Criminal justice interests band together to push $70 million budget package

Photo by Michelle Stocker, The Capital Times

Criminal justice interests are banding together for the first time to push a $70 million package that would add assistant DAs, create new positions in the state crime lab and boost the reimbursement rate for private attorneys who serve as public defenders.

Much of what the coalition is seeking was detailed in budget requests submitted to the Walker administration.

But the Department of Justice, court system, public defenders, DAs and assistant DAs plan a unique pitch for the package. Typically, the guv and Joint Finance Committee consider agency budgets separately. But coalition members want them to look at these pieces of their request as a joint package.

What’s more, they’re going to make an unusual request: if lawmakers decide the $70 million package is too much, the groups want the guv and JFC to give them a number that works and the opportunity to make a recommendation on how to divvy up the money among their priorities.

“We are not adversaries,” said Jordan Lamb, who represents the association for the state’s assistant DAs. “The system works when we are all together on the funding issue.”

Working on their own, the entities have had struggles getting the their priorities funded.

Two years ago, the Public Defender Board sought $7.6 million in the second year of the 2017-19 budget to increase the reimbursement rate for private attorneys who defend those the state office can’t. But Gov. Scott Walker didn’t include any additional money in his budget proposal, and lawmakers didn’t add any in as they re-worked the document.

Likewise, there was a request in the 2017-19 budget for adding 96.3 full-time equivalent assistant district attorneys and increasing part-time ADAs equal to another 5.4 positions. Neither was ultimately approved.

Portage County DA Louis Molepske, a former Dem lawmaker who now serves as president of the Wisconsin District Attorneys Association, argued lawmakers should consider the package as a whole, because each piece is intertwined. When private attorneys decline to take public defender cases because the $40 an hour rate is so low, it delays DAs getting their cases through the courts. That then doesn’t sit well with judges who see defendants waiting longer than they should for a resolution.

“The court system is like a stool. It can’t operate without one leg being addressed because it falls,” Molepske said.

WisPolitics.com subscribers first saw this story in the Nov. 16 Report. To subscribe, go to: https://www.wispolitics.com/subscribe/

Those who subscribe to the Budget Blog also can see the full story. To learn more, contact Colin Schmies at schmies@wispolitics.com.

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