State Government and Political News: LWV considers going to court to repeal Voter ID lawWisconsin News
-- The League of Women Voters doesn’t buy Governor Scott Walker’s argument that if you need a photo ID to buy cold medicine, you should need a photo ID to vote. The league’s Wisconsin president, Melanie Ramey, says buying cold medicine is not a right of citizenship like voting is. And in a lawsuit it filed yesterday, the League said many people would be denied the right to vote once people have to start showing ID’s at the polls in February.
MADISON - The League of Women Voters doesn’t buy Governor Scott Walker’s argument that if you need a photo ID to buy cold medicine, you should need a photo ID to vote. The league’s Wisconsin president, Melanie Ramey, says buying cold medicine is not a right of citizenship like voting is. And in a lawsuit it filed yesterday, the League said many people would be denied the right to vote once people have to start showing ID’s at the polls in February.
Walker and the Government Accountability Board are the defendants in the league’s lawsuit, to be heard by Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess. Gov. Walker says it will protect the integrity of elections. He signed the ID requirement this spring, after his fellow Republicans in the Legislature tried for a decade to pass it. The league says the mandate is unconstitutional, because it creates a new class of people who cannot vote – those without ID’s. And Ramey says her group is appalled by the stories her members are hearing about the barriers people face in getting acceptable ID’s. They’re referring to the recent revelation that people have to specifically ask for free ID’s at motor vehicle offices – because the DOT’s policy is not to tell people they can waive a $28-dollar fee unless they’re asked. Also, the lawsuit says motor vehicle offices have limited hours.
The Wisconsin State Assembly has voted to let crime victims file-and-win lawsuits against public officials who harass them. The bill is in response to what former Calumet County District Attorney Ken Kratz did. He sent racy text messages to a woman to try-and-start an affair, while he was prosecuting her boyfriend for abusing her. Once that news got out, other women made similar claims. And former Governor Jim Doyle had set up a procedure to remove Kratz from office when he resigned. The new bill demands that public officials respect the privacy of crime victims, and to treat them fairly – and they can be sued if they don’t do both. The Assembly passed the bill on a voice vote. It now goes to the Senate.
Wisconsin’s attorney general has given the National Rifle Association its reasoning behind the rules behind it rules it drafted for the new concealed weapons law. The NRA loudly protested after J-B Van Hollen’s Justice Department ordered a four-hour training requirement for concealed weapons permits. The NRA also took issue with making trainers sign certificates for those taking courses – and it said the background checks Wisconsin requires would not let weapons’ holders in 20 other states do the same in the Badger State. The NRA was among the most ardent supporters of the concealed carry law which takes effect November first. In his letter to the NRA, Van Hollen said he personally would not require any training – but he’s only interpreting the law as narrowly as possible to carry out what the Legislature intended. Lawmakers did not specify a time length for weapons’ training. Republican Governor Scott Walker said he grudgingly accepted the rules so the law isn’t held up November first – but he said he’ll seek changes once the law’s permanent rules are adopted.
Wisconsin public school teachers could be fired or disciplined if their students don’t score high enough on standardized tests. That’s the premise of a bill passed by state Senate yesterday afternoon. The measure passed on a 17-16 party line vote, with all Democrats voting no. Under the current law, test scores can be used in evaluating teachers – but not for discipline or dismissals. Senate Democrat Lena Taylor of Milwaukee says the bill puts teachers in an unfair position. Other Democrats asked the majority to delay action until a task force headed by Governor Scott Walker and state Superintendent Tony Evers recommends new ways to evaluate student learning. Democrats and former Governor Jim Doyle passed the current law in 2009 to try and get federal funding for schools under President Obama’s “Race to the Top” program. But the state was turned down for funding, and critics said it was because the law refused to link student test scores to teacher discipline.
Wisconsin state senators voted this afternoon to put more restrictions on abortions under the new federal health care law. On a 17-16 vote – with the Senate voted to prohibit abortion coverage in the exchanges in which most Wisconsinites will buy their health insurance under the new law. The bill allows abortion coverage only when a mother’s life is in danger, or in cases of sexual assault or incest – and those crimes would have to be reported to the police. Pewaukee Sen. Rich Zipperer (R-Pewaukee) said that if the bill didn’t pass, taxpayers would have to help cover elective abortions. But Sen. Kathleen Vinehout (D-Alma) said the bill amounted to a state mandate on private insurance plans sold to private citizens. And Vinehout called it an expansion of government’s reach. Sen. Fred Risser (D-Madison) said the bill stops people from buying a service that’s legal.
Wisconsin state agencies are being told to expect the possibility of job cuts. Governor Scott Walker’s administration says another $300 million dollars in cuts will need to be made over the next two years. That figure includes more than $125 million in cuts already specified in the state budget passed last summer. State agencies facing potential job reductions include the Health Services, Children and Families, and the Department of Corrections.
Republican lawmakers are being attacked for their proposal to do away with a state law requiring schools to include contraceptives in sex education lessons. A bill introduced in the Legislature rewrites the law, mandating schools no longer have to address contraception in sex ed, but they do have to stress abstinence as the only reliable prevention of pregnancy and disease. Democrats say repealing the requirement leaves children relying on sources other than school to get their information about the subject.
A new bill in the Wisconsin State Senate would repeal an employee discrimination law passed by Democrats in the last session. A public hearing was held yesterday on a bill from West Bend Republican Glenn Grothman. It would prohibit those discriminated against from collecting any more than back pay, legal fees, and costs in handling the case. Punitive damages would no longer be possible. Grothman’s measure would partially wipe out a bill proposed by Green Bay Senate Democrat Dave Hansen in the last session, before his party lost control of state government. It allows victims of workplace discrimination to file complaints with the state – and potentially lawsuits where they could get both compensatory and punitive damages. But Pete Hanson of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association told lawmakers that if restaurant owners faced discrimination suits, the financial burden would put them in tough positions. He said it would result in settlement payments that otherwise would be used to hire extra workers or perhaps a new manager.
The Wisconsin State Assembly is expected to vote next week on a bill to move the fall partisan primaries from mid-September to mid-August. The federal government wants to change in order to give the state’s military and overseas residents more time to get their absentee ballots in for the November general election. The Senate has approved a slightly different version of the bill which the Assembly will take up next Tuesday. The Senate would have to approve the Assembly’s changes before the measure could go to Governor Scott Walker for his signature. A federal official was in Wisconsin last week to try and convince lawmakers to move back their fall primaries – which are for congressional and state offices, as well as partisan countywide offices.
It would be against the law for unwanted telemarketers to send text messages to cell phones, under a bill endorsed by a state Senate committee this week. The law would apply to those on the state’s do-not-call list. Telemarketers are barred from phoning those on the list. And Sen. Van Wangaard (R-Racine) proposed that the same thing apply to text messages – especially because most cell customers pay for those incoming messages. The full Senate is expected to act on the bill next week. While the do-not-call law applies to most solicitors, non-profit groups and political candidates can still make phone pitches – and so can companies that you’ve done business with.
It could soon get easier to transport products on Wisconsin highways, after five bills were passed yesterday. Democrats joined majority Republicans in okaying the measures. One would allow trucks that carry farm products to be 15-percent heavier in December than what’s now allowed. Another bill lets semi-trucks carry larger loads of hay and straw. And one of the other measures would increase the allowable length of vehicles used by utilities-and-pipeline companies.