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MADISON, Wis. — The Wisconsin Assembly approved a trio of bills Thursday to strengthen the state's domestic violence laws after one abuse victim was shot last year by her estranged husband at a Brookfield spa.
Police had been previously called to the home of Radcliffe and Zina Haughton but never made an arrest, despite a Wisconsin law requiring someone to be taken into custody when officers respond to a domestic violence call. Radcliffe Haughton killed his 42-year-old wife and two other people in October at the spa where Zina Haughton worked and then killed himself. Soon after, 12 state lawmakers signed a letter sent to the Brown Deer Police Department, accusing it of not following the law.
One of the three bills put forward by Rep. Andre Jacque, R-De Pere, would require officers to file reports with their district attorney's office explaining their actions whenever they didn't make an arrest in response to a domestic violence call. Jacque said the measure isn't meant to point fingers an individual officers but ensure the law is followed.
Dana Brueck, spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Department of Justice, said police departments currently develop their own policies for handling such cases in accordance with state law. They are overseen by local police commissions and elected municipal officials, not the Justice Department, she said.
Another bill passed would give prosecutors more tools to keep domestic abuse suspects in check by adding stalking, or threatening to stalk, to actions that qualify as domestic abuse. It also would specify that when a new judge takes over a case, any existing temporary restraining order would remain effective until a decision about a new one is made at another hearing.
A third bill would allow prosecutors to use as evidence reports of suspects' relevant misconduct over the previous 10 years, including violations of restraining orders or injunctions and convictions for domestic abuse, stalking or harassment. It passed on a voice vote despite criticism from Democrats.
Rep. Fred Kessler, a Milwaukee Democrat and former circuit judge, said he was troubled by the bill because it would allow prosecutors to use information from instances in which no charges were filed or the person wasn't convicted. He said that meant unproven allegations could be heard in court.
Rep. Evan Goyke, a former assistant public defender, noted the difficulty in domestic abuse cases is usually whether prosecutors can get victims to go to court, not a lack of evidence. Goyke also said the state should invest in rehabilitating suspects, not putting them back to jail.
Jacque dismissed the concern, saying judges would only consider relevant and non-prejudicial evidence.
Milwaukee County Chief Judge Jeffrey Kremers said in an email that the bill might encourage some judges to allow more evidence, but others could still be reluctant to do so.