- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 6, 2016

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - A Wisconsin law that requires authorities to revoke day care providers’ licenses for life if they’re convicted of welfare fraud is constitutional, the state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.

Legislators passed a law in 2009 that allows authorities to permanently revoke licenses and certifications if a day care provider has been convicted of public benefit fraud. Lawmakers drew up the statutes in response to a series of Milwaukee Journal Sentinel articles detailing extensive fraud by child care providers receiving money through Wisconsin Shares, a state program that reimburses providers who care for children in working families.

According to court documents, Racine County permanently revoked Sonja Blake’s certification under the law in 2010 after a background check revealed a welfare fraud conviction in 1986.

She originally faced a felony charge for failing to report a car that didn’t run and a motorcycle she owned as assets, obtaining $294 in benefits to which she wasn’t entitled. She later pleaded no contest to a reduced misdemeanor count.

Blake sued over the revocation, arguing the law violated her constitutional rights to equal protection and due process. She also contended the law creates an irrefutable presumption that people convicted of fraud are permanently unfit for certification.

Dane County Circuit Judge Shelley Gaylord found that Blake failed to show the law was unconstitutional and a state appeals court upheld Gaylord’s decision. The state Supreme Court also sided with Gaylord on Wednesday, ruling 5-2 that the law advances the reasonable goal of reducing fraud. Justice David Prosser, writing for the majority, acknowledged that the statutes are harsh but legislators make policy, not the courts.

Justices Shirley Abrahamson and Ann Walsh Bradley, who make up the court’s liberal-leaning minority, dissented. Abrahamson wrote that a lifetime ban is “draconian” and isn’t tied to any legitimate state purpose. She noted that Blake hasn’t been in legal trouble since her 1986 conviction and other offenses, including child neglect, don’t result in a lifetime revocation.

“Simply put, (the permanent revocation for welfare fraud) shocks the conscience,” Abrahamson wrote. “(The law) is so broad that it arbitrarily, irrationally, and significantly impedes the ability of law-abiding people like Blake to earn a living in their chosen profession, childcare.”

Blake’s attorney didn’t immediately respond to an email message.

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Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1

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