Wisconsin Department of Justice never launched GPS restraining order program



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MADISON, Wisconsin — Wisconsin Department of Justice officials have refused to launch a pilot program that would have paid for GPS tracking for people under restraining orders, saying the technical language enacting the plan didn't actually give judges the authority to order such monitoring.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker's 2013-15 state budget proposal called for providing $3 million for DOJ-issued grants to local police and government units to cover GPS tracking for people subject to domestic abuse and harassment restraining orders. The plan got a cool reception from Republicans on the Legislature's powerful budget committee, however.

Worried that no other state has imposed GPS monitoring as part of restraining order conditions, they scaled the program back dramatically, laying out just $250,000 for grants in the budget's first year and requiring a 50 percent match from the locals. Walker ultimately vetoed the match requirement but allowed the program to stand at $250,000.

Deputy Attorney General Kevin St. John, DOJ's second in command behind Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, sent a letter to the finance committee co-chairs this past November saying the final budget language didn't give judges the authority to order GPS tracking for someone subject to a restraining order but who hasn't violated it. St. John said unless the co-chairs revised the language DOJ wouldn't issue any grants.

"This program cannot be fully implemented under current law," St. John wrote.

Dean Stensberg, DOJ's executive assistant and policy director, said Tuesday that he's not aware of any legislative proposals to revise the language. Without those changes, DOJ couldn't legally administer the program, he said.

The agency's 2015-17 budget request asks Walker to eliminate the program outright since it can't be implemented under current state law.

Finance committee co-chairman Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, proposed scaling the program back to $250,000. His spokeswoman didn't immediately return a message Tuesday. A spokesman for the panel's other co-chair, Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, also didn't return a message.

Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said the governor thinks the program should be implemented and administration officials will work with DOJ to tweak the statutory language as they develop the executive budget. Walker's office is expected to submit the spending plan to legislators early next year.

Tony Gibart, policy coordinator for End Domestic Violence Wisconsin, an organization that advocates for domestic abuse victims, called DOJ's decision to shelve the program a missed opportunity. But he said it wasn't clear whether local police would have had the capability to set up tracking systems and that monitoring isn't an end-all way to prevent repeat violence.

"We support in principle the use of GPS tracking in appropriate cases of domestic violence," Gibart said. "If this is brought forward again, we need to think about how police, courts and victim advocates can coordinate their efforts. Gaps will still be there and use of technology won't enhance safety unless all the players are on the same page."

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