The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin likewise opposes the amendments, saying they would perpetuate a "two-tiered system of justice" and may violate clauses in the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing due process and prohibiting excessive bail.
How much will change if bail amendments pass?
To a certain extent, Wisconsin judges are already considering factors like prior convictions and public safety risk while setting bail, University of Wisconsin law Professor Adam Stevenson acknowledges.
Judges are instructed to assess so-called flight risk, meaning how likely someone is to flee before court appearances. That could lead to higher bail for people accused of serious crimes with serious penalties such as homicides.
Still, Stevenson says the added criteria would likely lead to more people being incarcerated in Wisconsin, though he said he can't predict exactly how sizable the increase will be.
For people stuck in jail, that could mean losing their jobs or being unable to provide child care, he said. It could also increase costs to taxpayers.
"Increased incarceration may not have the effect of decreasing crime," he said. "What it could do if it does result in increased incarceration is lead to jail overcrowding, or maybe even the need to either contract out to house pretrial incarcerated folks, or build new jail facilities that are larger to be able to accommodate a more significant population."
Much of the public conversation around bail reform in Wisconsin has centered around high-profile cases, including Darrell Brooks Jr., the man sentenced to life in prison for intentionally driving an SUV through the Waukesha Christmas Parade in 2021, killing six people. Prior to that day, Brooks had been released on a $1,000 bail for domestic violence charges. The Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office later said a prosecutor's bail recommendation had been set "inappropriately low."
But Stevenson says it can be complicated to predict whether higher bail would have prevented individual tragedies.
"This bail system and the changes that are on the ballot could affect thousands, tens of thousands of people in a given time period, just a huge systemic change, and the examples we hear about are horrific and horrible and tragic," Stevenson said. "What we don't hear about are the hundreds and thousands of individuals who are currently out on bail, who do not commit criminal offenses, and yet they might be the ones who might be given higher bail."
Voters also weigh non-binding referendum on welfare work requirements
A third referendum on the spring ballot asks Wisconsinites whether "able-bodied, childless adults (should) be required to look for work in order to receive taxpayer-funded welfare benefits."
That referendum is non-binding, meaning the outcome won't change any state policies, but its Republican backers say it's a way to gauge public opinion. Many Wisconsinites are already subject to work requirements as a condition for certain taxpayer-funded benefits, including FoodShare assistance.