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UPDATE: Assembly passes rape kit bill, crime proposals

Associated Press

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FILE - Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, left, during a private meeting with GOP lawmakers on Jan. 15, 2019, in Madison, Wis. State Rep. John Nygren, center, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, right, also attended the meeting with Gov. Tony Evers. (AP Photo/Scott Bauer)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Assembly Republicans handed Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul another defeat Tuesday, approving a bill creating sexual assault evidence kit testing protocols after tacking on divisive provisions critics say are designed to ensure it never becomes law.

Kaul has made testing sexual assault evidence kits one of his priorities. He has spent much of the past year advocating for a pair of bipartisan bills that would create submission and tracking protocols. The Senate passed both bills in October but Assembly Republicans refused to do anything with them.

With the two-year legislative session set 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 his efforts backfired. Sanfelippo accused the attorney general of bullying him and earlier this month Assembly Republicans ripped the issue away from Kaul by introducing a third bill. The measure includes the submission and tracking requirements in the original bills, but it 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 non-starters with Democrats. Gov. Tony Evers’ spokeswoman didn’t return a message inquiring about the governor’s stance on the bill but 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 he can settle 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 Tuesday that Republican Speaker Robin Vos 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 pre-session news conference that Hintz is “a bomb-thrower” who works to create 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 crafting 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,” Rep. Lisa Subeck, a Madison Democrat, said.

“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 a package of legislation Wednesday that would impose tougher sanctions and sentences on criminals.

One bill would require the Department of Corrections to recommend revoking a person’s extended supervision, parole or probation if he or she is 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 department is exaggerating the projections because Evers, who campaigned on cutting the prison population in half, controls the agency. Still, Republicans amended the measure Tuesday to require a revocation recommendation only if the person has committed a felony or violent misdemeanor while on release.

Other bills in the package would expand the list of crimes that could land a child in a youth prison; prohibit prosecutors from amending charges of illegal firearm possession against violent criminals without a judge’s permission; prohibit prison officials from ending probation early for violent convicts; and expand the list of violent crimes that 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 criminals.


Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1