'Best budget... probably in decades': Attorney General Kaul applauds new state budget's focus on criminal justice during Rhinelander visitSubmitted: 07/25/2019
Story By Lane Kimble

'Best budget... probably in decades': Attorney General Kaul applauds new state budget's focus on criminal justice during Rhinelander visit
RHINELANDER - Wisconsin will add more than 60 assistant district attorneys and nearly double the hourly pay of public defenders from $40 an hour to $70.

Attorney General Josh Kaul told Newswatch 12 during a stop in Rhinelander on Thursday he considers those changes some of the best ones made in a state budget in decades, if not ever.

Forest and Langlade Counties will directly benefit.  Each will add an assistant prosecutor.  It's the largest increase in such jobs in Wisconsin since 2007.

Kaul thinks those steps will help lead to more of a focus on prosecuting sex crimes after he and former Attorney General Brad Schimel pushed to clear a backlog of untested rape kits.

"There's still a lot more work to be done on that front, but it's a notable change and approach and I think it's going to make our criminal justice system fairer and more efficient as a result," Kaul said.

Kaul says the new budget also puts more money into state crime labs and adds a DOJ prosecutor specifically focused on those cases. Still, he said Wisconsin and local communities need to provide more resources to help sex assault victims.

Kaul also updated Newswatch 12 on the state's fight to stop the opioid crisis.

Treating opioid addictions in places such as the Northwoods could benefit from looking at a wheel, Kaul explained. He wants the state to look into taking a "hub and spoke" model approach..

Kaul says counties could create local addiction treatment centers, while the state helps provide "hubs" in larger cities where longer-term care is needed.

But who pays for it? Kaul says suing drug manufacturers, as Wisconsin has, could generate a lot more money. Wisconsin sued Purdue Pharma and the company's former president in state court last month. Kaul says the company misled people by "overstating" the benefits and downplaying the harm opioid prescriptions can produce.

"To the extent that there's been false and deceptive conduct that's led to it, that money should be coming back to the communities that it's impacting," Kaul said.

Kaul considers the opioid and growing meth epidemics the largest public safety issue the entire country faces.

He says education -- and fewer prescriptions-- are also keys to limiting addictions.

Kaul was in the Northwoods Thursday to meet with a group of police chiefs from north-central Wisconsin. He says their main focus was on emergency detention centers, which are used when people are brought in for their own and other peoples' safety during a mental health crisis.

The attorney general says there is only one state facility for such intake and it's in Winnebago County.

"People in law enforcement are making very long drives just to get to Winnebago County and then there's the intake process that happens, there may be subsequent hearings, so it's a lot of time that officers aren't able to spend working in their communities," Kaul said.

Kaul sees parallels between addressing mental health issues and drug addictions. He hopes state and local governments focusing more on local mental health will allow police to crack down on violent offenders and large-scale drug dealers.

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