbing his wife. Her family insisted they weren't notified of the decision until only a few days before he was set to be released.

The decision became a hot topic in the governor's race that summer. The commission's chairperson, John Tate, ultimately rescinded Balsewicz's parole at Gov. Tony Evers request and resigned a few weeks later, again at the governor's request.

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The bill would remove the commission's exemption from the state's open meeting laws, forcing the panel to meet in public and post notice of its meetings.

The Department of Corrections would be required to post the names of individuals granted or denied parole as well as monthly and annual totals. Commission agendas currently don't list parole applicants names.

Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC)

The bill also would guarantee that victims have a right to speak at parole hearings. State law already provides that guarantee, but the bill tightens the language.

The Assembly passed the bill 77-20. The legislation now goes to the Senate.

Evers' spokesperson, Britt Cudaback, didn't immediately respond to a message inquiring about whether the governor supports the bill.