Bills of Note: Protective Status for County Jailers

This week, the Assembly Committee on Corrections and the Senate Committee on Judiciary & Public Safety held public hearings on AB 5/SB 5, which would provide protective status to county jailers statewide. The bill, which has received bipartisan support, authored by Rep. Mark Born (R-Beaver Dam) and Sen. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green), would provide jailers benefits including the ability to retire at an earlier age (50 years old) and to receive duty disability benefits if they are injured in the line of duty.

Currently, 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 are classified as protective occupation participants under the Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS). For years, there has been variability across Wisconsin counties regarding whether protective status is provided to county jailers.

Under the bill, counties can classify county jailers as protective status under WRS without requiring that their principal duties involve active law enforcement. This legislation will give county jailers the option to obtain protective status at the time of hire. The additional cost associated with protective status, including duty disability, is paid for by the employee (county jailer), not the county. The bill also defines county jailer, providing more uniformity to the job function and duties statewide.

Sheriffs, deputies and jailers from across the state, including representatives of the Badger State Sheriffs’ Association (BSSA) and Wisconsin Sheriffs & Deputy Sheriffs Association (WS&DSA), testified in support of the legislation. Daily, county jailers are responsible for the safety of county jails and the safety of the facility’s other inmates. Since every state inmate starts in a county jail, county jailers regularly deal in dangerous and stressful situations. Without protective status, jailers must work longer careers with fewer benefits, while facing the same physically dangerous aspects of the job. In addition to BSSA &WS&DSA members, the Wisconsin Counties Association testified in support of the legislation.

At the hearing, there were several questions pertaining to if an actuarial study needs to be completed, concerns about correctional officer recruitment, and a potential issue related to IRS compliance requirements. However, the committee members in both houses seemed aware and concerned that jailers statewide do not have the benefit of protective status.