MADISON (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker wants to spend $6 million on expanding DNA collection efforts to include anyone arrested on a felony charge and anyone convicted of a crime, a move the Republican has argued will help police solve more crimes.
Walker on Tuesday toured the state with fellow Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen to highlight $14 million in law enforcement spending that will be included in the state budget he'll propose to the Legislature next week.
In addition to expanding DNA collection, Walker wants to provide $3 million in grants to allow for GPS monitoring of high-risk offenders who are the subject of restraining orders. Walker voiced support for that following the October shooting at a Brookfield spa in which a man killed his wife and two other women days after the wife obtained a restraining order against him.
Wisconsin law already allows authorities to use GPS to track people who violate a domestic abuse restraining order. Walker wants judges to be able to order such monitoring of first-time restraining order recipients if the judge determines that person is more likely than not to cause serious bodily harm.
But it's the expansion of DNA collection that's certain to draw the most opposition, especially among those concerned about the infringement upon innocent people's civil rights.
"It's really a government intrusion that undermines the notion of the presumption of innocence," said Chris Ahmuty, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Wisconsin chapter. "If you don't have to be convicted and the government can come and do this to you, it offends a lot of people."
If approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature, Wisconsin would join 25 other states and the federal government in taking DNA upon felony arrests. Walker's proposal is projected to lead to the collection of an additional 68,000 DNA samples a year in Wisconsin.
Wisconsin now collects DNA only from convicted felons and sex offenders.
Walker said the expansion would be "tremendously powerful" for police looking to solve cold cases.
"DNA evidence is the most powerful evidence you can have in many cases," Walker said at a meeting of the Badger State Sheriffs' Association in Madison. "It's the 21st century equivalent of the fingerprint."
Under Walker's plan, which was released Tuesday, DNA would be collected from all people arrested on suspicion of a felony crime, including juveniles. DNA samples would also be taken from anyone convicted of a crime as well as some misdemeanor arrests for prostitution, patronizing a prostitute, pandering and endangering safety by use of a dangerous weapon.
Supporters of DNA collection say it offers a sure-fire genetic identifier upon arrest, and that by expanding state and federal DNA databases, more criminals will be identified and more unsolved crimes will get cleared.
The $6 million initiative would be paid for with a $250 surcharge felony offenders pay and $200 for other cases, said Walker's spokesman Cullen Werwie. He said Wisconsin also hopes to be awarded some federal grants under a new $10 million program, signed into law by President Barack Obama last month, to pay for taking DNA upon arrest.
Walker rejected Van Hollen's proposal to pay for the expanded DNA collection, which relied on diverting money from other criminal surcharges the DOJ uses to pay for anti-alcohol and bullying efforts at schools, prison guard training, gang prevention efforts, and public defenders' training.
Van Hollen said under Walker's plan, which was $1.2 million less expensive than what Van Hollen proposed, the reimbursement rate to local law enforcement agencies collecting DNA would drop from $20 per sample to $10 per sample.
Other proposals Walker announced Tuesday include spending $1 million to hire five new full-time employees at the Department of Justice task force that works to stop Internet crimes against children. The new jobs would be focused on child sex trafficking.
Walker is also proposing moving nearly all duties of the Office of Justice Assistance, which is currently under his control, to the state Department of Justice. Walker said the move would create efficiencies while not eliminating any programs or responsibilities.
Walker also wants to replace surcharge money with $4 million from the state's general fund to pay for grants awarded to assist victims of sexual assaults.
The Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault praised Walker's initiatives.
"Victim advocates across Wisconsin have worked hard over the last several years to make sure that policymakers understand the scope of the sexual assault problem in this state," said Pennie Meyers, executive director of the group. "We urge legislators to concur with these significant criminal justice system improvements."
Reaction to the plan among lawmakers was mixed.
Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he generally supported the expanded DNA collection and GPS tracking, but needed to see more details to fully understand it before taking a position.
Walker's plan is a step in the right direction, said Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson, but more details are needed.
Some of the harshest criticism of the plan came from Democratic state Sen. Lena Taylor, who said Walker's proposal will put more stress on the state's justice system.
"The governor's plans are nothing more than a continuation of Republican bumper sticker politics of 'tough on crime,'" Taylor said.
Walker's budget will be introduced to the Republican-controlled Legislature on Feb. 20, which will then spend months debating it and making changes. It is likely to pass its version of the plan in June and it will then head to Walker for his approval.
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