June 5, 2013

Milwaukee Courier

Legislatively Speaking: Sausage Making

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

Early on Wednesday, June 5th, when the sun was coming up, the Joint Finance Committee was putting the finishing touches on the state budget bill for presentation to the full Legislature.  It was early morning sausage making.  Now there are many times that both parties have made some major changes in the dark of night, but this one may take a bigger piece of the cake than ever before. The budget bill, as it will be presented to the Assembly and then the Senate, has some major provisions that you need to be aware of.

Bail Bonds are back.  Since the early 1970’s private bail bondsmen and bounty hunters have been illegal in Wisconsin.  In the 2011 budget, Republicans tried to introduce them back to Wisconsin, but Governor Walker wisely vetoed them out of budget.  This time, the majority party is back at it again.  In the last minute addition to the budget, bail bondsmen were authorized to work in five counties in Wisconsin – Milwaukee, Waukesha, Racine, Kenosha, and Dane.

There is no statistical evidence that bail bonds increase the likelihood of those awaiting trial returning to court for their scheduled hearings, etc.  In fact, this provision is widely opposed by almost everyone in the criminal justice system in Wisconsin, especially in Milwaukee.  The last thing we need is unaccountable, armed bounty hunters (think Dog the Bounty Hunter from TV) breaking down doors in community.  What we have now is working; in fact, it works quite well when you look at the number of African-American men Wisconsin is putting in prison.  Obviously, I am being sarcastic, but the truth is we don’t need any more trigger-happy agents running around Milwaukee profiting on the criminal justice system.

Major education changes were adopted in the last minute as well.  The new budget only provides $75 dollars more to each school district’s revenue limit.  This is a tiny addition of funding and woefully inadequate for public schools in Milwaukee and elsewhere in Wisconsin.  Additionally, the Governor included expansion of the choice school program, similar to what we have here in Milwaukee, to certain communities in Wisconsin.  Joint Finance changed this to allow that expansion to every community in the state but capped the program at 500 students in the 2013-14 school and 1,000 students in every year thereafter.   For Milwaukee, the budget now increases funding to the choice and charter schools operating in the city and also allows UW-Milwaukee to charter a school anywhere in Milwaukee County or an adjacent county.

As you know very onerous and unnecessary provisions in the budget, like the Rent-To-Own provisions were already removed from the bill.  But late last night the Finance Committee decided to add one very peculiar provision.  The budget now bans the Center for Investigative Journalism from leasing space at UW-Madison or allowing any employee of the UW to work at the Center.  The Center operates WisconsinWatch.org which reports on major issues in Wisconsin, like frac sand mining, money in politics, and other policy initiatives.  We should be very afraid when government begins to directly interfere in the reporting work of journalists.  Wisconsin is not a nation, we don’t have military secrets, and our citizens should have access to information to make informed decisions. 

All in all, the budget is an example of sausage-making.  We don’t like how it looks making this law, the ingredients are not great, and, unlike a good sausage from Milwaukee, this law tastes terrible.

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