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February 8, 2016

Harris believes GOP ‘very nervous’ about 18th Senate District race

State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) wants to prohibit state legislators from also serving as county executives. The proposal comes as Winnebago County Exec Mark Harris — a Democrat — is gearing up to run for the seat being left open by Senator Rick Gudex (R-Fond du Lac). Gudex has announced that he won’t seek reelection after serving one term.

“It kind of sounds like it’s being aimed specifically at me,” Harris told WHBY. “And that leaves me to believe that they are very nervous about me winning the 18th Senate District.”

Harris wouldn’t be the first person to serve in both capacities. Bob Zeigelbauer served for years in the state Assembly and as Manitowoc County executive. Harris said he doesn’t know if he would run for another term as county executive if he wins the senate seat in November. His term for the county post ends next April.

In addition to Harris, John Lemberger, a member of the Oshkosh school board and a department chairman in the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, has announced he’s running as a Democrat. Winnebago County Republican Party chair Dan Feyen has also announced that he’s a candidate

Bill would bar Wisconsin county executives from holding state legislative office

File photo: WRN

File photo: WRN

A top Republican in the state Senate wants to prevent county executives from serving in the Legislature. The bill being circulated by Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) would prohibit someone from holding a legislative office at the same time as they are a county executive.

In a co-sponsorship memo, the Juneau Republican says it’s needed to prevent elected officials from double-dipping by drawing two taxpayer-funded salaries at the same time. “Given that the average annual salary of County Executives in Wisconsin exceeds $100,000, we are circulating the attached legislation to ensure that our state taxpayers will not have to foot the bill for any elected official drawing on multiple public salaries. This proposal is a long overdue taxpayer-protection, as Wisconsin currently has some of the most lenient double dipping regulations in the country.”

Fitzgerald’s proposal comes as Winnebago County Executive Mark Harris, a Democrat, plans to run for an open seat in the senate next fall. Democratic state Senator Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) is also running for Milwaukee County executive this spring.

Several state lawmakers have run for county executive offices in the past, although most have given up their legislative seat shortly after winning those races. Former state Rep. Bob Ziegelbauer, a Democrat who later switched to an Independent, served in both the legislature and as the Manitowoc County executive for nearly six years, between 2006 and 2012.

Bill would ease sales of Wisconsin water utilities

photo (6)A bill advancing at the Capitol could make it easier to sell public water utilities in Wisconsin to private investors.

A state Senate committee approved the measure (AB 554) in a partisan vote on Thursday. The full Assembly has already passed the bill.

Critics say the legislation would make it more difficult to put such sales to a public referendum. The bill’s language states that referendums would be optional rather than mandatory.

Curt Witynski is with the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, which supports the bill. “We’re not supportive of direct democracy for every single policy decision that local government makes,” he said.

“The bill makes it much harder, and introduces hurdles, to getting that public voice involved in the process,” said Amber Meyer Smith, a lobbyist for Clean Wisconsin. “It really seems counter intuitive to have a bill that actually is encouraging private, for profit out-of-state companies to come in and own our water.”

Opponents of the bill say customer rates have often increased in the wake of water utilities being sold to for profit operators.

Some have also suggested that the bill’s passage could put Wisconsin communities for the sort of crisis afflicting the residents of Flint, Michigan, where the city’s drinking water contains dangerously toxic levels of lead.

“I honestly don’t understand the connection (to Flint) whatsoever,” said Witynski. He said the bill changes the process for selling a water utility, while the situation in Flint represents a systemic failure by local, state and federal officials to protect the city’s residents.

According to lobbying information from the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, the bill is also supported by Aqua America, Inc., a water and wastewater utility holding company with subsidiaries in 8 states including Illinois.

Critics hammer Wisconsin fantasy sports bill

(Photo: Andrew Beckett)

(Photo: Andrew Beckett)

Legislation that sets up regulations and licensing requirements for fantasy gaming sites faced some tough questions at the Capitol Wednesday, during a public hearing on the proposal.

The bill would require business operating daily fantasy sports sites to register with the state and pay a licensing fee. State Rep. Tyler Vorpagel (R-Plymouth), a sponsor of the measure, argues it’s intended to provide more accountability for the industry and protect players. “What it does is provides clarity and consumer protections to an activity that people currently enjoy participating in,” he told a legislative committee.

However, opponents of the measure questioned whether the licensing process would essentially sanction a new form of online gambling. Laurie Picken with Citizens Against Expanded Gambling said the bill presents possibly “the largest expansion of gambling in Wisconsin history,” because it would define fantasy sports as a game of skill. “You are literally opening a casino and a lotto retailer in every bedroom and smart phone in the state of Wisconsin,” she warned.

Industry experts told lawmakers that they do not consider their services as gambling though, since players rely heavily on skill and their knowledge of player statistics to put together winning line-ups. “The difference between this and a gambling product, like blackjack and craps, is no luck has to happen,” said Peter Schoenke with the Fantasy Sports Trade Association.

Julaine Appling of Wisconsin Family Action pointed out that similar claims about skill can be made for games such as online poker, which still has an element of luck and is widely considered to be a form of gambling. “Simply declaring that DFS (daily fantasy sports) is not gambling does not make that truth or reality…I can declare that a dog is a cat, and that doesn’t change the truth or reality. Even if I dress a dog up like a cat, it’s still a dog,” she said.

Critics also raised concerns that bill could open Wisconsin to lawsuits, as it may violate the state’s tribal gaming compacts by legalizing another form of gaming.

Schoenke pointed out that fantasy sports have existed for decades, with thousands of state residents already participating every day. He said the bill would help set up a framework that will allow them to continue to operate in the state, while protecting players.

The bill is currently awaiting action from a legislative committee.

Local ID bill gets committee hearing

A Republican authored bill would clarify what locally issued identification cards may be used for. The authors say they want to assure that such IDs cannot be used to vote. “State statute right now is silent on this issue,” said State Representative Joe Sanfelippo (R-New Berlin). “There is not clear cut answer, at this point without this bill, can there be a local ID or can’t there be a local ID?”

Sanfelippo and Senator Van Wangaard (R-Racine) have amended the bill, to address concerns like those voiced by Senator Mark Miller (D-Monona), who noted that many local governments offer a variety of services.

“Shouldn’t they be allowed to issue an identification card, so that a person who has met the criteria can show a card, an eligibility card, to qualify for those programs?”

While Milwaukee city and county officials have developed a plan to issue IDs, Wangaard said any legal resident can already get a free state ID. “Creating a separate ID at this level is redundant, confusing, doesn’t prove anybody’s identity, and does not provide its holder to any additional benefits.”

Still, Sanfelippo said local units of government that wish issue IDs can do so. “This bill does not prohibit a city or village from issuing a local municipal ID. It’s important to reiterate that, because over the last few weeks since we’ve introduced this bill, there’s been a lot of misinformation.”

The bill (SB 533) received a public hearing on Tuesday before the Senate Elections and Local Government committee.