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School safety gutted by Wisconsin GOP despite record surplus

School safety gutted by Wisconsin GOP despite record surplus

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Attorney General Josh Kaul speaking before the press at a Fusion center in the greater Madison area. (Left) Wisconsin Sen. Kelda Roys.  Staff photo: Steve Schuster

By Steve Schuster

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At a time when the State of Wisconsin has a record $6.6 billion surplus, the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee (JFC) approved a motion Thursday effectively cutting all funds for school safety and only approved only a fraction of what Gov. Tony Evers requested for the Wisconsin Department of Justice’s budget.

Although JFC’s approved motion allocates a $10 million boost for Wisconsin DOJ’s budget, that is only a fraction of the $92.2 million that Evers had proposed in his budget. As Federal funding is slated to run out for school safety, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers had also allocated funds in his state budget, but that was cut Thursday by JFC.

“Republicans spent more on a swimming pool than school safety,” said Sen. Kelda Roys, one of the few Democrats on the JFC.

The Joint Finance Committee is comprised of 4 Democrats and 12 Republicans. All four Democrats on the committee voted against the measure Thursday.

According to Roys, Wisconsin Republican legislators approved $900,000 to fund a swimming pool on the North Shore of Milwaukee, but wouldn’t allocate a single dollar above base for school safety.

“All of the people at the Wisconsin Department of Justice who do very important assessments of self-harm, bullying, and school violence appear to now be facing lay-offs. I don’t know how the Attorney General can continue funding these positions with Republicans refusing to even fund a barebones staff,” Roys said, noting that the call center for school violence tip lines and analyst positions were funded from this money that has now been cut.

Wisconsin Department of Justice officials told the Wisconsin Law Journal Friday that “Funding for all 3.8 positions is expected to run out around the end of 2023. Without legislative action to rectify that, we will be unable to keep them on staff.”

During an interview with the Wisconsin Law Journal Friday, Fond Du Lac County District Attorney Eric Toney who is also President of the Wisconsin District Attorney’s Association said he is grateful for JFC’s $10 million increase, which includes funds for toxicology. Toney had been long advocating for additional state crime labs toxicology resources.

The JFC motion approved funding three additional forensic toxicologists at the state crime labs (one less than proposed by Evers).

“I’m grateful for the Joint Finance Committee’s continued investment in public safety with their approval of additional funding for toxicology positions at the crime labs. I expect this will improve public safety by reducing the turnaround time for drug panel testing in blood samples. This will allow cases to be prosecuted more efficiently and help vindicate the innocent. This is especially important as we continue to see overdose levels at extraordinary levels and to combat the dangers of drugged driving,” District Attorney Eric Toney said Friday.

Senator Chris Larson was also critical of JFC’s motion in a recent tweet.

As previously reported by the Wisconsin Law Journal, both Republican and Democrat Wisconsin officials stood in solidarity Tuesday advocating for additional funds for Wisconsin’s Crime Lab. The Criminal Justice Coalition gathered in Madison Tuesday afternoon expressing support for critical investments needed to be made in Wisconsin’s criminal justice system. Among those investments, Toney made a case or additional toxicologists.

On Thursday, Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul released a statement critical of the Joint Committee on Finance vote on the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) budget.

“There is nothing more important than keeping our kids safe, and yet the Joint Finance Committee took action today that would gut the Office of School Safety. Without prompt legislative action to remedy this issue, core services that office has provided—including the 24/7 tip line that has received thousands of contacts—will end,” said Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul.

“At a time when we have a historic budget surplus, dismantling the Office of School Safety and discontinuing services that keep our kids safe is simply inexplicable. As an Attorney General whose top priority is public safety, and as a parent, I am stunned and deeply disappointed by this vote. Our kids deserve to be safe in school,” Kaul added.’

All four JFC Democrats voted against the motion, which was introduced by Republicans Rep. Born and Sen. Marklein.

Representative Born (Co-Chair) (R – Beaver Dam)

Senator Marklein (Co-Chair) (R – Spring Green)

Representative Katsma (Vice-Chair) (R – Spring Green)

Senator Stroebel (Vice-Chair) (R – Saukville)

Senator Felzkowski (R – Irma)

Senator Ballweg (R – Markesan)

Senator Testin (R – Stevens Point)

Senator Wimberger (R – Green Bay)

Senator L. Johnson (D – Milwaukee)

Senator Roys (D – Madison)

Representative Zimmerman (R – River Falls)

Representative Rodriguez (R – Oak Creek)

Representative Kurtz (R – Wonewoc)

Representative Dallman (R – Green Lake)

Representative Goyke (D – Milwaukee)

Representative McGuire (D – Kenosha)

The motion also rejected a Gov. Evers’ proposed $12.5 million expansion with treatment and diversion courts, but allocates $3.4 million to county victim witness offices to cover an estimated 60 percent of their costs.

To view the full motion click here.

Wisconsin Republicans have also chosen to give the state’s embattled professional licensing agency a fraction of the new positions Democratic Gov. Tony Evers requested to improve turnaround times for applicants.


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