Excerpts from recent Wisconsin editorials
The Journal Times of Racine, July 24
Congress should follow Wisconsin in fighting human trafficking
Two months ago, we applauded Attorney General Josh Kaul’s proposal to strengthen Wisconsin’s efforts to combat human trafficking, and called for bipartisan support to add positions at the Department of Justice to help with investigations.
We’re pleased to see that Republicans and Democrats worked together in the budget process to increase staffing by 2.6 positions and show heightened awareness in this growing problem at the state level.
“This is the best budget for Wisconsin’s criminal justice system in a long time — and perhaps ever,” Kaul said last month.
Just looking at the budget’s impact on human trafficking enforcement, Wisconsin has boosted staffing in the Internet Crimes Against Children task force by one and has increased the digital forensics’ unit by the equivalent of 1.6 positions.
The outcome should support investigations at a time when law enforcement is focused on this problem and a safe house soon will open in Kenosha County and be the largest house operated by Selah Freedom, a Florida-based nonprofit with a mission to end sex trafficking.
That house will be staffed 24 hours a day and provide a residential program for survivors. Kenosha County was chosen as the location because of its proximity between Chicago and Milwaukee.
Sex trafficking is the second-largest organized crime behind drug trafficking. Every year, over 300,000 American children are trafficked.
“It’s everywhere,” Neal Lofy, a nationally recognized investigator of the Racine Police Department, has said. “These are people that live in our community that were either thrown away by their families or stuck in a lifestyle that they’ve been groomed by a trafficker. There’s not a shiny sign on them that says I’m a human trafficking victim ...”
The increase in staffing at ICAC was especially meaningful to state Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, who was instrumental in getting the initial funding for the task force five years ago.
Scott Kelly, Wanggaard’s chief of staff, said it initially was part of Alicia’s Law, which targeted child pornography and sexual assault, but expanded to human trafficking in 2017.
“Our original request was just under $1 million,” Kelly said. “Then AG (Brad) Schimel requested $750,000 per year in his 2017-19 budget, which was approved. Every time ICAC does something good, we get a sense of pride in the office.”
While the state has stepped up to fight human trafficking, an effort in Congress led by Rep. Bryan Steil, a Republican representing the Wisconsin 1st Congressional District, is gaining support.
Steil’s first bill, known as the “Exposing the Financing of Human Trafficking Act,” has 40 co-sponsors in Congress. Steil has said the bill would hold nations accountable for their actions or lack of actions to curb the issue of human trafficking by using U.S. foreign aid as a carrot and stick and by going “after the money.”
“Human trafficking on a global scale is a $150 billion operation,” Steil said when introducing the bill. “We need to put a dent in that, we need to end that.”
We’d like to see Congress follow the state’s lead and act in a bipartisan matter to pass Steil’s bill. Law enforcement at every level, local and state officials, and everyone working hard against human trafficking would get a boost.
It’s the right thing, at the right time, and it has nothing to do with politics of any kind.
The Capital Times, Madison, July 22
Our firefighters and electrical workers are amazing
C’mon! It was the hottest day of the year. Then a substation explosion and fire erupted at Madison Gas and Electric’s main power center, leaving thousands without power on a busy Friday morning. “This is what emergency preparedness is all about. We drill for crises like these,” announced Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway. “We hope we never have them, but we are ready when we do.”
True. Madison was ready, and the city pulled through admirably — thanks to good planning and the cooperation of people who were suddenly driving without the benefit of traffic signals. But let’s give credit where credit is most due.
Madison firefighters pulled on heavy gear and waded into the thick of it. In barely an hour, the fires were out and it was possible for MGE workers to get the city back on line. Our hats, with their sweat-drenched brims, are off, as always, to the members of Madison Firefighters Local 311 and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers 2304.
Kenosha News, July 22
State must fund mandate on juvenile detention facilities
The Wisconsin Legislature passed a bipartisan bill mandating the closure of the Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake juvenile detention facilities, and Gov. Scott Walker signed it into law in 2018. The law also mandated the establishment of new locations for juvenile detainees to be housed.
Given the troubles at the existing facilities, it was the right decision to make. But without providing sufficient tax dollars to enable counties to construct such facilities, if it isn’t an unfunded mandate, it’s certainly an underfunded mandate.
Although it’s twice what lawmakers initially proposed, the $80 million set aside in the state’s two-year budget for counties to build new juvenile treatment centers may still not be enough to complete the juvenile justice overhaul state lawmakers had envisioned, the Wisconsin State Journal reported last week.
A handful of counties that want to build replacements for the embattled youth prisons — slated for closure in 2021 — have requested more than $130 million to construct the facilities.
But with only $80 million in borrowing provided by the state, the estimated $50 million funding gap has lawmakers suggesting they’ll need to put some projects on the back burner.
“It’s not an easy facility to replace,” said Rep. Joe Sanfelippo, R-New Berlin, who sits on the grants committee tasked with doling out funding to counties. “The price tag has definitely been coming in much higher than anticipated, so I think that we have to kind of rethink some of the proposals that have come through.”
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers earlier this month signed a budget that directs $80 million to counties, $47 million to the state and $59 million to the Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center to overhaul the state’s juvenile justice system and shut down Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake, which have been the subject of numerous lawsuits and state and federal investigations for abuses against inmates and staff.
Lawmakers on the committee aren’t sure what the committee will do, although early indications suggest only three counties may immediately get the green light to build facilities: Milwaukee, Dane and Racine. The state is simultaneously tasked with building two to three state-run facilities for more serious offenders.
Racine County made a $40 million proposal to construct a new 48-bed regional youth lockup.
“We need to do it right the first time,” said Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, who played a role in crafting the bill calling for the closure of Lincoln Hills/Copper Lake. He said lawmakers will almost certainly need to give counties more to fund lawmakers’ vision for a juvenile justice overhaul.
Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave suggested that any scaling back of the county’s $40 million proposal would mean reducing the number of youth offenders that county could accommodate.
The county is planning to house youth offenders from several counties, including Kenosha, Waukesha, Manitowoc, Winnebago and Washington.
If Delagrave says that will cost $40 million — given that we have observed him to be a careful custodian of taxpayer dollars — then that is the amount of funding that will be required.
Three counties have moved forward with plans to abide by the plan set out by the Legislature and Gov. Walker.
To close Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake by 2021 and have replacement facilities in place, the Legislature is going to have to put its money where its mouth is.