- Associated Press - Thursday, March 24, 2016

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill Thursday ensuring that sexual assault victims and people who report sexual assaults can’t be cited or disciplined for underage drinking.

Rep. Joan Ballweg, a Markesan Republican, introduced the bill in January in the hopes that it would encourage young people to report more sexual assaults. According to a 2014 U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics report, about 80 percent of student rapes and sexual assaults go unreported.

Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel has said Wisconsin colleges and police typically don’t discipline or cite people for underage drinking if they report a sexual assault. The bill’s supporters say the measure will solidify that practice in statute.

Walker signed the bill on the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point campus late Thursday afternoon.

“Our priority is to ensure the safety of all students on college campuses throughout Wisconsin,” the governor said in a news release. “We’re committed to supporting survivors of sexual assault and preventing violence on our campuses.”

Underage drinking citations in Wisconsin carry fines ranging from $250 to $1,000, depending on the number of violations committed. University of Wisconsin System schools can impose a range of sanctions on underage drinkers, including removal from a course, barring them from enrolling in a course, excluding them from student housing, suspension and expulsion.

Under the bill, an underage drinker can’t be cited if he or she claims to be a sexual assault or human trafficking victim; is a bystander to such a crime; requests emergency assistance in connection with the crime and cooperates with responders and police; and hasn’t called for help to avoid a citation.

The legislation also prohibits the UW System regents as well as any UW school from imposing underage drinking sanctions on student sexual assault victims or students who report the crime.

The Badger State Sheriff’s Association, the Wisconsin chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, the Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association and the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault all have registered in favor of the bill, according to state Government Accountability Board records. No groups have registered against the measure.

The Assembly passed the bill in February on a voice vote, a procedure used for non-contentious legislation. The Senate followed suit last week with its own voice vote.

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

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