Gov. Tony Evers during the State of the State speech, Jan. 22, 2020. (Photo © Andy Manis)
Gov. Tony Evers during the State of the State speech, Jan. 22, 2020. (Photo © Andy Manis)

Stark schism as Dems push for gun safety and Republicans abandon criminal justice reform

In the end, the Republicans’ election year ‘tough on crime’ bills were not tough enough to survive Gov. Tony Evers’ veto pen.

Late Friday afternoon, Evers vetoed four bills in the Republican’s “tough on crime” bill package.  

This is the second major proposal that he has vetoed in three days. On Wednesday, Evers vetoed the Republican’s bill to spend $250 million on personal income tax cuts rather than spend the money on public schools.

One of the bills vetoed is Assembly Bill 805. It would have required the Wisconsin Department of Corrections to recommend revocation of extended supervision, parole or probation if the person on release is charged with a felony or violent misdemeanor.

If the bill had taken effect, it is estimated that it would have cost millions and required more prison space. Evers said in a veto memo to the Assembly that it would “revert to antiquated policies which resulted in mass incarceration.”

Evers campaigned on a promise to reduce the prison population by half.

“I will not move Wisconsin in the wrong direction on criminal justice reform and public safety” said Evers in the memo. 

The Legislature’s top two Republican’s fired back, with Senate Majority Leader calling Friday’s veto “a mistake.” He added Evers had over promised on the campaign trail by saying he wanted to cut the state’s prison population in half.

“Now he’s forcing Wisconsin to suffer the dangerous consequences,” said Fitzgerald in a statement. “We can’t put a price tag on keeping communities safe from the types of repeat, violent offenders who we see in the news all too often. The governor’s veto is a mistake.” 

Evers also vetoed Assembly Bill 806, which would have given judges the power to lock up teens whenever they committed offenses that would be treated as felonies if they were adults; Assembly Bill 808, which would have which added obstacles to dismissing illegal gun possession charges and Assembly Bill 809, which would have added more restrictions to which prisoners could qualify for early release. 

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said the GOP-backed bills were designed to promote  safe communities.

“Governor Evers refuses to hold criminals accountable to please his liberal ‘let them out of jail’ backers,” said Vos in a statement. “His actions today clearly show how far left he is compared to the general public who want to live in safe neighborhoods.

The veto also comes two days after a mass shooting at the Molson Coors Brewery, formerly Miller Brewery, in Milwaukee in which an employee shot five of his co-workers before turning the gun on himself.

Evers had called for a special session to discuss gun violence and two bills. One would have required universal background checks for all firearm purchases in Wisconsin. 

The other would establish an Extreme Risk Protection Order process to enable family members or law enforcement officers to temporarily remove firearms from an individual, if a judge finds it to be a danger to themselves or others.

Fitgerald and Vos opted not to debate either of the bills. The schism between Democrats and Republicans remains stark, with Republicans pushing “tough on crime” bills and Democrats preferring rehabilitation and gun measures.  

“I know this is breathtaking for some people but we have to have an honest dialogue around gun safety,” said Evers at a press conference Wednesday several hours prior to the mass shooting. “It’s a really tricky issue here in Wisconsin.”