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‘Resist Trump Tuesday’ actions planned across the country

More than 100 “Resist Trump Tuesday” actions are planned for Jan. 24, with the focus on urging  senators to oppose Donald Trump’s cabinet picks and agenda.

People’s Action, MoveOn.org, Working Families Party and other groups will hold actions at the offices of Democratic and Republican senators with a clear message: “Stop the Swamp Cabinet.”

As a candidate, Trump riled up supporters vowing to “drain the swamp” and chase corruption out of Washington, D.C.

Thus far, he’s moved to fill his administration with billionaires, bankers and Wall Street insiders.

Donald Trump’s “politics have only furthered a culture of corruption, and nowhere is that clearer than in the greed and hate embodied by the nominees to his swamp Cabinet,” said MoveOn.org organizing director Vicki Kaplan.

“Millions of Americans are taking action — meeting, marching, and organizing — to ensure Trump and the GOP don’t take away our health care, destroy public education, pollute our air and water, and put in charge billionaires and racists who look out for only themselves at the expense of the rest of us,” Kaplan added.

On the web

Check the action website for event listings coordinated by MoveOn.org, People’s Action, Working Families Party.

In Milwaukee

An action is planned at noon Jan. 24 at the Milwaukee office of U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson.
The details:  Participants will meet at the SEIU Local 1 office and walk to Johnson’s office at 250 E Wisconsin Ave.  The action is being coordinated by Citizen Action of WI, SEIU and WI Federation of Nurses & Health Professionals. Sign up to attend here.

Position cuts, mission shift lead to scaled-back DNR under Walker

Gov. Scott Walker promised to transform the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. And he has — cutting scientists, shrinking its budget and pushing the agency to be more receptive to industry.

And even more changes could be in store. Walker and Republican lawmakers, who hold their largest majorities in decades, are pondering whether to eliminate the agency and spread its duties across state government as well as charge people more to get into state parks and to hunt. It all adds up to a picture of a struggling agency no one recognizes any more, critics say.

“They want this chamber of commerce mentality,” said Scott Hassett, who served as DNR secretary under former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle. “That’s a different image than protector of natural resources. It’s sad.”

Agency officials and the Walker administration counter that the DNR is doing fine, carrying out its mission to protect the environment and enhance resources while becoming more customer-friendly.

Walker spokesman Tom Evenson said the DNR has become “more efficient, effective, transparent, and accountable” since Walker took office.

Republicans have long criticized the DNR, saying its pollution and hunting regulations are too strict, making it difficult for businesses to expand and draining the fun from outdoor sports.

Walker’s three state budgets cut $59 million from the DNR and eliminated nearly 200 positions, including half of its science researchers.

Last month DNR officials announced a major reorganization to deal with staffing cuts, including allowing large livestock farm operators to use consultants to help write permit applications so DNR staff won’t have to spend so much time on them.

The budgets also have scaled back the stewardship program and removed support for state parks, leaving them to survive on fees.

That’s created a $1.4 million deficit in the parks account, and Walker’s now mulling raising access fees.

In 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cited 75 deficiencies in how the DNR handles water regulation. Two environmental groups sued the DNR in 2014 to force the agency to adopt federal air pollution standards that were published a year earlier. The agency finally adopted them late last year.

This past June, state auditors found the agency wasn’t following its own policies for policing pollution from large livestock farms and wastewater treatment plants.

The audit also found a permit backlog for large farms, with DNR employees not having enough time to closely monitor the farms’ operations.

Last fall federal regulators visited the DNR to investigate claims that the agency is failing to enforce water pollution laws and regulations. The EPA hasn’t released any findings yet. And last month the agency removed language from its website that stated human activities are causing climate change, saying instead that the cause is debatable even though most scientists agree burning fossil fuels causes global warming.

What’s more, waning interest in hunting has resulted in fewer license purchases, creating a $4 million gap between revenue and spending authority for habitat management projects. The DNR has suggested Walker make up the difference by raising hunting and fishing license fees.

“So many changes and roadblocks have tied DNR’s hands so dramatically that they’re really not able to do the job the public expects them to be doing,” said Amber Meyer Smith, a lobbyist for environmental advocacy group Clean Wisconsin, a plaintiff in the air lawsuit.

Scott Manley, a lobbyist for Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s largest business group and a key Republican constituency, said the DNR has become friendlier to businesses and is still doing its job despite the staffing cuts.

DNR spokesman James Dick cited a list of accomplishments. They included improved air quality — a DNR report released in September found air pollution has dropped statewide over the last decade — efforts to recruit hunters and the purchase of a conservation easement on 67,000 acres in northern Wisconsin, the largest conservation purchase in state history.

He also pointed out the agency is working to correct the EPA-identified deficiencies, walleye stocking has expanded and the agency has made strides in building a customer service image.

“There will always be critics who vocally disagree with what we’re doing but we prefer to note the accomplishments we’ve made over the last five years,” Dick said. “Since the start of this DNR administration, we have always believed it is possible to protect the environment, wildlife habitat and other natural resources without impeding the economic growth and development of our state.”

The agency still isn’t getting any love from GOP lawmakers. Rep. Adam Jarchow has resurrected a proposal to split the DNR into two new departments that would handle wildlife and pollution and spread the rest of the agency’s duties across three existing agencies. He has said the DNR doesn’t function in its current form.

Republicans have tried to break up the agency before but have failed in the face of opposition from outdoor clubs and environmental groups. Still, Walker has said the plan is worth pursuing. Five former DNR secretaries who served under both Democrats and Republicans, including Hassett and George Meyer, now executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, sent Walker a letter last week urging him to keep the agency intact.

Meyer, who served under Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson, said in a telephone interview that Walker is building a “negative” environmental legacy.

“His idea of customer service,” Meyer said, “is really just a business customer service.”

Mark Miller, Cory Mason introduce Water Sustainability Act for Wisconsin

State Sen. Mark Miller, D-Monona, and state Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, recently  introduced the Water Sustainability Act.

“We have a responsibility to develop sustainable environmental policies that ensure our precious natural resources will be around for future generations. Businesses, homeowners, and municipalities all rely on groundwater resources to thrive in daily life,” Mason said in a press statement.

Current laws and regulations are inadequate to protect the public resource and to reduce conflict, according to the legislators.

Court decisions that direct the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to protect the waters of the state have been ignored by Scott Walker‘s administration, they added.

“The Legislature needs to act now. The science exists for Wisconsin manage our water resources so the reasonable use doctrine is fully realized; that every person has a right to use water but not to the point where it denies others,” Miller stated.

Supporters include the Friends of the Central Sands, River Alliance of Wisconsin, The Nature Conservancy, Clean Wisconsin, Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, Sierra Club John Muir Chapter and Wisconsin Lakes.

“In the Central Sands, we are facing a water crisis,” said Bob Clarke, president of Friends of the Central Sands. “The Water Sustainability Act offers a scientific approach to managing our resources.”

Legislative authors include:

• Sens. Mark Miller, Chris Larson, Dave Hansen, Kathleen Vinehout, Janis Ringhand, Bob Wirch.

• Reps. Cory Mason, Gary Hebl, Nick Milroy, Sondy Pope, Jill Billings, Amanda Stuck, Josh Zepnick, Lisa Subeck, Evan Goyke, Chris Taylor, Tod Ohnstad, David Crowley, Dana Wachs, Dave Considine, Debra Kolste, Eric Genrich, Jonathan Brostoff, Terese Berceau, Melissa Sargent, Gordon Hintz, Christine Sinicki, Jimmy Anderson, Mark Spreitzer and David Bowen.

Keeping track

LRB 1902/1 & 1170/1, the Water Sustainability Act, is circulating in the Legislature for co-sponsorship until Jan. 20.

State senator seeks sponsors for non-partisan redistricting bill

State Sen. Dave Hansen is seeking sponsors for legislation to create a non-partisan redistricting process.

Seeking sponsors marks the next step toward introduction of the bill, according to Hansen, a Democrat from Green Bay.

Hansen is a long-time advocate of redistricting reform that would move responsibility from legislators and political parties to the non-partisan Legislative Reference Bureau.

“Allowing politicians to draw district boundaries makes it too easy for the majority party to gerrymander the maps to their long-term advantage,” Hansen said in a press statement. “And when parties engage in that behavior it is the voters and the people who are hurt because they are no longer able to check extreme behavior by the majority party.”

In 2011 Republican leaders and staff worked in secret outside the Capitol to draw district lines designed to lock in their legislative majorities for ten years or more.

As a result, in the 2012 election Republicans took over 61 percent of the seats in the Assembly despite winning less than 49 percent of the vote.

“Gerrymandering as we are seeing it practiced is a form of cheating,” Hansen said. “Neither political party should be able to lock in their power by creating an unfair advantage in drawing district lines.”

A federal court has ruled the Republican-drafted maps are unconstitutional, drawn with the intent to lock in GOP control of the Senate and Assembly. The case is on track for a U.S. Supreme Court review.

Hansen said making the legislative change is important regardless of the outcome in the court case.

He said, “No one who looks at the evidence objectively is disputing that the maps drawn by Republican leaders are unfair to the voters. If competition is a good thing in other aspects of society then it is good for our political system. And that’s what we want, fair and competitive elections.”

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.

Vowing to jettison Obamacare, Republicans face immediate resistance and risks

The 115th Congress started work Tuesday with Republican majorities in both the House and Senate in agreement on their top priority — to repeal and replace the 2010 health law, the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

“The Obamacare experience has proven it’s a failure,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters at an opening day news conference.

But that may be where the agreement among Republicans ends.

Nearly seven years after its passage, Republicans still have no consensus on how to repeal and replace the measure.

“It is risky business,” said Thomas Miller, a conservative economist and former Capitol Hill aide now at the American Enterprise Institute.

Republicans, he said at a recent AEI forum, are “very good at fire, aim, ready.” But with more than 20 million Americans getting coverage under the law, GOP lawmakers will have to tread carefully, Miller warned. “The hard one is when you’re trying to defuse what’s already been out there, cutting the wires on the bombs sequentially” so as to avoid a messy and destructive explosion.

Republicans are reportedly discussing a range of options for disassembling Obamacare, but analysts who have been involved in the intricacies of health policy for decades warn no replacement strategy will be easy.

The most immediate problem for the GOP is that even with majorities in both chambers of Congress, they do not have the 60 votes needed to overcome Democrats’ objections in the Senate. (There are 52 Republicans in the Senate now.) That means they won’t be able to pass a full repeal of the law on their own and it is unlikely eight Democrats would join to overturn President Barack Obama’s signature legislation.

Even if they did have the votes standing by, they don’t have anything teed up to replace the health law.

“It’s not that Republicans don’t have replace bills. They have a couple dozen,” said Douglas Badger, who oversaw health policy in the White House for President George W. Bush and worked for the Senate GOP leadership prior to that. “The problem is they don’t have consensus,” he said at the AEI forum.

Still, doing nothing, or even waiting, is not an option given that these lawmakers have been vowing to repeal the law almost since the day it passed in 2010.

“You have to pass something,” said Miller, “and whatever you pass you call repeal.”

The leading option under consideration is “repeal and delay.” The idea is to use the budget process to overturn the tax-and-spending parts of the law, but delaying the effective date to buy time for Republicans to agree on a replacement bill.

But there are problems with that strategy. One is political — Democrats are already crying foul.

“It’s not acceptable to repeal the law, throw our health care system into chaos and then leave the hard work for another day,” incoming Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said Tuesday.

Added Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., “it’s not repeal and delay, it’s repeal and retreat.”

The plan also has raised concerns in the health industry. The goal of delaying the repeal date is to let people who have obtained insurance under the health law keep it while a replacement is formulated. But that is by no means guaranteed.

Insurance analysts have said that any more uncertainty in an already fragile marketplace could easily prompt insurers to leave the individual market, which would put at risk coverage for not just the roughly 10 million people who are purchasing plans there under the health law, but also the roughly 10 million people who previously had individual policies. (Another 10 million people have gained coverage under the health law through an expanded Medicaid program for those with low incomes.)

Without specific help for insurers from Congress, which would likely include insurance payments Republicans have called bailouts, “the market will begin to crumble” quickly, said Robert Reischauer, former president of the Urban Institute.

House Majority Leader McCarthy told reporters Tuesday that “no decisions have been made yet” on how Republicans might want to help stabilize the insurance market while they seek a replacement plan.

The individual insurance market could also be rattled if the incoming Trump administration decides not to appeal a lawsuit brought by congressional Republicans who argued that the Obama administration was illegally using money to pay insurers to subsidize health costs for some low-income customers buying individual plans on the health law’s marketplaces. If the new administration bows out of the suit and those subsidies, insurers would not get reimbursed for the expenses, and some analysts predict it could force companies to leave the market.

On the other hand, attempting to repeal and replace the law in a single bill also could pose problems.

Repealing and replacing together “looks less like repealing than fixing,” said Badger. “That could cause some angst” among the GOP base that wants Obamacare to be fully eliminated.

And Democrats point out that Republicans are equally guilty of overpromising the benefits of overhauling the health care system, albeit in a very different way.

The goals currently being talked about by Republicans — including making health care more affordable, covering more people, reducing government spending and giving states more flexibility — “are impossible to achieve,” within acceptable GOP budget limits, said Reischauer at the AEI event. “There are going to have to be some tradeoffs,” he said, as Democrats found when they tried to accomplish roughly those same goals.

Made available from Kaiser Health News under a creative commons agreement. KHN is a national health policy news service that is part of the nonpartisan Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

Warren wants to pull pot shops out of banking limbo

As pot shops sprout in states that have legalized the drug, they face a critical stumbling block — lack of access to the kind of routine banking services other businesses take for granted.

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, is leading an effort to make sure vendors working with legal marijuana businesses, from chemists who test marijuana for harmful substances to firms that provide security, don’t have their banking services taken away.

It’s part of a wider effort by Warren and others to bring the burgeoning $7 billion marijuana industry in from a fiscal limbo she said forces many shops to rely solely on cash, making them tempting targets for criminals.

After voters in Warren’s home state approved a November ballot question to legalize the recreational use of pot, she joined nine other senators in sending a letter to a key federal regulator, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, calling on it to issue additional guidance to help banks provide services to marijuana shop vendors.

Twenty-eight states have legalized marijuana for medicinal or recreational use.

Warren, a member of the Senate Banking Committee, said there are benefits to letting marijuana-based businesses move away from a cash-only model.

“You make sure that people are really paying their taxes. You know that the money is not being diverted to some kind of criminal enterprise,” Warren said recently. “And it’s just a plain old safety issue. You don’t want people walking in with guns and masks and saying, ‘Give me all your cash.””

A spokesman for the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network said the agency is reviewing the letter.

There has been some movement to accommodate the banking needs of marijuana businesses.

Two years ago, the U.S. Department of the Treasury gave banks permission to do business with legal marijuana entities under some conditions. Since then, the number of banks and credit unions willing to handle pot money rose from 51 in 2014 to 301 in 2016.

Warren, however, said fewer than 3 percent of the nation’s 11,954 federally regulated banks and credit unions are serving the cannabis industry.

Taylor West, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, a trade organization for 1,100 marijuana businesses nationwide, said access to banking remains a top concern.

“What the industry needs is a sustainable solution that services the entire industry instead of tinkering around the edges,” Taylor said. “You don’t have to be fully in favor of legalized marijuana to know that it helps no one to force these businesses outside the banking system.”

Sam Kamin, a professor at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law who studies marijuana regulation, said there’s only so much states can do on their own.

“The stumbling block over and over again is the federal illegality,” he said.

The federal government lumps marijuana into the same class of drugs as heroin, LSD and peyote. Democratic President Barack Obama’s administration has essentially turned a blind eye to state laws legalizing the drug, and supporters of legalizing marijuana hope Republican President-elect Donald Trump will follow suit.

Trump officials did not respond to a request for comment. During the presidential campaign, Trump said states should be allowed to legalize marijuana and has expressed support for medicinal use. But he also has sounded more skeptical about recreational use, and his pick for attorney general, Alabama U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, is a stern critic.

Some people in the marijuana industry say the banking challenges are merely growing pains for an industry evolving from mom-and-pop outlets.

Nicholas Vita, CEO of Columbia Care, one of the nation’s largest providers of medical marijuana products, said it’s up to marijuana businesses to make sure their financial house is in order.

“It’s not just as simple as asking the banks to open their doors,” Vita said. “The industry also needs to develop a set of standards that are acceptable to the banks.”

Things to know about the new Wisconsin legislative session

Wisconsin legislators will start their next two-year session with plenty of pomp and circumstance Tuesday but the honeymoon will end quickly as lawmakers dive into a thicket of divisive budget issues.

Some key things to know about the upcoming session:

MEET THE NEW BOSSES, SAME AS THE OLD

Republicans rode President-elect Donald Trump’s momentum to their largest majorities in both the Senate and Assembly in decades. The GOP goes into the session with a 64-35 advantage in the Assembly, their largest since 1957, and a 20-13 edge in the Senate, their largest since 1971. Republicans re-elected Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald to their leadership posts days after the results came in. Republicans have now held complete control of state government since Gov. Scott Walker took office in 2011. The party will be free again to pass whatever it can agree upon internally.

INAUGURATION DAY

The session kicks off Tuesday with legislators taking the oath of office. The day is full-fledged production, complete with corsages for lawmakers, prayers and judges swearing them in. Then come handshakes, back-slapping and photos with family members and other well-wishers.

WHEN WILL THE GLOVES COME OFF?

Almost immediately. Republican Gov. Scott Walker gives his State of the State speech a week later, on Jan. 10.

Governors typically use the speech to outline their priorities and introduce new programs and initiatives, sending ripples cascading across the state.

In February he’s expected to introduce the executive version of the 2017-19 state budget.

Deliberations on the budget will consume the Legislature through mid-summer.

If the State of the State speech is a thunderstorm, the budget is a hurricane as both parties try to fund key constituencies or protect them from cuts.

BUT IF REPUBLICANS ARE IN CHARGE, WILL THE BUDGET BATTLE BE THAT BAD?

The stage is already set for GOP infighting.

The hottest topic will be how to fund road projects. The state pays for roads with the transportation fund, which is built on gas tax revenue and vehicle registration fees.

The fund faces a $1 billion shortfall but Walker, who faces re-election in 2018, has said he won’t raise the gas tax or fees to make up the difference.

Instead he has said his budget will delay major projects and rely on borrowing.

Assembly Republicans have said the governor’s plan is a short-term political solution. They say all potential revenue increases should be on the table, including raising the gas tax and imposing tolls.

The governor also has promised to increase funding for the University of Wisconsin System after cutting it by $250 million and extending an in-state tuition freeze in the last budget.

But the system has become a popular punching bag for Republican lawmakers, raising questions about what, if anything, the system will end up getting.

Some GOP lawmakers are already saying the system doesn’t deserve any additional money as long as a course on racism called “The Problem of Whiteness” is offered as planned this spring at UW-Madison.

WHAT ELSE IS ON THE GOP AGENDA?

Budget deliberations will consume lawmakers until mid-summer, when the Legislature’s budget committee finalizes revisions and kicks it to the full Senate and Assembly for approval. After that, anything could happen.

Some Republicans have talked about preventing candidates with no chance of winning from requesting election recounts after the Green Party’s Jill Stein forced a pre-Christmas recount of Wisconsin’s presidential election that changed nothing. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has talked about limiting early voting times and locations, even though a federal judge struck down attempts to do just that last session.

Republicans also are expected to resurrect failed bills forcing transgender students to use bathrooms that correspond to their gender at birth, and to allow concealed weapons in college classrooms and on school grounds.

Lawmakers also could be forced to redraw their district boundaries after a federal judge in November tossed out GOP-drawn lines. They also could be forced to grapple with the fallout if Trump repeals President Barack Obama’s health care reforms.

KEY DATES

State of the State speech: Jan. 10.

First floor session: Jan. 17.

Governor’s budget introduction: Late February.

Final legislative budget approval: Late June or early July.

Last scheduled floor session: May 9, 2018.

HOW TO GET INVOLVED:

The Wisconsin Legislature’s website, allows visitors to track bills’ progress. It also offers a list of all legislators, their phone numbers and their email addresses.

Democrats reorganizing for 2017 and beyond

Continue reading Democrats reorganizing for 2017 and beyond

Republicans plan to fine Democrats for publicizing House protests

GOP leaders are planning a vote on a set of rules changes when Congress convenes in January that includes fines for members who use electronic devices to take pictures or video from the House floor.

The proposal comes six months after Democrats live-streamed a sit-in on the House floor for 26 hours last June to call attention to their demand for votes on gun-control bills.

Republican leaders shut off the cameras in the House gallery throughout most of the protest, but Democrats used their cellphones to transmit video on social media. C-SPAN broadcast live video streamed on Periscope and Facebook from lawmakers’ accounts.

The proposed fines — $500 for a first offense and $2,500 for any subsequent offense — would be docked from the salaries of offending lawmakers. The new rules would not be retroactive, so those who participated in the sit in last summer won’t be penalized.

AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan, said the changes “will help ensure that order and decorum are preserved in the House of Representatives so lawmakers can do the people’s work.”

Democrats staged the sit-in after 49 people were killed in a mass shooting at the Orlando, Florida nightclub Pulse.

A spokesman for House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said Democrats will continue to speak out on the “daily tragedy” of gun violence.

“House Republicans continue to act as the handmaidens of the gun lobby refusing to pass sensible, bipartisan legislation to expand background checks and keep guns out of the hands of terrorists,” said spokesman Drew Hammill.

The proposed rules would also clarify that members or employees of the House cannot engage in “disorderly or disruptive conduct” by intentionally blocking another member from moving in the chamber, or using an exhibit or other means to disturb legislative proceedings.