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Senate wraps up with changes to criminal, jobless benefits law

The state Senate wrapped up its last session of the term Tuesday, sending a flurry of bills to Gov. Scott Walker’s desk.

The Assembly held in February what legislative leaders have said will be its last meeting for the current legislative session, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said Tuesday marked the last day this session for his chamber. That means that any bills that have not cleared both houses or that were amended after getting the approval of one of the houses are probably dead.

For the bills that did receive approval from both the Assembly and the Senate, the only thing needed to make them law is Walker’s signature.

As happens in most years, this year’s session brought a round of bills that are likely to have direct effects on the legal profession. Whether lawyers perceive the effects as being good or bad largely depends on what role they play in the justice system, particularly in the area of criminal law, said state Rep. Adam Jarchow, R-Balsam Lake, who is also an attorney.

For example, the Senate on Tuesday approved a bill that would make it a felony to throw bodily fluids on a prosecutor. Senators also sent to Walker a bill that would make victims of sexual assault immune from liability for underage drinking if they report the assault to the police. The same protection would likewise extend to witnesses

Senate lawmakers, on the other hand, passed a bill Tuesday that would put more money toward treatment and diversion programs now used to combat drunken driving in the state.

Lawmakers also came out in favor of legislation that would create new crimes and increase various penalties. For example, one bill headed to Walker’s desk would impose a civil penalty on drivers who use hand-held cellphones in construction zones. Another bill on its way to Walker would subject anyone who makes terrorist threats to criminal charges.

State Sen. Fred Risser, a longtime lawyer and legislator, said the increased penalties and new crimes are not things lawmakers should be proud of.

“It think it was a very poor session,” said Risser, a Democrat who represents the Madison area. “And I think the general public lost a lot of grounds this session. We lost grounds in the environment, we lost jobs in the educational field, we lost jobs in social fields. … In every field of significant to the state, in my opinion, we regressed.”

The Senate also sent the following pieces of legislation to Walker’s desk for a signature on Tuesday:

  • Assembly Bill 174, which would provide legal immunity to private campgrounds;
  • AB 557, which would add a heroin metabolite to the definition of a restricted controlled substance that someone can be tested for in order to determine whether they are intoxicated;
  • AB 566 would create penalties for certain invasions of privacy; and
  • AB 819, which would involve several changes to the state’s unemployment insurance law such as a stiffer penalties for those who commit worker misclassification and a new definition of concealment, or jobless benefit fraud.

The Associated Press also contributed to this report


About Erika Strebel, [email protected]

Erika Strebel is the law beat reporter for the Wisconsin Law Journal and a law school student at UW-Madison. She can be reached at 414-225-1825.

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