District attorney’s offices in Chippewa and Dunn counties could be receiving some extra help with the approval of a bill making its way through the Wisconsin legislature.
The Wisconsin assembly approved Senate Bill 54 with a 59-35 vote Thursday, Feb. 22. The bill would authorize $350 million in borrowing for a new prison, $4 million in spending to hire an additional 54 prosecutors across counties in Wisconsin — excluding Dane and Milwaukee counties — and require the Department of Corrections to recommend revoking probation, parole or extended supervision for anyone charged with a felony or violent misdemeanor, the Associated Press reported.
The assembly added an amendment to the bill to add the additional prosecutors, who will be added to primarily the 40 most-in-need, rural counties, including Chippewa and Dunn counties. A Friday, Feb. 23 press release by Rep. Rob Summerfield, who represents Dunn and Chippewa counties as part of the 67th Assembly District, stated three assistant district attorney positions would be added to the counties.
The bill will move onto the senate for approval, but the Associated Press reports “its prospects are uncertain.”
In 2017, Chippewa County saw a record number of felony cases, at just over 770, a 23 percent increase from the 592 cases filed in 2016 — which was also an increase of 183 cases from 2015.
Chippewa County District Attorney Wade Newell told The Herald in a December 2017 report of the felony overage that the higher number could be blamed on the “meth epidemic.”
Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) told the Associated Press the prosecutors will go to counties based on a 2014 study by the Legislative Audit Bureau.
Democrats who rejected the bill, the Associated Press reports, cite increases in prosecutor need within Dane and Milwaukee counties, which the bill does not impact. The Associated Press also reports democrats who took issue with the Department of Corrections portion of the bill, which would send hundreds more people to prison each year and add $57 million in costs to the state annually.
Meanwhile, according to the Associated Press, Republicans said the new prison was a necessity, as Wisconsin’s adult prisons are at 30 percent capacity.
In Friday’s statement, Summerfield praised the passage of the bill.
“An increase in meth usage and other crimes, coupled with our overworked and understaffed DAs, has caused a backlog of cases in our area,” Summerfield said in the release. “With an adequate amount of prosecutors, I’m hopeful we can address this problem quickly.”
Newell was also quoted in the release, stating, “With the meth epidemic in Chippewa County, I appreciate everything Representative Summerfield and the legislature can do to provide us the tools we need to combat this.” Newell did not respond to a request for comment by The Herald’s press time.