Regional briefs | April 9, 2015

State to pay for anti-gay marriage defense

An agreement announced in late March requires the state of Wisconsin to pay more than $1 million to the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented eight gay and lesbian couples who sued to overturn the state’s 2006 constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

The couples won their lawsuit and the ACLU can recover legal costs in the case, which went as far as the U.S. Supreme Court because of the vigorous defense waged by Gov. Scott Walker and then-Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen.

Madison adopts law protecting atheists

Without dissent, the Madison Common Council on March 31 voted to ban discrimination against people who are “non-religious.” Multiple sources say the move makes Madison the first city in the nation to protect people who don’t believe in God from discrimination. 

“It’s my personal feeling that since we protect religious people, we should protect non-religious people,” said Madison Alder Anita Weier, who sponsored the amendment. She introduced it on March 17.

“It was something I’ve been thinking about for quite a while,” Weier said. “I’m not running for re-election, so it’s something that I wanted to get passed before I left office. Anyone who was seeking reelection might not have introduced it.”

The ban was added to an existing equal-opportunity ordinance, which protects people from discrimination based on a list of factors, including race, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity. The March 31 vote added the phrase “religion or non-religion” to the ordinance, which applies to employment, housing and public accommodations. 

In other regional news …

• Unmining law: The Sierra Club has renewed its call for the Wisconsin Legislature to repeal 2013’s Act 1, the measure written by Gogebic Taconite to enable its now-abandoned open-pit mine proposal. The measure gutted environmental protections to ease the way for the project. The environmental advocacy group, in a statement issued on March 30, said the law should be repealed in its entirety. 

• PLANNED PARENTHOOD SCARE: Authorities safely detonated a suspicious package found outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Kenosha. Authorities closed nearby streets for several hours and called in the bomb squad. After x-rays were inconclusive, the emergency team deployed a robot to fire a charge into the package, which apparently contained paper.

• REGULATING RIDE SHARE: Wisconsin lawmakers recently introduced a bill to impose statewide regulations on online ride-sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft. The measure would require that companies apply for a $5,000 state license and would prevent local governments from issuing further regulations. Uber supports the bill.

• ANIMAL RESCUE AND REMOVAL: The Humane Animal Welfare Society removed 331 chinchillas and two cats from a Waukesha home deemed uninhabitable by the local fire department. Authorities also found nearly two dozen dead chinchillas.

• Grande gesture: The chief executive of Starbucks met privately with the family of Dontre Hamilton, an unarmed black Milwaukee man who was fatally shot by a police officer. Hamilton’s shooting drew national attention and sparked demonstrations in Milwaukee. In addition to meeting with Hamilton’s family, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz recently launched an initiative called “Race Together” to generate discussions about diversity. He quickly backtracked from writing the phrase on cups, however.

• Mother’s Day March: The mother of Dontre Hamilton hopes to get a million moms from around the nation to march in Washington, D.C., on Mother’s Day. Maria Hamilton has created a support group for mothers who have lost children after encounters with police called Mothers for Justice United, which is organizing the event. Social justice organizations around the country are raising money for the women to go.

• Order in the court: Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser stepped down from a drunken driving case after violating court proceedings and contacting a state lab. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that the court was notified someone claiming to be Prosser contacted the Laboratory of Hygiene on Feb. 19 and asked questions that could be related to the case. Judges are supposed to decide cases based on facts presented, not information gathered independently. Prosser withdrew the day that the contact became public.

• Feingold in the lead: Public Policy Polling’s first look at the Wisconsin Senate race in 2016 finds former Sen. Russ Feingold with a clear lead over Ron Johnson in a hypothetical rematch of their 2010 contest. Feingold gets 50 percent of the vote to just 41 percent for Johnson. Only 32 percent of voters approve of the job Johnson’s doing, compared with 40 percent who disapprove. Twenty-eight percent have no opinion about Johnson, suggesting he hasn’t made a terribly strong impression on people over the last four years.

— from WiG and AP reports

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