By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Assembly Republicans handed Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul another defeat Tuesday, approving a bill establishing testing protocols for sexual-assault-evidence kits after tacking on divisive provisions critics say are designed to ensure the proposal never becomes law.
Kaul has made testing kits for sexual-assault evidence one of his priorities. He has spent much of the past year advocating for a pair of bipartisan bills that would set up submission and tracking protocols. The Senate passed both bills in October only to see Assembly Republicans refuse to do anything with them.
With the two-year legislative session scheduled to end in March, Kaul had been pressing Republican Rep. Joe Sanfelippo, chairman of the Assembly Health Committee, to hold a hearing on the bills.
But these attempts backfired. Sanfelippo accused the attorney general of bullying him. Then, earlier this month, Assembly Republicans ripped the issue away from Kaul by introducing a third bill. The proposal calls for the submission and tracking requirements in the original bills but also contains provisions that require police to notify immigration authorities if sexual-assault defendants and convicts are in the country illegally and allow student victims to enter Wisconsin’s school-choice programs.
Republicans hailed the bill as more comprehensive than the original proposals. But both the immigration and choice provisions are unacceptable to Democrats. Gov. Tony Evers’ spokeswoman didn’t return a message inquiring about the governor’s stance on the bill. Even so, it’s all but certain he’ll veto it if it reaches his desk.
Republicans have been working to weaken Kaul since he won election in November 2018. They passed sweeping lame-duck legislation that December forcing him to get permission from the Legislature’s Republican-controlled finance committee before settling any lawsuits. They have also ignored his pleas to pass gun-control legislation.
Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz told reporters during a news conference before the Assembly took the floor on Tuesday that Republican Speaker Robin Vos had made a transparent decision to include “poison pills” in the bill to ensure Evers won’t sign it into law.
“How sick do you have to be to play political games when we’re talking about the testing of rape kits?” Hintz said.
Vos said during his own news conference that Hintz is “a bomb-thrower” who works to sow division.
“The only ones who are making this into a partisan issue are my Democratic colleagues, who are … objecting to it just because of their own personal ideology.”
Democrats took turns on the floor blasting Republicans for dropping the original bills and drawing up a substitute they know Evers won’t sign.
“You are willing to leave rapists on the street just so you don’t have to give a little success to the administration,” said Rep. Lisa Subeck, a Madison Democrat.
“Our bill is more. Our bill is better. Our bill is comprehensive,” countered Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, a Clinton Republican.
In the end, the chamber voted 62-36 to pass the bill along party lines and send it to the Senate.
Kaul issued a statement late Tuesday evening calling the bill “a mess.”
“Survivors — and all Wisconsinites — deserve better,” he said.
Assembly Republicans also passed various bills on Wednesday that would impose tougher sanctions and sentences on criminals.
One would require the Department of Corrections to recommend revoking a person’s extended supervision, parole or probation if he were charged with a crime. According to department estimates, so many people would end up back behind bars under the bill that the agency would need to build two new prisons to house them. Operation costs could jump by $54.7 million in the first year of the bill’s enactment, according to the estimates.
Vos told reporters he believes the DOC is exaggerating the projections because Evers, who campaigned on a promise to reduce the prison population by half, controls the department. Still, Republicans amended the proposal on Tuesday to require a revocation recommendation only if a criminal has committed a felony or violent misdemeanor while on release.
Other bills would add to the list of crimes that could land a child in a youth prison; prohibit prosecutors from amending, without a judge’s permission, charges of illegal firearm possession against violent criminals; prohibit prison officials from ending probation early for violent convicts; and add to the list of violent crimes that can disqualify inmates for early release.
It’s unlikely any of the bills will win Evers’ signature. But Republican lawmakers on the campaign trail this summer can say they tried to crack down on crime.