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WI Republicans propose state constitutional amendment regarding bail, passes first hearing in assembly

Rep. Duchow
Posted at 4:56 PM, Feb 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-15 17:56:32-05

MILWAUKEE — Following the Waukesha parade tragedy, bail reform debates have taken center-stage in Wisconsin.

Darrell Brooks was charged with driving a car through paradegoers in Waukesha during the Christmas parade in November. At the time of the crime, Brooks was out on a $1,000 bail for a charge of trying to run over the mother of his child.

"Probably the greatest tragedy of all, was the person that committed those heinous acts should have never been on the streets in the first place. He should've been locked up," said State Rep. Adam Neylon (R-Pewaukee).

Late last year, State Rep. Cindi Duchow (R - Town of Delafield) reintroduced a proposed constitutional amendment she and other republicans have been pushing for years.

The first hearing of the proposed amendment passed in the assembly 70-21 on Tuesday.

"What we're doing is we're changing the conditions for pretrial release," Duchow said.

However, amendments to the state constitution have to pass in two separate legislative sessions and then be approved by Wisconsin voters in a general election before any change can be made.

The earliest this proposed amendment could find its way into the state constitution is spring of 2023.

Currently, bail is intended to ensure the defendant returns back to court. Judges can also consider protecting the community from serious bodily harm or witness intimidation when it comes to setting bail.

The constitutional change proposed by Duchow and her colleagues would remove restrictions on judge to look at person's past violent conviction when deciding bail.

"It allows the judge to look at the totality of the circumstances. So, they can go back and look at your past criminal history, what you were charged with. They can also take into account that maybe you don't have a past criminal history, and maybe you have a full-time job and you're supporting a wife and six kids and we have every reason to believe that your innocent of doing this," Duchow said.

State Rep. David Bowen (D - Milwaukee) said although he's encouraged by the conversations around bail reform, he doesn't support the proposed constitutional change because it doesn't get at what he considers the heart of the issue: getting rid of cash bail.

"We need to shift our cash bail system so it is a public safety based system, based on the threat that you have to the public and no longer leave it on the premises of how much money you have or have access to," Bowen said. "You have individuals who can be violent and can submit bail currently, they can raise funds. It can be a huge amount of dollars to make it harder for them to be released, but ultimately they can still be released. Right now, folks who don't, the more aren't able to be released even for non-violent issues. So, this blanket approach is not the right way we need to go into this."

Meanwhile, State Rep. Sylvia Ortiz-Velez (D - Milwaukee) says she'll vote in favor of the change, but like Bowen, would like to see a no cash bail system.

In a statement Rep. Sylvia Ortiz-Velez said:

“I am voting yes on this resolution today because there is a need to protect the public from individuals who may pose a public threat. I am also supporting the measure because it does not apply to non-violent offenders. I would prefer to have  a “no cash bail system” however that is not the resolution we have before us. The larger problem which is not reflected in this resolution is how the state has systematically underfunded Milwaukee’s public safety functions. In order to protect the public, we need to receive our fair share of funding from the State.”

Others expressed concerns that the proposed constitutional change would unfairly impact those with low-income and those who have been formerly incarcerated.

"I really believe in my heart that we're further punishing individuals that have arrest and conviction records. It's like there's no redemption at all when you enact these types of legislature," said EXPO (Ex-incarcerated People Organizing) Executive Director Jerome Dillard.

EXPO'S state-wide campaign coordinator Peggy West-Schroder echoed that comment saying, "The most disappointing thing about this particular amendment is that it doesn't have a time frame attached. So basically what it says for the tens of thousands of people living in Wisconsin with prior felony convictions, it doesn't matter how long you haven't been in trouble for, it doesn't matter how long you've been off supervision, it doesn't matter what you've done with your life since then."

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