Democrats offer dueling crime, law enforcement proposals as alternative to GOP plan

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MADISON,  Wis. (CBS 58) -- Democrats are offering dueling proposals focused on keeping communities safe a day before Republican lawmakers plan to vote on their own package of bills aimed at retaining and recruiting law enforcement officers.

On Monday, a group of Democrats introduced their public safety plan which includes boosting the state's shared revenue program by 2% over the biennium to allow local governments to make investments in policing.

State Rep. Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee) said these investments can help reduce crime and provide local governments with the tools they need, such as funding violence prevention programs.

"These grants can help pay for boots on the ground for communities who need it," said Goyke. "It can help deploy teams that meet individuals where they are at the street level."

Democrats' crime package comes weeks after Republicans introduced their incentive plan to fill police department vacancies. They've also recently introduced legislation to reform the state's bail system and implement tougher penalties on criminals who reoffend in wake of the Waukesha Christmas parade tragedy.

The main difference between the clashing proposals is the price tag. Democrats want to spend about $100 million from the state surplus. Meanwhile, Republicans want Governor Tony Evers to use about $25 million in federal coronavirus relief aid to offer new officers bonuses and pay for other recruitment efforts.

Democrats also proposed using grant programs to help high-crime communities and require courts to work with police departments to prevent newly-released offenders from obtaining a gun.

"Taking weapons out of the hands of abusers will bring safety and securing for countless potential victims," said Rep. Sara Rodriguez (D-Brookfield).

State Rep. Mark Born (R-Beaver Dam), co-chair of the Legislature's budget committee, criticized Democrats' plan for not doing enough to crack down on crime.

"It doesn't appear [Democrats] are focused on actually solving crime or making communities safer," said Born. "Most of their proposals all focus on the back side after the crime already occurred, and I don't see a lot of attention on supporting police officers and supporting public safety."

Born also added he opposes increasing shared revenue because local governments can use that money towards a variety of services besides law enforcement, such as libraries and fire departments.

The amount of shared revenue to county and municipal governments has declined sharply over the last decade. It dropped from about $922 million in 2001 to $753 million in 2020, according to a memo from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

Assembly Republicans are scheduled to vote on their law enforcement incentive package on Tuesday. It also includes proposals that target repeat offenders. One bill up for a vote would revoke someone's parole if they commit a crime while on supervision.

Governor Evers did not respond to a request for comment, but is unlikely to sign Republican bills that tell him how to spend federal relief aid. Under current law, a governor is the only one who has control over distributing federal aid.

Throughout the pandemic, Evers has had billions at his disposal and has used it toward a wide variety of things such as small business recovery grants, expanding broadband, COVID-19 testing and PPE among other things.

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