GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL ROUNDUP: Court trial to begin today on Wisconsin's voter ID law
A federal court trial begins today which could have an impact on Wisconsin's voter I-D law, and dozens of others around the country. The Milwaukee trial combines two federal civil rights lawsuits filed last year against the 2011 state law which requires voters to show acceptable photo I-D's to vote. Thirty states have considered bills this year to adopt or strengthen voter I-D requirements. The Wisconsin trial is expected to last two weeks. It was brought in part on behalf of 77-year-old Bettye Jones, a Brookfield woman who had a hard time voting because she did not have a driver's license -- and her birth in 1935 was never recorded in her home state of Tennessee. Jones, who died after the lawsuit was filed, waited for months while her daughter battled with Wisconsin officials to obtain an I-D to vote. Critics say it's just one example of how I-D laws disenfranchise voters. Wisconsin Republicans who passed the law said it was necessary to prevent voter fraud. The plaintiffs in the trial are the ACLU and the League of United Latin American Citizens.
Another crack-down on drunk driving will be considered tomorrow by the Wisconsin Assembly. The lower house will vote on three of several bills offered by Mequon Republican Jim Ott, and Senate Republican Alberta Darling, both from the Milwaukee area. One would require that all four-time O-W-I offenses be considered as felonies, regardless of how far back a third offense had occurred. Second offenses would be treated as misdemeanors, regardless of when the first ones took place. Right now, fourth offense that happen more than five years after a third O-W-I is considered a misdemeanor. Second offenses that happen at least 10 years after the first ones are considered non-criminal first offenses. A second up for a vote tomorrow would require everyone arrested for drunk driving to appear in court at least once. The third measure would speed up the process for installing ignition interlock devices on offenders' vehicles.
It might be awhile before Wisconsin lawmakers act on a bill to treat non-violent 17-year-old criminal defendants as juveniles instead of adults. The Assembly Corrections' Committee has endorsed the measure, but it's not on the calendar for the next full meeting of the lower house tomorrow. Speaker Robin Vos's office says it's still considering the measure, and it could be placed on January's agenda. Milwaukee Assembly Democrat Jon Richards, who's running for attorney general next year, says a cost factor on local government needs to be considered. Richards, who appeared on a W-K-O-W T-V program in Madison over the weekend, said officials need to be sure that more serious teen offenders actually carry out their sentences. The bill would still allow 17-year-old suspects in murders, sexual assaults, and similar major crimes to continue being tried in adult court.
A group of frac-sand miners says local governments are over-reacting against a proposed bill to let the state take over much of the companies' regulations. Rich Budinger of the Wisconsin Industrial Sand Association tells the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram his group is not asking for a decrease in government rules -- but it does want rules which are more consistent across the state. The bill would nullify a State Supreme Court ruling which gave local towns the ability to use their police powers to set things like hours of operation and blasting. Budinger says the state Safety and Professional Services agency already regulates blasting -- and towns still have lots of power through zoning and county reclamation permits. The bill's chief sponsor, Hazelhurst Republican Tom Tiffany, has said that frac-sand companies find it very hard to deal with a hodge-podge of local rules -- and many are more stringent than they need to be. The bill was on a fast-track in the Senate this month until Tiffany said he wanted to review concerns that have been raised. He now expects it to get a vote early next year. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos had already delayed consideration of the bill in his house until next spring, so all the possible effects can have time to be explored.
A town board in central Wisconsin is scheduled tonight to consider naming a temporary town clerk. That's after the elected clerk was arrested last week for alleged embezzlement. The Adams County sheriff said it might be awhile before Rome Town Clerk Deena Griffin can face charges his department is seeking -- theft, forgery, and misconduct in public office. The Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune dug up court records showing that Griffin had altered a 610-dollar personal utility bill, marked it to make look like the town police force approved the payment, and then issued a town check that she reportedly cashed. Records showed that the town board found the discrepancy and sought an investigation. This evening, the board says it will consider candidates for what it calls a quote, "temporary town clerk, based on the temporary unavailability of the elected clerk." Griffin, the elected clerk, cannot legally be removed from office except by a judge or by the voters in a recall election.