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State Sen. Van Wanggaard Reflects on 2011 Public Safety Legislation

Wanggaard continues his “Year in Review” segment by recapping what he has done over the past year to keep you safe in your home and community.

As the New Year progresses, I continue to reflect on all that was accomplished in 2011. Last week, which marked the beginning of my new “Year in Review” segment, I recapped some of the ways I helped encourage job growth in 2011.

For the second installment of the segment, I am reviewing how I helped protect southeastern Wisconsin’s most vulnerable citizens over the past year. I understand the importance of keeping our communities safe, and over the last year I have authored multiple bills specifically designed to protect our citizens and give Wisconsinites peace of mind. As we look forward to the year ahead, here is a look back at what I’ve done over the past year to help keep you and your loved ones safe.

At the beginning of this legislative session, I was pleased to have been appointed Chairman of the Senate Public Safety Committee. With my 30 years of experience serving Racine as a police officer, I’ve been able to bring a much-needed law enforcement perspective to state government. Protecting our communities, and the most vulnerable members within them, is the number one priority of government. As you may expect, given my background and committee chairmanship, I’ve offered multiple bills on public safety. I am pleased to say many of these bills have already become law.

One of the first bills I introduced this session was “Maddie’s Law.” The idea for this bill was brought to my attention by a local mother whose daughter was sexually abused at a local school. After hearing about this extremely unfortunate incident, we discovered that only teachers and administrators were required to report suspected abuse – other school employees were not. To remedy this, I partnered with Representatives Robin Vos and Bob Turner to draft “Maddie’s Law.” The bill requires all public & private school employees to report suspected abuse, and provides necessary training in spotting abuse. I’m pleased to say that this bill received near-unanimous support in the Legislature and was signed into law last month.

Another early success was the repeal of Governor Doyle’s misguided Early Release Program. The Early Release Program essentially repealed truth-in-sentencing, and allowed bureaucrats to release convicted felons from prison early. Sadly, this included people convicted of reckless homicide, drunk driving, child abuse, and arson who often reoffended. In Racine alone, the initial recidivism rate of these offenders was more than 35% - twice the typical state average. Despite claims that the program would save the state money, little savings materialized.  A bipartisan group of legislators opposed Early Release when it passed, and an even larger group of bipartisan legislators agreed when we voted to repeal this dangerous program last spring.

An important part of public safety is empowering individuals to protect themselves and their families. That’s why I authored the “Castle Doctrine” bill that passed in the fall. This bill has a simple premise – people shouldn’t have to worry about defending themselves in their own home. My bill provides a presumption of self defense if you are attacked in your own home, car or business. It is important to note that this bill is about protecting life, not property. You shouldn’t have to flee the sanctuary of your own home when threatened, and victims shouldn’t have to decide between the potential of being sued and protecting their loved ones. This bill also passed both houses with strong bipartisan support, and was signed into law last month.

Finally, with personal safety in mind, I’ve taken the lead on several bills to address domestic violence in our state. One of these bills helps victims of domestic abuse by simplifying the process to apply for and receive restraining orders to protect themselves from cyber-harassment or threats through social media in Wisconsin. The second bill strengthens the penalties for violating a 72-hour no contact order, and strengthens protections for domestic abuse witnesses. Both of these bills passed the Assembly with wide support, and were voted out of my Senate committee this past week. January is “Stalking Awareness Month” which raises public awareness and reaffirms the need to strengthen protections for victims. I was pleased we could take action on this important issue, and I hope both of these bills will pass the Senate this spring.

Keeping our community safe requires constant vigilance. People have a right to feel safe in their homes, in their city and in their state. A high crime rate leads to economic decay and job loss – a trend I am working to reverse. That’s why I remain committed to public safety, and why it will continue to be one of my top priorities during 2012.  

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