Gov. Tony Evers signed executive orders this week aimed at exploring evidence-based criminal justice policies and reducing contamination in the water supply.
Evers on Thursday signed two executive orders, one creating a criminal justice coordinating council and another directing the state Department of Natural Resources to take additional steps to mitigate contamination in water from PFAS, a man-made chemical found in numerous products that has been linked to cancer .
The governor’s criminal justice coordinating council, affiliated with the state Department of Justice, will advise Evers on ways to reform the criminal justice system by promoting collaboration among state agencies, addressing gaps in data, identifying factors that increase the prison population and collecting information from local governments, among other things.
Evers’ creation of the council comes as the governor so far has failed to take substantive action to reduce the prison population by half, as he vowed on the campaign trail.
The state’s prison population is set to reach 25,000 inmates by 2021. To help curb that population, Evers proposed decriminalizing marijuana, reclassifying 17-year-olds as juveniles in criminal proceedings and providing more funding for drug treatment and job training, but those measures by themselves would not have halved the prison population.
Republican lawmakers did not adopt any of the measures in the budget they crafted and Evers signed.
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Evers on Thursday also directed the DNR to work with the Department of Health Services and Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection to attempt to mitigate contamination of the state’s water supply by PFAS.
The executive order directs the agencies to create a website to inform the public on the dangerous chemical compound and work with municipalities and wastewater treatment plants to explore screening programs to identify sources of PFAS contamination. The compound has been used in firefighting foam and non-stick cookware.
Evers is also directing the DNR to develop regulatory standards for PFAS and reduce taxpayer liability related to PFAS contamination of property. The DNR already made some of the changes Evers appeared to reference. For example, the DNR made changes related to a program that shifts liability to the state from individuals, businesses or units of government that conduct an environmental investigation and cleanup of a contaminated property.
The DNR’s changes last October made clear the state will only assume responsibility for chemicals that have been tested, which in most cases, does not include PFAS.
The directive from Evers comes after his Department of Health Services in June recommended one of the nation’s most restrictive groundwater standards to protect public health from PFAS, which has been found in drinking water in Madison and elsewhere in the state.
DHS recommended a PFAS groundwater enforcement standard of 20 parts per trillion, far below a controversial federal advisory of 70 parts per trillion that a leading toxicology agency said last year is too high to protect the very young.
The standard would bring Wisconsin on par with Vermont, which has a permanent groundwater enforcement standard of 20 parts per trillion. New Jersey has an interim standard of 10 parts per trillion.
Under Wisconsin law, it will take two to three years for the DNR to give the groundwater standard the force of law.