April 17, 2014

Couple challenges Wisconsin gay marriage ban

A same-sex couple from Milwaukee County is asking the state Supreme Court to take up a direct challenge to Wisconsin’s gay marriage ban.

The lawsuit filed by Katherine and Linda Halopka-Ivery seeks to overturn a state constitutional amendment adopted by voters in 2006 that bans gay marriage. The high court is being asked to take up the case directly, bypassing the circuit and appellate courts, because the couple argues the issue is of great public interest to the state of Wisconsin.

The lawsuit compares the ban to “institutionalized humiliation,” and argues that it denied the couple equal rights under the law after they were married in California and returned to their home in Wisconsin. The couple also charges that Wisconsin’s ban, combined with a domestic partnership registry created after its passage, create what’s essentially a “two-tiered regime that harms gay and lesbian individuals.”

The state Supreme Court is already considering a case claiming Wisconsin’s domestic partnership registry violates the gay marriage ban. A federal case seeking to overturn the 2006 amendment was also filed earlier this year.

In a statement, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said he will continue to defend the laws and the Constitution of the State of Wisconsin.

You can view the full court filing here.

Governor signs CBD bill


AmyLynne’s son, Nic. (PHOTO: family photo)

Cannabidiol, or CBD, comes from the marijuana plant. It is touted as a breakthrough treatment for kids suffering seizure disorders. Amylynne Santiago Volker played a big role in getting the legislation passed. Her 9-year-old son Nic experiences multiple seizures each day, rendering him unable to participate in everyday activities, such as having friends and attending school.

“I’m amazed and extremely grateful to have the law passed now. It’s an opportunity for our children to have a new treatment option and a new hope. Not only for the kids, but all the families of kids with seizure disorders.”

Volker, who lives in Dane County, heard about the benefits of the cannabis extract and brought it to the attention of her state representative. “We’re hoping that it will essentially cure Nic of his seizures at some point. That would be the best outcome.” Though, she adds, “Even if it gives 50 percent relief from his seizures, that would be remarkable.”

While the oil comes from the same plant that produces pot, the drug has no hallucinogenic properties of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Governor Walker says the substance will be very controlled. “The bottom line is, this is very narrowly crafted. This is not medical marijuana. It is certainly not legalized marijuana.”

The legislation (AB-726) was introduced by Representative Robb Kahl (D-Monona) and Scott Krug (R-Nekoosa) and received bipartisan support in the legislature. The bill passed the Assembly last month on a voice vote and was later concurred by the Senate.

CBD oil is illegal under federal law. The F-D-A would have to approve its use before it can be made available in the Badger State.

The efficacy of Cannabidiol as a medical treatment received a significant boost last year, when neurosurgeon Dr. Sanjay Gupta reversed his position on medical marijuana and documented the medical benefits of marijuana in his documentary, “WEED.”

Governor Scott Walker signed 55 bills into law today in private ceremonies at the Wisconsin State Capitol.

AUDIO: Jackie Johnson report 1:39

Heavy rains prompt flood concerns

Chippewa River overflow a year ago. (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson file 05/08/13)

Chippewa River overflow between Eau Claire and Durand. (FILE PHOTO: Jackie Johnson 05/08/13)

Parts of eight rivers in Wisconsin remain under flood warnings, after heavy rains and thunderstorms pounded the southern half of the state this weekend.

The Wisconsin River at Portage and the Chippewa River at Durand are both expected to stay above their banks until Thursday and minor flooding has been reported. The Fox River in Kenosha County will rise above its flood stage by early afternoon. Parts of the Kickapoo, Milwaukee, Sheboygan, and Root rivers are all projected to go above their banks today and tonight with minor-to-moderate floods possible. The Mississippi River also has flood warnings in a couple spots.

Flash flood watches were in effect throughout southern Wisconsin, where another inch or two was possible, on top of the 2-4 inches of rain from earlier in the weekend. The National Weather Service also issued an urban and small stream flood advisory overnight for Winnebago and Calumet counties.

Oshkosh had one-and-a-quarter inches from late yesterday through 11 p-m. Nearby Chilton had almost four-and-a-quarter inches of rain for both Saturday and Sunday. Southwest Wisconsin had several mudslides in Richland and Crawford counties Sunday night. Madison and Milwaukee both broke 138-year-old rainfall records for Sunday; Madison 2.6 inches and Milwaukee with around 1.5 inches.

Meanwhile, the problem in northern Wisconsin is snow. Rhinelander had almost four inches as of three this morning. A region bounded by Park Falls, Wausau, Marinette, and the Upper Michigan border is under winter weather advisories until later today, with two to five inches of snow predicted.

Petri will not seek re-election in Congress

Congressman Tom Petri

Congressman Tom Petri

U.S. Representative Tom Petri (R-WI) not seeking re-election. The congressman, who has held Wisconsin’s 6th congressional district seat since 1979, will make an official statement on Monday at his town hall meeting in Neenah.

Upon hearing the news, State Senator Joe Leibham (R-Sheboygan) announced that he will take the next few days to consider running for Petri’s job. In a statement, Leibham says “Congressman Petri contacted me this morning to inform me of his decision to retire.”

Leibham was first elected to the state Assembly in 1998, then went to the Senate starting in 2002. He says, “Out of love and respect for my family and country, I will take time over the next couple of days to consider, discuss and pray about how and where I can best use my time and talent to improve the quality of life for our state and nation.”

State Senator Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) has already announced his intentions to campaign for that seat, citing concerns about what he sees as the out-of-control growth of federal entitlement programs.

In a statement following the news about Petri, Grothman says, “I thank Congressman Petri for his dedicated years of service to the people of the 6th Congressional District. Congressman Petri is a good man and I wish him well as he transitions to retirement.”

Governor Walker issued a statement: “Congressman Tom Petri has been a long and trusted friend to Wisconsin and to me personally. We will miss his leadership – in particular on transportation and education issues. We thank him for his distinguished service.”

On Saturday afternoon, Republican state Representative Duey Stroebel threw his name into the race. “I’m running for Congress to create a stronger future for my children and all of Wisconsin and I’m committed to running a strong, well-financed campaign based on conservative principles that put power back into the hands of the people.”

Ellis not seeking re-election (AUDIO)

Ellis on hidden video

Ellis on hidden video

A high-profile senator decides not to run for office again in November.

Republican Senate President Mike Ellis tells WHBY in Appleton he will not seek re-election following release of a secretly-recorded video, saying he just doesn’t “fit in” anymore in the current political world because “this is a different era we live in.”

AUDIO: Ellis talks exclusively to WHBY’s Mike Kemmeter, saying this type of secret recording is part of “the new norm” in “gotcha politics.” 1:21

In the controversial recording, which was recorded two weeks ago at a Madison bar right across from the state Capitol building,  the long time lawmaker discusses an illegal campaign scheme.

In explaining his decision, Ellis tells WHBY the atmosphere surrounding the Capitol has changed over the last six or seven years. He says he should be able to go out for a fish fry with his wife without having to look over their shoulders to see whether someone is using a cell phone to record their every move.

The 73-year-old Neenah Republican was first elected to the state Assembly in 1970, he was elected to the Senate in 1982.

The decision to not run for office again comes two days after the video was released by Project Veritas, which is a national organization led by conservative activist James O’Keefe. Ellis is confident that if he chose to seek another term, he would win the election. He says it’s hard to leave something you love and have more to give. “I can now appreciate Brett Favre’s on again, off again retirement saga.”

In the video recorded on hidden camera, Ellis talks about creating a political action committee (PAC) for the sole purpose of spending a lot of money to attack his Democratic opponent state Representative Penny Bernard Schaber (D-Appleton). This so-called super PAC would allow Ellis to publicly separate himself from the attack ads. He later told media that upon realizing his scheme was illegal, he drop the idea. Bernard-Schaber would have been Ellis’ first election challenger in 16 years.

Governor Walker says he’s confident the GOP will find a quality candidate to replace Senator Mike Ellis in the race for the 19th Senate district seat. Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson is calling for the removal of Ellis as Senate president.

In a statement, Ellis says his wife Sandy can’t go to the grocery story, gas station, or restaurant without having a camera shoved in her face.

AUDIO: More raw tape with Ellis 2:54

Thanks to WHBY’s Mike Kemmeter