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Voucher school provision added into state sexual assault testing bill, receives criticism
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Voucher school provision added into state sexual assault testing bill, receives criticism

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MADISON — A new version of the bill dealing with the testing of sexual assault kits would also allow some sexual assault victims to bypass other rules and enroll in a voucher school, including voucher schools in Racine.

The provision would only be for students whose alleged assailant was a pupil or employee at the school the victim was attending. However, the bill, which also includes provisions directed at illegal immigrants, has received criticism from law enforcement, health care professionals and sexual assault victim advocates and survivors.

According to the Legislative Reference Bureau, under current law, there is no statutory procedure for the collection and processing of sexual assault kits. Assembly Bill 214 creates procedures for transmission, processing, and storage of sexual assault kits.

Among its co-authors is state Rep. Greta Neubauer, D-Racine, and one of the co-sponsors is state Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine.

The competing Assembly Bill 844’s two controversial features involve immigration and school choice, respectively. It was introduced Feb. 3.

The LRB’s analysis of the bill reads in part: “Under the bill, if a person under arrest for sexual assault is not a U.S. citizen and is not authorized to be in the United States under federal law, the law enforcement agency must notify U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In addition, if a person convicted for sexual assault is not a U.S. citizen and is not authorized to be in the United States under federal law, the Wisconsin Department of Justice must notify U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.”

AB 844 also includes a provision regarding private schools for sexual assault victims. The LRB writes: “Under the bill, a pupil who is a victim of sexual assault may attend a private school participating in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, the Racine Parental Choice Program, or the statewide parental choice program, regardless of whether the pupil meets the standard eligibility requirements to participate in the parental choice program.”

“Additionally, the bill provides an alternative application procedure that allows a pupil who is victim of sexual assault to begin attending a private school under a parental choice program at any time during the school year.”

“For purposes of these provisions, a pupil is a victim of sexual assault if charges are filed for the sexual assault and the person against whom the charges were filed is a pupil or a school district employee.”

Opponents decry new bill

On Wednesday, supporters of AB 214, including Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul, held a press conference at the State Capitol in Madison to speak out strongly against AB 844 and in favor of AB 214. Those supporters, who included law enforcement, sexual assault survivors, nurses, and victim advocates, called on the Assembly Committee on Health to take up legislation to prevent a backlog of sexual assault kits with AB 214, and reject AB 844.

“I believe this is a stall tactic and a political brawl on the playground between rivals which has nothing to do with the victims of DNA backlog,” said sexual assault survivor Jacqueline Jaske.

AB 214 was presented last May and has never had a legislative hearing, she said. But AB 844 got there in six days.

“All of these messages tell victims that they don’t matter,” Jaske said.

“Six years of awareness of the DNA backlog in Wisconsin,” she said. “No bill passed, and no rush.”

Lt. Nathan Cihler of the Wausau Police Department, a 15-year law enforcement officer, was among several who spoke during the news conference. He said AB 214 provides the “clear and concise direction” that would prevent a backlog of rape test kits and hold all parties accountable.

And Ian Henderson of the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault said AB 214, which currently sits in the Assembly Committee on Health, is the culmination of years of work by the attorney general’s Sexual Assault Response Team, convened in 2012 and continued by three different attorneys general. He called it “profoundly nonpartisan legislation.”

“Which makes AB 844, and the inclusion of partisan issues like immigration and school choice, so disappointing,” Henderson said.

On Friday, Scott Kelly, a spokesman for Wanggaard, said the senator does want AB 214 to pass.

Neubauer said: “AB (214) is a great example of bipartisanship done right. It was designed to get right to the heart of an issue and drafted with the input and support of sexual assault advocates and experts from across Wisconsin. It has already passed in the Senate, and was on its way to passage in the Assembly.”

She added: “AB 844 is a clear attempt to force partisanship into the process, with additional provisions that advocates and victims haven’t asked for and don’t want.”

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Michael "Mick" Burke covers business and the Village of Sturtevant. He is the proud father of two daughters and owner of a fantastic, although rug-chewing, German shepherd dog.

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