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June 30, 2015

State reaches out to 100,000 inactive voters

Sample postcard

Sample postcard

State election officials are trying to verify the status of nearly 100,000 registered voters.

The Government Accountability Board has sent out “Notice of Suspension” postcards to registered voters who have not cast a ballot in the last four years. The state is required by law to remove inactive voters from its registration list, in order to protect the integrity of elections.

Anyone receiving a card who wants to remain a registered voter has one month to fill it out and return it to their municipal clerk. Those who fail to respond or have their card returned as undeliverable will be marked as inactive and will have to re-register before they can vote in future elections.

Voters who have changed their name or address should not return the postcard. Instead, the GAB says they should re-register under their current name or address.

Democrats push to repeal Wisconsin gay marriage ban

Democrats are calling for a repeal of Wisconsin's gay marriage ban (Photo: Andrew Beckett)

Democrats are calling for a repeal of Wisconsin’s gay marriage ban (Photo: Andrew Beckett)

While it’s been unenforceable for much of the past year, some state lawmakers think Wisconsin’s gay marriage ban should be permanently removed from the state constitution.

The amendment, adopted by voters in 2006, was struck down in federal court in June of last year. Following last week’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that legalized gay marriage nationwide, state Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa (D-Milwaukee) believes Wisconsin should act to ensure the state is “on the right side of history by physically removing this discriminatory language from our state constitution.”

Zamarippa is co-sponsoring a proposal that would repeal the amendment. The measure would have to pass two consecutive legislative sessions and win voter approval, before the language could be removed.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said Monday that he sees no need to make the change and accused Democrats of trying to “make a political point” by proposing the change. Backers note that public support appears to be on their side though, with polling showing at least 60 percent of Wisconsin residents support same sex marriage.

Republicans unveil draft of Bucks arena funding deal

Reps. Nygren, Vos, Steineke

Reps. Nygren, Vos, Steineke

Republicans in the Wisconsin legislature have unveiled a final draft of a Milwaukee Bucks arena deal. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) announced the final plan with Representatives John Nygren (R-Marinette) and Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna).

“We accomplished all of our goals, and that really limited the state’s obligation to much less than what the state will gain over time as the arena is built and the Bucks stay,” Steineke said. Under terms of the bill draft, the state’s share of the $500 million dollar project will be $55 million – about equal to the share from the city and county, according to Vos.

“I think the three of us, and our entire caucus, share the same goal, and that’s to have the least expensive option for the state, while providing the best possible venue,” Vos said.

Nygren, who co-chairs the Joint Finance Committee, said the deal as written can pass the committee and the full Assembly. “I think we’re in a much better position today than we were, and I think we’re also in a position where we could go to the Assembly floor . . . and pass the proposal as is,” he said.

Governor Scott Walker’s original budget proposal called for using about $220 million in bonding to help finance the arena, which the NBA says is needed to keep the Bucks. That’s a level of bonding which many lawmakers, including Vos, balked at.

Still not clear is whether the arena deal will be included in the budget, or considered as stand alone legislation. Vos said it was important for the public, as well as members of both legislative chambers, to consider the draft, details of which are included in a memo from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

“I look forward to feedback from the members of the Senate and the public as they review the full details of this proposal, and will continue to work with all parties involved to ensure that any deal that keeps the Bucks in Milwaukee is a good deal for Wisconsin,” said Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau).

Senator Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee), one of three Milwaukee Senate Democrats who met with Fitzgerald last week to discuss the arena deal, said the release of the draft “shows our efforts to bring transparency and public scrutiny to this issue are starting to succeed.”

Also on Monday, Vos indicated that a deal on the state budget deal may be ready this week, although not prior to the start of the new fiscal year on Wednesday. “I feel good that we’re making progress,” Vos said. “I honestly believe that we can find an answer by the end of the week, but we also have some sort of deadline, so we’re not just sitting here staring at one another for months on end.”

Vos noted that there are still several budget sticking points – including transportation – between Assembly and Senate Republicans. “I think we’re getting closer and closer on transportation, so I feel pretty good about that, that maybe we’ll be able to have some sort of announcement sometime this week, that maybe finance could go in. I’m really an optimist.”

It’s been thirty days since the Joint Finance Committee – which is charged with hammering out the details of a budget – last met.

Despite marriage equality ruling, gay rights struggle continues

Last week’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality was a big win for gay rights groups. However, advocates say their fight is far from over.

Fair Wisconsin interim director Megin McDonell says the ruling is cause for celebration, even if there are other issues of equality that still need to be addressed. “We’re not going anywhere,” she says. “There’s still a huge amount of work to do to achieve true lived equality for LGBT people in Wisconsin and across the country.”

McDonell says discrimination in employment, housing, schools, and health care access remains a major concern. She says some of those issues will require changes in state and federal laws, which is where they hope to focus their work going forward. “We’re going to continue to work to update the laws in Wisconsin…to modernize them,” she says.

As for the future of the same sex marriage debate, Governor Scott Walker said following last week’s ruling that a federal constitutional amendment may be needed to allow states to reinstate their own bans. McDonell does not expect that idea to catch on though, pointing to recent polls that show at least 60 percent of U.S. residents support the idea of allowing same sex couples to marry.

Obama to address economy on visit to La Crosse

U.S. Representative Ron Kind

U.S. Representative Ron Kind

President Barack Obama is scheduled to make a visit to La Crosse on Thursday. According to The White House, the president will give remarks about the economy at UW-La Crosse.

La Crosse congressman, Democrat Ron Kind, expects the president will acknowledge that “more work needs to be done” to grow and expand the economy, strengthen and grow the middle class., and increase wages. “He’s going to be touching on a lot of those themes, and what it’s going to take to get there with divided government, which means working together, finding common ground, and having a little more cooperation on what needs to be done,” Kind said, adding that he also expects the president, who has been increasingly candid in recent weeks, will address the issue of inclusiveness.

“Whether it’s race relations, whether it’s same-sex couples, whether it’s low-income families struggling to break into the middle class, we’re all in this together, and I think you’re going to hear a little bit of that during his speech this week.”

Obama’s most recent stop in Wisconsin was last October, when he campaigned for Mary Burke, the Democratic candidate for governor.