The Third Branch
Double cut to state courts' budget remains, in part
By Deborah Brescoll, Budget and Policy Officer
Gov. Scott Walker signed 2013 Wisconsin Act 20, the new state budget, into law on June 30. Of primary concern to the court system was the continuation into the 2013-15 biennium of a $17 million lapse requirement, including $10.3 million that resulted from increased state employee contributions to retirement and health insurance. Since the budget bill removed these fringe benefit savings from court budgets, the Supreme Court requested that $10.3 million of the lapse requirement be deleted. The Governor denied the request, but after months of consistent communications efforts by the Director of State Courts Office, justices, judges, clerks of court and other court staff, the Joint Finance Committee reduced the $17 million court system lapse by $5.15 million, half the amount requested. The Director's Office is examining options for meeting the now-$11.8 million lapse, and will keep judges, court system partners and court staff informed about how the lapse will be managed.
Other provisions affecting the courts in Act 20 include:
- DNA collection at arrest: The Committee made a variety of changes to the Governor's DNA collection-at-arrest proposal, including deleting DNA collection at arrest for certain alleged misdemeanors. Also, DNA samples collected at arrest for alleged felonies cannot be analyzed unless (1) the arrest was made pursuant to a warrant, (2) the person failed to appear or waived a preliminary examination, or (3) there was a judicial finding of probable cause. The court will be required to notify law enforcement agencies of these court actions so DNA analysis could proceed.
- TAD funding: An additional $1 million annually is provided to the Treatment Alternatives and Diversion (TAD) program to provide grants to counties for programs that provide alternatives to prosecution and incarceration, nearly doubling funding for the program.
- Drug court grants: Funding of $500,000 per year is provided for drug court grants to counties that do not currently have a drug court program.
- Juvenile detention: The courts are authorized to place adjudicated delinquents at a juvenile detention facility, juvenile portion of a county jail or place of non-secure custody for up to 365 days. The previous limit was 180 days.
- Product liability: The law was modified to narrow and limit the application of the risk contribution theory of liability, to apply to actions or special proceedings pending on or commenced after the effective date of the bill.
Two provisions of particular interest to the court system were not included in the budget act:
- Bail bond agents: The Governor vetoed this controversial provision. The courts had actively opposed bail bondsmen, with the Committee of Chief Judges, the Wisconsin Clerks of Circuit Court Association and the Director of State Courts Office submitting letters to the Governor requesting a veto. In addition, several judges – most notably Chief Judge Jeffrey Kremers, Milwaukee County Circuit Court – served as media contacts on this issue. The Joint Finance Committee had inserted the provision to authorize licensed bail bond agents and agencies to act as sureties in actions brought in Dane, Kenosha, Milwaukee, Racine and Waukesha counties. Under the provision, the program would have gone statewide in five years. Bail recovery agents would also have been authorized to operate in Wisconsin. Detailed reporting requirements would have been placed on clerks of circuit court, and the Director of State Courts would have been required in four years to submit a report to the Legislature summarizing the clerks' reports.
- Crime prevention funding boards: The Governor also vetoed this provision, which would have created a $20 local crime prevention surcharge, and required every county to create a Crime Prevention Funding Board to distribute grants funded with surcharge revenues to organizations and law enforcement agencies for crime prevention purposes.
A detailed summary of Act 20 was distributed to justices and judges, clerks of court and court staff on July 2, the effective date of the new budget. The bulletin is available to court system employees on Courtnet.