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Winners and losers in Walker’s proposed budget

Government lawyers would get raise, some agencies on chopping block in Walker’s proposed budget

Gov. Scott Walker last week revealed his proposals for the 2017-2019 budget, which calls for more money for drug courts and pay progression for certain government lawyers while proposing eliminating certain review and advisory boards.

Walker is proposing to continue supporting pay progression for public defenders and prosecutors, as well as paving the way for a similar system for judges and justices.

Walker’s budget calls for the State Director of Courts to develop a pay plan for judges and justices. The system would be separate from the state’s regular compensation plan.

Walker is proposing providing $334,000 in general-purpose revenue to kick off the plan in the state’s 2018-19 fiscal year. His proposal suggests the money could from savings in the court system.

Chief Justice Pat Roggensack has said that increasing judicial pay is a priority and has proposed raises of more than $20,000 a year for herself and other judges.

Walker is also proposing additional money to support pay progression for public defenders and prosecutors, according to budget documents.

His proposal includes $66,400 for assistant and deputy public defenders in 2018-2019. For deputy and assistant district attorneys, Walker is proposing nearly $4 million over the biennium.

Elsewhere, his budget calls for eliminating various boards and agencies.

One in his crosshairs is the Judicial Council, which the Legislature set up in 1951 as an independent agency within the judicial branch. The 21-member body studies and recommends changes related to court practices, procedures and the administration of state courts.

Walker is proposing to eliminate the council and transfer a staff-attorney position now held by April Southwick to the Supreme Court, which could pass a rule setting up a similar body.

The governor also proposed the council’s elimination last session. But the Joint Finance Committee, a powerful panel of lawmakers, rejected the plan and decided to have the council completely paid for by revenue the Supreme Court receives from the Director of State Courts and State Law Library.

Walker is also renewing his call for transferring control of the state’s Judicial Commission to the state Supreme Court.

The commission is a 14-member body set up in 1978. Independent of the state Supreme Court, it oversees all state judges, reserve and municipal judges and court commissioners.

Walker is also proposing eliminating an independent body that reviews decisions made by administrative-law judges within the state Department of Workforce Development and worker’s compensation decisions made by the Division of Hearings and Appeals. All appeals now must first go through LIRC before they can be reviewed in the court system.

Walker’s proposal would have the administrator of the DWD’s unemployment-insurance division provide administrative review of appeals involving jobless benefits and discrimination. The administrator of the Division of Hearings and Appeals would meanwhile review workers’ compensation appeals.

The DWD and LIRC have recently clashed over their interpretations of the state’s definition of a type of fraud known as concealment. Using language drafted by the DWD, the Legislature made substantial changes to that definition last session.

A debate still rages, though, over who should have the burden of proving that unemployment claimants deliberately concealed information concerning their past wages. Should it be the claimants themselves, or should it be the state?

The DWD’s new definition was in part meant to shift that burden more onto claimants. But the LIRC has stuck with an interpretation that leaves most of the responsibility to the state.

Elsewhere in his budget, proposals include:

  • Creating statutory settlement-offer procedures for complaints involving violations of state-fair employment law, family- and medical-leave law and bone-marrow donation law.
  • Providing $163,000 to pay for interpreters for the State Public Defender’s clients.
  • Allocating $6.8 million over two years for the SPD to pay private bar obligations.
  • Increasing money for drug courts by $300,000, for a total of $1.3 million. The courts are specifically designed to help offenders dealing with substance abuse.
  • Providing $2 million to state crime labs so they can make changes that help them meet a more rigorous DNA-testing standard required by the federal government.
  • Adding $4 million to spend $9 million over two years on grants for a program designed to keep high-risk, non-violent offenders out of jail.
  • Recommending the elimination of court reporters in workers’ compensation hearings and clarifying that video or sound recordings may be used in Chapter 227 hearings. According to budget documents, the measure would eliminate four full-time positions and save more than $1.2 million.

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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