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Wisconsin Assembly Approves Penalty For Defunding Police

Blue light flasher atop of a police car. City lights on the background.
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Gov. Evers signed into law a bill banning police use of chokeholds, except in self defense, and three other policing measures that passed last week with bipartisan support.

The Wisconsin Assembly gave final approval Tuesday to a Republican-backed bill that would penalize local governments that attempt to defund police — a measure Democrats derided as “laughable.”

The bill, which the Senate passed earlier this month, now heads to Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who is expected to veto it. His spokeswoman, Britt Cudaback, did not immediately reply to a message seeking comment.

Evers on Tuesday signed into law a bill banning police use of chokeholds, except in self-defense, and three other policing measures that passed last week with bipartisan support.

He also signed bills that 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.

The proposal the Assembly passed Tuesday 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.

“The solution is not for the Legislature to try to micromanage these municipal budgeting decisions,” Democratic Rep. Mark Spreitzer said prior to debate. “It’s to actually fund municipal budgets so our communities can make the investments in public safety we would all like to see.”

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 long 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.

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Associated Press writer Todd Richmond contributed to this report.

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