Vos says ‘it’s possible’ guv’s youth prison plan could pass this session

Photo by Michelle Stocker, The Capital Times

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos today was noncommittal on the future of Gov. Scott Walker’s youth prison plan, saying “it’s possible” it could pass this session.

The Rochester Republican’s comments come after Walker called on lawmakers to quickly OK a plan to close the state’s youth prisons and open five new regional facilities.

The guv first planned to include the plan in the 2019-21 state budget.

Vos, speaking to reporters before the Assembly floor session this afternoon, said members of his caucus were looking into other options for overhauling the state’s youth prison system, including sending more youths to county-run facilities.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said the Juneau Republican is meeting with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos tomorrow to discuss the announcement.

“Sen. Fitzgerald is supportive of the concept, but wants to meet with the Senate GOP caucus to gauge the level of support for the expedited timeline the Governor has called for, as well as the plan itself,” spokesman Dan Romportl said.

Along with the call, Walker announced his administration within the next week will begin the process of selecting an architecture-engineering firm to develop the concept design for the regional facilities. The firm will be picked next month, his office said.

Walker earlier this month unveiled plans to close Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake in northern Wisconsin. But some Dems have criticized Walker for moving too slowly after several years of problems at the facilities. It calls for borrowing $80 million to build the new facilities around the state and expand an existing one in Madison for those with mental health issues.

“We’re dedicated to improving long-term outcomes for both juveniles and our staff working at these facilities,” Walker said.

Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, said Walker’s “rapidly evolving stance” on the youth prisons is due to pressure from legislative Dems. He also called for a bipartisan solution that can pass this session.

“This hasty, last minute proposal, a week before his State of the State address, is indicative of a governor and majority that has dropped the ball,” Hintz said. “After six years of inaction, they are scrambling to address the crisis at Lincoln Hills. These knee-jerk, election year actions are no way to govern.”

Walker’s office also listed 13 changes Corrections has made at the youth prisons, including nearly $2 million and a dozen positions in the 2017-19 budget to expand mental health services for female offenders and to provide permanent nursing staff to administer medication at the boys and girls’ facilities.

Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, said Walker and Republicans have had three budgets to address the problems at Lincoln Hills, but their inaction made problems worse.

“Governor Walker has turned a blind eye as serious problems have led too crumbling roads, struggling schools, and the degradation of our land and water,” Shilling said. “Lives are at stake and Gov. Walker’s political ambitions are his only concern.”

See the release.

This post was updated at 1:30 p.m. 

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