MADISON, Wis. (AP) – Wisconsin Republicans pushed Wednesday to clear the way for votes on domestic violence bills that would establish a process for seizing an abuser’s guns, mandate tracking of non-arrests and require police to inform victims of their options.
Time is running out for the measures. The legislative session formally ends in April. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Burlington, wants to finish up even sooner, perhaps as early as next month. Legislators are scrambling to get as many bills out of committee and onto Assembly and Senate floor calendars as they can before they hit the summer campaign trail.
Rep. Garey Bies, R-Sister Bay, and End Domestic Violence Wisconsin, a Madison-based anti-domestic violence group, held a brief news conference urging lawmakers to pass Bies’ bill setting up a formal legal process for confiscating guns from a person under a restraining order.
Current state law requires people to surrender their guns if they’re subject to a domestic abuse injunction. But the law doesn’t spell out exactly how the weapons should be seized.
Under Bies’ bill, the subject of the injunction would have to fill out a form documenting his or her weapons. A judge would hold a hearing within a week to order the person to surrender the firearms. The director of state courts would have to develop a form the subject could fill out requesting the weapons be returned when the restraining order expires.
“Will it save the world? No. Will it save many? Yes,” Teri Jendusa-Nicolai of Waterford said at the news conference. Jendusa-Nicolai’s ex-husband, David Larsen, beat her with a baseball bat and stuffed her into a garbage can in a storage locker in 2004.
Bies introduced the bill in October. It passed the Assembly’s public safety committee last month and no organizations have registered against the measure, according to state records. But Republican leaders haven’t scheduled it for a floor vote yet.
Bies said he planned to meet with Vos on Wednesday afternoon to seek a vote next week. A Vos spokeswoman didn’t immediately return an email message.
Rep. Andre Jacque, R-De Pere, introduced the other bill in April in response to a mass shooting at a Brookfield spa in October 2012. Radcliffe Haughton shot and killed his wife, Zina Haughton, and two of her co-workers at Azana Salon & Spa before turning the gun on himself. Brown Deer police came under fire for not arresting him following reports of abuse in 2011 and again several weeks before the shootings.
The bill would require officers who respond to a domestic abuse call but don’t arrest anyone to write a report explaining why. The reports would go to prosecutors, who would include them in annual reports they make to the state Justice Department tallying domestic abuse arrests, prosecutions and convictions. The bill also would lay out new police training standards for domestic violence situations, including telling victims about their legal rights, shelters and victim advocates.
The measure passed the Assembly on a voice vote in June and landed in the Senate’s public safety committee.
The panel’s chairman, Sen. Jerry Petrowski, R-Marathon, scaled the bill back dramatically. His version requires district attorneys to report non-arrests to DOJ but does away with the officer reports. It doesn’t mention training standards but still requires police to tell victims about their options.
Petrowski aide Lane Ruhland said Petrowski scaled the proposal back because he didn’t want to interfere with another bill he’s sponsoring that grants the Law Enforcement Training Board flexibility in determining training standards and DOJ officials feared the non-arrest reports could help defense attorneys. DOJ spokeswoman Dana Brueck said the agency supports the changes but declined to elaborate.
Petrowski and Jacque were the only ones who testified on the new bill during a public hearing Wednesday. Both said the measure would help connect victims with services. End Domestic Violence Wisconsin Public Policy Coordinator Tony Gibart submitted a statement to the committee saying the bill will strengthen links between victims and police and build a clearer picture of law enforcement responses to domestic violence.
The committee could vote on the bill as early as next week. A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, didn’t immediately return a message inquiring about whether the bill could end up on a floor calendar.