October 22, 2014

Lawmaker concerned about elections agency secrecy

Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin)

Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin)

Wisconsin’s attorney general says the state Government Accountability Board does not have to release information about investigations conducted by the agency, and that has one lawmaker worried there may be a lack of accountability.

An opinion from Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen states that the GAB is prohibited under state law from releasing confidential information about its investigations to state auditors. State Senator Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin), who requested an audit of the agency that’s currently underway, says that raises some major concerns about the ability of the Legislative Audit Bureau to do its work and could be “problematic” in the future.

Lazich says it’s essential that lawmakers have access to all information about a state agency’s practices and finances, so they know how their decisions will impact its operations. She notes that the Legislative Audit Bureau has handled sensitive information from several other agencies in the past, and “we’ve never, to the best of my knowledge, ever had a problem with the Audit Bureau dealing inappropriately with sensitive information.”

The New Berlin Republican says it’s an issue lawmakers may want to revisit when they return to the Capitol next year.

Nass to run for state Senate

Rep. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater)

Rep. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater)

A long time Assembly Republican has announced plans to run for the state Senate.

State Representative Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) says he will not seek re-election to the 33rd Assembly District this fall. Instead, the Whitewater Republican plans to run for an open seat representing the state’s 11th Senate District. The announcement comes just a day after Republican state Senator Neal Kedzie (R-Elkhorn) announced he plans to retire at the end of the year, instead of seeking another term in office.

Nass has served in the Legislature since 1990. He says his campaign will focus on tax relief, creating private sector jobs, and reforming the state’s K-12 and higher education system.

Kedzie has already come out in support of Nass’ campaign, along with state Rep. Tyler August, who also lives in the Senate district. No Democrats or other Republicans have registered yet to run in the 11th Senate District.

Senator Kedzie announces retirement

Sen. Neal Kedzie (R-Elkhorn)

Sen. Neal Kedzie (R-Elkhorn)

Another member of the state Senate says he has decided against seeking another term in office. Republican state Senator Neal Kedzie announced Tuesday that he will retire when his current term ends, marking the end of a more than 17 year career in the state Legislature.

Kedzie, a Republican from Elkhorn, has represented the the state’s 11th Senate District since 2003. Prior to that, he represented the 43rd Assembly District since 1997.

In a statement, Kedzie said the decision was prompted by a desire to “spend more time with his family and pursue other opportunities outside of state government.”

Kedzie is the fourth Republican member of the state Senate to announce retirement plans, along with three Democrats who also do not plan to seek reelection in November.

Walker signs bill on police custody deaths

Governor Scott Walker has signed into law a bill requiring outside investigators to take the lead on deaths involving law enforcement officers. The new law requires a team of at least two investigators from an outside agency to lead reviews of such deaths. It also requires reports of custody death investigations throughout the state to be publicly released if criminal charges are not filed against the officers involved. The law makes Wisconsin the first in the nation to require an independent investigation of officer-involved deaths.

The bill’s authors, state Representative Garey Bies (R-Sister Bay) and Representative Chris Taylor (D-Madison) were joined at the Milwaukee signing ceremony by family members of the deceased, law enforcement, and community advocates who worked together on language for the bill.

“There has always been agreement that if the initial investigation isn’t handled correctly everything spirals downhill from there,” said Bies. “The public begins to lose trust in police-officers and that leaves our officers in harm’s way. An independent investigation process allows all parties involved to move forward with some peace of mind.”

The bill was prompted by the deaths of Paul Heenan, fatally shot by a Madison police officer outside his home last year, Derek Williams, who died after begging for help and gasping for breath in the back of a Milwaukee police squad car in 2011, and Michael Bell, shot in the head at close range by Kenosha police in his family’s driveway in 2004. All three men were unarmed.

Kramer makes court appearance

Bill Kramer

Bill Kramer

State Representative Bill Kramer (R-Waukesha) is free on a signature bond, after making his first court appearance on two felony charges of second-degree sexual assault.

His attorney reiterated to reporters that the 49-year-old Kramer will plead innocent to the charges, which stem from a 2011 incident where he’s accused of groping a woman’s breasts following a Republican fundraiser in Muskego. Kramer told police he kissed the woman goodnight, but denied groping her. He’s expected to enter his not guilty plea at a preliminary hearing on May 15th.

The sexual assault allegations surfaced earlier this year after Kramer came under fire in the Legislature for two incidents that allegedly took place during a GOP fundraiser in Washington D.C. Kramer, who is the former majority leader in the state Assembly, was accused of groping a woman during the event and sexually harassing another.

Republicans stripped Kramer of his leadership role following the Washington incident and have called for him to resign, which his attorney has said he has no plans to do before his term expires next January. Kramer is not seeking reelection this fall to the seat he’s held for nearly eight years.