August 2, 2015

Schimel hosts open government summit

Wisconsin’s highly touted open records law was the subject of a day long summit held in Madison on Wednesday. The event was hosted by Attorney General Brad Schimel, who told attendees that “messing with open government laws is like touching the third rail.” The AG was referring to the controversial effort by Republican legislative leaders to slip language into the state budget that would have hamstrung the public’s ability to access actions taken by state and local governments. That language was quickly deleted after bipartisan blowback. Wednesday’s summit was scheduled before the legislative action.

Participants addressed the government oversight and criminal justice aspects of open records in Wisconsin.  Jill Karofsky is Executive Director of the state Office of Crime Victim Services. “There’s a constitutional right to privacy that victims have,” Karofsky said. “I absolutely recognize the need to disclose these records, so that all of us are able to monitor our government,” she said. “We want to do that because it makes us safer, it makes our government better. But disclosing the identity of crime victims doesn’t do that. It makes us less safe.”

Schimel said the law – originally written in the 1980s – provides little guidance on how authorities should respond to requests for video recorded by police body cams, when those recordings show people who are not criminal suspects. “I think we have a long way to go before we determine where the lines are, between what is necessary monitoring of government activity and necessary protection of privacy rights of citizens.” Schimel said. President Jeff Mayers commented on the recent attempt by GOP lawmakers to roll back open records. “I disagree with the presumption that the state open records law needs to be rewritten or needs to be overhauled,” Mayers said. “Maybe it needs to be tweaked a little bit, but it’s proven to be very flexible.”

Schimel indicated that some tweaks may be acceptable, concerning the “deliberative process” of arriving at legislation. “There are some aspects that I do think the law could address, permitting people within an agency to exchange ideas before that becomes the final public document,” he said. “Ultimately it’s going to be up to the legislature to decide how to craft that.”


Wisconsin Assembly approves Bucks arena deal

Reps. Barca, Vos

Reps. Barca, Vos

The Wisconsin Assembly has approved a financing plan for the state’s share of a new Milwaukee Bucks arena. Tuesday’s 52-34 vote on the measure already passed by the Senate now sends the bill to Governor Scott Walker for his signature.

“While the taxpayers are still playing a role, they are not playing the most significant role for the state,” said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), who said the funding represents package represents a good deal for taxpayers by keeping the NBA team, and the revenues it generates, in Wisconsin.

The league has made it clear that failure to approve the arena project would clear the way for the team to move, with Seattle and Las Vegas as likely designations.

Minority Leader, Representative Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) said it was time to act. “Why wait? We were working aggressively to try to get to yes. I think most people agree it’s a good thing for the Bucks to stay here. Now the taxpayers are fully protected,” Barca said.

The deal has the roughly $500 million cost of the arena split three ways between the state, the city and Milwaukee County.

None of the plans opponents spoke during the brief floor debate. Representative Paul Tittl (R-Manitowoc) said he remained undecided as recently as Tuesday morning. “It actually comes down to very simple math,” Tittl said. “If we invest $3.5 million dollars a year, we’re going to get $6.5 million back,” Tittl said.

“LeBron James, in the three says that he works in Wisconsin, pays more income taxes than 95% of Wisconsin residents,” said Representative Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield), who also asked that the Bucks “create an organizatin that recruits players that are role models for our young people.”

Walker proposes EPA changes

071714scottwalker1Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker thinks individual states should be given responsability for managing air and water pollition within their borders. That would essentially eliminate the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “I think states can do it all across America much better than the federal government,” Walker said in an article published Monday by the conservative Washington Examiner.

Steve Hiniker with One Thousand Friends of Wisconsin says pollution doesn’t recognize state boundaries, and says Walker’s idea appears to run counter to a traditional GOP talking point. “The complaint used to be that states have a patchwork of environmental laws, that make compliance exceedingly difficult for businesses. That’s why we have a common set of standards. That argumemt made a lot of sense,” Hiniker said.

“What the govenor seems to be proposing here is to do away with that common set of standards, and allow states to set their own, which could have enormous costs for industry when it comes to compliance.”

Hiniker also noted that pollution doesn’t recognize state boundaries. “All you have to do is take a look at what’s happening in southeast Wisconsin, where ozone is a huge problem,” he said. “It’s a non-attainment area, and so much of that pollution is transported from places like Chicago.”

Walker proposed making the EPA an “umbrella” agency for state agencies like the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. He said the EPA would simply mediate “interstate conflicts.”

Assembly set for Bucks arena vote

An artist's concept of the new Milwaukee Bucks arena.

An artist’s concept of the new Milwaukee Bucks arena.

The state Assembly is scheduled to vote Tuesday on funding a new Milwaukee Bucks arena. Majority Leader Jim Steineke (R-Vandenbroek) said Monday that not all Republican members are on board, so they’ll need Democrats as well. “We’ve said all along that their target should be 15 votes and we’re hoping that they can get there, because I think that’s about what’s going to be needed to get it passed,” Steineke said.

The funding plan, already approved by the state Senate, uses tax money to help cover about half the cost of the $500 million arena. “If we don’t get this done, the state loses money,” said Steineke. “I think the vast majority of our caucus understands that doing this saves the state money in the long run. That being said, there are still some whose constituents are opposed to it, and they’re reflecting the views of their voters back home.”

“There are a number of things that we vote on that make certain appropriations in different parts of the state all the time,” said Representative Mandela Barnes (D-Milwaukee). “We’re here as state legislators. The overall financial strength of the state is important, and that starts with the city of Milwaukee, in my humble opinion.”

The NBA has made it clear that the team will leave Wisconsin if a new arena is not built to replace the Bradley Center, the Bucks’ home since 1988.

Scant support for Iran nuclear deal in Wisconsin’s D.C. delegation

U.S. Capitol building (Photo: Architect of the Capitol)

U.S. Capitol building (Photo: Architect of the Capitol)

The U.S. Congress has begun a sixty day review of a deal struck by the Obama administration, to limit Iran’s nuclear capability in return for the lifting of international oil and financial sanctions. Initial statements reveal little outright support for the deal, among members of Wisconsin’s congressional delegation.

The review process is one which congressman Ron Kind said will include many questions. “I’m undecided right now,” the La Crosse Democrat said. “There are a lot of moving pieces to it, and we want to make sure we do this right.”

One of those questions, according to Kind, is what happens if Congress rejects the deal. “What does the day after a disapproval vote in Congress look like? Do the sanctions just completely collapse? Does Iran then just ramp the refining of plutonium, uranium and fissile material?”

Kind, a La Crosse Democrat representing the state’s 3rd Congressional District, said the key part of the deal – known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – is the inspections piece. “It’s distrust and verify, because Iran certainly hasn’t earned anyone’s trust, given their past behavior,” Kind said.

While Kind remains undecided, other members of Wisconsin’s congressional delegation are signaling their disapproval of the deal.

“From the beginning, I have said that I could not support any deal that I did not believe made Americans safer,” said Representative Reid Ribble, the Republican representing the 8th Congressional District in northeastern Wisconsin. “Unfortunately, this is not the deal that has emerged based on details we have seen so far.”

“President Obama has placed a target on the backs of all Americans,” said 5th District Republican Jim Sensenbrenner. “Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism, and giving them billions of dollars in sanctions relief will help them fund their proxy wars on America and our allies.”

“It’s disappointing, but not surprising, that the Obama Administration signed a bad deal with Iran given President Obama’s ignorance when it comes to foreign policy,” said 6th District Republican Representative Glenn Grothman. “Lifting sanctions on Iran, a country on the State Department’s state sponsors of terrorism list, is dangerous and proves that President Obama and his administration negotiated from a position of weakness.”

“I’m proud that America led six countries toward an historic international agreement with Iran,” said Democratic U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin. “I will now take the time to carefully review this diplomatic agreement and make a judgment on it based on whether it is built on verification, achieves the goal of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and serves America’s national security interests.”

“I have often stated that I believe this negotiation was lost from the start when President Obama capitulated and agreed that Iran would not have to dismantle its nuclear program,” said Republican U.S. Senator Ron Johnson. “Initial reports of the deal do not change my opinion. That said, I will carefully review the details before rendering my final judgment.”

Republican leaders in both houses of Congress have been highly critical of the agreement and have vowed to reject it. President Obama has said he will veto any resolution of disapproval. That means Republicans will only be able to defeat the deal if they can muster the two-thirds of both houses of Congress needed to override a presidential veto of any resolution of disapproval.