On Tuesday, Jan. 9, the Assembly Committee on Corrections held a public hearing on AB 676 to provide protective status for county jailers.
Under the Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS), protective occupation status allows employees to retire at an earlier age (50 years old) and receive duty disability benefits if they are injured in the line of duty. WRS classifies individuals whose principal duties (51 percent or more) involve active law enforcement or fire suppression or prevention and require frequent exposure to a high degree of danger as protective occupation participants.
AB 676 classifies county jailers as protective status under WRS without requiring that their principal duties involve active law enforcement or fire suppression or prevention. The legislation allows jailers to opt out of protective status at the time of hire, and, for those that remain in protective status, the additional costs associated with protective status, including duty disability, are paid for by the employee (county jailer) – with no cost to the county.
At the public hearing, bill authors, Rep. Mark Born (R-Beaver Dam) and Sen. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green) explained that this legislation was a result of years of discussions between the Wisconsin County Association, the Badger State Sheriffs’ Association and the Wisconsin Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs Association. The authors discussed the disparity that currently exists between county jailers and state correctional officers. While their job duties are essentially the same, state correctional officers are classified as protective status, while county jailers are not. The authors also explained to the committee the flexibilities incorporated into the bill for both the county jailers and counties. Under the legislation, if counties currently pay for the additional cost to provide protective status to jailers, those counties are grandfathered in under the bill. A grandfathered county would have the ability in the future not to pay the additional costs if the county so decides.
Also testifying at the public hearing for information only was the Department of Employee Trust Funds (ETF). ETF representatives discussed the policy shift under AB 676 and cost variances for jailers that opt to stay in protective status under the legislation. Since duty disability benefits vary statewide due to claim activity, costs for the county jailer in protective status would also range.
Testifying in support of the legislation were representatives from the Badger State Sheriffs’ Association and Wisconsin Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs Association. Individual Sheriffs, Deputies, and jailers also testified and shared stories with committee members on the dangerous conditions jailers must face. Daily, county jailers are responsible for the safety of county jails and the safety of the facility’s other inmates. Individuals testifying explained that without protective status, jailers must work longer careers, while facing the same physically dangerous aspects of the job. For a county jailer in their late 50s or early 60s, dealing with younger inmates can be a significant safety risk.
The bill has been scheduled for a committee vote in the Assembly. In the Senate, the companion bill (SB 577) was referred to the Senate Committee on Government Operations, Technology, and Consumer Protection. No public hearing has been scheduled in the Senate.