You might be familiar with the saying "coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success."
It will take some time, and there are certain to be reversals, but on the whole I am hopeful that the Republican majority and our newly elected Governor are going to find a way to work together. One of the best ways to encourage cooperation is to concentrate on those things that we can agree on.
Although the press may not focus on it, there is much in Gov. Evers' budget that the people of Wisconsin and the majority party in the Legislature do agree on. Unsurprisingly, there is also much that my Republican colleagues disagree with. That is to be expected and there will be a good deal of changes to the governor's budget before it is finally signed into law later this year.
I want to take this opportunity to highlight some of the areas of common ground. Gov. Evers wants to ensure our local legal system has the necessary resources to keep our communities safe. One of the consistent challenges facing local governments, whether it's Bayfield County or Barron County, is that our current levels of funding are simply too low.
Gov. Evers' budget will help alleviate the backlogs in our local courts. It provides funding for an additional 19 assistant district attorneys statewide, and raises the rate of hourly pay for attorneys appointed to represent extremely poor defendants in criminal cases to $70 an hour.
District attorneys across the state report that they need the additional staff to investigate and prosecute cases in order to keep the public safe. And the lack of public defenders willing to take cases at the current rate of $40, the lowest in the nation, cause serious backlogs in the judicial system.
These backlogs result in additional costs: housing offenders in county jails for extended periods of time and supporting their children in foster homes and/or institutions.
The proposed increases in Gov. Evers' budget will speed up the rate in which those accused of crimes, especially drug crimes, move through our criminal justice system. This additional funding will help communities across northern Wisconsin deal with the opioid and meth crisis that is destroying families, draining resources and stretching budgets.
As your state senator, I have, and will continue to work with my Republican colleagues to find solutions to the challenges we face. I look forward to finding even more areas of common ground in the coming months.
Working together we can find a long-term solution to our road funding crisis, ensure our local schools remain strong for our children and grandchildren and protect the water that we all depend on.
I will be holding budget listening sessions across the district in the near future. Details will be available soon and I hope to see you at one of them.
Sen. Janet Bewley represents the 25th District in the Wisconsin Senate.