Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has vetoed a budget provision that would have radically changed the state's pre-trial justice system and another that would have kicked an independent journalism outfit off of University of Wisconsin campuses.
ALEC-Supported Bail Bonding Vetoed
Since 1979, Wisconsin has been ahead of most U.S. states in banning for-profit bail bonding, joining many nations like Canada and the United Kingdom in recognizing that the practice warps the criminal justice system. Wisconsin's pre-trial release system, unlike 46 other states, is managed by courts and law enforcement rather than for-profit companies.
Republicans tried changing this system by adding a privatized bail bonding provision into the budget at the last minute with zero public input or debate. The proposal prompted outcry from prosecutors, judges and attorneys across the political spectrum, including Wisconsin's Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, a Republican.
Nobody in Wisconsin's criminal justice system was calling for the privatization of pre-trial programs -- and the source of the budget provision may be tied back to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The American Bail Coalition, the for-profit bail bond industry's national organization and lobbying wing, calls ALEC the industry's "life preserver". ABC pays for ALEC membership, and a representative sits on the ALEC corporate board, as well as ALEC's Executive Committee. The trade group boasts that "during its two decade involvement with ALEC, ABC has written 12 model bills fortifying the commercial bail industry." The most outspoken supporter of bail bonding in Wisconsin has been the ALEC State Co-Chair for Wisconsin, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos.
Sen. Leah Vukmir, the other ALEC State Co-Chair for Wisconsin and a member of the ALEC Board of Directors, met with the President and CEO of the American Bail Coalition, William Carmichael, at an ALEC meeting last month.
The bail industry has long targeted Wisconsin. In 2003, Rep. Scott Suder, a longtime ALEC member, introduced a standalone bill to reinstate commercial bail bonding, with backing from ABC, whose chair had donated to Suder's campaign the previous year. Almost exactly two years ago, when the Republican-led legislature was writing the 2011-2012 budget, ALEC State Chair Rep. Robin Vos again squeezed a similar last-minute provision into the budget, which was similarly vetoed by Walker.
Investigative Journalism Center Saved from Eviction
Walker also vetoed a provision that would have evicted the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism from its offices at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and barred collaboration with university staff.
The Center receives no state funding, but has been housed at the university's journalism school because it offers students valuable training in investigative journalism -- and its hard-hitting investigative pieces have apparently raised the ire of Republican lawmakers. The last-minute eviction notice was slipped into the budget by an unnamed lawmaker, which many described as an attack on journalistic independence and may have been payback for bringing important stories to light, such as reports of Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser choking fellow Justice Ann Walsh Bradley. Even right-wing talker Charlie Sykes criticized the budget provision.
Kringle is Now the Official State Pastry
Walker signed the budget Sunday afternoon, leaving intact a $651 million income tax cut that primarily benefits the wealthy and rejects federal funds to expand Medicaid.
He also left untouched at least one non-fiscal item: a budget provision naming the kringle as the official pastry of Wisconsin.