Two legislators are looking for co-sponsors for a bill that seeks to remove information about those acquitted of a crime from the state’s publicly accessible online courts system.
State Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, and state Rep. Mary Czaja, R-Irma, are circulating a bill that would, if passed, require staff from the state courts’ office to remove information about a felony case from the Wisconsin Circuit Court Access website within 120 days of being notified that a case was dismissed or the defendant was found not guilty.
The state courts’ office would also have to do the same for civil forfeiture cases within 90 days. The paper records held in the clerk of circuit court offices in each county would not be affected, Grothman said Wednesday.
Grothman chairs the Committee on Judiciary and Labor, which is where the bill will likely end up once it is introduced in the Senate. He said the bill will circulate until Jan. 24, and thinks it will pass before the current session ends in April.
“Absolutely, we’re going to give it a hearing,” Grothman said. “If it’s in my committee, it’s going to give it a hearing.”
Czaja could not immediately be reached for comment.
Wisconsin Circuit Court Access, or WCCA, is commonly referred to as CCAP — Consolidated Court Automation Programs, which is a statewide, computer case management system for the circuit courts. CCAP operates the WCCA system as its public access component. It gets between 3 million and 5 million page views a day.
The proposal is the latest attempt to enact what has been discussed several times over the past decade. However, none of those attempts – including a bill by Democratic legislators earlier this year – have moved forward, as each attempt has been met with heavy pushback from media organizations to apartment associations.
John Voelker, director of the state courts, has also opposed bills in the past that require his office and the clerks of court to maintain digital and physical files in different ways.
But Grothman said he hasn’t spoken to any legislators who are against the idea. He said he thinks “people’s lives are being ruined when they’re convicted of a crime” because the information is easily accessible on CCAP.
“I’m somewhat shocked that people in the courts system have allowed this injustice to have this go on without banging down our door,” Grothman said.
The Joint Legislative Council set up committees in 2007 and 2010 to look at possible legislation to allow records to be expunged for certain offenses and for those who were acquitted. However, neither committee ended up making any recommendations.
The State Bar of Wisconsin also petitioned the state Supreme Court to enact basically those same recommendations as an administrative rule change. The court has not acted on the Bar’s petition.
The Associated Press also contributed to this report.