Walker signs bill increasing penalties for straw gun purchases
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker signed bills into law Wednesday that will strengthen penalties for certain types of gun purchases and repeat drunken driving, weaken protections for wetlands and allow terminally ill patients to try experimental drugs.
Walker signed 41 bills privately in his Capitol office with invited guests. He also partially vetoed a measure to retain residency limitations for sexually violent offenders after they've been released from prison.
Many other high-profile measures await his signature, including a bill that would extend a $100 per-child rebate to families and another that would restructure the state's juvenile justice system, including closing the troubled Lincoln Hills youth prison in Irma.
The bills Walker signed into law Wednesday will:
— increase the penalties for "straw" firearms purchases, in which people who are allowed to buy guns do so for people who aren't allowed. The new law increases the penalty from a misdemeanor, punishable by up to nine months in jail, to a felony punishable by up to six years in prison. The law is supported by law enforcement agencies and Milwaukee officials who say it will help combat the problem in Wisconsin's largest city.
"Criminals were very aware of these loopholes," said the bill's sponsor, Republican Sen. Alberta Darling, in a statement. "Thanks to Governor Walker, prosecutors should be able to make gun charges stick and get dangerous criminals off the streets."
— allow developers to fill portions of urban and rural wetlands without a state permit. Conservation groups objected, arguing the change will lead to the destruction of wildlife habitat and exacerbate flooding. But supporters countered that the permitting process creates excessive delays for businesses and farmers looking to expand.
— require sexually violent people who are registered as sex offenders to be placed on supervised release within their counties of residence, with the approval of a judge.
Walker vetoed parts of the bill that would have allowed those people to live within 1,500 feet of schools, churches, day cares and parks, to give local communities more flexibility in placing them. He also vetoed the removal of a requirement that anyone who committed a sexually violent act against an at-risk adult or elder not live within 1,500 feet of a nursing home or assisted living center. Walker further vetoed removal of a requirement that such offenders not be placed on a property immediately adjacent to where a child lives.
"The process of placing sexually violent persons can be improved while not weakening current law protections that keep sexually violent persons at reasonable distances away from vulnerable populations," Walker said in his veto letter.
There are only about 50 sexually violent offenders currently monitored by the state. They are a small subset of the larger population of registered sex offenders.
The new laws also will:
— give patients with life-threatening illnesses in certain situations the ability to try experimental drugs that have not received full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Supporters of the "right to try" law say too many patients can't get into clinical trials and it takes the FDA too long to approve experimental drugs that could help seriously ill patients.
— increase penalties for four-time drunken drivers. Under the new law, anyone convicted of drunken driving for a fourth time or more would have their driver's license permanently revoked. A person's license would also be permanently revoked after a second offense in conjunction with other related vehicular offenses, including vehicular homicide. They could petition to get their license back after 10 years.
— allow for shutting down an ozone monitor in Sheboygan County's Kohler-Andre State Park on the Lake Michigan shoreline. Removing the monitor would require federal approval. Supporters, including the state chamber of commerce, say removing the monitor picks up ozone that drifts north from Chicago, forcing the county to adhere to tighter federal regulations to lower pollution. Opponents, including environmental and public health groups, argue the monitor is needed to protect the public from pollution.
— permit 15-year-olds to be lifeguards, down from the former 16-year-old requirement.
— end the requirement for water ski spotters. The new law allows a pilot to operate a boat pulling someone on water skis without a spotter on board as long as the boat has a wide-angle rearview mirror.