MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Tony Evers on Tuesday signed a bill into law banning police chokeholds, except in life or death situations, on the same day the Assembly sent him a measure that would penalize local governments that attempt to defund their police departments.
The Assembly also passed a bill delayed last week that sets a statewide use of force policy for police.
Evers, in his message signing the bipartisan chokehold ban and three other policing bills, called on the GOP-controlled Legislature to pass more meaningful reforms. Other proposals he signed will require the reporting of incidents when police used force, the posting of use-of-force policies online and will create a community policing grant program.
Evers called the measures he signed “a step toward making meaningful progress for a more just, more equitable, and safer state for everyone. … Today is not the end, it has to be the beginning.”
The Assembly also passed a bill setting a statewide use of force policy, making changes after the Milwaukee police union blocked the measure’s passage last week. At the request of the union, Republicans amended the bill Tuesday to delay its implementation until January to give more time to train officers. The bill was also amended to remove criminal liability for an officer who reasonably should have intervened when another officer is illegally using force.
Democrats decried the changes, saying the Milwaukee Police Association had subverted what had been a broad, bipartisan approach to reaching consensus on a use of force policy.
“It is so unfair for the Milwaukee Police Association to derail this process and I am not happy,” said Democratic Rep. Shelia Stubbs, co-chair of the task force that came forward with this bill, the chokehold ban and others that Evers signed.
Even with the changes, Stubbs said the proposal remained a step in the right direction. The Assembly passed it on a voice vote.
The Milwaukee Police Association did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
The bill creates a statewide use-of-force standard and a duty to report and a duty to intervene in certain situations in which a law enforcement officer observes another officer failing to comply with the statewide use-of-force standard.
The bill makes it a misdemeanor for a police officer who intentionally fails to report noncompliant use of force or who fails to intervene to stop such use of force. It also provides whistleblower protections to officers who report when another officer may have violated use of force policies.
The new version now heads back to the Senate, which passed the original version on a 30-2 vote.
The Assembly also passed a GOP-backed bill that would mandate that any municipality that decreases the number of police officers, firefighters or medical first responders would receive a cut in state aid equal to the amount of compensation cut.
Municipalities that do not cut the number of officers would receive more in state aid. Police departments with fewer than 30 officers would be exempt.
The bill is an attempt by conservatives to stop those who want to reduce the size of police departments, sometimes to direct more funding to other social services that may not require a law enforcement intervention.
Democrats argued for increasing funding overall for local governments, saying budget challenges are what pressure communities to consider cutting police funding. They also argued that the state was attempting to interfere with local government decision-making and that the proposal would do nothing to keep communities safe.
Democratic Rep. Mark Spreitzer said the proposal was a “cynical” attempt to punish local governments.
“This bill is not serious,” Spreitzer said. “This bill is laughable.”
Republican backers say the bill would keep cities from indiscriminately cutting police and would keep communities safe.
“Fewer officers means when you are threatened, you wait longer to have someone come and help you out,” said Republican Speaker Robin Vos. “When police officers do their jobs, they prevent violence and that’s what we need more of in our society.”
Vos said the public supports funding police departments, not cutting them.
“Reducing funding for the police should never be supported by anyone in public office,” he said.
The bill passed on a 61-37 vote, with all Republicans and Democratic Rep. Nick Milroy, of South Range, in support and all other Democrats against.
The measure is one of several working its way through the Legislature that would make changes to policing in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis last year. Evers has promised to sign measures passed last week, including one that would generally ban police chokeholds.
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