Damakant Jayshi

With questions raised over how Wausau’s Public Health and Safety Committee decides on applications for certain licenses, the standing committee held an educational presentation on the process for screening, approving or denying applications.

“We have had some questions on that lately and there are some legal requirements that we and the applicants need to follow,” committee Chair Lisa Rasmussen said, explaining the need for what she termed a training and educational presentation.

Rasmussen said the committee does not rely on an applicant’s narrative but on documents related to rehabilitation, which are first reviewed by the city’s staff and police before they come to the committee.

City Assistant Attorney Nathan Miller, who made the presentation, said the evidence should first be presented to the chief of police who then makes an initial recommendation for approval or denial of the server or transpiration license.

Some applicants are disqualified based on criminal history. Evidence of rehabilitation plays a key role in the application process and can tip the scales one way or the other.

Conversely, if an applicant does not provide evidence of sufficient rehabilitation the city has to presume that no such evidence exists, Miller told the PHS Committee.

“It is not our job to think there could be a discharge letter or there could be five letters of recommendation that says this person is Gandhi,” Miller said.

Miller also clarified that the list of offenses that bars licenses is confusing because of the terminology used – ‘exempt offenses’ – for crimes like murder. For people convicted of such offenses, no licenses can be issued regardless of proof of rehabilitation.

Rasmussen said requests centering on second chances and the means of livelihood are difficult but the committee and the city have to be consistent so as not be liable for treating people disparately.

Licenses cannot be issued for a certain trial period, Rasmussen said, adding if the license needs to be revoked or a decision to not renew has to be taken, it involves a long process. Miller said it is more difficult to revoke at a later stage than at the initial phase when the application could be denied.

Police Chief Benjamin Bliven said the city will have to conduct an elaborate revocation process, and explain why it was not renewing the license. When Alder Doug Diny asked the break-up of different offenses and the rate of denials, Bliven said he recommends granting more than 90% of the applications. He added that the City Clerk’s office is better placed to comment on the break-up of applications with exempt and non-exempt offenses but added that most of them are likely to be exempt offense offenders.

Miller also cited examples of how the rehabilitation timeline works. For two OWI – operating while intoxicated – convictions in five years, the license would be denied, he said. If an applicant has two offenses in six years, then the application could be considered by the committee and the City Council.

Diny pointed out the problem related to the timing of conviction sentence. He cited an example of a person who had an incident three plus years ago but his conviction did not come until recently due to backlog in the judicial system. The person could not get to the court for years. “It’s a substantial burden,” the Dist. 4 alder said. The assistant attorney agreed, saying the extraordinary delay was caused by Covid.

Diny also said the committee could consider applications from people who are supported by their potential employers who have vetted the applicants. Before making that suggestion, he clarified that he is not advocating for circumventing exempt offenses under the state statute.

The committee chair, the assistant attorney and the police chief also emphasized a totality of criminality is being reviewed – not just the time period between offenses – behind approval or denial recommendations.