POLITICAL AND COURTS ROUNDUP: Final week of the 2013 Wisconsin Legislature session begins
Both houses of the Wisconsin Legislature will hold their final meetings of 2013 this week. The Senate plans to ease up on the most controversial legislation, while the Assembly plans to forge ahead. Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says he wants to tackle some of the hottest issues now, to avoid the usual log-jam at the end of the two-year session next spring. Starting tomorrow, the Assembly plans to take up a host of issues that include a modified photo I-D law for voting, limits on early absentee voting, and allowing recalls of state elected officials only if they're accused of criminal or ethics violations. The Senate plans to wait on the voter I-D adjustments until the courts determine if the current I-D laws are unconstitutional. The Senate's G-O-P leadership has also decided not to consider two anti-abortion bills until next year, if at all. The Assembly has passed those bills, which would ban abortion based on the child's gender, exempt religious groups from including contraceptives in their employees' health insurance, and banning abortion coverage for public workers.
The Assembly is expected to vote on a compromise bill passed by the Senate to limit public access to some, but not all, of the land where Gogebic Taconite is working on its proposed iron ore mine. The lower house will also consider bi-partisan bills to reform the state's mental health system -- including grants to law enforcement teams to respond to people with mental illnesses. The Assembly will also consider a bill banning so-called "revenge porn" -- jilted lovers placing nude-or-compromising photos of their exes online. The Senate will consider banning employers from prying into employees' social media accounts by asking for their passwords. Both houses could also act on a proposed constitutional amendment to change the way the Supreme Court names its chief justice.
A second trial is scheduled to begin today for a Madison man accused of locking up and starving his teenage daughter for years. 42-year-old Chad Chritton was convicted in March in Dane County on two counts of child neglect. Five other counts were revived, after jurors could not reach unanimous verdicts on them. Authorities said the young girl was starved and locked in a basement until she broke away in February of 2012. She was 15 then, and her weight was down to 68 pounds. Jury selection is scheduled to begin this morning, and the re-trial is scheduled to last two weeks. Chritton claimed during his original trial that his daughter had mental health issues. The man's wife, Melinda Drabek-Chritton, is serving five years after she struck a plea deal that convicted her of mentally harming a child and reckless endangerment. Chritton remains charged with false imprisonment, causing mental harm, reckless endangerment, felony child abuse, and felony child neglect.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court will arguments today on whether the Act-10 public union bargaining law should apply to local governments and public schools. The justices will hear arguments about a circuit court ruling 14 months ago. Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colas ruled back then that the union was unconstitutional as it applied to the plaintiffs in that case -- Madison Teachers Incorporated and a Milwaukee city union. Colas later clarified that his ruling applied statewide, and he held the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission in contempt-of-court for preparing annual re-certification elections required by public unions. That was a separate ruling which is being appealed by the state. The state had challenged Colas's larger ruling some time ago. That's the case which is being heard today.
Authorities in Madison are trying to determine the cause of a fire that displaced around 20 U-W students. It happened at the Casa Blanca Apartments on Madison's University Avenue. Three people were injured. Two fire-fighters were treated at a hospital and later released, while a third person who's not a U-W student remained hospitalized in an undisclosed condition at last word. Media reports said two people were trapped on the top floor of the three-story building -- and fire-fighters rescued them. Fire Chief Steve Davis said it appeared that the blaze originated in the kitchen area of a first floor apartment, but an investigation is ongoing. U-W Madison Dean-of-Students Lori Berquam said her campus would offer resources and support to those affected -- and she was thankful for the city agencies and tenants' friends for keeping them safe.