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Task force on racial disparities promises to put politics aside to reach compromise

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Rep. Steineke & Rep. Stubbs vow to find compromise at the State Capitol Tuesday on solutions to solve racial injustices

UPDATE (WKOW) -- The co-chairs of a new task force are promising to put their political differences aside to find common ground on a package of bills to address the justice system and racial disparities.

Rep. Shelia Stubbs (D-Madison) will co-chair the new Speaker’s Task Force on racial disparities with Majority Leader Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna) according to Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester).

The special committee aims to focus on racial disparities, educational opportunities, public safety, and police policies and standards. It was created by Vos after a white Kenosha police officer shot Jacob Blake, a Black man, in the back seven times.

Democrats, including Stubbs, criticized Republicans and the task force in the days leading up to Gov. Tony Evers special session that ended without any action on a package of bills backed by Democrats to reform police departments.

Stubbs, who was elected the first African-American woman to represent Dane County, said she's ready to put politics aside and work with some of her critics.

"This is about checking your politics at the door," said Stubbs when asked how she will work to gain consensus with Republicans. "I am willing as a Democrat to come to the table as I am not willing to see another black person killed and unarmed."

Republicans insisted after the special session that they would rather take some time to review Democrats' proposals on police reform, which were introduced in June.

Steineke said the task force is expected to meet by the end of September, then meet every two to three weeks in hopes of crafting a new package of bills for lawmakers to review by January.

"We want to send a message that government is not completely broken, that Democrats and Republicans can still work together on the big issues of the day to get things done," said Steineke.

It's been months since Republicans and Democrats have been able to reach a consensus on issues affecting Wisconsinites, such as unemployment, as thousands are still out of work due to COVID-19 or disagreeing on how to distribute federal grants to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

The task force already has plenty of proposals to consider including Democrats' nine bills introduced by the Legislative Black Caucus, Republican Sen. Van Wanggaard's proposals, and input from the Wisconsin Professional Police Associations "Blueprint for Change," which includes support for lawmakers ideas to reform police departments.

Steineke said all of these ideas "are on the table" to consider by the task force.

Democratic proposals include banning police chokeholds and no-knock warrants, making it easier to hold people accountable if they call 9-1-1 without a necessary reason, and to make it harder for officers to jump from one department for another if they have a questionable record.

The only Republican to introduce bills related to law enforcement is Wanggaard, R-Racine.

One of his proposals 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.

Steineke also added he wants to include feedback from the WPPA and their input on proposals they support such as banning chokeholds, de-escalation training, and protections for officers if they report any wrongdoings by another officer.

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WKOW

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Emilee Fannon

Capital Bureau Chief

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