Government and Political Roundup: Legislator wants to make it illegal to sell a person's food-stamp benefits
A bill that makes it illegal to sell a person's food-stamp benefits was endorsed yesterday by a state Assembly committee - and it's up for a vote today by a Senate panel. Assembly Republican Samantha Kerkman of Powers Lake is the bill's main sponsor. She wants to make it a crime to buy, sell, or transfer Food-Share benefit cards for cash and other purposes. The Assembly committee endorsed the bill 5-to-2, and it's scheduled for a vote in the full lower house on Tuesday. Kerkman says she's heard that people in her district are selling their Food-Share cards, and then asking for replacements. But the bill's opponents say it will put an unfair stigma on those who follow the law and don't sell their benefits. Wisconsin's Food-Share program went to a debit-card system over a dozen years ago - and there have been occasional reports of fraud. A state report last year said the number of Wisconsin Food-Share participants jumped from 388-thousand people a month in 2007 to 816-thousand per month in 2011.
First-term minority Democrats are the latest to propose that the state Legislature stop drawing its own districts. Wausau Representative Mandy Wright says the process has been abused for decades by both parties - and it's time that an independent commission re-draw the state's legislative and congressional district lines. The process is required every 10 years, to create districts with equal populations according to the most recent Census. In recent decades, a split in the state government's political make-up forced a federal court to re-draw the lines. But in 2011, Republicans controlled all of state government. And that allowed the G-O-P to draw the new maps in secret. Critics say the party loaded numerous districts with its own voters, with a goal of keeping control of the Legislature throughout the next decade. Three federal judges decried the G-O-P's process - part of which is still being challenged in court at a cost to taxpayers of two-million dollars and counting. The federal judges said they couldn't stop the end result, because all but two Assembly districts met the constitutional requirement to have nearly equal populations - and those districts were soon realigned. Democrats could have changed the process in the 2009 session, when they had complete control of state government, but they didn't. Minority parties often propose redistricting reforms, but the majority never takes them up.
The Walker administration toughened the rules yesterday for State Capitol protestors who don't get permits. The new rules allow spectators and participants of unlicensed demonstrations to be cited if they don't leave. Earlier this year, a Dane County judge ruled that only organizers of unapproved protests could be cited under the language of the administration's previous rules. As a result of that decision, members of the Solidarity Singers were protected during the daily protest sing-alongs - and only the conductors could be arrested. Also, the new rules say the Administration Department can waive a 72-hour requirement for seeking permits for most Capitol demonstrations. Administration spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis says the new rules change nothing for quote, "any person or group that follows the permit process." The Solidarity Singers have refused to get the state permits ever since a crackdown on them began last summer. Yesterday, state Assembly Democrat Chris Taylor of Madison said protestors have received about 140 tickets, and 68 have been dropped. He said the prosecutions are a waste of money, and they only curb free speech. Former Kenosha County prosecutor Bob Jambois represents many of the protestors. He told the Wisconsin Radio Network that the administration's protest rules quote, "could have been written in Russia" or in "any other totalitarian state."