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Three Pennies on Cell Phone Bills Could Fund Domestic Violence Prosecutions in Wisconsin

May 14, 2003
Sharyn Wisniewski (608) 267-8823
County Executive

County Executive Falk, D.A. Blanchard Urge Legislature to Act Cell phones can be a critical lifeline between victims of domestic violence and law enforcement. Faced with loss of federal dollars, and given the state’s budget deficit, local officials are urging the Legislature to use cell phones as a link to fund prosecution of domestic violence cases. Cuts in federal grants that counties rely on under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and less money available to employ assistant district attorneys severely threaten funding to prosecute cases of domestic violence. Last year Dane County had to pursue alternatives to the $996,768 in federal funds that were lost under the VAWA Grant. Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard and domestic abuse prevention advocates today called on the Wisconsin Legislature to tack 3 cents onto monthly cell phone bills to secure funds to prosecute perpetrators of domestic violence. The 3 cents add-on would result in nearly $1 million per year in additional revenues. Currently, a bill (Assembly Bill 61) in the Legislature would require the Public Service Commission to set a surcharge (estimates range of from 50 cents to $1 per month) to provide funds to upgrade 911 systems to be able to identify the location of an emergency call made on a cell phone. The 3 cents would be added to this surcharge. “Our state lawmakers need to seize the opportunity now, while the Enhanced 911 bill is moving through the Legislature,” said County Executive Falk at an afternoon press conference. “There is bi-partisan support for this simple and direct approach to curbing domestic violence. Prosecution of these crimes works—to improve the safety of victims and their children, and to save money that domestic abuse costs our county and state.” A recent report of the Centers for Disease Control estimates that domestic abuse costs the United States almost $6 billion a year. Effective prosecution reduces this fiscal impact. “This bill provides a great opportunity to continue the specialized, effective prosecution of domestic violence that we know works,” said D.A. Blanchard. “Only 3 cents a month will fund 15 full-time domestic abuse prosecutors statewide.” Each year in Wisconsin, more than 25,000 incidents of domestic abuse are reported to law enforcement agencies. Most of these reports result in prosecution for crimes committed during the incident. The Dane County District Attorney’s office alone receives, on average, about 3,000 domestic violence cases a year, referred for prosecution by local law enforcement agencies. The office gains convictions in 85 to 90% of the cases. “The DA’s domestic violence unit is very effective,” said Falk. Domestic violence crimes are difficult to prosecute either because of intimidation, fear of harm or death, or the unique relationship of the abuser and victim. That’s why about a dozen counties in Wisconsin, including Dane County, have moved to develop specialized units to prosecute domestic abuse cases. “These specialized district attorneys save both lives and money. Unfortunately the federal grant dollars to support such units are disappearing,” said Blanchard. Mary Lauby, executive director of the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said, “The connection between cellular phone providers and domestic abuse organizations is clear. Major cell phone providers have given literally thousands of cell phones to domestic abuse programs and law enforcement agencies to distribute to victims of domestic abuse. These free phones are programmed to dial just one number—911. This is a logical place to secure funds for specialized domestic violence prosecution.” ”Three pennies a month on cell phone bills will help save lives and allow us to continue this extremely valuable work,” said Falk. The bill is now in the Senate Transportation and Information Infrastructure Committee. It is scheduled for a vote in the committee on May 21. # # #
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