Eligibility standards updated for first time in 20 years
Senator Spencer Coggs hailed the signing of his bill, Senate Bill (SB) 263, which was signed into law earlier this week by Governor Jim Doyle. Now known as 2009 Wisconsin Act 164, the new law will allow more defendants to qualify for Public Defender representation at a significant cost savings to counties.
The new law changes the formula used to determine indigency from the now defunct Aid to Families of Dependent Children to the more accurate Wisconsin Works (W-2) formula. The updated formula will allow more defendants to qualify for a public defender as opposed to a county funded outside council.
“Too many defendants have been shortchanged by the out-of-date formula used to determine who is eligible to be represented by a public defender. This legislation is vital to the interests of defendants and the efficient, constitutional operation of our courts,” said Sen. Coggs.
Providing constitutionally required counsel to indigent defendants while saving over $7.6 million per year for our county governments is a winwin for everyone, said Sen. Coggs.
Act 164 received broad support from a large cross section of the criminal justice community. At the joint hearing on the legislation both Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson and Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen testified in favor of the bill. After receiving support from other groups such as the Wisconsin Counties Association, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the State Bar of Wisconsin, the bill received a bi-partisan vote in both the Assembly and Senate committees.
“After many years of trying to correct this problem, I am proud that Governor Doyle signed this legislation. I am grateful to the tireless efforts of all those who have worked on this issue over the years, particularly the dedicated staff at the Office of the State Public Defender,” said Sen. Coggs.