Evers signs legislation to keep school safety office going, for now | Government | #schoolsaftey

Gov. Tony Evers has signed legislation that will keep core functions of the Office of School Safety going into next year, averting the possibility that a tipline to report safety or mental health concerns could end in late 2024.

Schools, law enforcement and lawmakers from across the state worried that the office, housed in the Wisconsin Department of Justice, would have to cut staff and end all but a few functions. The office’s work includes the Speak Up, Speak Out Tipline, where students can report troubling behavior or bullying. It also includes training for local school districts and police on the best ways to assess and deal with threats.

The tipline has become one of the most prominent aspects of the department’s work. OSS Director Trish Kilpin said earlier this month that tips had been rising rapidly in recent school years. When the Office of School Safety was created in 2018, a tipline was not part of it. The line rolled out later in 2020, and staff was added to handle the service using federal or grant funding.

Funding for the tipline and other services nearly ran out last year. A last-ditch use of COVID-19 relief money kept it going into 2024.

The purpose of this recent bill was to provide stopgap dollars. It will not end the office’s resources quagmire altogether, as lawmakers will need to figure out a more permanent funding solution in next year’s budget.

In a statement, Evers praised lawmakers for being “able to reach a bipartisan consensus” and officials cheered his decision to sign the bill.

“The Office of School Safety’s proactive and collaborative approach is helping keep kids safe when they’re at school,” Attorney General Josh Kaul said in a statement. “While there is still work to do to fund the Office of School Safety’s services for the long term, the enactment of this legislation is a critical step forward.”

Evers signs bills on judicial safety, human trafficking

Evers also signed a bevy of bills, largely related to policing, criminal justice and public safety.

Notably, that includes a three bill package requested by judicial branch officials who say the bills are important in order to protect the safety of judges and court staff across Wisconsin.

The legislation came out of a series of recommendations following the slaying of former Juneau County Judge John Roemer, who was shot and killed in his New Lisbon home in 2022.

There have been nearly 150 threats made against Wisconsin judges in the last year, according to data from the Wisconsin Supreme Court Marshal’s Office. Judicial officials from across the state came forward in support of the bill, outlining their own experience with safety concerns.

The proposals include making it a Class A misdemeanor, which carries up to a $10,000 fine and nine-month prison sentence, to picket or demonstrate near a justice’s home “with the intent to interfere with, obstruct, or impede the administration of justice” or influence a judge in carrying out their duties.

Two other bills would expand privacy protections, including one that allows a judge to request their personal information and any information about their immediate family not be publicly posted or displayed in search engine results. It also allows a judge to file paperwork that allows the state Ethics Commission to verify their address without it being made public.

“This package is a much-needed step in the right direction to provide safety and security to our judicial officers,” Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Annette Ziegler said in a statement. “May we all continue to do our part, individually and collectively, to provide a safe court system. We will have more work to do in the days ahead to ensure our judicial officers are safely able to carry out their important work. But today, I pause to celebrate these positive steps.”

Evers also signed legislation increasing penalties for fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer and instituting a mandatory sentence if that action results in great bodily harm or death.

And the governor approved legislation to provide $10 million in grants to combat human trafficking, as well as beefing up education on trafficking and create a taskforce on the issue. Those bills were introduced as part of an effort to improve Wisconsin’s relatively low standing on fighting human and sex trafficking.

Andrew Bahl joined the Cap Times in September 2023, covering Wisconsin politics and government. He is a University of Wisconsin-Madison alum and has covered state government in Pennsylvania and Kansas.

You can follow Andrew on X @AndrewBahl. You also can support Andrew’s work by becoming a Cap Times member.

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