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Home / Commentary / View from around the state: Wanggaard’s bill puts crime victims first

View from around the state: Wanggaard’s bill puts crime victims first

— From The Journal Times of Racine

A judge’s order of restitution doesn’t make a criminal incident magically disappear, nor does it remove the memory of the incident from the victim’s mind. It’s an attempt by the judge to make things right for the victim by ordering the convicted person to pay back the victim for criminal wrongdoing against that person.

The problem with Wisconsin’s restitution laws is that the actual victim is not always the first person to receive money when a convict’s wages are garnished. Legislation introduced by state Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, aims to correct that.

While the Senate version is currently in the Committee on Labor and Regulatory Reform, Senate Bill 397 and Assembly Bill 476, if passed, would make two significant changes to how victims of crime currently receive restitution.

If passed, Wanggaard said this bill would put the victims first in line for payment.

“The victims would be reimbursed before, say, a government entity,” Wanggaard said. “If there’s multiple victims, then those victims would split that garnishment equally until it’s paid off.

“Normally what ended up happening is you would have the larger (institutions) that are owed the big money would be paid first. Like the insurance company and the state, they would get their money first and the victims are left hanging. They wouldn’t get anything or it would take forever (to get paid).”

The bill would be applied, Wanggaard said, if a judge orders any restitution and it would apply to all crime.

The bill also would change some of the paperwork for the victim seeking restitution.

Currently, for victims to be paid they must file paperwork with the courts and the convict’s wages would be garnished for only 13 weeks. For the payments to continue after that point, the victim would need to apply again.

Wanggaard said the bill would eliminate the 13-week period provision and instead would require victims to apply just once for them to begin receiving payment.

“Once they file, until they’ve been made whole, that (payment) continues,” Wanggaard said. “So they don’t have to keep reapplying and reliving whatever the (crime) was when it occurred.”

These are all common-sense measures. The person directly victimized should be the first compensated, and once the court has the victim on record, it should be the court’s responsibility to maintain the record-keeping regarding one of the worst days of the victim’s life, not the victim’s responsibility.

When a judge has ordered a defendant to pay restitution to a crime victim, the victim shouldn’t have to wait for the reimbursement to begin. Sen. Wanggaard’s bill is a step in the right direction.

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