MILWAUKEE (AP) – Gov. Scott Walker signed three bills Wednesday aimed at strengthening domestic-violence laws, including one measure proposed after a man fatally shot his estranged wife in 2012 while she was working at a Brookfield spa.
The new laws mandate that police track incidents when no arrests are made during a domestic-disturbance call and that they inform abuse victims of their options. The laws also establish a clear, accountable process for seizing an abuser’s guns.
One measure came in response to the Brookfield shooting, in which Radcliffe Haughton opened fire inside the Azana Spa and Salon with a .40 caliber handgun. Investigators said he was looking for his wife, Zina Haughton, who had been granted a four-year restraining order against him two days earlier. She and two of her co-workers were killed and four women were injured before the gunman killed himself.
The Brown Deer police department drew criticism because its officers had decided not to arrest him following reports of abuse in 2011 and again several weeks before the shootings.
That measure, proposed by Republican Rep. Andre Jacque of De Pere, requires district attorneys to report to the Wisconsin Department of Justice every time an officer responds to a domestic abuse call but doesn’t arrest anyone.
Zina’s brother, Elvin Daniel, attended the bill signing in Milwaukee. He remembered his sister as a beautiful person who was always helping others and making people happy.
“With this law in place, I hope other families will be spared the pain of losing someone they love to senseless and preventable gun violence,” he said.
Jacque’s bill also requires police to inform victims about their legal rights and to direct them to shelters and victim advocates. Patti Seger, the executive director of End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin, said seeking help can be one of the most significant steps a victim can take to improve his or her safety.
“This bill will help break down the isolation and fear that allow abuse to thrive,” she said.
The second new law gives prosecutors more tools to go after domestic-abuse suspects. It allows them to add stalking, or threatening to stalk, to the list of actions that qualify as domestic abuse. It also specifies that when a new judge takes over a case, any temporary restraining order already in place remains effective until a decision about a new one is made at another hearing.
It also allows prosecutors to start using reports of a suspect’s relevant misconduct over the past 10 years as evidence. That includes violations of restraining orders or injunctions, as well as convictions for domestic abuse, stalking or harassment.
The measure drew opposition from Democrats including Rep. Fred Kessler of Milwaukee, who worried that it would allow prosecutors to use information from instances in which a person was never charged or convicted. But Jacque said judges would only consider relevant and non-prejudicial evidence.
The third bill signed by Walker spelled out the process by which people subject to a domestic-abuse injunction have to surrender their weapons. Under the new law, proposed by Republican Rep. Garey Bies, those subjects have to fill out a form documenting their weapons. A judge must hold a hearing to order them to surrender the weapons, and when the injunction expires, they would have to request them back in writing.
Walker said no law can ever guarantee an end to domestic abuse, but he said the three bills gave law enforcement officials the tools they needed to help keep families safe.
“This is one more big step toward trying to make sure that for every gun you take away, it’s that much better for (a victim, their) family, and friends and loved ones who care about that person,” Walker said.
The governor began the day by signing 55 other bills at the state Capitol in Madison. One measure prohibits people from advertising their children for adoption online, while another legalizes the use of marijuana byproduct cannabidiol to treat children’s seizures.
Other bills of note allow University of Wisconsin System researchers to perform classified national security work in campus facilities, give county jailors more authority to strip search inmates, and legalize nonprofits’ rubber-duck race fundraisers. The state Justice Department has warned such races amount to illegal gambling.
Associated Press reporters Todd Richmond and Scott Bauer in Madison contributed to this report.