STATE NEWS ROUNDUP: AG says state legislators are not above the law
Wisconsin's attorney general says state legislators are not above the law -- but the Constitution does let them invoke immunity from civil lawsuits against them. J-B Van Hollen said today that the Constitution gives him no choice but to represent state senator and fellow Republican Leah Vukmir. The Wauwatosa lawmaker was sued by the Center for Media and Democracy, claiming she refused to give that group documents she obtained at a meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council. The Justice Department's decision to defend Vukmir angered open government advocates. According to Van Hollen, Vukmir's position is that she fully complied with the Open Records Law -- and she claims executive immunity from prosecution for as long as she's in office. The A-G said Vukmir's case is different from that of Senate Democrat Jon Erpenbach of Middleton, who contended he did not have to release names of people who contacted his office about the 2011 law which virtually ended most public union bargaining. Van Hollen said lawmakers must respond to public record requests as soon as possible -- but if they sued to compel the disclosure, they can invoke their constitutional protection from civil process.
The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction has released a report card of school district performances today. According to the report, the majority of Wisconsin’s public schools and school districts meet or exceed expectations. The report grades 424 public school districts and over 21-hundred schools in Wisconsin, including 21 independent charter schools. According to the report, 269 school districts met expectation – with 143 districts exceeding or significantly exceeding expectations. The report shows Milwaukee was the only district to receive a “fail to meet expectations” grade. The Dean for UW-Madison’s School of Education Julie Underwood says overall, the report shows public schools are doing a good job for the state… but the data is limited and needs improvement. More information and detailed reports for each school district can be found on the department's website at REPORTCARDS-dot-DPI-dot-WI-dot-GOV (http://reportcards.dpi.wi.gov)
The Wisconsin Senate voted today to give communities more power to enforce marijuana possession laws. On a 24-to-9 vote, senators gave municipalities the okay to enforce more anti-pot laws, in cases in which state district attorneys refuse to prosecute. Under current law, communities can enforce ordinances prohibiting the possession of 25 grams or less of real-or-synthetic marijuana. They cannot enforce the possession of more than 25 grams. Nor can the locals enforce two-time possession offenses of any amount. The bill passed today would give communities the okay to ban any amount of marijuana -- and to let the locals charge second offenses. Also, local officials can charge criminal pot offenders in the D-As decide not to take those cases. The bill now goes to the Assembly.
Wisconsin senators are expected to vote today on a bill that gives landlords more power over their tenants. The Assembly approved the measure in June, when 57 Republicans and 37 Democrats voted no. Assembly Republican Duey Strobel of Saukville is the bill's main sponsor. He says it would ease burdensome requirements for landlords, and hold tenants more responsible for damages. Landlords could dispose of almost anything tenants leave behind without advance notice. Building owners could also evict tenants if crimes occur in their units, regardless of whether the tenants could have prevented them. Victims of stalking, domestic abuse, and sexual assault would not be evicted. Democrats have said the bill tramples on consumers' rights. Other critics, including some in law enforcement, fear violent confrontations between tenants and the landlords who try to toss them out. Various housing groups have lined up to support the bill. Madison and Dane County have come out against it -- along with Legal Action of Wisconsin and the state's Network for Peace-and-Justice.
The value of Wisconsin farmland continues to grow, but at a much smaller pace than in recent years. A newly-released U-S-D-A report shows that Wisconsin's average farmland value rose at an annual rate of one-point-one percent as of early June. That's way down from a seven-point-four percent jump in 2012, and eight-percent the year before that. Wisconsin farmland averaged 44-hundred dollars an acre -- much less than the 84-hundred in neighboring Iowa, where values jumped 20-percent over the past year. Illinois' farmland was worth 78-hundred-dollars an acre, 16-percent more than the preceding year. Experts say one reason for the smaller land prices in Wisconsin is that farmers grow more of their corn-and-soybeans as feed for their own livestock, while other states put larger percentages on the commodity markets.
Two members of Congress are again asking that permanent barriers be placed between Lake Michigan and Chicago's rivers, to keep the invasive Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. It was recently disclosed that a 53-inch, 82-pound carp was caught a month ago at the Illinois-Indiana state line on Flatfoot Lake. The lake is landlocked, but it's very close to the Calumet River -- which flows into Lake Michigan. House Republican Dave Camp and Senate Democrat Debbie Stabenow, both of Michigan, say the discovery again highlights the need for permanent barriers between Chicago's shipping canals and Lake Michigan. Illinois officials and the Obama White House have long opposed those barriers, saying it would damage the economy of the Chicago area.