GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL ROUNDUP: The debate over voter ID continues, again
A Wisconsin Senate Democrat says that if Republicans approve a new voter I-D law, a new round of lawsuits will follow. That's how Jon Erpenbach responded to Governor Scott Walker's plans for a possible special legislative session. The Republican Walker said yesterday he would call lawmakers back to pass a modified photo I-D requirement for voting, if the courts do not uphold the one passed by the G-O-P majority in 2011. The State Supreme Court and Federal Judge Lynn Adelman are considering four legal challenges to the I-D requirement. Walker says he wants a law in effect for November, when he's up for a second term. The governor says people have overwhelmingly said they want voter I-D, to cut down on election fraud which Democrats say is virtually non-existent. They contend the law seeks to discourage voting by those most likely to vote Democratic. Erpenbach said Walker should focus on the economy and not be quote, "focused like a laser on anything but getting re-elected."
In what observers called a surprise move, the Wisconsin Senate voted yesterday to change the way D-N-A is collected from criminal suspects when they get arrested. River Falls Republican Sheila Harsdorf added the measure to a law enforcement standards bill which passed on a voice vote. The change never got a public hearing, but it didn't come out of the blue, either. Attorney General J-B Van Hollen asked lawmakers a while back to have law enforcement agencies send their D-N-A samples immediately to the State Crime Labs. A state budget measure from last year required police agencies to hang onto defendants' D-N-A until they're bound over for trial in criminal court proceedings. The move was meant to address concerns that civil liberties could be violated, with more people's D-N-A in the hands of the government. Under the new proposal, the state labs cannot analyze the evidence until the bind-overs. Van Hollen said the change would prevent D-N-A from being mishandled or abused at the local level. For years, only those convicted of felonies had to submit their D-N-A to a state database that police use to solve crimes. Under the new law, those arrested for felonies and those convicted of misdemeanors will have their D-N-A taken. That starts in April of next year. The Senate's proposal now goes to the Assembly, where its fate is uncertain in the waning days of the current session.
Wisconsin senators agreed to let schools open for less than 180 days a year, as long as they get their required class hours in. They also approved a loan program so middle-income folks can afford propane during big price-spikes like the one in January. But minority Democrats blocked the most controversial of the 50-plus bills that were on a jam-packed late-session agenda for yesterday and last night. Republican leaders called a nine a-m meeting today to act on some of the election-related measures that were held up. Other bills will wait until next week. The blocked measures included ones to prohibit early voting on nights-and-weekends in the two weeks before elections -- let lobbyists give special interest campaign checks to incumbents on April 15th of election years instead of June first -- and let poll workers come from anywhere in their home counties instead of just their communities or voting wards. Senate Democrats also blocked bills to limit parents' liability for student drivers to 300-thousand dollars, and forcing plaintiffs in asbestos exposure lawsuits to disclose the businesses they're going after. The asbestos measure drew complaints from veterans' groups, and Republicans okayed an amendment aimed at reducing delays and giving courts more flexibility in releasing the newly-required information. Senators also okayed bills to increase weight limits for farm equipment on Wisconsin roads, and create a new class of ag commercial vehicles. The upper house also agreed to speed up 43-million dollars in road work, allow Marquette University to start its own public police department, and change shoreline requirements to accommodate a redevelopment of Milwaukee's downtown transit center for a proposed hotel.
Republicans demand an apology from Milwaukee Senate Democrat Tim Carpenter, who accused a G-O-P senator yesterday of quote, "hating blacks and Latinos." During a floor debate over limits on early voting, Carpenter said Elections Committee chair Mary Lazich must despise minorities, because several bills she sponsored would limit voting in bigger cities where the largest numbers of minority voters live. Lazich vehemently objected. Her fellow Republican Paul Farrow of Pewaukee called Carpenter's remarks "rude and reprehensive." Carpenter accused the G-O-P of what he called "election creep," saying quote -- "Bill by bill, it's making it more difficult for Democrats to take on Republicans, and I think it's by design." Republicans said rural residents don't get the same voting opportunities as the bigger cities with more resources, and the bills are designed to fix that. Scot Ross said his liberal group One Wisconsin Now might file suit if the new early voting limits become law, on the grounds that it discriminates against minorities. Democrats blocked the early voting bill last night. Final Senate passage is expected this morning.