Wisconsin voters will be able to weigh in on a proposed constitutional amendment on bail reform as part of the April statewide ballot. In Assembly debate Thursday, Representative Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee) argued against the proposal, and for pretrial detention.
“I support pretrial detention.” Goyke said. “I support people that pose a public safety risk being held in custody. But when we make that decision and that measure solely about money, we allow a subgroup of people the opportunity to buy their way out of jail.”
The amendment’s author, Representative Cindi Duchow (R-Delafield), said pretrial detention has been on the books for decades in Wisconsin, but has never been used.
“Pretrial detention doesn’t work,” said Duchow. “It’s basically a mini trial before your trial. The victim has to come in and testify which can be traumatizing for a victim of violent crime. You have to have a whole little mini hearing. You have to have all your evidence. You have to have your DNA back. We don’t have the physical space to do it, nor do we have the finances to do it.”
Democrats argued that the proposed change will disproportionately impact low income Wisconsinites, while allowing those with the financial resources to pay higher bail amounts.
“If we’re serious about safety, there are other measures to do that,” said Representative Dora Drake (D-Milwaukee). She noted prosecutors and public defenders are understaffed and underfunded.
The measure will allow judges to consider past convictions of those charged with crimes, as well as “the need to protect the community from serious harm” and “prevent the intimidation of witnesses,” when setting bail. Judges are currently only allowed to set bail amounts to ensure an individual appears back in court.
Duchow said that will still leave judges and court commissioners with considerable discretion. “They’re gonna look back at their (defendants) past criminal convictions. They’re going to sort out the dangers to the community and then they’re going to set their bail. And if they want to set it for $10 they can do it, if they want to set it for 10 million. We are not handcuffing our judges.”
Ten Democrats voted to approve the amendment which passed 74-23, following state Senate approval on Tuesday. Passage by two consecutive legislative sessions is required before proposed constitutional amendments go to voters.
The Assembly also approved putting a nonbinding, advisory referendum on the ballot. Voters will be asked if childless, able bodied adults should be required to apply for work in order to receive state funded welfare benefits.
That’s something that’s already required under state law. “It is amazing to see the mental gymnastics that Wisconsin Republicans are actively pursuing to make sense of something that already is happening,” said Representative Christina Shelton (D-Green Bay.)
Republicans argue it’s not being enforced. This is something the state’s supposed to be doing,” said Representative Jon Plumer (R-Lodi). “It’s not the only instance in the state of Wisconsin where an agency is not following the letter of the law.”
It’s an advisory referendum, meaning no action is required if approved by voters.