Wisconsin Legislature moving ahead with bail amendment

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Legislature is moving quickly to put a constitutional amendment on the April ballot that would make it harder for criminal defendants to get out of jail on bail.

The proposal has been around for years, but it gained new momentum last year after a man out on bail drove his SUV through a Christmas parade in Waukesha, killing six and injuring dozens more. Darrell Brooks, Jr. posted $1,000 bail two day before the parade. He was convicted of six counts of homicide last month and sentenced to life in prison.

The Legislature last year approved a proposed constitutional amendment that would require court officials to consider a defendant’s risk to public safety when setting bail. Currently, bail is set only as a means to ensure the person returns to court.

The change would allow courts to consider the totality of the circumstances in a case, whether the accused has been convicted for a violent crime in the past, the probability he or she will flee and the need to protect the community.

Republican sponsors of the measure, state Sen. Van Wanggaard and state Rep. Cindi Duchow, introduced it again Wednesday. It must clear the Legislature again this session in order to be placed on the ballot.

Wanggaard said he plans a hearing on it Tuesday, hoping to get it passed in time to make the April ballot. It would then be up to voters to decide whether to approve it.