January 16, 2002Client Alert

Pending Changes To Municipal Police And Fire Commissions

There is currently a great deal of activity before the Wisconsin Legislature in regard to some significant changes in disciplinary actions applicable to police and firefighters. As you know, under current law, law enforcement officers and fire fighters may have disciplinary action reviewed by a Police and Fire Commission or County Committee, and have a right to a hearing before the Police and Fire Commission or County Committee in regard to their discharge from employment. If the charges are sustained and the officer is disciplined, the officer may appeal the decision to the circuit court (except that a county law enforcement officer, under a recent Wisconsin Supreme Court decision in Eau Claire County v. Teamsters, 228 Wis.2d 640 (2000) may proceed either with an appeal to the circuit court or with the grievance procedures, including arbitration).

There is now a bill pending in the Senate, Senate Bill 185, and a bill pending in the Assembly, Assembly Bill 424, which would change this process. Under these bills, an officer who is subject to the terms of a collective bargaining agreement that provides an alternative to the appeal procedure under Wis. Stat. ยง 62.13 would have the option to choose that appeal procedure (i.e., proceeding before an arbitrator) or proceeding in circuit court. It will then become the officer's choice as to whether to appeal to an arbitrator or the circuit court. These bills will be significant because review by an arbitrator generally tends to be more liberal (i.e. Just Cause) than review by the circuit court. We recommend that any municipality or county that wants to maintain control of its police and fire commission proceedings contact their legislator and oppose this legislation.

There are also two more bills pending which affect police and fire commission proceedings for counties and municipalities. Senate Bill 86 and Assembly Bill 219, propose that the county grievance committee or a municipal police and fire commission shall be required to render a final decision on charges filed against an officer within 180 days after the date on which a hearing has commenced. This bill appears to place a maximum limit of time on which an officer can be suspended with pay pending disposition of the charge. It does not, however, indicate what happens if a decision is not rendered within the 180 day period.

For more information, please contact Robert W. Mulcahy at or 414.225.2761.

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