Wisconsin Bail Reform Amendment Goes to Voters

A constitutional amendment proposal to reform Wisconsin’s cash bail system is now headed to voters in April’s election.

Following the Republican-controlled Senate’s approval of the measure earlier this week, the GOP-dominated Assembly on Thursday passed the resolution. The measure was approved 73-22, with 10 Democrats joining Republicans in support.

Under the amendment, judges would be able to consider the “totality of the circumstances” in setting bail— including the seriousness of the crime, previous convictions of the accused and the need to protect the community from serious harm. Currently, they can use only one factor: the likelihood a defendant will show up to his court date.

“For too long we have seen violent criminals allowed back on our streets because judges set extremely low or zero bail amounts. Families and businesses in communities across the state have paid the price for these soft-on-crime policies,” said State Representative Jon Plumer (R-Lodi).

“Violent criminals should not be given unspoken approval by the system to repeatedly victimize our communities,” said State Representative Cindi Duchow (R-Delafield), who authored the proposed amendment. “Judges and law enforcement officers see the revolving door of arrests, low bail, release, and re-arrest, and they are asking for change.”

Democrats decried the measure as politically motivated, a way to get conservative voters to the polls in a spring election that will, in part, determine whether liberals or conservatives control the state Supreme Court. They argue low-income suspects will no longer be able to make bail without more court discretion.

“Rather than using the first day of session to act on the will of the people, Republicans proposed a politically-motivated referendum that doesn’t provide any meaningful progress to meet Wisconsin’s needs,” said State Representative Sue Conley (D-Janesville).

It takes passage in two consecutive legislative sessions to send a constitutional amendment question on to voters. Thursday’s approval marked the final passage needed to send the question to the ballot.

The Assembly also approved along party lines a non-biding advisory referendum asking voters whether able-bodied, childless adults should be required to look for work in order to receive welfare benefits. That question also is expected to be on the April ballot.

And Republicans again rejected the Democrats’ substitute amendment to the work search referendum that would give voters a chance to weigh in on Wisconsin’s ban on abortion. Senate Democrats pushed the same substitute — with the same effect — on Tuesday.

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M.D. Kittle is the National Political Editor for The Star News Network.
Photo “Bail Bonds” by Daniel Schwen. CC BY-SA 4.0.



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