Tag Archives: bill

Wisconsin newspapers fight bill to eliminate meeting minute publication

Wisconsin newspapers are pledging to fight a bipartisan effort in the state Legislature to eliminate a requirement that meeting minutes of government entities be published in local newspapers.

A group of both Democratic and Republican lawmakers announced they were circulating a bill to do away with the requirement that summaries of meetings by school districts, municipalities, counties and technical colleges be printed in the newspaper.

Instead, the meeting minutes, or summary of what occurred at a public meeting, would instead be posted on the government entity’s website.

Supportive lawmakers pitched the proposal as a way for cash-strapped governments to save money and a way to increase access to the information.

“I don’t know anyone who keeps a stack of newspapers at home to reference minutes of proceedings,” said Rep. Jason Fields, D-Glendale, in a prepared statement. “It is better to allow taxpayers to save money and have better and easier access to minutes.”

But Beth Bennett, executive director of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, sees the proposal as an attack on the public’s ability to know what their elected representatives and local governments are up to.

“Obviously we’re adamantly opposed to it,” said Bennett, whose organization represents more than 230 weekly and daily newspapers in the state. “Maintaining access to public information is at the very core of what we do as an industry. We believe posting information on a government website does not notify anyone of anything. It is not pushing information out.”

Bennett said she did not find out about the bill until Jan. 24, the day its sponsors put out a press release announcing the idea.

A special legislative task force that last year studied the state’s public notice requirements did not recommend making the changes being pursued in the bill.

The proposal is sponsored by Fields and Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt, R-Fond du Lac, along with Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, and Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee.

The sponsors say the proposal is supported by eight groups representing school boards and administrators, counties, technical colleges and municipalities.

The bill would affect the requirement that meeting minutes be published in the local newspaper.

It would not change the requirement that meeting agendas and other legal notices be printed.

Bill sponsors said the change would affect nearly every government entity statewide, except townships, the city of Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Public School District, which already are exempt.

Neither the lawmakers nor Bennett had an estimate of how much the change would save taxpayers — and cost newspapers.

But the bill sponsors did have some anecdotal costs that they reference in their pitch for co-sponsors.

They claim that annual savings would be $12,000 for the Green Bay school district, $3,600 for the city of Wausau, just over $4,400 for La Crosse, $11,000 for Eau Claire and $2,100 for Beloit. And, they say, Outagamie County would save about $6,500 a year while Wood County would save over $13,000 annually.

The measure would have to pass both the state Assembly and Senate — which are controlled by Republicans — and be signed by Gov. Scott Walker before taking effect.

Democrats’ bill would require presidents, nominees to release tax returns

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin is cosponsoring legislation introduced by Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden that would require the president-elect to release his recent tax returns in order to give the public honest insight into his actions, values and foreign business dealings.

“President-elect Donald Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns makes it clear he has something to hide from the American people, ” Baldwin, a Democrat from Wisconsin, said in a statement released on Jan. 4. “The public deserves to know if their president has taken advantage of tax loopholes or put his income or profits in off shore accounts in order to pay a lower tax rate than Wisconsin middle-class families.”

She added, “People also deserve to know how President-elect Trump will personally benefit from foreign deals or his own tax cut proposals. Either President-elect Trump releases his tax returns or he explains to the people he works for why he believes he is entitled to keep secrets.”

The Presidential Tax Transparency Act would require a sitting president to release his or her most recent three years of tax returns to the Office of Government Ethics.

The legislation also would require that within 15 days of becoming the nominee at the party convention, presidential nominees must release their most recent three years of tax returns to the Federal Election Commission.

Should a sitting president or future candidates refuse to comply, the treasury secretary will be required to provide the tax returns directly to the OGE or FEC respectively for public release.

For nearly 40 years — since the Watergate crisis — candidates from major political parties have voluntarily released tax returns during the campaign.

Senate cosponsors of Wyden’s Presidential Tax Transparency Act include Baldwin and  Michael Bennet of Colorado, Ben Cardin of Maryland, Dianne Feinstein of California, Tim Kaine of Virginia, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Chris Murphy of Connecticut, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Tom Udall of New Mexico and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

On the Web

Click here for a summary of the bill.

The bill text can be found here.

Milwaukee legislators offer ‘Sleeping in the Park’ bill

State Reps. Frederick Kessler, Jonathan Brostoff and David Bowen and Rep.-elect David Crowley are proposing legislation to prevent law enforcement officers from arresting or attempting to arrest a person for simply sleeping in a county park.

The measure is a response to the shooting death of Dontre Hamilton in Milwaukee on April 30, 2014, by a Milwaukee police officer. The officer had been responding to concern that Hamilton was sleeping in Red Arrow Park. Hamilton had been questioned by two other officers and was found to have been doing nothing more than sleeping.

He was questioned a third time in a situation that escalated to a fatal confrontation.

“Given the tragic death of Dontre Hamilton, it raises questions about the alleged violation he committed by simply sleeping in Red Arrow Park,” Kessler said in a press statement. “For that simple concern, Mr. Hamilton was confronted by two officers initially, on two occasions, and then later, after being questioned by a third officer, lost his life.”

Brostoff stated, “Public parks are for people, period. This legislation will help members of our community who simply want to enjoy a public park and decrease the sort of harassment that led to Donte Hamilton’s terrible demise.”

“If we do not govern to prevent this kind of human rights violation, who will?” asked Crowley. “For too long we have seen an erosion of human rights, especially in communities of color. We need to take proactive steps with legislation like this to ensure the rights of all citizens, without stifling the honorable work of law enforcement.”

The legislation would allow for police to arrest someone sleeping in a county park if that person is known to be wanted for arrest on other charges or the officer believes the individual is a threat to public health or safety. The measure also would provide for county ordinances that prohibit sleeping in a park, but limit the penalty for doing so to a forfeiture of not less than $10 and no more than $200, plus costs.

“There has to be more common sense,” Kessler said. “If you are merely sleeping in a county park, and an officer has no reason to believe you have committed another crime and there is no warrant for your arrest, then there is no reason to be arrested or questioned if all you are doing is sleeping. This legislation is a simple proposal and will hopefully prevent a tragedy such as that involving Dontre Hamilton from happening again.”

Utah Congressman urged to cancel hearing on anti-LGBT bill

The American Civil Liberties Union and over 70 national, state and local groups sent a letter today to Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, urging him to cancel a hearing on a bill that would allow taxpayer-funded discrimination against LGBT people, women, and others.

Chaffetz, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, has scheduled the hearing on the “First Amendment Defense Act” for July 12, the one-month anniversary of the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando.

“It’s outrageous that Congress would hold a hearing on legislation that would make it legal to discriminate against LGBT people with taxpayer dollars one month after the mass shooting that killed 49 people and injured 53 others at a gay club in Orlando,” said James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender & HIV Project. “Congress should instead focus its efforts on protecting people against violence or discrimination, regardless of who they are or whom they love.”

The bill’s supporters argue that the singular intent of the bill is to prevent discrimination against “people and institutions that define marriage as a union between one man and one woman.”

In practice, the ACLU said, the bill will permit sweeping taxpayer-funded discrimination. Based on a professed religious belief or even a legally ambiguous “moral conviction,” private organizations and certain federal contractors would be empowered to refuse a range of services to LGBT people, single mothers, and unmarried couples.

Bill for opposing gay marriage? Nearly $500,000 for Florida

Florida taxpayers are going to pay nearly $500,000 for the state’s losing battle to keep intact a voter-approved ban on gay marriage.

State officials have now reached settlements with two separate groups of attorneys representing same-sex couples that challenged the state’s ban. Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office reached a final settlement that brought the total to $493,000.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ordered the state in April to pay the fees of attorneys who successfully sued the state.

Hinkle ruled the ban unconstitutional in August 2014, but he postponed implementing the ruling pending appeals that were further along in other federal courts. Same-sex couples started getting married throughout the state in January 2015, six months before the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage across the country.

Florida negotiated separate settlements because two federal lawsuits challenging the ban were consolidated into one case. The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida represented eight couples who got married in other states and challenged the ban. Bondi’s office agreed to pay $213,000 for their attorneys.

The Jacksonville attorneys who represented two other same sex couples initially asked for Hinkle to award them as much as $460,000 in the case, but they agreed this week to accept $280,000.

Florida first banned same-sex marriages nearly two decades ago, and voters reinforced that ban when they passed a constitutional amendment in 2008. Bondi maintained that she had a constitutional duty to defend the ban because it had been approved by voters.

In some of the initial court filings, lawyers for Bondi’s office argued that recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states would disrupt Florida’s existing marriage laws and “impose significant public harm.”

Selling out Wisconsin to nuclear industry

Sens. Jennifer Shilling and Julie Lassa, both of you voted in favor of AB384. 

I am sorry but I cannot let this pass without calling you to account.  

My belief is that each of you understood but just didn’t care that: 

1) Wisconsin has a contested case system/process in which a utility makes an application to the PSC. The PSC will consider the proposal. If there is not a competing proposal, the one presented will probably be approved. It will probably be approved even if there are solutions higher up on Wisconsin’s energy priorities list. So, now nuclear generation has a place in Wisconsin energy priorities. 

2) the PSC will not have to consider decommissioning costs of nuclear generation but it does have to consider decommissioning costs for wind generation. 

3) along with hiding decommissioning costs for nuclear generation other significant costs of nuclear generation will now be hidden. This is the part about being burdensome to ratepayers; now the burden can be hidden. 

4) new nuclear generation would produce new nuclear waste that there is no permanent solution for. Solutions have to be for hundreds of thousands of years. What arrogance and irresponsibility! 

The proponents talked about the bill being for advanced nuclear but it is not for the most advanced. It allows generation III if my memory serves me correctly; it does not require generation IV nor does it holdout for commercial aneutronic fusion. It settles for lesser technology that has been marketed as “advanced.” 

The proponents talked about recycling nuclear waste, of using it as fuel. Past, present and future capabilities were blurred. So much of what proponents spoke about hasn’t been developed; it is being worked on.  

I think you and many of the other senators who voted for AB384 knew better.

Nevertheless, you sold Wisconsin out.  

If you care to explain your vote, I am all ears.  

John Dunn, Mauston

Sanders proposing tuition-free 4-year colleges

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont on May 19 will introduce legislation to provide tuition-free higher education for students at four-year colleges and universities.

Sanders, who is an independent but is running for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, said in a news release, “We live in a highly competitive global economy and, if our economy is to be strong, we need the best-educated work force in the world. That will not happen if, every year, hundreds of thousands of bright young people cannot afford to go to college, and if millions more leave school deeply in debt.”

Sanders’ legislation would eliminate undergraduate tuition at public colleges and universities and would expand work-study programs.

The bill also would lower student debt and bring down interest rates on college loans.

The senator and 2016 presidential candidate planned to hold a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in the “Senate Swamp” at about 11:30 a.m. EST.

Sanders said, “Countries like Germany, Denmark, Sweden and many more are providing free or inexpensive higher education for their young people.  They understand how important it is to be investing in their youth.  We should be doing the same.”

He continued, “We used to lead the world in the percentage of our people who graduated college. Today we are in 12th place. We used to have great universities tuition free. Today they are unaffordable. I want a more educated work force. I want everybody to be able to get a higher education regardless of their income.”

U.S. bill would deal with bullying on college campuses

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., recently reintroduced legislation to address bullying and harassment, which affects one in five students at colleges and universities across the country.

The Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act of 2015 would require institutions of higher education to establish policies prohibiting harassment based on actual or perceived race, color, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or religion. The bill also would establish a grant program to support campus anti-harassment activities.

The legislation is named after Tyler Clementi, a freshman at Rutgers University who took his life after his roommate and another student harassed him over the Internet.

“Bullying is a real and persistent danger for far too many students at our colleges and universities and too many of these students are targeted for their sexual orientation,” Pocan said in a statement. “This bill ensures no student has to suffer the humiliation of being harassed for who they are, or who they love. Institutions of higher learning should be a place of open expression, which celebrate diversity and embrace students from all different backgrounds.”

Bill to ban microbeads advances

The Wisconsin Senate has advanced legislation aimed at protecting the Great Lakes by scrubbing out personal care products containing microbeads.

The bill — introduced by Republican state Sens. Rob Cowles and Mary Czaja — passed by unanimous voice vote in the Senate, and, as WiG went to press, was awaiting consideration in the Assembly.

The measure would stop the manufacture and stocking for sale of personal care products that contain microbeads, tiny plastic bits found in body scrubs and toothpastes that get rinsed down the drain, wash through water treatment systems and reach Wisconsin waters. 

One bottle of facial scrub with microbeads can contain more than 300,000 plastic particles. These particles do not quickly break down. Instead, they contaminate water and can be ingested by fish and other wildlife.

Clean Wisconsin, an environmental advocacy group, says the chemicals in the plastic or soaked up by the microbeads can cause much greater concentrations of chemicals in animals higher up the food chain.

“It’s imperative that we do all we can to protect our waters and reduce the use of unnecessary microbeads,” said Tyson Cook, Clean Wisconsin director of science and research.

He praised bipartisan support for the bill. 

Other proponents include the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, which issued a statement encouraging members to contact lawmakers in support of the bill. The league’s action notice warned that microbeads “absorb pollutants such as DDT and PCBs, posing a risk to fish communities and human health when they are ingested.”

Wisconsin would join Illinois, New Jersey and several other states that are currently considering banning the beads. Many of the largest personal care companies have already agreed to phase out their use.

Wisconsin lawmakers to take up bill to ban vaping indoors

Wisconsin lawmakers are set to reignite conversations about whether vaping — using electronic cigarettes and other vapor smoking devices — should be included in Wisconsin’s smoking ban.

The ban took effect in 2010 and it outlaws smoking in all public indoor locations, including restaurants and bars.

But the ban does not currently apply to vaping, giving venue owners the right to decide whether or not to permit e-cigarettes.

Democratic Rep. Debra Kolste of Janesville says because the indoor smoking ban has been so successful, the bill seemed like common sense.

But the bill will face Republican opposition.

State Rep. Joel Kleefisch, a Republican from Oconomowoc, says he will introduce a bill to protect e-cigarettes from the ban.