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AG Backs Bills Targeting Child Abuse, Neglect

GOP Legislation Expands Categories For Prosecution

Shamane Mills/WPR

Republican lawmakers and the state attorney general unveiled a package of bills Tuesday targeting people who abuse children.

The legislation is being touted as a set of “stronger tools” that prosecutors can use in offenses against children. The bills would create two new crimes — one for repeated neglect, and another for repeated physical abuse of the same child. Current law only addresses ongoing sexual abuse.

Attorney General Brad Schimel said prosecutors shouldn’t have to pinpoint exactly when each incident occurred, but rather should be able to charge ongoing abuse.

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“I think anyone who’s a parent knows that children sometimes have a hard time putting dates on when things happen. Those could be big challenges to prosecuting cases,” Schimel said.

The package of changes authored by state Sen. Robert Cowles also provides graduated penalties depending on the severity of child neglect. Under current law a prosecutor has only two options in child neglect cases. Schimel said they need more.

“One is to charge a misdemeanor if the child survives the neglect. The other option is to charge a felony if the child dies as a result of the neglect. There’s nothing in between,” Schimel said.

To help prosecutors in all 72 Wisconsin counties, the state Department of Justice will hire someone who specializes in cases of abuse, neglect and sexual assault.

Other bills in the package would allow victims the right to have an advocate during examinations and interviews with police, and would require social services to report suspected abuse or neglect to police.