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Post by Christie Taylor on 1/29/2013 10:30am

Rep. Gary Bies

A state Republican wants to allow government entities to charge members of the public for the cost of redacting records obtained under the state's open records law. Rep. Gary Bies, R-Sister Bay, began the search for sponsors for the bill on Friday, saying he wanted to save taxpayers the cost of municipalities spending time to make the necessary deletions of confidential information.

The Madison chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists responded to the proposal with a statement Monday morning, calling redaction fees "a tax on public information" that would discourage members of the public from seeking information, and limit government transparency.

"Maintaining, reviewing and redacting records is a government function for which tax dollars are already allocated," the statement read.

And Journal Sentinel managing editor George Stanley told the Associated Press that charging for redactions would allow lawmakers to hide records by making them too expensive to retain.

Under the state's open record law, information is presumed to be available to those requesting it.

Post by Emily Mills on 1/18/2013 3:14pm

Photo by Emily Mills

The contentious law that all but eliminated collective bargaining for public employees in Wisconsin was upheld by a three judge appeals court panel on Friday, reversing an earlier decision by a local federal judge.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th circuit released its 2-1 ruling, with Judge William J. Bauer writing for the majority, stating that Act 10's payroll deduction prohibitions do not violate First Amendment free speech rights because "use of the state's payroll systems to collect union dues is a state subsidy of speech that requires only viewpoint neutrality."

The ruling goes on to acknowledge that, while the Constitution does not require government to subsidize all speech equally, Act 10 "subsidizes the speech of one group, while refraining from doing so for another."

Rep. Peter Barca (D-Kenosha), in his response to news of the decision, highlighted that fact, noting that the law "appears to be an act of favoritism for 'friends' and punishing enemies. While that approach may be legal, the Judge David Hamilton notes that 'the United States Constitution does not forbid all legislation that rewards friends and punishes opponents.'"

Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, who has been working in support of the law, stated that he felt the decision only confirmed what he's been arguing all along: "Act 10 is constitutional. While there are no guarantees, it is my hope that this decision will pave the way for resolving any remaining challenges in a manner that supports the legislative decisions made by our elected officials."

Post by Jesse Russell on 11/14/2012 11:30am

As of this morning a petition calling for Wisconsin to "withdraw from the United States of America and create its own NEW government" has received 4,210 signatures on the White House's petition website, "We The People."

According to the site it was set up by the Obama Administration to give citizens an easier way to petition the government. If a certain number of individuals sign the petition within a certain amount of time--in the case of this petition 25,000 by December 11, 2012--the petition will receive a response from the appropriate government representative.

Although the petition calling for secession reads "We the people of the state of WI wish to withdraw peacefully from the Union," only 711 of the signatures as of 8:45 Wednesday morning were from people claiming to be from Wisconsin, or roughly 16 percent of the current signatures.

Texas has the second highest number of signatures calling for Wisconsin to break off from the Union, with 224. The remaining top five states wishing for Wisconsin to make its cheese an import to the United States include California (178 signatures), Florida (154 signatures), and Alabama (105 signatures). The other 67 percent of signatures are from a hodge podge of other states with at least one from Cologne, France or from signers who couldn't be bothered to declare from which state they were signing.

The Wisconsin petition isn't alone. According to a post on the The Daily Caller website there are now petitions in all 50 states. The fact that so many non-Wisconsinites have signed the Wisconsin petition suggests it's likely safe to assume that there are many people signing multiple petitions even if it isn't their state.

Post by Addie Blanchard on 11/13/2012 11:45am

It goes by many names and comes in many forms. Some roll it, some pack it and some eat it, but across the country pot smokers all had one thing in common: discretion. That is, until Nov. 6, when the states of Colorado and Washington voted to legalize marijuana.

The new laws bear a resemblance to laws surrounding alcohol consumption and sale: People over 21 can legally carry an ounce of marijuana, and new taxes and licenses allow stores to sell it, according to Reuters, and while the new provision in Washington does not allow people to grow their own weed, Colorado voters set a limit of six plants per person.

Colorado and Washington are the first two states to make marijuana legal for recreational use, but 18 states have legalized medical marijuana, including Massachusetts and Connecticut, which both made it legal this year, according to ProCon.org, a non-partisan site which hosts facts about controversial issues.

While voters supported legalization, it will be some time before the law will actually be in place: Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper told Reuters the state still has yet to go through some bureaucratic hoops since marijuana is still illegal at the national level, but he said the state would see the initiative through, though the process is complicated.

So what does that mean for the State of Wisconsin and legalization? Gary Storck is a spokesperson for Madison NORML, a chapter of a national organization that supports the legalization of marijuana. Following the election, he wrote a column in The Examiner arguing a Republican-controlled state Legislature means that legalization will not be on the legislative docket anytime soon.

Post by Addie Blanchard on 11/7/2012 12:59pm

Rep. Paul Ryan is not going anywhere. While the final results of the presidential election had yet to be announced, applause and cheers reverberated in the Janesville Holiday Inn Express when it was announced that vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan had kept his seat in the U.S. Congress despite the loss in the race for the White House.

A man in a smart red sports coat sipped a drink behind a woman counting the beads on her impressively sized wooden rosary while two little girls, one wearing a Romney-Ryan 2012 shirt, texted on their smart phones. All were watching the same results rolling in on FOX news. One can say a lot about the Republican Party (and the Democratic Party for that matter), but it would be a lie to say the Ryan for Congress election night party did not attract an interesting crowd-- fitting for a state that has the power to make election night interesting, but ultimately went to President Barack Obama.

All were there to support Gov. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan in the presidential election, as well as the congressional race. The presidential election results started streaming in from a few states as the party opened its doors to its eager guests early on Tuesday evening. While many people donned “Romney-Ryan” t-shirts and buttons, the Kelly green banners on the hotel ballroom walls proudly endorsed “Ryan for Congress”—the other race in which the vice presidential candidate was running.

Post by Jesse Russell on 11/2/2012 1:21pm

Wisconsin elections are getting ugly. Some may argue they've been ugly since at least 2010, but now at least one race is statistically measurable as ugly.

The Campaign Media Analysis Group took a hard look at the race for the Senate seat being vacated by Herb Kohl and determined that "the Wisconsin Senate race stands out this fall as perhaps the most negative race in the entire country."

That comment comes from CMAG President Ken Goldstein from an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Craig Gilbert.

According to Gilbert in the 30 days leading up to October 26 CMAG found that 99 percent of the ads in Senate race between Republican Tommy Thompson and Democratic Rep. Tammy Baldwin were negative in flavor. Wisconsinites are left with determining which candidate will represent them in the Senate based mostly on weaknesses instead of strengths.

Post by Emily Mills on 9/28/2012 4:26pm

The Wisconsin Supreme Court denied a motion by Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen to hear his appeal of two injunctions against a voter ID law passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature last year.

“There will be no voter ID law in effect for the presidential election on Nov. 6,” the plaintiff's attorney, Lester Pines, told the Washington Post.

Van Hollen had hoped to bypass the appellate court and have the Supreme Court hear a consolidated appeal in two separate lawsuits, specifically to see the new law requiring residents to present photo ID in order to vote be enforced for the presidential election.

The Attorney General made the request in August, saying that, “No quarter has been given in defending Voter ID. My action today, now allowed under the Court's rules of procedure, gives the Wisconsin Supreme Court another opportunity to bring prompt, clear resolution to the law and settle this matter in advance of the November elections.”

Van Hollen had also asked to have the two lawsuits, one filed by the League of Women Voters and the other by the Milwaukee branch of the NAACP, consolidated, but that motion was also denied.

In the decision the Supreme Court justified denying the request by calling it "premature."

"Wisconsin's long tradition of expanding access to the vote caught a break today," said Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Mike Tate. "While we oppose further efforts to erode the rights of Wisconsinites, it's good news for our small "d" democratic values here in Wisconsin that the Court opted to remove any confusion as voting begins."

Post by Christie Taylor on 9/28/2012 12:00pm

Lori Compas speaking at the Madison launch of the Wisconsin Business Alliance. Photo: Preston Austin

Brad Werntz, owner of Boulders Climbing Gym, says the idea to organize the state’s small business owners started, in many ways, with protesting Governor Scott Walker's budget repair bill.

On March 9, 2011, having entered the locked-down state Capitol through a window and bumped into several other Madison business owners who did the same, he was dismayed to hear that he and other protesters, including Planet Propaganda co-owner John Besmer were being written off as “out of state union thugs.”



“John and I, two middle-aged guys with kids and businesses and mortgages in town,” Werntz said.

And so, Besmer, Werntz and another half-dozen business owners who had been spending time at the Capitol gathered themselves together. Starting as a more informal group they called “the Job Creators’ Club,” they met over beers to talk about their concerns. 

Werntz said they eventually gathered enough membership that it was time to find someone to lead them full-time–something they couldn’t do as people with businesses to run. That search began this summer, and culminated Thursday with the launch of the new Wisconsin Business Alliance, led by another who had gotten her start during the protests.

“The day after the recalls, it seemed we had other things to do,” Werntz said. “So we reached out and Lori responded and filled in the missing piece we needed.”

Lori Compas, the other half of the story, rose to local fame last year when she single-handedly took on then-Senate Majority (now Minority) Leader Scott Fitzgerald, gathering the signatures to get his name on the ballot for recall with little Democratic Party help, then running against him herself when no one else would step up.

On Thursday, speaking as the new executive director for the Wisconsin Business Alliance, she described her campaign process, meeting small business owners–Democrat and Republican–in small towns throughout the district who were concerned with shuttered shop windows, schools and libraries suffering from budget cuts and a government that didn’t seem to be responding to their needs. 

“I promised to be their voice,” she said. “And then,” she added with a wry smile, “I lost.”

Post by Emily Mills on 9/27/2012 9:00am

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently sent a strongly worded letter to Department of Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch, ordering the DOA to improve the way it handles block grant money.

The August 12 letter came in response to a move by the DOA and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation to award grants to several communities in Wisconsin in February of this year, despite prior warnings from HUD about the process.

The DOA had reached a verbal agreement in September that the state agency wouldn't award any new grants until proper documentation had been drafted and approved by HUD. The commitment led HUD to agree to release federal money to the state for already awarded 2011 grants.

HUD had previously warned the state that it needed to implement a series of changes, in writing, to the way WEDC was overseen by the DOA, and how money was to be distributed. WEDC was created by Gov. Scott Walker as a quasi-public entity to take over and streamline the duties of the former Department of Commerce.

When those changes weren't forthcoming, and after the state went ahead with grant awards in February anyway, HUD suspended WEDC's access to the grant disbursement system.

Documentation obtained by the Wisconsin State Journal shows that problems began almost immediately after the creation of the new program.

Post by Jesse Russell on 9/19/2012 4:03pm

Recent polling trends suggest President Barack Obama and Senate candidate Rep. Tammy Baldwin are both gaining traction in the state of Wisconsin.

The most recent poll from Marquette University Law School shows the President with a 14 point lead over Republican challenger Mitt Romney. The same poll has Baldwin now pulling ahead of former Republican Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson by 9 points.

The Marquette poll was released hours after Quinnipiac University released its own poll of Wisconsin. That poll showed Baldwin dead even with Thompson at 47 percent.

The new results are a clear tightening of the race for Baldwin as the previous Quinnipiac poll had her trailing Thompson by six points. Quinnipiac's poll had the President expanding his lead over his rival from a two point spread in August to a six point spread now.

Professor Charles Franklin said that while there was very little movement among individuals who self identify as Democrats and Republicans, with the exception of a small galvanizing of the Democratic base, the biggest trend was independents shifting their support from Thompson to Baldwin.

The gender gap seems to be hitting Romney especially hard in Wisconsin. Quinnipiac has women breaking for Obama 55-42 and Marquette has Obama up 54-38. Quinnipiac has Romney doing much better with men in Wisconsin as he leads Obama 49-47. However, Marquette had decidedly different results putting Obama ahead with men 53-42.

An interesting cross tab to look at is how Obama and Baldwin do in the various media markets. Marquette breaks it down by Milwaukee City, "rest of Milwaukee media market," Madison, Green Bay/Appleton, and "all other media markets." Both Obama and Baldwin easily defeat their opponents in all of the media markets except for the "rest of Milwaukee media markets." In that region of the state Romney defeats Obama in the poll 53-39, and Thompson defeats Baldwin 49-40.