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No votes expected in special session on police reform

0920_Capitol-Wisconsin-June 2018-1 (1)

State Capitol, Madison, Wisconsin

MADISON (WKOW) -- Despite a package of separate bills from both Democrats and Republicans, one GOP state senator said he does not expect to see any legislation come to the floor during Monday's special session on police reform.

State Sen. Van Wanggaard (R - Racine) said during an interview on Capital City Sunday the motion to convene the state Senate will be procedural. Similar non-actions occurred earlier this year during special sessions on COVID-19 response and agriculture.

"As far as I know, we are not having a special session tomorrow," Wanggaard said.

Wanggaard authored a series of bills centered around police accountability and budgets. One of those bills would create a statewide use of force review board. The board would examine incidents where police kill a person or when an officer is killed by a suspect. Outside of the criminal investigation to determine any possible charges, the board would conclude its work with a report outlining any steps in the incident response where officers could have reduced the risk of injury or death.

Another of Wanggaard's bills would require police departments to make their use of force policies publicly available for review. It would also ban departments from disciplining employees who report use of force policy violations.

Wanggard has also proposed a bill that would cut state funding from cities and villages that cut their police budgets. The bill would reduce municipal aid by the same amount that the local government shifted away from its police department.

Democrats have their own set of proposals, which is the basis of Governor Tony Evers' call for the special session. That package of bills includes the creation of a statewide use of force standard.

One of the bills would require the Wisconsin Department of Justice to release an annual report on use of force in the state. Another would ban the use of chokeholds while another would ban the use of no-knock warrants, something protesters in Madison have specifically demanded after police in Louisville shot and killed Breonna Taylor during such a raid.

"They want to eliminate no-knock search warrants. Well that's not going anywhere," Wanggaard said. "You still have to have the ability for law enforcement to do their no-knock search warrants because these are in the most dangerous situations."

Wanggaard said the process of meeting in the middle on the two sets of bills was only made harder by the Milwaukee Bucks publicly calling on the legislature to address police reform.

"It gets a little irritating when I have people that should be playing basketball and football and sticking to their area of expertise," Wanggaard said. "Instead of jumping in and trying to push the envelope when they have no idea what's going on."

Bucks Senior Vice President Alex Lasry and the team's ownership group has defended the team's words and actions, as the team called a strike to sit out a playoff game Wednesday in protest of the Jacob Blake shooting. Lasry on Sunday responded to Wanggaard's criticism of the team:

While Wanggaard said he worked with activists and members of the governor's office to draft the review board bill, Democratic lawmakers said they were skeptical of whether Wanggaard, a former police officer, would support any bills that fundamentally change policing in Wisconsin.

"I think his bills have some relevance but it needs to go a step further," said State Sen. LaTonya Johnson (D - Milwaukee). "He's not going to do anything the police association will find offensive or frustrating and sometimes, those are the things that need to be implemented for us to see change."

Michael Bell, whose son was killed by Kenosha Police in 2004, said he's working with Wanggaard and the governor's office on the use of force review bill. Bell said given the dueling sets of proposals across the board, he's in no hurry to see legislation passed.

"It almost makes sense to slow this thing down and do it right," Bell said.

Bell helped lead the push for the passage of a bill in 2014 that requires outside agencies lead the investigation in incidents where police kill or seriously injure someone. Currently, the district attorney in the county where the incident occurred makes the charging decision after the investigation. Bell would like to extend that independence to having an outside D.A. come in as well.

"If you've got a DA who works on a first name basis with all the law enforcement in his county, you can't expect him to be unbiased when it comes to an honest evaluation of a police-involved shooting," Bell said.

Bell said he believes compromise is now even harder to come by at the Capitol than it was in 2014 but hopes the police shooting of Jacob Blake and subsequent unrest in Kenosha and Madison will spur lawmakers to find areas of agreement between their two sets of bills.

"I think the political environment right now is more divided but lawmakers need to set aside their differences and come together in a way forward and if they don't, shame on them," Bell said. "That's the way I feel right now."

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