August 3, 2015

Wisconsin bill restricts dangerous exotic pet ownership

Senator Van Wanggaard

Senator Van Wanggaard

A bill to restrict ownership of dangerous exotic pets in Wisconsin is being proposed by a state lawmaker. It’s from state Senator Van Wangaard (R-Racine), who’s been working the measure since well before the Milwaukee lion was sighted.

Wangaard says he understands the appeal of exotic bets, citing a friend who owns an alligator, and his own experience handling baby big cats as a board member at the Racine County Zoo. “You realize that they are really cute and cuddly, and neat to pet when they are 10 pounds. but when they get up to 25-30 pounds they are no longer a cuddly little cat, they are a wild animal. And a lot of people don’t realize that,” Wangaard said.

The bill, currently being circulated for cosponsors, defines dangerous exotics as nonnative big cats including lions and tigers; nonnative bears including brown bears and polar bears; apes including gorillas, chimpanzees, and gibbons; and crocodilians: alligators, crocodiles, and caimans. Some local municipalities have more restrictive ordinances, and Wangaard said the legislation would allow those to remain in place.

Wangaard noted that only a handful of states have any restrictions in place and Wisconsin is not one of them. “So when people want to do this, and own them without any fear of repercussion, they’re going to gravitate towards those states that don’t have any laws in place,” he said. People who already own such pets could keep them until they die – but they’d have to get permits for them.





WEDC audit hearing set for September

Sen. Lassa, Rep. Barca (WRN photo)

Sen. Lassa, Rep. Barca (WRN photo)

It will be September before an audit of Wisconsin’s troubled economic development agency goes before a state committee. The most recent critical audit of Wisconsin Economic Development Authority was released back in May.

“The fact that the Joint Audit Committee has now finally decided it’s going to meet, months after the audit was released, I think is really doing a disservice to taxpayers,” said state Senator Julie Lassa (D-Stevens Point) who serves on the WEDC Board of Directors.

“We scheduled it as soon as we could get a majority of the committee members there,” said state Senator Rob Cowles (R-Green Bay), who serves as co-chair of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee. “It’s an important audit, and we don’t want to do it with just the two co-chairs. We want to get as many people there as possible.”

The joint committee will meet on September 2 to review the findings of the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau. The May report found that WEDC continues to have problems complying with a number of state laws and regulations. The audit, based on a review of more than 100 awards made by WEDC during the 2013-14 fiscal year, found the public-private agency failed to include provisions in grants and loans that contractually require recipients to submit information proving they created and retained jobs.

“The audit was pretty critical,” Cowles acknowledged. “Even though there was some progress from the previous year, a lot more progress needs to be made.”

The LAB also discovered that “WEDC did not establish all statutorily required policies for its tax credit programs, did not consistently evaluate whether businesses met all eligibility requirements in its tax credit policies, and allocated tax credits in ways that did not consistently comply with statutes and its policies.”

“It’s just amazing to me that this agency is still having such difficulty following state law, as well as the policies that were approved by the board of directors,” said Lassa.

Walker says GOP nominee may be chosen by convention

Gov. Scott Walker

Gov. Scott Walker

Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker is not ruling out the possibility a clear winner will fail to emerge after next year’s primaries and caucuses around the country and delegates at the GOP’s 2016 national convention will wind up picking the party’s White House nominee.

“It’s possible. I mean, it’s a great field, a lot of great candidates…Sooner or later it will be easier to tell how many are not running in the Republican field than those that are,” Walker joked over the noon-hour during an interview on KMA Radio.

Walker, who is the governor of Wisconsin, said he will not “speak ill” of his Republican competitors, but he’s telling audiences he’s different from his rivals because he’s both a  “doer” and a “fighter.”

“I just didn’t win three elections in four years in a blue state,” Walker said. “I won on the issues that people care about.”

Walker’s most high-profile fight was his successful effort to roll back the collective bargaining rights of unions the represent government employees.

“Unions are just fine. What we did is we took on the big government union bosses and we put the power back firmly into the hands of the hardworking taxpayers,” Walker said today. “That was good for the taxpayers. It was pro-worker.”

Walker signed a “right to work” law in Wisconsin early this year. It forbids organized labor from forcing non-union workers to pay union dues or fees in a workplace where employees have voted to unionize. Walker is on a campaign swing through southwest Iowa today, with stops scheduled in five counties.

(Reporting in Shenandoah by Chuck Morris of KMA Radio; additional reporting by Radio Iowa’s O. Kay Henderson/Photo by Brent Barnett,KMA)

Soglin proposes restrictions on homeless in Madison

State Street bench

State Street bench

Madison’s mayor proposes an ordinance that would restrict use of downtown benches by the city’s homeless population. “When we’re good at it, in terms of enforcement, it’s a joy to see what our downtown looks like,” Soglin told WIBA. But too often, that’s not the case. “This morning, I counted 6 benches, 100 percent occupied by a homeless individual who was nodding out, storing their goods, and depriving the rest of that public from using that stuff.

Soglin is proposing a Downtown Pedestrian Protection Ordinance. It would limit use of benches, ban sitting, lying, or lodging on public rights of way. The prohibition would run from 5:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. for any city office properties, and from 5:30 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. for the rest of the downtown. The Mayor can expect plenty of opposition from the City Council, where alders recently overrode his veto to declare the homeless a “protected class” in Madison.

“We’ve got members of the public saying, “we’d like a little space downtown,'” Soglin told WIBA. “The answer we’re getting is ‘I’m homeless, I’m a protected class, I can do whatever I want. You can’t touch me.’ I’ve had those exact words said to me as I’ve come out of the city-county building, which is out of control.”

The proposed ordinance will need approval from the Madison Common Council to take effect. Soglin plans to introduce it for referral, but not debate, at next Tuesday’s meeting.


Schimel hosts open government summit

Wisconsin’s highly touted open records law was the subject of a day long summit held in Madison on Wednesday. The event was hosted by Attorney General Brad Schimel, who told attendees that “messing with open government laws is like touching the third rail.” The AG was referring to the controversial effort by Republican legislative leaders to slip language into the state budget that would have hamstrung the public’s ability to access actions taken by state and local governments. That language was quickly deleted after bipartisan blowback. Wednesday’s summit was scheduled before the legislative action.

Participants addressed the government oversight and criminal justice aspects of open records in Wisconsin.  Jill Karofsky is Executive Director of the state Office of Crime Victim Services. “There’s a constitutional right to privacy that victims have,” Karofsky said. “I absolutely recognize the need to disclose these records, so that all of us are able to monitor our government,” she said. “We want to do that because it makes us safer, it makes our government better. But disclosing the identity of crime victims doesn’t do that. It makes us less safe.”

Schimel said the law – originally written in the 1980s – provides little guidance on how authorities should respond to requests for video recorded by police body cams, when those recordings show people who are not criminal suspects. “I think we have a long way to go before we determine where the lines are, between what is necessary monitoring of government activity and necessary protection of privacy rights of citizens.” Schimel said. President Jeff Mayers commented on the recent attempt by GOP lawmakers to roll back open records. “I disagree with the presumption that the state open records law needs to be rewritten or needs to be overhauled,” Mayers said. “Maybe it needs to be tweaked a little bit, but it’s proven to be very flexible.”

Schimel indicated that some tweaks may be acceptable, concerning the “deliberative process” of arriving at legislation. “There are some aspects that I do think the law could address, permitting people within an agency to exchange ideas before that becomes the final public document,” he said. “Ultimately it’s going to be up to the legislature to decide how to craft that.”