The Senate floor got heated Tuesday when legislators disagreed on a bill setting mandatory minimum sentences for convicted felons.
Rep. LaTonya Johnson, D-Milwaukee, co-authored Assembly Bill 220 and got into a dispute with fellow Democrat Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, according to WisPolitics.com.
The argument heightened at the Senate Committee public hearing when the legislators continued to interrupt each other with countering evidence and anecdotes.
Johnson said the bill, which sets mandatory minimum sentences for repeat offenders of violent crimes who are caught carrying guns, makes handgun use more serious in a city with high rates of violent crime. The bill first addresses a mandatory minimum sentence of three years if a person convicted of a violent crime is found possessing an illegal handgun. That sentence adds five years — eight years total — if that person is also found guilty of another violent crime.
Johnson said the most compelling piece of the legislation for repeat offenders is the surety of the conviction.
“Right now you have individuals who have not committed only one violent crime, but multiple violent crimes, and they aren’t doing their time,” Johnson said. “This bill will let them know — a gun equals jail.”
Rep. Latonya Johnson holds up photos of young shooting victims in Milwaukee. She wants mandatory minimum sentences. pic.twitter.com/X6zL3FYoCu
— Theo Keith (@TheoKeith) September 1, 2015
Mayor Tom Barrett, D-Milwaukee, voiced his support for the bill at the Senate Committee public hearing Tuesday.
He said though normally he doesn’t support mandatory minimums and is concerned about racial disparities, he wants to protect people in Milwaukee neighborhoods from violent repeat offenders.
“If they have committed a violent crime and then go out there and use a gun, I want them locked up,” Barrett said.
If someone in Wisconsin commits a violent felony and then uses a gun, I want that person locked up. It's that simple. pic.twitter.com/7HPuvZeQbQ
— Mayor Tom Barrett (@MayorOfMKE) September 1, 2015
Taylor said the better approach is data-driven policing, as it is more cost effective in cities such as Racine. She said although mandatory minimums sound appealing, they aren’t proven to be effective.
Barrett said he agreed with Taylor’s point about data-driven policing, but he considers AB 220 to cover that. Knowing who the felons are, he said, and going after them, is what he considers data-driven policing.
I say use present laws/research &data driven strategies in state &nation that reduced violence by 70%! use $ on that https://t.co/rb7WoiSBlv
— Sen. Lena C. Taylor (@SenTaylor) September 1, 2015
Johnson said despite her support for AB 220, she thinks more changes need to be made to the way the state handles concealed carry and illegal handgun purchase issues in the state.
Other issues, she said, include people who legally buy guns and sell them on illegal trafficking websites, where background checks aren’t used. She said through those websites, felons can get access to guns through legitimate purchases.
“We need universal background checks,” Johnson said. “Wisconsin has exceptionally weak gun laws, and that’s something that needs to be changed.”
She also said selling guns to convicted felons is only a misdemeanor charge in Wisconsin. Wisconsin doesn’t require guns to be reported when lost or stolen, making them easier to be sold illegally, with people saying they were “lost or stolen” afterward.
Johnson said senators vote on AB 220 on Sept. 5 when the bill makes it to the Senate floor.