A proposed constitutional amendment making changes to cash bail is moving briskly through the Wisconsin legislature. Following a joint public hearing by the Assembly and Senate judiciary committees on Tuesday, the amendment passed the Assembly Judiciary committee, where Representative Jimmy Anderson (D-Fitchburg) was the only no vote.
“There’s going to be chances where we have individuals who can afford to get themselves out of prison who could then continue to commit heinous acts that we’re failing to take account of,” Anderson said.
Representative Sylvia Ortiz-Velez (D-Milwaukee) was a yes despite concerns. “I would prefer a system that would keep the public safe from people who do pose a public threat but at the same time ensuring we don’t have people in custody who are nonviolent offenders.” Ortiz-Velez said keeping communities safe is a primary consideration for her.
The amendment would expand what factors judges can consider when setting cash bail for violent offenders. Under current law, courts can impose release conditions to protect the community from “serious bodily harm,” and judges can only take into account the likelihood the defendant will appear in court when setting bail.
Judiciary Committee chair, Representative Ron Tussler (R-Harrison) said the change will empower judges. “We try to simplify systems too much, instead of relying on our individual judges and trusting those judges to do what they’ve been elected to do and what’s in their community’s best interest.”
Representative Shae Sortwell (R-Two Rivers) said the amendment will restore discretion to judges which was taken away by lawmakers decades ago. “I believe we need to go back to what we had in 1980 before we screwed up in 1981 to give the judges this flexibility so that we can have real consideration of issues that directly affect our communities.”
The amendment passed both chambers of the legislature with bipartisan support last session. Proponents hope to have it before voters for consideration on the statewide ballot in April.