The Third Branch
Legislature to return for busy fall floor period
By Nancy Rottier, Legislative Liaison
With the state budget wrapped up, the Legislature returned Sept. 17 for a busy fall floor period. The Legislature will be considering individual bills ranging from economic development to transportation to municipal court fees to drunk driving. Floor debate and votes will take place during one week of September and two weeks each in October and November, ending Nov. 14.
The Legislative Committee of the Judicial Conference has developed two proposals that will be introduced shortly. One bill would expand and revise the expungement statute. It would allow cases that were dismissed or resulted in a not guilty verdict to be expunged, and allow non-traffic forfeitures to be expunged.
The other proposal seeks to clarify the procedure for obtaining a civil judgment for unpaid restitution, fines, costs and surcharges when a defendant has been on probation. The Department of Corrections is to notify the court 90 days before a defendant completes probation. There have been some cases in which notification has not been given, and the time for obtaining a civil judgment has run out. The proposal would make it clear that the clerk of circuit court could pursue a civil judgment, even after the period of probation was completed.
Several bills proposed by others that will have an impact on the court system include the following:
- Judicial Council revisions to the criminal procedure code. After years of meticulous effort to rewrite the entire criminal procedure code, the Judicial Council has readied a comprehensive bill. Plans call for the bill to be introduced during the fall session, with public hearings and action by at least one house of the Legislature. Both the Legislative Committee and the Committee of Chief Judges have been following developments and will be involved in whatever action the Legislature takes this fall.
- Juvenile court jurisdiction over some 17-year-olds. A proposal being advanced by a bipartisan group of legislators would return some 17-year-olds to the jurisdiction of the juvenile court. The bill would impact 17-year-olds who have not previously been convicted of a crime and who are alleged to have committed certain non-violent crimes. During the 1990s, most states moved 17-year-olds into the adult criminal justice system. Several states, including Illinois and Connecticut, have acted to reverse that action, at least for some 17-year-olds.
- Drunk driving legislation. A package of six proposals had well-publicized committee hearings in August. The proposals include making first-offense operating while intoxicated (OWI) a misdemeanor if the offender's blood alcohol concentration was 0.15 or higher; raising third offense OWI to a felony and increasing the severity of the penalties for higher offenses; and requiring all defendants to appear personally before the court. The Legislative Committee has expressed concerns about two proposals that include mandatory minimum sentences for OWI violations that result in injury or death.
- Directives affecting the Wisconsin Circuit Court Access (WCCA) website. A proposal similar to ones introduced in past sessions would require the Director of State Courts to maintain a WCCA website and also require a two-tiered database. Information available to the general public would be limited, but current information about cases would be made available to selected occupations and businesses. The Legislative Committee has voted to vigorously oppose this approach, as we have in the past.
The Assembly version of the bill had a public hearing on Sept. 12, at which the bill's main sponsor said he would be proposing a substitute version that would eliminate the two-tiered database and concentrate instead on the provisions that would assist persons found not guilty or whose cases were dismissed. Director of State Courts A. John Voelker used his time at the hearing to explain a proposed change to the expungement statute, developed by the Legislative Committee, which would address this same issue. He also delivered written testimony to the committee describing our objections to the bill as originally proposed.
These proposals are just some that the Legislative Committee will review and follow during this busy fall floor period. Judges and other court system employees may access a complete summary of bills of interest by visiting the Legislative Summary link on the court system Intranet, CourtNet.