Capitol Update

by Senator Howard Marklein

March 24, 2023

Legislature Advances Public Safety, Law Enforcement Bills

Slate of legislation includes Marklein bill to extend protective status for county jailers.

Over the last several weeks, the legislature has advanced a number of public safety and law enforcement bills. All of this legislation is now headed to Governor Tony Evers’ desk for signature. I am hopeful that he will sign these bills to enhance public safety and provide law enforcement with tools that they need to protect our communities.
The bills we passed include changes that attempt to address the fentanyl crisis by increasing the penalty for first degree reckless homicide and require judges to impose prison time when sentencing a person convicted of first degree reckless homicide. This bill is designed to take dangerous drug dealers off of the streets. According to the bill’s author, Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine), “drug suppliers and dealers that lace their drugs with deadly substances like fentanyl need to be held accountable,” said Wanggaard. “They know that fentanyl can kill, but they would rather risk their client’s lives and make a quick buck.”
He further described the intent behind this bill, “if someone is handling a firearm that they don’t know is loaded, pull the trigger, and kill someone, they can still be held liable. That is what reckless homicide is,” said Wanggaard. “Although suppliers and dealers may not be intending to kill someone, they are still causing someone’s death. They need to be held accountable for that and their reckless actions, and now they will be.”
In addition to the fentanyl felony bill, we passed legislation that aims to reduce reckless driving by allowing law enforcement to impound a car if the owner is cited for reckless driving with an already outstanding citation for reckless driving. We also passed a bill that defines the term “carjacking” in statute. Carjacking is basically defined as using the threat of deadly force to intentionally take a vehicle without the consent of the owner. Under current law, most carjacking crimes are prosecuted as “operating a vehicle without the owner’s consent.” Wisconsin has seen an increase in violent crime over the last decade, and there needs to be consequences and accountability for these actions. In the last 10 years, violent crime numbers, like carjacking, jumped by 93% for Milwaukee and 320% for Madison. 
Among the bills we passed, is AB 28, which I authored, that extends protective status designation to our county jailers. Both houses of the legislature passed my bill with unanimous, bi-partisan support.  This legislation will allow county jailers to be classified as protected occupation participants under the Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS). This bill now goes to Governor Tony Evers for signature.
Under current law, individuals whose principal duties involve active law enforcement, or fire suppression or prevention, and require frequent exposure to a high degree of danger are classified as protective occupation participants under the Wisconsin Retirement System. This classification is extended to state correctional officers and other law enforcement agents. However, it does not apply to all county jailers. Protective occupation classification allows covered employees to receive duty disability insurance and early retirement because of the nature of their jobs. AB 28 extends this classification to county jailers. 

AB 28 was carefully crafted so that it would not increase costs to county taxpayers. Under this proposal, the jailers would have to pay the additional costs of having protective status including both the employer’s additional WRS contribution and duty disability costs. This means there is no increased cost to the county taxpayer. Considering that the cost would fall on the employee, the bill provides an opt-out option for jailers.
This bill was drafted with input and discussions between the Badger State Sheriffs’ Association and the Wisconsin Counties Association. Both organizations support AB 28. The Wisconsin Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs Association has added their support for AB 28 as well.
I am proud of our work to protect public safety and support law enforcement. This package of legislation takes meaningful, positive steps forward to address issues in Wisconsin. I hope that Governor Evers signs these bills swiftly.
As always, please do not hesitate to connect with me to provide input, ideas or to seek assistance.  Send an email to sen.marklein@legis.wisconsin.gov or call 608-266-0703. I want to hear from you.