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GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS ROUNDUP: The voter ID law debate continues and continues...

Democrats say the poor could face new obstacles to voting under a state bill to let them vote without a photo I-D. The minority party raised a host of concerns yesterday at a public hearing on a Republican bill aimed at making some sort of voter I-D constitutional. One of the bill's main sponsors, freshman Assembly Republican Michael Schraa of Oshkosh, said it could be "years and years" before the courts rule on the constitutionality of the original law. He says he's trying to put it into place earlier. Two state judges have ruled that the 2011 photo I-D law was unconstitutional because it discourages the poor and disadvantaged from voting. The same issue is being raised in a federal trial which goes into its fourth day today in Milwaukee. Republicans say a voter I-D law is needed to stop voter fraud. Without it, Schraa says elections will be left "in doubt." His bill would let people vote without I-D's if they cannot afford the birth certificates needed to get them -- or if they object to be photographed for religious reasons. Their votes would be marked, and could be challenged in recounts. Democrats at yesterday's hearing said the bill would publicly identify voters as being poor -- and some could face criminal false swearing charges if they don't follow the exact terms to-the-letter for qualifying to vote without I-D's. The bill is on a fast track in the Assembly, but the Senate plans to hold it up until the court challenges are finished. The state is still appealing last year's two state court decisions.


Democrats on a state Senate committee rejected the appointment of former judge and Congressman Harold Froehlich to the state Government Accountability Board. The elections' panel reached a 2-2 deadlock yesterday before Sheboygan Republican Joe Leibham  -- who was listening on the phone and was cut off -- called back and cast the deciding vote. Democrats questioned Froehlich's ability to act fairly on the non-partisan elections-and-ethics board. That's after learned he gave 200-dollars to Governor Scott Walker's campaign and another 200 to a G-O-P Senate campaign group in 2011. An A-P reporter said Republican committee chair Mary Lazich stormed out of the meeting, after Democrat Lena Taylor refused to stop questioning the panel's attorney. Lazich returned a few minutes later, and Leibham had cast his yes vote while she was gone. Lazich said Froehlich has proven he would be an even-handed on the board. She noted that a panel of four current appeals judges recommended Froehlich's appointment, and he had served honorably as a judge in Appleton for 30 years. The full Senate could vote on Froehlich's confirmation as early as Tuesday. He's one of four new Walker appointees to the Accountability Board. The others include new appointee Elsa Lamelas, and holdover members Gerald Nichol and Tim Vocke.  


U-W La Crosse will not necessarily lose its R-O-T-C military education program. House Democrat Ron Kind said yesterday that the Pentagon is willing to keep the La Crosse program going under a two-year probationary period. Kind says he's not sure what that means -- and he wants to find out what steps the program must take to successfully complete the probation. Kind also wants to make sure the standards are quote, "realistic and achievable." The Army announced just over a month ago that R-O-T-C programs at La Crosse and a dozen other U-S colleges would shut down in mid-2015. The Army blamed quote, "a reduction of resources" for ending a La Crosse program that's been around for 40 years. Wisconsin's other R-O-T-C programs are at the U-W campuses in Stevens Point and Eau Claire.  


All 16 U-S senators from the Great Lakes states are demanding that the Army Corps of Engineers help Congress in choosing a game plan to keep the Asian carp away. Wisconsin's Ron Johnson and Tammy Baldwin were among those telling the Corps it's not enough to just spell out alternatives, and let Congress pick one. Congress ordered the Army Corps to study ways to prevent the invasive and bloated Asian carp from wiping out native fish in the Great Lakes. At first, the Corps was planning to wait until 2015 to unveil its proposals. But Congress demanded that it be done sooner, and the final report is now expected in January. In a letter to the Corps, the senators said the agency needs to work with Congress, congressional staffers, and regional stake-holders to determine the best strategy. The letter came a day after scientists found an Asian carp's D-N-A on Lake Michigan near Sturgeon Bay. It was the first such discovery in Wisconsin, after similar findings showed that other carp apparently broke through an electronic barrier designed to keep them out of Lake Michigan.  


A Wisconsin Senate committee is scheduled to vote today on a pair of anti-abortion bills which passed the Assembly earlier this year. One bill would ban abortions sought only because the parents didn't want the baby's gender. The other measure would ban tax money to pay for abortions in public employee health insurance. The same bill would also exempt religious groups from having to provide insurance for contraceptives. At an Assembly hearing earlier this year, De Pere Republican Andre Jacque said he did not consider elective abortions as health care -- and he contraceptives are fine as long as taxpayers are not involved. If the bills are endorsed today, the full Senate could take them up next Tuesday. Senate approval would send the measures to Governor Scott Walker, who says he supports them.


The Wisconsin Assembly is moving quickly to try-and-pass a compromise for restricting public access at the proposed Gogebic Taconite mining site. The Assembly's Forestry Committee has scheduled a public hearing on the bill late this morning, after Senate Republicans rammed it through their chamber on a party-line vote Tuesday. The original plan was to ban public access on all 32-hundred acres of the proposed mining site in Ashland and Iron counties, where the property owner gets a tax break for allowing public recreation under the state's managed forest law. The compromise would ban public access within 600-feet of mining roads and most mining equipment -- and the landowner would have to surrender tax breaks on any property that's closed. All the land would also be open to deer hunters in the November gun season. The restrictions were proposed in the wake of a theft-and-vandalism incident by mining protestors at the site in June. The bill's supporters say it's needed to protect the workers. Opponents call it a "sweetheart deal" for the mining firm, by preventing independent evaluators to determine the mine's viability.

Jason Schulte

Jason Schulte is a reporter for the New Richmond News since February 2015. Prior to that he spent eight years at the Pierce County Herald in Ellsworth. His duties with the News will include covering news out of Hammond and Roberts along with action from St. Croix County court system. He lives in Roberts. 

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