March 1, 2015

Unions rally to oppose right-to-work

rallycropSaturday was sunny, windy and cold as hundreds gathered at the state Capitol in Madison to oppose fast-moving and controversial right-to-work legislation in Wisconsin. “I stand before you, as a proud teacher and union member, not as a terrorist,” said WEAC President Betsy Kippers, directing a jab at comments made this week by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

The right-to-work bill passed the state Senate this week. Democrats and labor unions have argued that the legislation is unneccessary, opposed by many businesses, and harmful to workers. Republicans argue right-to-work is about the freedom of individual workers to not join unions, and they claim it will make Wisconsin a more attractive destination for businesses. If passed and signed into law by Republican Governor Scott Walker, Wisconsin would become the 25th right-to-work state.

“This isn’t good for Wisconsin,” Wisconsin Laborer’s District Council President John Schmidt told the crowd gathered on the State Street steps at the Capitol. “It’s another part of ‘divide and conquer.’ And make no mistake about it: right-to-work is designed to divide us.”

“This legislation, which is a lie that is covered by a thin cloak, of a claim of worker freedom. When we remove this cloak and see the bill for what it is, you see the body of labor suffering the death of a thousand cuts, one scab at time,” said Phil Carroll, President of Teamsters Local 200 in Milwaukee

Union members and supporters were urged to show up this week as the bill moves through the process in the state Assembly next week. “I see whole families coming together to stand up for worker rights, and that is beautiful,” said Wisconsin AFL-CIO’s Stephanie Bloomingdale. “And you know what? We are beautiful, and we are not terrorists.”

The state Department of Administration put the crowd at 2500-to-3000.

Gogegic Taconite closing office in Hurley

A map showing the potential location of a mine. (Photo: DNR)

A map showing the potential location of a mine. (Photo: DNR)

A company exploring the possibility of creating an iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin’s Penokee Hills has announced plans to close down its office in the area, putting the future of the project in question.

In a statement released Friday, Gogebic Taconite President Bill Williams said the company will “continue to investigate the possibility of pursuing a permit to mine the Upson site but cannot justify maintaining an office in Hurley without a prospect of immediate action.”

The project has seen a number of delays, including GTac’s decision to hold off on conducting field observations in the area. Williams also noted that the company’s “environmental investigation and analysis of the site has revealed wetland issues that make major continued investment unfeasible at this time.”

The decision comes after more than two years of controversy over the project, which saw Wisconsin lawmakers make changes to state law that were designed to give GTac more certainty about the permitting process. Tribal leaders and environmental groups vowed to fight the project, while federal officials have indicated their time tables for reviewing any mining permit would not be advanced just because of changes at the state level.

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce Vice President of Government Relations Scott Manley echoed concerns about potential EPA action derailing the mine. In a statement, Manley noted that “Governor Scott Walker and the Wisconsin Legislature took great steps toward improving Wisconsin’s regulatory process for iron mining; however, they can’t control the EPA’s outright hostility toward the industry.”

Manley said that WMC remains hopeful that a mine project will come to fruition in Iron County at some point in the future.

Internet users unlikely to notice impact of FCC rules

File photo: WRN

File photo: WRN

One expert says new rules on net neutrality will make sure content providers have equal access to the Internet, although regular customers are not likely to notice much of a difference in how they access information and entertainment online.

The Federal Communications Commission this week adopted standards that will treat the Internet like a public utility. UW-Madison telecommunications expert Barry Orton says the move keeps service providers from discriminating against certain content by creating “fast lanes” for those who pay to have their content reach customers faster. The rules are intended to prevent a scenario where start-ups and smaller companies have a difficult time being able to compete against more established businesses that can afford to pay for faster speeds.

For the most part, Orton says the FCC protected the status quo for much of the Internet currently operates. He says customers should see the same service they have always been getting, whether it’s “bad or good.”

Opponents argue the new rules will limit investment and innovation in Internet technologies. Legal challenges of the FCC’s decision are expected.


Budget deletes UW sexual assault reporting requirement

A provision in Governor Scott Walker’s proposed 2015-2017 state budget would allow University of Wisconsin System campuses to stop reporting sexual assaults. The language is part of the governor’s larger proposal to grant greater autonomy to the UW. A summary of the governor’s budget compiled by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau noted that the language is just one of a number of changes included under a plan to create a UW System Public Authority.

“The bill deletes a number of current law provisions that require or permit the Board of Regents to take a specific action or specific actions. These deletions are described in the following section. In most cases, the UW System Authority Board of Regents would have the authority to take the actions described although the Board would no longer be specifically required or authorized to do so by law.”

The provision set off a flurry of criticism from Walker opponents on Friday.


“Scott Walker has never condemned Rush Limbaugh’s disgusting jokes about sexual assault — does his inexplicable plan to eliminate sexual assault reporting requirements mean he agrees with Rush that the victimization of women on college campuses isn’t an important issue?” Democratic Party of Wisconsin Communications Director Melissa Baldauff said Friday.

Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said that changes to state statute were required to give UW System full authority status. “The UW System requested the deletion of provisions of duplicative reporting requirements as part of the move to the authority. In this case, UW System requested this report requirement be removed because there is already a federal reporting requirement related to sexual assault and harassment on campuses,” Patrick said.

“The state statutory changes in no way lessen our commitment,” said Heather LaRoi with the Office of University Relations. “They allow us to focus on one report. Many requirements proposed for removal from state statutes are duplicative of federal requirements and reporting standards we comply with and are deeply committed to.”

LaRoi noted that a new UW System Task Force on Sexual Violence and Harassment was appointed last fall as part of ongoing work to examine and strengthen efforts to address sexual violence and harassment on campus.

Patrick noted that Walker “has made protecting victims of domestic violence and sexual assault a top priority,” and pointed out that his last budget increased funding for sexual assault victim services and provided funding to support partnerships and state initiatives to shelter and protect victims of domestic abuse. “His recent budget proposal increases funding to continue protecting victims and their families,” she said.

Lawmakers push to eliminate waiting period to buy handguns

Wisconsin State Capitol (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Wisconsin State Capitol (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Eliminating the waiting period for new handgun purchases gets a public hearing at the Capitol Thursday.

Rice Lake Republican Romaine Quinn sponsored the Assembly bill (AB-49). He says it brings the gun background check system into the 21st century. “The background system has not kept pace with the rapid technology and the progress we’ve made. With the technology available today … the vast majority of background checks are completed approximately in an hour.”

Quinn notes there’s no waiting period to purchase shotguns and long guns.

Racine Republican Van Wanggaard is the sponsor of the Senate bill (SB-35). He says a host of other items can be used as a weapon with no waiting period, including a baseball bat, steak knife or shotgun.

Tony Gibart with Domestic Abuse Wisconsin takes issue with that claim, saying eliminating the 48-hour waiting period would put victims at risk. “If we had to choose whether we would want an attacker to attack us with a firearm or some other weapon, I think we would all choose some other weapon because we all know instinctively that a firearm is more lethal.”

Gibart says family and “intimate assaults” involving fire arms are 12 times more likely to result in death than assaults without guns. Having a gun in the house of an abused woman increases her chance by five of being killed in a domestic homicide.

Wanggaard says only eight states, including Wisconsin, require a waiting period at the point of sale prior to transfer of a handgun.