As the legislature is still in the process of winding up for session, there is currently more anticipation than legislation. Only a few bills affecting the criminal justice system have been discussed at this point. Probably most notable is a proposal that would criminalize most, if not all, first offense operating while intoxicated penalties. Aside from research that shows treatment as a more effective option than criminal sanctions; without additional funding and staff resources, the SPD will be hard pressed to absorb 17,000 additional misdemeanor cases per year.
The Governor is expected to introduce the 2013-2015 biennial budget following a speech to a joint convention of the legislature on February 20. Kelli and I have been meeting with key legislators in leadership, on the Joint Committee on Finance, and justice related standing committees to give them information on the current status of the agency and a summary of our agency budget request. If you have any information regarding a legislator that would prove useful in a meeting like this, please contact me at 608-264-8572 or by e-mail.
Finally, the Legislative Council study committees on which we had staff as committee members are near the end of their work and close to introducing bills to go through the regular legislative process. Briefly, the Special Committee on the Supervised Release and Discharge of Sexually Violent Persons created legislation that essentially makes supervised release easier to obtain and discharge more difficult. The Special Committee on Legal Interventions for Persons with Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias created a new subchapter within Chapter 55 that contains provisions specific to the care and rights of persons with dementia who may also have a co-occuring medical or mental health need. The Special Committee on Permanency for Young Children in the Child Welfare System is in the process of consolidating fifteen separate drafts into three omnibus bills. One significant change is an elimination of the right to a jury trial in both CHIPS and TPR proceedings. There is also a proposal for a pilot program that authorizes the SPD to provide representation for adults in CHIPS proceedings.
While not every proposal that came out of these committees is ideal for the SPD or our clients, it is important to note that, by having a seat at the table, the SPD had a significant impact on the final recommendations. Another significant benefit to our work on these committees was an ability to demonstrate our agency’s value as a knowledgeable, experienced, thoughtful partner in the justice system. Our members on the committees – Tony Rios (Madison), Tom Reed (Milwaukee), and Mark Gumz (Baraboo) – saw an increasing awareness of, and even reliance on, the expertise the SPD has to offer policymakers. And many thanks to practice area experts who helped with the policy contained in these proposals – Larry Peterson, Vincent Rust, Dennis Purtell, Blanche Kushner, Diane Rondini-Harness, Katie Holtz, Devon Lee, Eileen Huie, Seily Joshi and Marla Stephens.