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GOP passes corrections budget; Dems wanted more prison reduction measures

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MADISON (WKOW) -- The budget building process moved onto corrections Thursday as Joint Finance Republicans approved a funding plan for both adult and juvenile criminal justice programs.

Democrats pushed unsuccessfully for GOP members of the powerful committee to restore proposals Democratic Gov. Tony Evers had included in his budget aimed at reducing the state's prison population.

The Republican co-chairs on the committee, Rep. Mark Born (R-Beaver Dam) and Sen. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green) touted the spending increases they did approve.

Namely, GOP leaders pointed to the allocation of more than $4 million over the next two years to run an assisted needs facility for elderly inmates at Oakhill Correctional Institute in Oregon.

Republicans also committed $1 million over the next biennium to career and tech training equipment in the state's prisons and $800,000 for a drug treatment program geared toward inmates battling addiction.

"Helping folks to get back out and off of drugs and stay off of drugs when they get out," Born said. "Get into that workforce and hopefully never come back to our corrections systems."

Democrats argued Republicans failed to properly address a number of other areas in the corrections realm. They pointed to the lack of funding to build a replacement for the embattled Lincoln Hills youth prison in Irma.

Democrats also bemoaned the removal of policy ideas Evers had included, such as ending the state's practice of automatically charging 17-year-olds as adults -- something only three states currently do -- and no longer jailing people for only violating the rules of their parole.

"Republicans on this committee can't figure out facilities, they can't figure out the rest of the reforms needed and we're stuck," said Rep. Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee) "An island with outdated, inefficient, ineffective juvenile justice and adult criminal justice system."

The Republican plan also provided funding for Sauk County to add a full-time prosecutor to its district attorney's office and allowed for Lafayette County to hire a part-time prosecutor.

Stewardship Split

The start of Thursday's meeting was delayed by about two-and-a-half hours. Multiple sources told 27 News it was because Joint Finance Republicans Rep. Amy Loudenbeck (R-Clinton) and Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Cedarburg) were divided on how to fund the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program.

The program provides state money for the DNR to buy land for conservation and water quality purposes.

Ultimately, the GOP plan provided $32 million to extend the program for another four years. Evers' plan called for putting $70 million toward a 10-year extension.

Joint Finance is scheduled to meet again on Tuesday and discuss funding for the Department of Health Services as the state continues to pull out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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A. J. Bayatpour

Reporter, WKOW 27

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