September 14, 2014

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.

Reaction to Ellis video continues

The head of a government watchdog groups says it’s a “tragedy in many respects” that a past supporter of campaign finance reform was caught on video, talking about setting up his own Super PAC for his run for re-election.

Republican Senator Mike Ellis of Neenah says he now knows that it’s illegal in Wisconsin for a candidate to coordinate with an outside group. Jay Heck of Common Cause says to hear Ellis talk about that, even in a hypothetical manner, is shocking and disturbing. He says it’s a sign of the times.

Democratic Representative Penny Bernard Schaber of Appleton is challenging Ellis this fall. In the secretly taped video, at a Madison hotel bar, Ellis said the PAC could run attack ads against Bernard Schaber.

Bernard Schaber says she’ll take her Republican opponent at his word that he didn’t realize forming a Super PAC for his campaign was illegal, but that people are frustrated with politics and government, and they can get turned off by backroom politics.

Heck says he worked closely with Ellis several years ago to push for reforms. He says Ellis was concerned about third-party, outside groups, and the money they were putting into campaigns. He doesn’t think the fallout from the video will end anytime soon.


Walker signals support for remaining bills

Governor Scott Walker is indicating that most of the bills passed in the finals days of the Legislative session will likely be signed into law.

The governor signed 62 pieces of legislation into law earlier this week, but dozens are still under review by his office. Walker says he expects most will make it past his desk, after his legal counsel reviews the language used in them and verifies they will not have any unintended consequences. Walker says “I don’t see, of any of the bills out there, any major policy problems.”

The governor did veto a bill last month over concerns that it could have impacted the state’s gaming compacts with Native American tribes.

The governor adds that his office is also spreading out some of the bill signings, due to the large number of them still awaiting action.

Those proposals still waiting for a signature include measures that require outside investigations when police are involved in the death of a suspect and legalizing a marijuana-extract for medical treatments. So far, Walker says the he’s convinced that cannabidiol, or CBD, is “not even remotely close to medical marijuana,” and he expects to sign the bill unless problems are identified.

Pridemore not seeking reelection

Rep. Don Pridemore

Rep. Don Pridemore

Another state lawmaker has announced plans to retire after his current term runs out at the end of the year. State Representative Don Pridemore (R-Erin) says he will not be seek reelection this fall.

In statement, Pridemore thanked his constituents for their support over his past decade in office. Pridemore said “I have never believed that elected office should evolve into a long career. One criticism of too many elected officials is that they do not know when to move on. Now is my time. I have really enjoyed my time in the Assembly and I have met some wonderful people. I am especially grateful for all the opportunities I have had to meet and work with so many dedicated leaders and citizens of this great state. I leave the Assembly in good hands.”

Pridemore was a frequent critic of education policy in state and ran unsuccessfully against state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers in 2013. He served four terms representing the state’s 99th District and currently represents the 22nd District.

Pridemore is the 18th member of the state Assembly and the 12th Republican member of the chamber to announce they do not plan to seek reelection this fall.