Republicans add immigration and voucher school language, daring governor to veto

Following more than an hour of floor debate, a recently altered, controversial version of a bill to prevent another backlog of sexual assault evidence kits in Wisconsin passed the Assembly Tuesday night along party lines.

Despite lacking the support of nurses, physicians, law enforcement and victim rights advocates, Assembly Bill 844 –with its additional language related to immigration and voucher school issues– was approved by Republicans. It now heads to the Senate. 

The bill encompasses all the components of an earlier version, Assembly Bill 214, which advocates and Democrats support. Last year, the bill passed the Senate with bipartisan support. The author of both bills, Rep. David Steffen, R-Green Bay, said when he finished drafting AB 214 he “thought it was perfect. I thought it was a Rembrandt.”

“I was hopeful, very hopeful it would make its way to the governor,” Steffen said. “But that was not meant to be.”

Instead, he was approached by members of his GOP caucus who made “suggestions on how the bill (AB 214) could be better.”

One of the suggestions allows the victim of sexual assault or rape to qualify for a voucher to attend a private and likely religious school. The other requires law enforcement to contact U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement when a perpetrator is accused of rape.

“What is the objection?” Steffen asked Assembly Democrats during floor debate on the bill. “Is it the fear that the cross that hangs in the lobby transcends what has happened to that girl? Is that really your challenge tonight? You have to remember we have a lot of rural districts. There are a lot of places that only have one public school. Now you want an entire family to move out of their community? All because you are concerned about a few dollars going to a parochial school? Shame on you.”

Prior to the vote, Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, said passing anything less than the bill supported by survivors and advocates “is unacceptable.”

“Furthermore I know this is all a partisan stunt to kill AB 214,” Sargent said. “We know this bill is not going to move forward. It is shameful. And it is a disservice to people like me who are survivors.”

The bill would codify the process by which rape kits need to be sent to state crime labs. If a sexual assault survivor plans to report the crime to law enforcement, the hospital has 24 hours to notify law enforcement that they have a kit to pick up. Law enforcement, in turn, has to pick up the kit within 72 hours. They then have 14 days to get the kits to one of the crime labs. 

If the survivor does not want to report the attack, the hospital has 72 hours to send the rape kit to a state crime lab for long-term storage in case the victim changes course.