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February 11, 2016

‘Double dipping’ bill gets public hearing (AUDIO)

Sens. Wirch, Fitzgerald

Sens. Wirch, Fitzgerald

A bill to prohibit “double dipping” in elected office is advancing at the Capitol. State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) wants to prohibit lawmakers from simultaneously serving as county executives. The measure received public hearings before Senate and Assembly committees on Wednesday.

The GOP leader acknowledged that he has Winnebago County Executive Mark Harris in mind. Harris, a Democrat, is running for a state Senate seat.

“The idea that his $100,000 job in Winnebago County is now going to be a part-time job for him, I think everybody in the legislature should be upset by that,” Fitzgerald said in the Senate hearing.

State Senator Bob Wirch (D-Kenosha) said the timing is suspicious. “In an election year, when a Democrat is running for state Senate, all the sudden we push through legislation, when we looked the other way when Ziegelbauer did it.” Manitowoc County Executive Bob Ziegelbauer served an overlapping term in the state Assembly, as a Democrat and an independent, for more than six years. As an independent, Ziegelbauer caucused with Assembly Republicans.

AUDIO: Sens. Wirch, Fitzgerald (6:00)

Fitzgerald said some lawmakers were concerned, during the period that Ziegelbauer held both offices.

“To me, the responsibilities associated with being somebody at the county level, who’s trying to deal with the scope of issues that we deal with, and that somehow that’s not going to conflict with public policy being in this Capitol, it’s just ridiculous,” Fitzgerald said. “It would happen every day of the of the week.”

Scot Ross with the liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now, said a search of the group’s media files failed to uncover “a word said from any current elected Republican, related to Bob Ziegelbauer serving as the county executive of Manitowoc County. Not one word.” Ross said the bill was “about so you can get a headline up the Fox Valley saying that Mark Harris is double dipping because he may continue to serve for a period of time as county executive, because he was elected to that position, while perhaps being elected to the 18th District.”

If Harris is elected to the state Senate, he would take office in January 2017, four months before his term as county executive ends in April 2017.

Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow, a Republican, briefly held onto his state Senate seat after being elected county executive in 2015. Farrow testified in support of the bill.

States score partial victory in fight against Obama climate change plan

012716OakCreekpowerWisconsin and other states challenging federal rules aimed at reducing carbon emissions are praising a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday, which put a hold on the policy until the legal disputes over the measure are settled.

Wisconsin is one of 27 states that filed suit against the EPA proposal, which would require them to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants by 2030. The state would have to cut emissions by 41 percent, if the requirement from President Obama’s administration were to stay in effect.

Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel said Tuesday’s 5-4 vote by the high court shows the White House “clearly exceeded” its authority in creating the rules. “It’s extraordinary for SCOTUS to grant a stay and is telling of the obvious illegality of the Clean Power Plan,” Schimel said in a statement.

Governor Scott Walker also praised the ruling, calling it “a win for Wisconsin and the other states joining with us in challenging the overreach of the Obama Administration.”

Environmentalists claimed the order may only cause a slight delay in implementing the new rules though, with a federal appeals court set to hear arguments in the challenge later this year.

Online voter registration heads to Assembly

Wisconsin voters will be able to register online, under terms of a bill passed by the state Senate Tuesday night. The bill also ends the practice of allowing clerks to deputize people to run group registration drives. The Senate voted 19-to-13 to send the Republican-authored package of election law changes to the Assembly.

Opponents said elimination of the special registration deputies would limit voter access. But Senator Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald pointed out that groups can still hold drives where leaders can teach people to use electronic devices to register online.

The bill also allows federal veterans’ I-Ds for voting, and requires absentee ballots to be returned by the time the polls close on election nights.

Bill prohibiting ‘double dipping’ in elected office set for hearing

A bill that would prohibit holding legislative office and a seat in the legislature simultaneously is scheduled for a legislative hearing at the Capitol on Wednesday. The measure’s sponsor, state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau), has said that the measure is needed to prevent elected officials from “double-dipping” — drawing two taxpayer-funded salaries at the same time.

Democrats have called the timing of the bill suspicious, noting that it comes as Winnebago County Executive Mark Harris, a Democrat, is planning to run for an open seat in the senate next fall. Democratic state Senator Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) is also running for Milwaukee County executive this spring.

Several state lawmakers have run for county executive offices in the past, although most have given up their legislative seat shortly after winning those races. Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow, a Republican, briefly held onto his state Senate seat after being elected county executive in 2015. Former state Representative Bob Ziegelbauer, a Democrat who later switched to an Independent, served in both the legislature and as the Manitowoc County executive for nearly six years, between 2006 and 2012.

The bill is on the agenda of the Senate Government Operations and Consumer Protection Committee, which meets beginning at noon.

Senate approves Walker’s pick for railroad commissioner

Yash Wadhwa photo from Vimeo

Yash Wadhwa photo from Vimeo

The Wisconsin state Senate has approved Governor Scott Walker’s interim appointment for state railroad commissioner. But not all Democrats were onboard with the governor’s pick to succeed Jeff Plale, a former Democratic state senator who resigned the post abruptly last month.

Senator Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) spoke in favor of Yash Wadhwa, an engineer from Glendale. “I like the fact that he doesn’t know that much about the railroads in general, because he’s going to bring a fresh perspective, and he is going to be an active listener, and get people involved who were not involved before,” Wanggard said.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Wadhwa is a frequent contributor to the campaigns of Walker and other Republican politicians. He also ran unsuccessfully for the state Assembly in 2008.

Senator Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee), credited the work of Plale in heading the Office of Railroad Commissioner, which oversees railroad safety and rail line construction regulations. “I respect that the commissioner did not always agree with the administration, and that the commissioner asked for more positions in order for us to be safer, and to have the kind of inspections that we needed,” Taylor said. She voted against Wadhwa’s appointment.

Wadhwa will serve the remainder of Plale’s appointment, which expires in March of 2017. “I do think it’s important that I send a message to the new railroad commissioner, that he has until March 1st of 2017 to prove that when railroads are going to be coming through our neighborhoods carrying dangerous product, he’s going to be doing everything possible to protect public safety” said Senator Tim Carpenter (D-Milwaukee), who also voted against the appointment.

Plale resigned after he raised doubts about an example being used by Republicans to justify possible changes to Wisconsin’s civil service system.

Tuesday’s Senate vote came on the same day that the chamber passed a resolution recognizing the service of former commissioner Rodney Kreunen. Kreunan, who passed away last October, held the post from 1996 to 2008, and was known for focusing on safety on the rails and at crossings.

“If there was a railroad accident, anywhere in the state, he was probably there in the middle of the night,” said Senator Rob Cowles. “He has a legacy of saving lives.”