AG Schimel Submits Written Testimony in Support of 2017 Senate Bill 768

Feb 8 2018

Co-chairs Darling and Nygren and Finance Committee Members,

 

Thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony in support of the recommendations from the Governor’s Task Force on Opioid Abuse. Governor Walker, the Taskforce, co-chaired by Representative Nygren and Lieutenant Governor Kleefisch, and all of you in the legislature have shown time and again your serious commitment to combating Wisconsin’s opioid crisis and you all should be commended.  Before I begin, I’d like to specifically thank the authors of this bill, Senator Vukmir and Representative Nygren, along with the bipartisan list of co-sponsors who support it.    

 

Drug abuse remains one of the foremost public policy discussions in Wisconsin, thanks to all of our efforts across the state and multiple disciplines. Wisconsin’s multidisciplinary approach to attacking this crisis has led to some incredible successes. The recommendations being heard today are balanced, well-researched, and combat the epidemic through all necessary channels: prevention, treatment, and enforcement. From providing grant funds to combat drug trafficking, to providing nonnarcotic treatment in jails, the investments made by this initiative will have a direct and positive impact at nearly every stage of the criminal justice system.

 

I am sure you will hear support from experts for all of the tremendous and laudable efforts included in these bills today, so I’d like to speak specifically about two major provisions in SB 768/AB 906 that directly impact the Wisconsin Department of Justice’s role in fighting this epidemic.

 

First, this bill provides two new assistant attorney general (AAG) positions which will be located in the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) Wausau and Appleton field offices. These AAGs will provide “on the ground” assistance to DCI agents, local law enforcement, and support over-burdened prosecutors. Basing the prosecutors in DCI regional field offices allow the AAGs to respond quickly and effectively to cases throughout those regions.  It will allow them to work side by side with investigators and District Attorneys (DAs) in those regions to establish and prosecute complex drug cases. For these positions DOJ will hire prosecutors who are familiar with available local resources like drug courts, treatment options, Treatment and Diversion programs, etc. An experienced prosecutor who is familiar with alternatives to prosecution and treatment options will ensure to a great extent that those who enter the criminal justice system receive appropriate treatment or punishment or some combination thereof.

 

I’m thrilled to see this regional prosecutor model expanded to areas of the state where we most need it to continue our fight against Wisconsin’s drug epidemic. Since I began my role as Attorney General, I have advocated for a regional prosecutor model. While AAGs in Madison do incredible work, in the context of drug enforcement, having “boots on the ground” prosecutors ─ who are part of the community, working alongside law enforcement, local prosecutors, and judges ─ is priceless.

 

In August 2017, I appointed an AAG to serve as the statewide methamphetamine and drug resource prosecutor. This AAG is based out of DCI’s Eau Claire field office for quick and effective dispatching to cases throughout the northwest part of the state.  By sharing an office, this AAG can proactively work directly with both DCI agents and outside law enforcement agencies regarding methamphetamine and other drug trafficking. The methamphetamine resource prosecutor represents the state in criminal cases; advises local prosecutors on matters relating to drug trafficking; and assists in the development of legislation concerning the growing threat that methamphetamine poses to local communities.

 

This model has had a positive impact as this AAG is an experienced resource for local DAs and has relationships with the local community, law enforcement and judges in those regions. I expect that the expansion of this model for other regions will have the same positive impact.

 

Additionally, this bill provides $1 million in grant funding for law enforcement agencies. This grant money may be used by law enforcement agencies or drug taskforces for the purposes of training officers, hiring additional officers to investigate drug trafficking, or for any purpose directly related to combating drug trafficking. These funds will be distributed to agencies and taskforces to fund innovative ways to prevent the flow and sale of drugs in Wisconsin. We need to do all we can to stop these drugs from coming into the state in the first place.  We must make sure our law enforcement officers are well trained to safely handle the rise of dangerously potent fentanyl and the ever-evolving analogs.

 

While the drug epidemic feels overwhelming, the people in the state of Wisconsin should feel a sense of reassurance that its leaders are steadfastly committed to combating the drug crisis. Thank you for the opportunity to voice my support for these initiatives and, more importantly, for your leadership and your partnership in fighting this epidemic. I look forward to your support and our continued discussions as these bills move forward.

 

If you have any questions, please contact DOJ’s Director of Government Affairs, Lane Ruhland at ruhlandle@doj.state.wi.us, or (608) 640-7203.