GOP lawmakers: Criminal justice system plan could ease backlog of cases without raising taxes

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WAUKESHA -- Wisconsin Republicans are proposing changes to Wisconsin's criminal justice system -- changes they say could help relieve a backlog of cases.

There is a push to hire more assistant district attorneys throughout the state to prosecute cases. Republican state representatives are proposing changes they say will be paid for without raising taxes.

Rep. Jim Ott

"You can't effectively prosecute cases if you don't have enough prosecutors," said Rep. Jim Ott (R-Mequon).

Areas judges and district attorneys are supporting a proposal that some say will keep communities safer.

"The current caseload demands for Waukesha and Wisconsin prosecutors have created backlogs in many counties and have left victims waiting for resolution of their cases," said Susan Opper, Waukesha County District Attorney.

Susan Opper, Waukesha County District Attorney

Opper said in her time within the department, staffing levels have dropped.

"We have less prosecutors today than we did 28 years ago," Opper said.

To remedy that, the GOP plan includes adding 60 assistant district attorney positions throughout the state. There is also a proposal to increase pay for private attorneys who take public defender cases -- from $40 an hour to $70 an hour.

"Wisconsin has had, up to now, the lowest private-bar reimbursement rate in the country," said Sam Benedict, State Public Defenders Regional Attorney Manager.

State Rep. Jim Ott said the state will pay for the proposal without raising taxes. It will require $50 million taken from the general fund to cover it. It is also unclear which municipalities would benefit from the extra positions -- and how much each county will receive.

Michael Thurston, President of the Association of State Prosecutors

"They have actively been working on those numbers, sir, that breakdown is still subject to scrutiny," said Michael Thurston, President of the Association of State Prosecutors.

FOX6 News reached out to state Democrats and the governor's office for comment on this proposal. A spokeswoman for Governor Tony Evers said, "The governor has said all along that criminal justice reform is an area where Democrats and Republicans should be able to work together. The governor has met with stakeholders and already planned to include some of these proposals -- including a pay increase for public defenders -- in his budget."

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