November 26, 2015

Federal appeals court upholds ruling overturning Wisconsin abortion law

Photo: WRN

Photo: WRN

A federal appeals court in Chicago says a Wisconsin law requiring doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital is unconstitutional.

In a two-to-one vote, a three-judge panel on Monday affirmed a lower court ruling that struck down the 2013 law passed by Republicans. In the decision, Judge Richard Posner wrote that Republican claims of any medical benefits are “nonexistent,” and said it could actually endanger the safety of some patients by extending wait times for abortions.

Planned Parenthood and Affiliated Medical Services, which challenged the law, argued it’s only meant to put obstacles in front of women seeking abortions. The groups said it could force at least one clinic in Milwaukee to close, because there is no hospital within 30 miles that would grant admitting privileges to its doctors.

A spokeswoman for the state Department of Justice said the issue will ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, which recently agreed to hear a challenge to a similar law out of Texas. The DOJ does plan to seek review for Wisconsin’s case as well.

Significant snowfall headed for southern Wisconsin

WRN file photo

WRN file photo

Ready or not, the first significant snowfall of the season is headed towards southern Wisconsin. The National Weather Service in La Crosse is forecasting a band of heavy snow will be setting up across Iowa on Friday, stretching into far southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois during the overnight hours. Accumulations in the heavy snow band of 5 to 10 inches are likely.

NWS meteorologist Rod Swerman said Madison – where the Badgers will host Northwestern at Camp Randall Stadium Saturday – could get 6 to 7 inches of snow. Fans are being advised to arrive early for the 2:30 kickoff against the Wildcats, and to dress appropriately for the winter conditions.

The snowfall will drop off rapidly north of the band, with little if any accumulation expected north of I-90. Swerman expects La Crosse could see as little as an inch, and the Dells just 2 to 3 inches. Eau Claire and most of west-central Wisconsin may see some flurries through the evening and overnight hours, but accumulation looks unlikely.

The Weather Service is not recommending travel in Iowa through Friday afternoon and evening, and southern Wisconsin on Friday night and Saturday morning. Roads will be snow-covered and slippery, and Swerman expects some blowing will make for low the visibility at times, especially in open areas., and a Winter Weather Advisory where less will accumulate.

In northern Wisconsin, the first wintry mix of precipitation caused several slide-offs and crashes Thursday night. Marathon County Sheriff’s Lieutenant Jeffrey Stefonek said most of the traffic incidents occurred as roads became slippery and drivers weren’t prepared for it. “Precipitation turned to freezing rain and snow, and the roadways, especially the northernmost roadways and the roadways that get less sunlight started to freeze over. We had several cars sliding into the ditch on U.S. 51 northbound, and other areas that have patchy slippery spots.”

Most parts of the state that were without power overnight had it back on Friday morning, after high winds knocked out service to thousands of customers on Thursday. The state’s five largest utilities reported only 135 homes and businesses in the dark overnight. Wisconsin Public Service reported up to 6,000 customers out at the same time in central and northeast portions of Wisconsin. Wind gusts up to 51-miles-an-hour were reported at Monroe. The winds died down overnight, as a storm system in Canada got weaker.

Wisconsin lawmakers take testimony on ‘transgender bathroom’ bill

The public packs a hearing room at the Capitol for a hearing on the 'transgender bathroom' bill. (Photo: WRN)

The public packs a hearing room at the Capitol for a hearing on the ‘transgender bathroom’ bill. (Photo: WRN)

A legislative committee heard hours of testimony Thursday on a bill aimed at addressing which bathrooms and locker rooms transgender students can use in public schools.

The legislation, proposed by state Rep. Jesse Kremer (R-Kewaskum) and Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater), would create a statewide policy that requires public school districts to restrict the use of those facilities to students of a single sex, effectively requiring students with a gender identity different from the biological sex from entering them. If asked, districts would still have to provide reasonable accommodations for students by providing access to a private bathroom or changing room.

Several school districts have already adopted their own policies on the issue, in the midst of a national debate over the rights of transgender members of the population. During Thursday’s hearing before an Assembly committee, John Forester with the Wisconsin School Administrators Alliance urged the Legislature to respect those policies and to not let politics dictate a sensitive issue. “Don’t put 424 school districts and 860,000 students in the middle of all of this…I have a lot of confidence in my people,” he said.

Rep. Kremer said a statewide policy is needed though to help districts navigate the tricky issue, while protecting them from possible federal lawsuits. The Kewaskum Republican argued the federal government is trying to “impose its will” on schools by requiring kids of the same sex to shower next to each other. “That’s not a societal norm,” he said.

Supporters and opponents filled a Capitol hearing room Thursday, with many people sitting on the floors and standing for hours to have a chance to testify. A full day of testimony included parents, students, and others weighing in on the potential impact of the bill. Many backers of the legislation cited concerns about students trying to abuse the transgender loophole to gain access to opposite sex facilities, while others questioned why the needs of students without gender identity concerns would carry less weight in schools. Julainne Appling with Wisconsin Family Action said “it’s important to remember that a public school district has a responsibility for the privacy and safety of all students, not just one particular class of students.”

One Madison high school student, who identifies in gender neutral ways, testified their school has already taken steps to address the concerns by opening a multi-stalled unisex restroom, which the bill would no longer permit. They noted that it could also put the safety of trans students at risk. “A trans kid who identifies and dresses like a female may not be accepted in the boys’ restroom…this would create more bullying and possibly dangerous situations for transgendered students,” they said.

A committee vote on the legislation has not yet been scheduled, while it also remains unclear whether the bill has enough votes to pass in either chamber of the Legislature.

Walker vows ‘all efforts’ to keep Syrian refugees out of Wisconsin

Gov. Scott Walker (Photo: WRN)

Gov. Scott Walker (Photo: WRN)

Governor Scott Walker is telling federal officials he will work to keep Syrian refugees from being settled in Wisconsin.

In a letter to US Secretary of State John Kerry and the secretary of Health and Human Services released Tuesday, Walker cites deep concerns about the federal refugee resettlement program’s security procedures. “This deficiency in the program poses a threat to the safety and security of our people. At this time, I cannot authorize the cooperation of our state in any efforts to resettle Syrian refugees in Wisconsin,” Walker said.

The governor also indicated he has issued a directive to the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families to not participate in resettlement efforts. He said “Our state will not facilitate the coordination or provision of benefits or services for individuals whose presence could pose a potential risk to our people. We will make all efforts to ensure that Syrian refugees are not resettled within the boundaries of our state.”

The letter comes a day after Walker and several other Republican governor’s publicly stated they would work to keep refugees out of their states, even though some experts have indicated there’s little they can do to actually stop that from happening.

Wisconsin Republicans say ‘no’ to Syrian refugees

Members of the Assembly honor the victims of terrorist attacks in France. (Photo: Andrew Beckett)

Members of the WI Assembly honor the victims of terrorist attacks in France. (Photo: Andrew Beckett)

Members of the Wisconsin state Assembly stood together briefly Monday, to honor those killed last Friday night during a series of terrorist attacks in Paris, France. Lawmakers held hands across the aisle during a moment of silence and as the French national anthem played in the chamber, then sang the national anthem of the United States.

Meanwhile, news that one of the terrorists responsible for last week’s attacks may have entered Europe as a refugee from Syria prompted a new wave of backlash from Republicans in Wisconsin and nationally.

Governor Scott Walker joined a growing list of Republican governors nationwide who voiced strong opposition to allowing Syrian refugees to be settled in their states. In a statement, Walker said he believes plans to admit another 10,000 refugees into the US from Syria poses a threat. “With this in mind, I am calling upon the President to immediately suspend the program pending a full review of its security and acceptance procedures.  The State of Wisconsin will not accept new Syrian refugees,” Walker said.

Assembly Republicans also weighed in on the issue, with 47 members signing on to a letter to the federal government asking that Wisconsin not be considered as a location for resettling any Syrian refugees. “It is not a time to open our doors to individuals who may pose a security risk or instill an unnerving sense of fear in our citizens.”

Despite their strongly worded statement, Assembly Speaker Vos (R-Rochester) did acknowledge the state may have a difficult time actually keeping refugees out of the state, since immigration issues are handled at the federal level. “I don’t think we can pass a bill that says we are going to ban refugees from being here in Wisconsin,” Vos said. “But, we certainly think it’s ill-advsed at this time.”