WISCONSIN NEWS ROUNDUP: Future of voter ID law will depend on money
The future of Wisconsin's voter I-D law might hinge on whether there's a constitutional way to guarantee that folks don't have to pay to get the I-D's they need. The State Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday on two legal challenges to the 2011 requirement that people show photo I-D's to exercise their right to vote. The law gives out free I-D's to those who need them -- but to get them, voters must show birth certificates or pay 20-dollars to get a birth record. Justice Pat Roggensack, part of the court's four-member conservative majority, said she was bothered by the prospect of having to pay to vote. The court considered the question of whether they could drop fees for birth certificates, but Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson said it would not help Wisconsin voters who were born elsewhere. Justice Department lawyer Clayton Kawski, who defended the I-D law, said the state has the right to impose registration requirements -- and the I-D law backs up the fact that a voter had registered. He said 90-percent of Wisconsinites have I-D's, the plaintiffs have not shown it's impossible to get one, and those without I-D's can still cast provisional ballots. Justice Michael Gableman got one of the plaintiffs' attorneys to concede that the law probably would be constitutional, if the cost barrier for getting the needed documents went away.
The state Transportation Department's chief legal counsel has lost his job over an explicit e-mail he sent to Scott Walker's former Milwaukee County aides. John Schulze Junior was working for the American Transmission Company in 2010, when he re-sent the Walker aides an old fake news release. It joked about legalizing prostitution to increase tourism and provide jobs for those on welfare. The e-mail was among the 27-thousand released last week in the court case of former Walker aide Kelly Rindfleisch. She's appealing her conviction for doing illegal campaign work in the Milwaukee County executive's office. The Madison weekly paper Isthmus first reported that Schulze left his job last Friday, two days after the e-mails were released. Governor Walker's chief spokesman Tom Evenson confirms it. He said quote, "The e-mail is in poor taste, and there is no room for this poor conduct in Governor Walker's administration." Schulze wrote that he found the fake news release on an old zip-drive. He has not commented on his departure. Schulze was the D-O-T's chief lawyer since last May. He has also been an aide to former Governors Tommy Thompson and Scott McCallum, and has worked in the Assembly and Senate staffs.
A state lawmaker does not expect approval this year for his bill to let local communities have the final say on building roundabouts at intersections. G-O-P Representative David Craig of Big Bend was happy that his measure got a public hearing yesterday, with about a month to go in the current session. Craig told the Assembly Transportation Committee he believes the D-O-T is over-using roundabouts, and putting them in places where they're not workable. Modular housing representative Amy Bliss said her company's trucks are too big to use the roundabouts, and it costs more to find detours around them. State D-O-T engineer Jerry Zogg testified against letting communities veto roundabouts, saying they've reduced serious accidents. A study last year showed that roundabouts reduced severe mishaps by 38-percent -- but minor fender-benders rose by 12-percent. About 280 of the European-type traffic circles have been installed in Wisconsin since the 1990's. The D-O-T expects to build another 90 in the next three years.
Chronic wasting disease continues to get more prevalent in southern Wisconsin's deer population. The D-N-R said yesterday that almost one-of-every-four adult male deer in Iowa County and western Dane County are thought to have the fatal brain disorder. The 25-percent prevalence rate among adult males is up from 20-percent a year ago, and 8-to-10-percent back in 2002 when C-W-D was first discovered in the Badger State. Officials caution against comparing annual prevalence figures, because the numbers of deer that are tested varies from year-to-year. But the D-N-R says it's clear that infection rates are rising -- bucks are more likely to be infected than does -- and C-W-D rates are higher among older adults than yearlings. Chronic wasting disease has been found in 18 Wisconsin counties, but it's mainly concentrated in two regions west of Madison, and in Rock-and-Walworth counties. The state has spent around 45-million dollars to try-and-control C-W-D in the first decade since it's been found. Federal funds covered much of the expense.
The federal E-P-A is giving another five-million-dollars to projects that control invasive species in the Great Lakes region. Officials announced 11 grants yesterday as part of the ongoing Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Wisconsin agencies did not directly receive any of the latest grants. But the state could indirectly benefit by a half-million dollar grant to Michigan Tech University to prevent the spread of Eurasian water-milfoil in Lakes Superior and Huron. The plant has been known to create thick canopies, cause snags to boat motors, and potentially cause problems for fish. The Restoration Initiative has spent over 220-million dollars over the past five years to fight invasive species. Almost 100-million of that was spent on ways to prevent the bloated Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes from the carp-infested Mississippi River.
A woman from Ripon has become a millionaire, thanks to the Wisconsin Lottery's first 30-dollar instant scratch game. Mary Ann Waltenberry won the first of four million-dollar prizes in the "Instant Million" game, which went on sale for the first time last Friday. Waltenberry will speak to reporters about her good fortune tomorrow. She'll get just over 673-thousand dollars after taxes. Waltenberry bought her winning ticket at the Ultimart Citgo West convenience store in Ripon. The store will get a 20-thousand dollar commission for selling the prize.