By Kevin Lee Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — The time for a concealed-carry law in Wisconsin may be at hand.
Legislation that would allow individuals to carry concealed firearms will be introduced "in the next few weeks," according to state Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine.
The concealed-carry debate is one that Wisconsin lawmakers have held for a decade. But with support coming from the Republican-controlled Assembly and Senate and Republican Gov. Scott Walker, the issue will see renewed debate, according to Wanggaard.
"You'll see it before summer, we're working on it now," said Wanggaard. "It's still a work-in-progress."
And while lawmakers are on a crime-and-punishment roll, debate is expected next week on a "truth-in-sentencing" plan that would roll back prisoner early-release provisions set during the Gov. Jim Doyle administration.
There also are separate legislative proposals that would crack down on sex abusers, gun thefts and drug users.
The issues are moving to the front burner after lawmakers spent the first part of the session addressing budget issues.
Wisconsin and Illinois are the only states that do not allow residents to carry concealed firearms, according to National Rifle Association lobbyist Darren La Sorte.
States vary as to how they administer concealed carry licensing, with 37 states using a permit system that depends on uniform standards created by state legislatures.
"November's election was a referendum of concealed carry. It was an issue that came up in every town hall meeting, in every debate," La Sorte said. "Voters showed that the time for guessing about gun legislation is over."
The National Rifle Association has organized a series of early May workshops in the Eau Claire, Milwaukee and Wausau areas on legislative proposals that may come before state lawmakers.
Jeri Bonavia, executive director of WAVE, an anti-violence group, refuted the notion that concealed carry would help with self-defense.
"More people carrying more guns won't make our state safer," she said.
Bonavia said that if concealed carry did have to pass the Legislature, she would like to see a permitting process with background checks for gun holders and an "opt-in" requirement where gun owners would not be allowed into businesses unless those businesses gave permission.
Wanggaard, a former investigator with the Racine Police Department, said he wants a concealed carry program with training provisions, such as classroom study and range practice time.
La Sorte said that with Republican majorities in the Legislature, the NRA would push for as open a law as possible.
Truth in sentencing
Proposals in the Assembly and Senate would roll back "early release" provisions for prisoners approved by Doyle in 2009.
Under the program, nonviolent criminals can apply for early release by the Department of Corrections review commission. A 2009 Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo indicated the program was created to cut costs for holding inmates while encouraging good behavior.
But Wanggaard, the Senate sponsor of the proposal, said the program does not emphasize the right messages.
"It's more difficult to get a job in this environment. We've done nothing to promote this person is going to be successful," he said. "It's also the idea of having consequences for your actions. You don't end up in prison because you got your first parking ticket."
The Senate Committee on Labor, Public Safety and Public Affairs and the Assembly Committee on Criminal Justice and Corrections are each scheduled to discuss similar legislation next Thursday that would eliminate early release.
The Assembly proposal is AB 86 and the Senate proposal is SB 57.
Harsher penalties for stolen firearms
State Rep. Daniel LeMahieu, R-Cascade, recently introduced two proposals that would impose stiffer penalties for criminal activity.
Under one proposal, AB 103, individuals who knowingly possessed a stolen firearm would be charged with a felony, the same penalty as if the individual had actually stolen the firearm.
As of now, individuals who knowingly possess a stolen firearm face a maximum charge of a misdemeanor.
Stricter sentences for sexual abusers
The other proposal, AB 102, would provide for harsher penalties to an individual who is a licensed child-care provider and has been convicted of sexually abusing a child.
Sentencing judges would be able to add five years prison time on top of the maximum charge possible.
"When we drop our babies and young kids off at day care centers, we expect them to be in a safe place," LeMahieu said.
Both proposals from LeMahieu are being considered in Assembly committees.
Multiple proposals introduced in the Legislature aim to reduce usage and production of synthetically created drugs.
Legislative proposals in the Assembly and Senate classify two stimulants and synthetic cannabis, more popularly known as fake pot, as controlled substances.
Under the proposals, a first offense for possessing synthetic cannabis is a felony punishable up to a $1,000 fine, six months in jail, or both. Those potential charges get boosted up to $5,000, a year in jail, or both, if an individual is charged with possession of either of the two stimulants.
The stimulants are mephedrone, referred to in slang as "meow meow," and methylenedioxypyrovalerone, referred to in slang as "MDPV" or "Magic." According to the National Institute of Health, the stimulants are hallucinogenic and sometimes looked upon as cheaper substitutes for cocaine.