Wisconsin budget committee approves changes to release of sexually violent offenders

By Jessie Opoien, The Capital Times

Violent sex offenders being released back into the community could no longer be sent to another county under a provision added to the state budget by the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee on Tuesday. 

Counties would have more flexibility to determine where an offender would be placed under the motion, authored by Reps. Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, and Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point. The motion is based on legislation drafted by Sen. Patrick Testin, R-Stevens Point. 

The other Democrats on the Republican-led committee objected to the proposal's inclusion in the budget, arguing it was a policy change that should go through the legislative hearing process. Shankland joined Republicans in voting 13-3 to approve the measure.

Under the motion, judges overseeing a sexually violent offender's release would be required to order the offender's county of residence to prepare a report identifying an appropriate residence for the offender and providing evidence that a landlord has committed to a lease.
The report would be prepared by a committee with representatives from the county human services department, the state Department of Health Services and the county department overseeing land conservation, along with a local probation or parole officer and the county's attorney. The committee would also consult with local law enforcement.
In determining an appropriate residence, the committee would consider factors including proximity to schools, child care facilities, public parks, places of worship and youth centers and, in some cases, proximity to nursing homes, assisted living facilities and properties where children live.

The provision would eliminate current law that mandates placement be more than 1,500 feet from those locations. 

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, said the proposal put some members of the committee in a "really bad spot," having to vote on it without constituent feedback. 

Committee co-chairman Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, said he has heard from constituents in his district looking for more local input into where offenders are placed. Nygren said he asked Born to work on the proposal after legislators including Born and Shankland had introduced earlier bills addressing the issue. 

The measure isn't perfect, Nygren said, but it takes a step to address a challenging issue.

"This motion is bringing the voice closer to the people that are affected," he said.

The measure comes after years of debate over best practices for placing sex offenders back in the community. Current law says a sexually violent offender must be placed in his or her county of residence unless the court has "good cause" to select another county.