Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel and a group of Republican legislators began a push Tuesday to crack down on child abusers with a package of bills that would make repeated abuse a formal crime and expand reporting requirements.
The Republican attorney general and Sen. Rob Cowles of Green Bay announced the legislation during a state Capitol news conference, saying the measures will help keep children safe.
One bill would create a new criminal charge for repeated acts of physical abuse of the same child. Penalties would vary from 15 years in prison and $50,000 in fines to life depending on the harm inflicted on the child.
Another bill would create a new criminal charge for repeated acts of neglect against the same child with penalties ranging from up to six years in prison and $10,000 in fines to 60 years and $100,000, depending on the consequences of the neglect.
Under that proposal, prosecutors would no longer have to show intent to prove neglect. The measure also would create a number new felonies punishable by prison time for causing neglect if a child suffers emotional damage, if the abuser knows his actions could kill the child or if the abuser knows his actions could lead to the child becoming a sexual assault victim.
Current Wisconsin law allows prosecutors to charge repeated sexual assault of a child but not repeated acts of physical abuse or neglect.
The third bill would require social service agencies to report child abuse or neglect cases to police within 12 hours of learning of the allegations. Currently they’re required to report only suspected or threatened sexual abuse to law enforcement. The bill also would require police and sheriff departments to adopt written policies specifying the types of child abuse and neglect cases that they will routinely refer to prosecutors.
The last measure would give victims of sexual assault, human trafficking and child abuse the right to have a victim advocate present during examinations, police interviews and other proceedings in their case.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald’s spokeswoman said he supports the measures. Scott Kelly, an aide to Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, chairman of the Senate public safety committee, said Wanggaard likely will schedule a hearing on the package soon but didn’t offer a date.
A spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said he supports the package as well.
Schimel also announced that he would create a child abuse resource prosecutor within the state Justice Department. That prosecutor would help local district attorneys with child abuse cases. Jill Karofsky, director of DOJ’s Office of Crime Victim Services, said the prosecutor could ease the burden for district attorneys, who are spending hours learning complex medical terminology to litigate child abuse cases effectively.
Schimel said the position wouldn’t come with any additional costs; the agency has an assistant attorney general vacancy and the new hire will take over the resource responsibilities.