Ten bills have been developed so far to address more than a decade of sexual harassment and sexual assault allegations reportedly mishandled by the Wisconsin National Guard.

The allegations first surfaced in 2019, when US Senator from Wisconsin Tammy Baldwin asked the Air Force to investigate the 115th Fighter Wing’s Security Forces squadron, headquartered in Madison. Baldwin’s office had received a letter from Jay Ellis, a senior sergeant in the Security Squadron, about six cases of sexual harassment or sexual assault between 2002 and 2016 that high-ranking officials did not address.

The Department of Defense’s Office of the National Guard released a report later that year which found that “the Wisconsin National Guard’s programs and systems for handling allegations of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and other workplace or service-related misconduct were not in compliance with federal law and regulations, and , in various respects, deficient or unsuccessful.”

The study commission of the legislative council charged with developing legislation to address sexual assault and sexual harassment issues the Wisconsin National Guard held its first meeting in August. Sen. Melissa Agard (D-Madison), who serves on the committee, said she was impressed with the leadership of the Wisconsin National Guard, which has changed since the original reports were released in 2019, saying it was “refreshing” to work with.

“They’re coming together, facing the fact that everyone needs to know they’re safe when they go to work,” Agard said. “Everyone on the study committee and everyone who has come before us has been really serious in knowing that we have to come up with policies that will ensure that this doesn’t happen again.”

Agard also commented on the constructive, bipartisan atmosphere of the committee led by his fellow Republicans, committee chairman Rep. Tony Kurtz (R-Wonewoc) and vice chairman Sen. Eric Wimberger (R-Green Bay).

“​​One of the goals of these study committees has always been to bring people together and show them that they can do this job,” Agard said. “Will this be able to provide us with an opportunity to carry this kind of work ethic and these relationships into other political jobs within the Capitol as well? …I think there are other possible positive side effects of these study committees as well.”

The Wisconsin Examiner contacted Kurtz and Wimberger, but neither was available for an interview.

The bills they were presented to the commission on 17 November. Most of the bills address discrepancies between the Wisconsin Code of Military Justice (WCMJ) used by the Wisconsin National Guard and the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) which is used by all national uniform military branches, some of the which made it more difficult for victims of sexual assault to receive justice under the Wisconsin code.

For example, under the Wisconsin code, “illicit sexual contact” is not a felony in itself and should be accompanied by another charge for prosecution. The Uniform National Code used to be the same, but it was updated in 2017. Many bills would update Wisconsin’s military code to align with the National Code.

Other bills would require the Department of Military Affairs to notify the legislature of material changes to national military penal codes, so the legislature can make updates to the Wisconsin code as needed; prohibit certain behaviors by officials in positions of power over trainees and recruits; update legislation on retaliation for reporting sexual assault and harassment; establish the preliminary, trial and post-trial procedures and more.

Some of the bills would also address the Wisconsin National Guard’s processes for reporting and following up on sexual assault and sexual harassment cases, including clarifying the rights of victims. The current process has a paralegal compile commanders’ reports of cases reported in their units into a spreadsheet.

Agard asked Colonel Douglas H. Moore, a judge advocate for the Wisconsin National Guard’s Department of Military Affairs, if there was any security risk of the information falling into the wrong hands. Moore said emails are encrypted, spreadsheets are monitored, and access to physical files is restricted.

Jacob Curtis, assistant attorney to the personnel judge at the 115th Fighter Wing, said the process was good because all the data was available and easy to read, but maintaining it was “a lot of time”.

The bills include legislation to update the Guard’s system for compiling and tracking cases and to require the Guard to compile an annual report for the governor’s office that compares data to previous years’ reports, ranks of the people involved in the cases and the results.

The only entity consulted on the bills prior to the Nov. 17 hearing was the Department of Military Affairs, which the council said it consulted due to its legal expertise to make sure the bills fit legal process military. Before the committee meets to vote on the bill Dec. 12, Agard said he would like to hear feedback from victims’ rights groups.

“I plan to reach out to them and provide them with an opportunity to provide me with feedback,” Agard said. “So that when we meet again at our next committee meeting, I hope I can bring some of their voices to the table as well.”

RECEIVE THE MORNING TITLES IN YOUR MAIL IN THE POST

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *