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Senator blocks task force on missing and murdered African American women and girls

State Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, is seen at a June 2023 press conference at the Capitol in Madison, Wis. (Drake White-Bergey / Wisconsin Watch)

Last month Assembly lawmakers approved a bipartisan bill to create a task force on missing and murdered African American women and girls.

Despite strong bipartisan Assembly support, it’s unlikely the proposal will get a vote during the Senate’s final floor session this month. The bill has not yet received a Senate committee hearing, and Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, who chairs the committee overseeing the legislation, told Wisconsin Watch he won’t schedule a hearing on the proposal.

The bill

The legislation would require Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul to establish the committee within 45 days of the proposal becoming law. The task force would consist of 17 members, including lawmakers, law enforcement officials, a county coroner and representatives from advocacy groups.

The committee would be required to make policy recommendations to improve the safety of African American women and girls in the state by December 2024.

The task force is similar to the state Department of Justice’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Task Force, which Kaul created in July 2020.

Why watch?

In 2022 there were almost 98,000 cases of Black women and girls reported missing, according to data from the National Crime Information Center. There were 153,000 cases of white women and girls being reported missing in the same year. That comes as Black women make up just 12.5% of American women, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. White women represent 60.7% of American women.

At the same time, there is a growing wariness among Republican lawmakers and conservative activists about government programs designed to help one particular racial group.

What do supporters say? 

Rep. Shelia Stubbs, D-Madison, the bill’s lead author, said the task force is necessary “to protect our communities and to reduce and heal gender-based violence in our state.”

“Violence is an issue that impacts every woman and girl of all racial backgrounds,” she said on the Assembly floor before the bill passed by a voice vote last month. “But it’s harming and it’s killing our black women and girls at the highest rate.”

Her comments were echoed by Rep. Michael Schraa, R-Oshkosh, another lead sponsor on the bill. While speaking on the floor, he expressed disgust with the legislative process, noting “that one person or one senator or one lobbyist can kill or gut a bill that we worked our tails off on.”

“There’s no reason that this should be killed in the other chamber,” he said, expressing further frustration that it happened without GOP senators providing a reason.

“These victims deserve to walk in this Capitol and have their stories told,” Stubbs told Wisconsin Watch in an interview. She also questioned why the bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Government Operations, rather than the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety, where other legislation related to human trafficking has been referred.

Rep. Shelia Stubbs
Rep. Shelia Stubbs, D-Madison, speaks at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison, Wis., on Oct. 30, 2019. She is the lead author of a bill to create a task force on missing and murdered African American women and girls. (Claire DeRosa / Wisconsin Watch)

What do opponents say?

Stroebel said “the premise on which (the bill) was brought forward omits critical context regarding crime victimization.” He noted that of the 204 missing persons in Wisconsin listed on the National Missing and Identified Persons System, the majority are men.

“I believe that every person who is missing or murdered deserves equal justice under the law,” Stroebel said in a statement. “I have a difficult time legislating in a way that allows government to prioritize justice based on a victim’s race or gender. However well-intentioned the authors of (the proposal) may be in their efforts, I simply do not support advancing legislation to create a state government task force focused on only one facet of a much broader societal problem.”

Stroebel also noted that the attorney general has the authority to establish a task force without the Legislature, as he did with the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Task Force.

State of play

A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, said the Senate can’t take up the legislation until the bill has had a public hearing and committee vote. The Senate is expected to meet for the final time this session later this month.

This article first appeared on Wisconsin Watch and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.