April 23, 2014

Appeals court rejects Act 10 challenge

A federal appeals court has upheld Governor Scott Walker’s signature collective bargaining law.

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals said Friday that the law limiting collective bargaining for most public employee unions does not infringe on the constitutional rights of workers, rejecting a court challenge brought by two unions in Dane County. Those groups claimed the law, commonly known as Act 10, violated their rights to free association and equal protection under the law.

In a decision released Friday, a three judge panel sided with Federal Judge William Conley, who ruled last September that the union law still allows public employees to organize…it just does not require the government to listen to their demands.

In a statement, Attorney General J.B Van Hollen called the ruling “a victory for the law and for Wisconsin taxpayers.  This ruling, once again, supports the rule of law and recognizes the diligence and hard work of our lawyers in defending Act 10.  I appreciate the court’s work.  I look forward to a successful resolution of the few remaining challenges to this important law.”

The decision is one of several rulings that have upheld Act 10, although the controversial law continues to face unresolved legal challenges. The state Supreme Court is currently reviewing another case, which deals with how the law applies to unions for local government and school employees.

Wisconsin unemployment rate drops to 5.9 percent

The state’s unemployment rate has fallen below six percent for the first time since 2008.

Numbers released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show Wisconsin’s preliminary unemployment rate for March fell to 5.9 percent, down from 6.1 percent in February and well below the national average of 6.7 percent. It’s the lowest rate recorded for the state since November of 2008.

The BLS figures also estimate Wisconsin gained a seasonally adjusted 6,400 private-sector jobs last month, with 2,300 of those in manufacturing. The state Department of Workforce Development says Wisconsin has added more than 38,000 jobs since March of 2013.

The state’s unemployment rate hit a high point during the recession in 2010, when it peaked at 9.2 percent.

Walker declares energy emergency

The lingering cold weather has prompted Governor Scott Walker to declare a 10-day energy emergency in Wisconsin.

The move is intended to make it easier for propane suppliers to deliver heating fuel to those who need it. The declaration allows propane delivery trucks to exceed spring weight limits on Wisconsin roads. Governor Walker says many residents are still in need of propane, after temperatures fell below zero earlier this week in northern Vilas County close to the Upper Michigan border — and highs in central Wisconsin failed to reach the freezing mark in some places.

Typically at this time of year, the normal high in Green Bay is 55 degrees and 59 in Madison. Today’s high temperatures are expected to range from the upper 30s to low 40s in the far north, to the low 50s in the south. Near-normal seasonal temperatures are expected to return by Saturday.

Couple challenges Wisconsin gay marriage ban

A same-sex couple from Milwaukee County is asking the state Supreme Court to take up a direct challenge to Wisconsin’s gay marriage ban.

The lawsuit filed by Katherine and Linda Halopka-Ivery seeks to overturn a state constitutional amendment adopted by voters in 2006 that bans gay marriage. The high court is being asked to take up the case directly, bypassing the circuit and appellate courts, because the couple argues the issue is of great public interest to the state of Wisconsin.

The lawsuit compares the ban to “institutionalized humiliation,” and argues that it denied the couple equal rights under the law after they were married in California and returned to their home in Wisconsin. The couple also charges that Wisconsin’s ban, combined with a domestic partnership registry created after its passage, create what’s essentially a “two-tiered regime that harms gay and lesbian individuals.”

The state Supreme Court is already considering a case claiming Wisconsin’s domestic partnership registry violates the gay marriage ban. A federal case seeking to overturn the 2006 amendment was also filed earlier this year.

In a statement, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said he will continue to defend the laws and the Constitution of the State of Wisconsin.

You can view the full court filing here.

Conservation Congress voters back trolling, ban on deer baiting

The results of the spring Conservation Congress hearings are in, following the annual hearings that were held Monday night in all 72 counties across the state.

State Department of Natural Resources liaison Kari Lee-Zimmermann says more than 7,000 people took part in the voting on a wide range of fishing and hunting-related issues. Those that gained a majority of support included banning deer baiting and feeding 10 days before the November gun hunt and allowing motor trolling on lakes statewide. Issues rejected by voters included a tundra swan hunting season and legalizing the harvest of white and albino deer.

Lee-Zimmermann says it’s an opportunity for the state and the public to get a “better feel” about the support that’s out there for these possible changes in the future.

All of the votes are advisory. Outside of a proposed rule-change on trolling, all of the other issues included on the ballot would require legislative action.