Confusion over wording of ballot questions as both sides make their cases

NOW: Confusion over wording of ballot questions as both sides make their cases

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Already on the first day of early voting, many voters say they're confused by the wording of some of the referenda questions that appear on the ballot.

Two of the questions are binding and would become law if voters approve them.

If approved, the constitutional amendments would allow the legislature to define conditions for release and allow judges to consider more information when setting bail.

The Republicans proposing the measures say they're needed, but opposing groups say they prey on fear.

The first: should the legislature define "serious harm" when setting terms for a person's release?

Republicans say yes.

Republican Rep. Cindi Duchow of Delafield said, "We define that by looking at multiple different types of serious harm, bodily harm, mental harm that are all described in statute."

Several Democratic lawmakers voted with Republicans to put the question on the ballot, but many groups -including the ACLU of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers- oppose it.

Jessa Nicholson Goetz is the Vice President of the Wisconsin Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. She said, "Leaving phrases like 'serious harm' up to the legislature to define, which is in my view always a dangerous move when you're talking about new constitutional provisions."

They're also against the second question, which would allow judges to consider criminal history when setting bail.

Nicholson Goetz said, "I believe we can effectively manage the concerns of violent offenders who commit new crimes on bail using the existing statutory framework."

Current law says cash bail is used only to ensure someone appears in court, but Republicans sought to change it in the wake of the Waukesha parade tragedy.

Rep. Duchow said, "This just gives a judge all the information when making a decision. They still get to make the decision. So they could still decide to set your bail at $5 or $5k."

Duchow said Wisconsin is an outlier by not already considering criminal history, and that people "assume this was already happening. That a judge is making a decision based on the totality of the circumstances."

But those opposed say it will produce a system in which only people with money will be released.

Nicholson Goetz said, "It's going to create a debtor's prison where wealthy, but equally violent, offenders are able to obtain release pre-trial, and the poor are not."

The third ballot question is whether people should be required to look for work in order to get welfare benefits. But that question is non-binding, so nothing will change regardless of the results.

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