State Government and Political Round-up: Police union files lawsuit against WCA
MADISON - A dispute that's brewing over collective bargaining has led to a court battle between two of Wisconsin's best-known lobbying groups. The state's Professional Police Association (PPA) filed a lawsuit in Madison yesterday against the Wisconsin Counties Association (WCA).
The police union says it's been stymied in getting the counties' group to turn over things like audits and county financial data. The Counties' Association says it's a private organization, and it's not covered under the state's Open Records Law. The police union is trying to obtain the data to try-and-stop individual counties from classifying their jailers as general employees instead of law enforcement personnel. Under that change, the jailers would lose their current exemption to the law which virtually eliminated collective bargaining by most public unions. The police union wants a judge to declare that the counties' group is subject to the Open Records Law - and that group has violated that law - and that it should turn over its requested documents to the police union and pay its legal fees.
The committee that will consider changes to the proposed new state budget will hold its final public hearing today. The Legislature's Joint Finance Committee plans a day-long proceeding at Baldwin-Woodville High School. Co-chair Assemblyman John Nygren (R-Marinette) says he expects to hear comments similar to those at the panel's three previous hearings in Green Bay, Lake Delton, and suburban Milwaukee. The major issues have been Governor Scott Walker's refusal to take new federal Medicaid money, and his plans to expand private school vouchers to nine new school districts. Often, statewide groups get their local members to testify at hearings on how the proposed budget affects them - but there are always regional issues that come up as well. The finance panel will start reviewing the governor's budget next week and make possible changes. Normally, the biggest issues are saved until the end of the panel's review process - right before the budget goes to the full Legislature.
Wisconsin cast a split vote when the U.S. Senate said no to expanding mandatory background checks for gun buyers. Republican Ron Johnson of Oshkosh helped strike down the mandate, while Democrat Tammy Baldwin of Madison favored the requirement to check the backgrounds of buyers at gun shows and private transactions. It fell five votes short of the 60 needed for passage. And it marked a stunning defeat for President Obama, Capitol Hill Democrats, and relatives of mass shootings like those in Oak Creek and Brookfield last year. Johnson called the proposal for background checks "fatally flawed." He recently said he was especially against the requirement for gun sales among family members. Baldwin called the measure a "common-sense" idea and said quote, "Washington failed to produce results, and failed the American people." By larger margins, senators also said no to banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Johnson voted against both those proposals. Baldwin voted yes to both.
A state legislative bill to slash the powers and salaries of Milwaukee County Board members is being delayed until next month. Majority state Assembly Republicans tried pushing the measure through yesterday on a 57-39 vote - but Democrats used a procedural move to temporarily block the bill's passage. Former Milwaukee County Supervisor Joe Sanfelippo wrote the bill soon after he joined the Assembly. He said Wisconsin's largest county board needs reforms that it refuses to adopt - and he disputed claims from Democrats that it's nothing more than a power grab by County Executive Chris Abele. The bill would give the executive more powers, but Sanfelippo said there's no way that person would get carte blanche authority to do what he-or-she wants. Sanfelippo also said the county government would be more efficient, because department heads would take direction from one person instead of the 19 elected supervisors. Among other things, the bill would cut the County Board's budget by two-thirds and the supervisors' salaries in half. It also cuts back the board's roles in things like labor negotiations. The members' terms would also be sliced from four years to two.
If you haven't cast a ballot in the last four years, you may soon be receiving a post card from the Government Accountability Board. The state elections agency is conducting voter record maintenance which is conducted every two years. Board director Kevin Kennedy says if you get the card and want to continue to vote, all you have to do is send it back to your municipal clerk. If you take no action, you won't be able to vote the next time you show up at the polls. If you have moved or changed your name, you should re-register under that name or your new address.
Wisconsin is affected by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling today that said police need search warrants to take blood samples for most drunk driving suspects who refuse to give them. The ruling was made in a case from Missouri, but Wisconsin is among several states where blood samples of drunk driving suspects are routinely taken without warrants. The Wisconsin Justice Department is reviewing the decision, and will tell prosecutors how to proceed in such cases as soon as possible. Justice spokeswoman Dana Brueck says the decision still allows blood draws without warrants, if there are extenuating circumstances in which a normal dissipation of alcohol is not the only factor.
The Wisconsin state Senate voted today to let drivers use smartphones to prove that they have auto insurance if they're stopped. The bill passed on a voice vote, and it now goes to the state Assembly. Wisconsin became the second-to-last state to require insurance on motor vehicles in the 2009 session, when Democrats were in the majority. Republicans upheld the insurance requirement two years later, when they reduced coverage limits that were raised by the Democrats in the previous session. Today's bill means that drivers don't have to carry insurance cards if they can prove on their smartphones that they have coverage. Those caught without proof of insurance are ticketed - but they have the opportunity to prove later that they're insured.
Wisconsin dentists can charge more for certain services, under a bill passed by the state Assembly yesterday on an 89-8 vote. The measure would prohibit insurers from requiring dentists to charge less for services to patients in insurance networks. The bill would force changes in existing contracts - and the state's largest business group opposed the measure on those grounds. The Wisconsin Manufacturers-and-Commerce group said the change would make the state less competitive - and the bill is actually an unwanted intrusion into private contracts on the government's orders. But the state's Dental Association said it would prove more honesty in billing - and it would stop shifting the costs of some services from one group of patients to another group.
A bill that would let Wisconsinites stay on the telemarketing do-not-call list without having to re-register every two years is moving forward in the state Legislature. The measure got some fanfare when it was introduced - and yesterday, it was the subject of a public hearing by a Senate committee. The panel was told the measure would also ban automated political campaign ads to folks on the no-call list. Some registered voters literally get dozens of those robo-calls in the weeks before major elections. And the bill's main sponsors - Senate Republican Sheila Harsdorf of River Falls and Assembly Republican Andre Jacque of De Pere - say there's no need for it. The bill would still allow live political calls, plus the current exemptions for non-profit groups and those you've done business with before. Consumer protection administrators say the bill has a cost - around $48,000 a year to maintain the no-call list and investigate complaints. Sandy Chalmers of the state's consumer agency says the bill does nothing to stop the millions of robo-calls people get for business solicitations - most from overseas and people who don't ever follow no-call lists. Chalmers says it might be wiser to have her agency create a partnership with the federal no-call list.
A federal judge held a hearing today on a lawsuit that seeks to strike down the State Capitol's policy on getting permits to conduct protests and other activities. The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit in February, saying the policy violates First Amendment free speech rights - and it does not serve any legitimate government purpose. ACLU attorney Laurence Dupuis told Federal Judge William Conley in Madison that the policy is vague, and it's based on the content of speech. The policy requires advance permits for activities and protests by four-or-more people. A Dane County judge recently said the state's policy only requires to group organizers, not participants. State officials have created an updated policy to try-and-nullify the judge's ruling. Assistant State Attorney General Maria Lazar says the Capitol Police force need to know how many people are in the statehouse. Judge Conley did not indicate when he would rule on the ACLU's lawsuit.
Governor Scott Walker has invited Harley-Davidson riders from China to attend the company's 110th anniversary in Milwaukee during the Labor Day Weekend. But the question is whether they could find a place to stay. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel says hotel rooms are already scarce - and homeowners are placing ads to rent part of their humble abodes. Some arrangements are far from cheap. A Pewaukee homeowner advertised on Craigs-list that up 30 tents can be pitched on two acres of property - with a going rate of 100-dollars a night for the privilege of sleeping on the ground. Brent Foerester of Visit Milwaukee says the pickings will remain slim, even as people cancel reservations. Rooms that were $200 a night a few months ago are higher now. The Iron Horse Hotel has the most exquisite week-long package, at a cost of $9,900 for two people. That includes a deluxe room plus tickets to all the Harley anniversary events. Over 100,000 visitors are expected for it. Walker issued his invitation to Chinese bikers yesterday, when he helped open a Harley dealership in Tianjin. It was part of his 10-day trade mission to China.
Wisconsinites will get their say next week on a bill to create a hunting season for woodchucks. The state Assembly's Natural resources Committee will hold a public hearing on the measure next Wednesday in Madison. Lawmakers of both parties support the idea. It would remove woodchucks from the state's protected species list. And it would let hunters take an unlimited number of woodchucks from March through December. Small game or trapping licenses would be required. Supporters of the hunt say woodchucks are getting more numerous, and they're digging up land. Three neighboring states have woodchuck hunts - Illinois, Iowa, and Michigan.