Wisconsin lawmakers push for higher bail after parade deaths

Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin are pushing for tougher bail policies after a man who is charged with driving his SUV through a Christmas parade in suburban Milwaukee, killing six people and injuring more than 60, had been released on $1,000 bail in a domestic violence case.

There have been bipartisan calls for bail reform following the Waukesha Christmas parade deaths and details about the earlier bail amount set for suspect Darrell Brooks Jr.

Gov. Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul, both Democrats, announced their support for stricter bail policies last month.

"I think that’s worth talking about," Evers told The Associated Press in a December interview. "We just want to make sure that we’re not violating various rights and responsibilities that everybody has. But I’m open to making changes. And so let’s have the conversation start."

The Wisconsin State Journal reported on Friday that the Republican-authored bills would require a $10,000 minimum bond for defendants who have previously committed a felony or violent misdemeanor. They would also bar judges from setting an unsecured bond or releasing without bail someone previously convicted of bail jumping and require the Wisconsin Department of Justice to create a "bond transparency report" detailing crime and bond conditions.

The bills would have to be approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by Evers before becoming law.

In December, Republicans also proposed a constitutional amendment that would allow judges setting monetary bail to consider the seriousness of the offense charged, as well as a defendant’s criminal history, flight risk and public safety risk.

A constitutional amendment has to pass the Legislature over two sessions and be approved by voters before taking effect. The governor has no role.

Under the state Constitution, judges can’t impose cash bail to prevent future crimes, only to ensure defendants appear in court. Judges may, however, add conditions to a person’s bail that seek to address public safety concerns.

"This revolving door for criminals must end," Sen. Julian Bradley, a Franklin Republican, said in a statement announcing the package of bills. "We must bring accountability and transparency to the court system to ensure serial criminals don’t continually have the opportunities to put our communities and families in harm’s way."

Weeks before prosecutors say Brooks drove his SUV through the crowd in Waukesha, he had been arrested for allegedly running over the mother of his child. Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm’s office requested $1,000 cash bail for him in that case. Brooks paid it and was released two days before the parade.

Chisholm has said Brooks’ low bail was the result of an oversight, but Republicans have taken aim at the Democratic district attorney, alleging that he enabled the parade attack.

A group of Milwaukee taxpayers filed a complaint against Chisholm with Evers in early December, triggering a process that could end with Evers removing Chisholm from office. The governor said his office was reviewing the complaint, but he and Kaul have said voters should choose whether to remove Chisholm from office.