Tag Archives: legal

ACLU files Freedom of Information request for Trump documents

The American Civil Liberties Union has taken legal action seeking documents on conflicts of interest and violations of the Constitution and federal law posed by Donald Trump and his family’s business interests.

The organization also released a plan laying out how it intends to challenge other Trump policies and protect the Constitution.

The efforts are made possible by the organization’s new Constitution Defense Fund, which was established following the election.

The first legal action, filed yesterday, is a Freedom of Information Act request asking several government agencies to turn over all documents relating to President Trump’s actual or potential conflicts of interest to his business and family connections.

The request seeks legal opinions, memoranda, advisories, and communications from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, the Office of Government Ethics, the General Services Administration, and the office of Personnel Management from Nov. 9, 2016, to Jan. 20, 2017. The request includes email and all other communication to and from the presidential transition team.

“We are bringing this first legal action using the Freedom of Information Act to underscore the fact that President Trump is not above the law. Trump took the oath, but he didn’t take the steps necessary to ensure that he and his family’s business interests comply with the Constitution and other federal statutes,” said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the ACLU. “Freedom of information requests are our democracy’s X-ray, and they will be vitally important to expose and curb the abuses of a president who believes the rules don’t apply to him and his family. We also know that more legal action will be needed when the new administration attempts to enact some of their unconstitutional proposals. The ACLU’s charge, laid out in our Seven-Point Plan, is to stand ready to confront any unconstitutional elements of the administration’s agenda — today on day one and for the next four years.”

The ACLU’s plan details potential legal challenges to the Trump administration’s enacting of unconstitutional policies, including:

• Demanding government accountability and transparency
• Protecting the rights of immigrants
• Defending reproductive rights
• Securing the First Amendment
• Advancing LGBT rights
• Defend core civil rights and civil liberties from erosion
• Mobilizing Americans to defend our Constitution

Over the next four years, the ACLU will implement its plan by adding up to 100 full-time employees across the country, paid for by its Constitution Defense Fund, which has attracted nearly 400,000 donations since Election Day.

The FOIA request https://www.aclu.org/sites/default/files/field_document/trump_conflicts_foia_request.pdf

Groups urge action to protect voting rights on Election Day

Amid threats of Election Day intimidation, dozens of civil rights and voting rights groups called on state election officials to create plans to prevent voting discrimination.

In their call, the groups emphasized this the Nov. 8 election is the first presidential election in 50 years without a fully operable Voting Rights Act.

In letters to Wisconsin election officials and officials in the other 49 states, the groups cite their concern with the loss of Section 5 of the VRA. The letters state, “Since Congress has failed to pass a bill to restore the VRA, which has resulted in DOJ’s lacking authority over voting changes in places that Congress determined in 2006 should continue to have federal oversight, we are extremely concerned that there will be widespread voter discrimination in the upcoming presidential election.”

To blunt the impact of voting discrimination, these organizations are engaging in a massive litigation effort and an election protection campaign to protect voters at the polls, including in Wisconsin.

Efforts to turn back several statewide discriminatory voter laws in the courts have been effective, but voters have little protection from local election changes, the misapplication and misunderstanding of new voting restrictions by poll workers, or threats of intimidation from polling place vigilantes.

“The loss of Section 5 and the most racially bigoted presidential campaign in generations has created a perfect storm for voter intimidation and voter discrimination,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “State election officials must address these unprecedented threats head on by creating and publicizing clear plans to prevent intimidation and discrimination, and to make it unequivocally clear to the voters they serve that the elections they oversee will be safe, fair, and free from intimidation, violence, and discrimination.”

Read the letter from the rights groups

October 24, 2016

Dear Secretary of State:

On behalf of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 200 national organizations to promote and protect the civil and human rights of all persons in the United States, and the 86 undersigned organizations, we write to express our grave concern over the first presidential election in 50 years without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). We urge you to develop a plan to ensure that no one in your state is disenfranchised in the upcoming election.

As you know, the VRA protected the voting rights of racial and ethnic minorities in several states and local jurisdictions where they had been historically discriminated against in voting. These jurisdictions were covered by Section 5 of the VRA, which required the Department of Justice (DOJ) to approve any changes to voting in specific states and localities. However, in 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court’s devastating decision in Shelby County v. Holder negated the pre-clearance requirement and the DOJ’s authority to send observers to covered jurisdictions. Following Shelby, numerous states have passed voting laws, which several federal courts agree have a disparate impact on people of color and language minorities. In the case of North Carolina, for example, the courts found that the state’s massive bundle of voting restrictions, passed within weeks of the Shelby decision, targeted African Americans “with almost surgical precision.”[1] Evidence shows that restrictive voter laws also suppress turnout of the elderly, [2] people with disabilities, [3] and students. [4]

And while some courts have taken action to block discriminatory laws in states like North Carolina and Texas, these decisions came only after years of costly litigation during which impacted citizens were blocked from voting in the 2014 elections and this year’s primaries. Meanwhile, there is no way of knowing how many potentially discriminatory voting changes are being made by cities, counties, school boards, water boards and other local jurisdictions that were previously required to be precleared. According to “Democracy Diminished,”[5] a report by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., “more than 85% of preclearance work previously done under Section 5 was at the local level.”

Since Congress has failed to pass a bill to restore the VRA, which has resulted in DOJ’s lacking authority over voting changes in places that Congress determined in 2006 should continue to have federal oversight, we are extremely concerned that there will be widespread voter discrimination in the upcoming presidential election. This is exacerbated by the fact that there will be no DOJ observers holding jurisdictions accountable. In the 2012 general election, the Department of Justice sent 780 federal observers to 51 jurisdictions in 23 states. [6] Following the Shelby decision, DOJ has said it will not deploy election observers in 2016. The potentially detrimental effect of the absence of this critical voter protection tool cannot be overstated. [7]

Given the many recent examples of post-Shelby voting discrimination, we urge you to be vigilant regarding potential voter disenfranchisement in your state this November.


9to5, National Association of Working Women



African American Ministers In Action (AAMIA)

American Association of People with Disabilities

American Association of University Women (AAUW)

American Civil Liberties Union

American Constitution Society for Law and Policy

American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees

American Federation of Teachers

American Jewish Committee (AJC)

American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee

Americans for Democratic Action (ADA)

Anti-Defamation League

Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF)

Asian Americans Advancing Justice – AAJC

Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote (APIAVote)

Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law

Bend the Arc Jewish Action

Black Women’s Roundtable

Black Youth Vote!

Brennan Center for Justice

Campaign Legal Center

The Center for Popular Democracy

Center for Women Policy Studies

Democracy Initiative


Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund

Feminist Majority

Franciscan Action Network

Friends of the Earth – United States

Human Rights Campaign

Human Rights First


Institute for Science and Human Values

Jewish Council for Public Affairs

Jobs With Justice

LatinoJustice PRLDEF

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

League of Women Voters of the United States




NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

NAACP-National Voter Fund

NALEO Educational Fund

National Action Network’s Washington Bureau

National Asian Pacific American Bar Association

National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum

National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO)

National Association of Social Workers

National Center for Transgender Equality

National Coalition on Black Civic Participation

National Congress of American Indians

National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA)

National Council of Churches

National Council of Jewish Women

National Education Association

National LGBTQ Task Force

National Urban League

NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice

OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates

OWL-The Voice of Women 40+

People For the American Way Foundation

People’s Action

Project Vote

Public Citizen

Rock the Vote

Service Employees International Union (SEIU)

Sikh American Legal Defense & Education Fund (SALDEF)

Southern Coalition for Social Justice

Southern Poverty Law Center

U.S. Women and Cuba Collaboration

Union for Reform Judaism

United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries

United Food and Commercial Workers International Union

US Human Rights Network


The Voter Participation Center


Voting Rights Forward

The Voting Rights Institute

Voto Latino

Women’s Research & Education Institute

World Without Genocide at Mitchell Hamline School of Law

Young People For, a program of the People For the American Way Foundation

Judge: Voting rules won’t change for August election

There will be no change to Wisconsin’s voting laws before the August primary, including the requirement that photo identification be shown at the polls, a federal judge hearing a challenge to more than a dozen election laws said in late May.

U.S. District Judge James Peterson told attorneys at the beginning of the final day of testimony in the two-week trial that he will make a ruling by the end of July, which won’t leave enough time to enact any changes he may order before the primary where the field of candidates running for a host of state and federal races will be winnowed.

“Obviously I feel urgency in getting the decision out,” Peterson said, adding that he didn’t think it would be realistic to have it done before the end of July. He scheduled final arguments for June 30.

Two liberal groups and voters are challenging more than a dozen voting-related laws signed by Gov. Scott Walker and passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature in the past five years. That includes provisions of the voter ID requirement, particularly the process used to grant free IDs to people who don’t have the required documentation, limitations on early voting times and places and the elimination of straight-ticket voting.

The plaintiffs argue that the laws discriminate against the poor, racial minorities and younger voters who are more inclined to vote Democratic. The state Department of Justice, which is defending the laws, argues that they have not suppressed turnout and the state works hard to ensure everyone who needs a free ID to vote gets one.

At least five primaries in congressional races are expected in the Aug. 9 election, including House Speaker Paul Ryan and Republican challenger Paul Nehlen and contests on both sides in the open 8th Congressional District in northern Wisconsin. There will also be at least 23 state Assembly districts and seven state Senate races. The deadline for candidates to submit required paperwork to get on the ballot was this week.

The winners will face off in the Nov. 8 general election.

“There’s no way the decision will have an impact on the August election,” Peterson said. He also said he expected his ruling to be appealed to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but didn’t say whether he would put it on hold until there is a final determination, perhaps by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“I’m sure whatever I do will make one side or the other unhappy,” Peterson said. “There’s a god chance everyone will be unhappy, which I guess will be justice.”

Testimony in the case has relied heavily on experts on both sides presenting conflicting evidence about the effect of the laws on turnout both generally and among minorities. The former chief of staff to then-Sen. Dale Schultz, a Republican, testified that GOP state senators were “giddy” about passing the voter ID law because they saw it as increasing their chances of winning elections.

Defenders of the law, including Walker and Republican lawmakers, have said publicly that their goal was to make elections more secure and combat voter fraud. But evidence presented at trial showed there are very few documented cases of voter fraud. Election clerks from Republican parts of the state also testified that they experienced no significant problems running elections under the new laws, including the photo ID requirement.


Looming abortion ruling could be ‘dangerous’

As a U.S. Supreme Court decision on abortion rights is highly anticipated, few are as uniquely positioned to assess its impact as reproductive rights attorney Kathryn Kolbert, who argued the last major abortion case before the high court.

In that 1992 challenge, the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling legalizing abortion survived, but the Supreme Court allowed for such state regulations as waiting periods.

The decision was written by Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and David Souter, who have retired, and Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Kennedy is seen as pivotal in the current case which picks up, in a sense, where the earlier case, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, left off.

This time, the court is deciding if Texas has created an undue burden for women by imposing stiff regulations on abortion clinics and doctors. Critics say the rules are a backdoor means to restrict access to abortion, known as TRAP laws.

More than half of Texas’ clinics have closed, leaving fewer than 20, advocates say, to serve the state of 27 million people.

Hardest hit have been rural, poor women for whom distance and cost have put abortions out of reach, they say.

Supporters of the laws claim they protect women’s health. The regulations require clinics to upgrade to hospital standards and doctors performing abortions to have formal agreements to admit patients to local hospitals.

Kolbert, who heads the Athena Center for Leadership Studies at New York’s Barnard College, talked with the Thomson Reuters Foundation about the Supreme Court and abortion rights.

She co-founded the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, which is representing Whole Women’s Health, the chain of clinics challenging the Texas regulations.

THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION: It seems the issues being addressed in the Texas case come out of the Casey case, that the regulations are an undue burden.

KOLBERT: The main issue in the case is how the undue burden standard will be interpreted going forward.

The whole question comes down to Justice Kennedy and how he sees that standard, and he frankly is much more in the middle.

Does he come back to what he articulated in Casey, or is he pushed a little bit to the right with the influence of the other justices? For me, the biggest concern is Justice O’Connor, who he clearly listened to, is no longer on the court.

TRF: What do you think in essence underlies the abortion issue?

KOLBERT: It’s an issue that ties together the coalitions on the right, the fundamentalists, the Catholics, the people who basically are business conservatives.

It’s about power. It’s about equality. There’s a lot of pushback in America still about giving women the ability to go beyond what they are, their life as a wife and mother, which is the culturally dominant view.

TRF: TRAP laws are often hard to explain because they seem so benign.

KOLBERT: That’s a strategy. Those who are writing these restrictions are looking for things that sound reasonable but in practice are incredibly problematic for women, particularly those who have less political power. So young women and poor women are the first that are going to be affected negatively.

If you look at every restriction that’s been introduced since 1973, they are all under the guise of reasonableness.

TRF: Texas is the case being tested. Is it safe to say there are similar situations in other states?

KOLBERT: All over the country, yes. Frankly, if this is upheld the same statute will be enacted in 25 states within three years. That’s what makes it so dangerous.

TRF: What are the possibilities of what the Supreme Court could do?

KOLBERT: Remember the court has got only eight justices right now, so the option is really one of three.

We win five to three, which means that we have (Justice Elena) Kagan, (Justice Stephen) Breyer, (Justice Sonia) Sotomayor, (Justice Ruth) Ginsberg and Kennedy…. Kennedy wrote Casey, so that’s a reasonable assumption.

The second possibility is that the court would not make a decision right now and would send the case back for taking of additional evidence … which is what I think of as looking for an out.

They could remand the case for a determination of whether or not there are a sufficient number of clinics within the state to handle the excess capacity of women needing abortions that would happen when you close so many clinics.

So we could win, there could be an ‘out’ or we could lose. If the court divided four-four…, then the lower court decision would be upheld.

That would be interpreted as a major win for the anti-abortion groups, and we would see laws like this in every state in the country.

TRF: If you had to put your money on any of those three options, which one do you see more likely?

KOLBERT: I certainly hope that we can keep Justice Kennedy. If not, then I think they’ll send it back for more evidence.

TRF: What’s it like to argue a case before the Supreme Court?

KOLBERT: It’s pretty awesome, it’s scary. For me though it was all about the women we were representing. It’s the doctors and the clinics, the providers who do the hard work, who meet with women facing unintended pregnancies every single day.

It was being able to be a spokesperson for them and to explain their plight and explain what they’re going through that was the most gratifying part of the job.

(Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Editing by Ros Russell; with credit to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Looming marijuana ruling could limit federal prosecutions

Rolland Gregg and his family have fought federal marijuana charges for more than three years, arguing that the roughly 70 marijuana plants investigators found on their Washington property were for their own medicinal use and fully complied with state law.

A federal jury last year convicted Gregg, his mother and his wife of growing 50 to 100 marijuana plants — amounts their attorney said are in compliance with state medical marijuana law.

With prison sentences looming, they have now turned to a recent act of Congress that they say should have stopped the U.S. Department of Justice from prosecuting them because they were doing what their state allowed. Marijuana is illegal under federal law, and the DOJ disagrees with Gregg’s understanding of the new law.

“It’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with in my life when you see the government coming down on you for simply trying to be healthy,” Gregg said.

A federal appeals court is expected to issue a ruling soon on the scope of the law that could pave the way to end or overturn at least six federal marijuana criminal prosecutions and convictions in California and Washington, including Gregg’s, and limit future prosecutions of medical marijuana users and dispensaries in eight Western states that allow them.

“The 9th Circuit is the biggest circuit, one that contains lots of marijuana states. If they were to say, ‘The federal government is prohibited from enforcing medical marijuana law,’ that would be huge,” said Sam Kamin, a professor at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law who studies marijuana regulation.

At issue is a Congressional amendment that said the DOJ could not use funding Congress allocated to it for 2015 and 2016 to prevent states that have legalized medical marijuana from implementing laws that permit its use, distribution and possession.

The amendment’s bipartisan sponsors — California Congressmen Sam Farr, D-Carmel, and Dana Rohrabacher, R-Costa Mesa — say it prohibits the DOJ from prosecuting people who are complying with state medical marijuana laws. California and more than 20 other states have legalized marijuana for medical use. The drug, however, remains illegal under federal law.

The DOJ has interpreted the law more narrowly, saying it prevents prosecutors from trying to block state medical marijuana laws or charging state officials who implement them, yet permits U.S. attorneys to go after marijuana dispensaries and growers.

The 9th Circuit is expected to clarify the amendment in appeals by three sets of defendants who have cited it as grounds for judges to dismiss their marijuana charges.

Steve McIntosh, a dispensary owner in Los Angeles, had permits from local officials that show him in compliance with state law, according to his attorney, Marc Zilversmit. Under the Congressional amendment, the most the federal government can do is refer him to state authorities for prosecution, Zilversmit said.

Another defendant, marijuana grower Samuel Doyle, met Washington’s requirements for collective cannabis grows for medical marijuana patients, his attorney Douglas Hiatt said.

“He was growing medical marijuana for people who needed it, whether they could afford it or not,” Hiatt said.

The DOJ says McIntosh’s dispensary had ties to a street gang, and Doyle and his co-defendants did not meet the legal requirements for medical marijuana in Washington. Investigators found more than 550 plants growing on the Spokane property Doyle oversaw, and at least one of Doyle’s co-defendants indicated the marijuana was being sold, prosecutors said.

The DOJ did not respond to a request for further comment.

Gregg’s case is not among the ones the 9th Circuit is set to rule on. But he has raised the same argument as the other defendants, and the 9th Circuit has put his appeal on hold pending the outcome of the other appeals, his attorney Phil Telfeyan said.

“The feds think they have the power to override voters of the State of Washington and the will of Congress,” said Telfeyan, co-founder of the nonprofit civil rights group Equal Justice Under Law. “It’s up to the 9th Circuit to tell them, ‘Enough is enough. You can’t keep prosecuting people who are using medical marijuana for their needs.””

The DOJ cited a county investigator’s testimony that he saw evidence of a for-profit marijuana growing operation on Gregg’s family property. The investigator said he found records that he believed were for drug sales, a scale and packaging material in the house as well as firearms, according to court documents.

Gregg, 34, who owns an alternative energy company, denied he sold marijuana, saying he used the drug to treat pain following a snowboarding accident that left him with a broken back and neck. His mother has rheumatoid arthritis and his ex-wife had an eating disorder, he said, adding that all three had medical marijuana authorizations.

But the DOJ argued in his case and Doyle and McIntosh’s cases that the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment doesn’t bar it from prosecuting people violating federal drug law, even if they meet state law.

Alex Kreit, a marijuana law expert at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, said the DOJ and marijuana defendants have strong arguments for their conflicting interpretations of the amendment.

“The (amendment’s) language is not a model of clarity,” he said. “It really is open to a number of different interpretations.”

Judge won’t stay ruling against Wisconsin ‘right to work’ law

A Dane County judge refused on April 26 to stay his ruling striking down Wisconsin’s right-to-work law, reiterating his position that the legislation wrongly enables non-union workers to receive free representation.

Judge William Foust said he doesn’t believe state attorneys have shown they’ll overturn his decision on appeal and have no evidence the state would suffer if his ruling stands. He said the core of his ruling is whether a union has to provide free services.

“The decision boils down to something as simple as ‘there is no free lunch,’” the judge said.

Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel, who is defending the law, immediately said he’ll seek a stay from a state appeals court “where we feel confident this law will be upheld.”

Right-to-work laws prohibit businesses and unions from reaching agreements that require all workers, not just union members, to pay union dues. Since unions must represent all employees in a workplace, the laws essentially allow non-union workers to benefit from union representation for free. Twenty-five states have such laws

Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed Wisconsin’s version last year.

Three unions – the AFL-CIO’s Wisconsin chapter, Machinists Local Lodge 1061 and United Steelworkers District 2 – filed a lawsuit challenging the law in March 2015, arguing the statutes amount to an illegal taking of their services without compensation.

Foust found the law unconstitutional earlier this month. The state Justice Department asked Foust last week to stay the ruling. They filed notice of appeal the same day with the Wausau-based 3rd District Court of Appeals.

Assistant Attorney General Steven Kilpatrick argued at a hearing Monday that the judge should grant the stay because the state likely will win the appeal, all statutes are presumed constitutional and the state suffers harm any time it can’t enforce a law and unions aren’t likely to suffer substantial harm if the law remains in place pending the appeal.

Fred Perillo, the unions’ attorney, countered that a stay would harm the unions. He said keeping the law in place would cost the unions thousands of dollars in potential dues, prevent them from negotiating contracts requiring due payments and prohibit contract clauses reinstating union dues if right-to-work was struck down from taking effect.

The Wisconsin AFL-CIO issued a statement praising Foust for again affirming that the right-to-work law is unconstitutional.

Flint residents file class action suit

A lawsuit stemming from lead-contaminated water in Flint was filed this week on behalf of the city’s residents against Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder as well as other current and former government officials and corporations.

The federal lawsuit — which is seeking class-action status — alleges that tens of thousands of residents have suffered physical and economic injuries and damages. It argues officials failed to take action over “dangerous levels of lead” in drinking water and “downplayed the severity of the contamination” in the financially struggling city.

Governor responds to Flint suit

Snyder’s spokesman Ari Adler said the administration doesn’t comment on pending litigation, but is “staying focused on solutions for the people of Flint.”

Numerous lawsuits have been filed on behalf of Flint residents since a public health emergency was declared last year. The latest lawsuit, which seeks a jury trial and unspecified damages, was filed on behalf of seven residents.

A second recall petition filed by a Flint activist and naming Snyder while referencing the water crisis was approved by the Board of State Canvassers, the Detroit Free Press reported.

An earlier Snyder recall petition by a Detroit pastor over the water crisis was approved last month.

Flint, with a population of about 100,000, had switched from Detroit’s water system to the Flint River as a way to save money until a new pipeline to Lake Huron was ready. But during those 18 months, the corrosive water leached lead from the city’s old plumbing because certain treatments weren’t added to the water.

Snyder, whose administration repeatedly downplayed the lead threat, now calls it a “disaster.”

A report by the state auditor general released Friday found that state environmental regulators made crucial errors as Flint began using the new drinking water source that would become contaminated with lead. It says staffers in the Department of Environmental Quality’s drinking water office failed to order the city to treat its water with anti-corrosion chemicals as it switched to the river in April 2014, but also said the rules they failed to heed may not be strong enough to protect the public.

The report came as crews in the city started to dig up old pipes connecting water mains to homes.

No level of lead in the human body is considered safe, especially in children. The river water also may have been a source of Legionnaires’ disease, which killed at least nine people in the region.

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver announced Sunday that Union Labor Life Insurance Co. committed to bring $25 million in low-cost loans to help remove lead pipes and improve water quality. She said the loans will help her Fast Start initiative that’s designed to replace all lead service lines in the city.


Environmental group continues challenge of Dane County pipeline pumping station | Meeting tonight in Madison

Partnering with local landowners, climate change organization 350 Madison continues to oppose Enbridge Corporation’s plans to ship more tar sands oil in pipelines through Dane County.

On Dec. 2, the group filed a brief with the Dane County Board opposing the company’s latest demand that the county remove all references to the need to buy cleanup insurance in case of an oil spill from zoning permits.

The board will hear 350 Madison’s objections to the appeal taken by Enbridge at its 7 p.m. meeting on Dec. 3 in room 201 of the City-County Building in Madison.

Enbridge, according to a statement from 350 Madison, plans to triple its originally approved Pipeline 61 volume of 400,000 barrels per day to more than 1.2 million barrels per day — nearly 50 percent more than the Keystone XL pipeline was to transport.

Enbridge sought and quickly received approval to upgrade pipeline pumping capacity in all other Wisconsin counties through which Line 61 runs on its path from Superior to the Illinois border, but Dane County landowners and environmentalists halted progress here last year, when Enbridge was held to compliance with county zoning restrictions for prime agricultural land.

In April, following several packed preliminary hearings, the Dane County Zoning and Land Regulation Committee voted to support 350 Madison’s proposal that Enbridge should be required to carry extra insurance to help cover cleanup costs in event of a spill.

In May, Enbridge appealed the committee’s decision requiring $25 million in clean up insurance as a permitting condition, but before the matter could be taken up by the full county board, GOP legislators added a rider to the budget bill in containing a provision barring counties from requiring insurance from pipeline companies.

Meanwhile, in late July, zoning committee administrator Roger Lane removed the insurance requirement and issued Enbridge the pumping expansion permit, according to 350 Madison.

However, according to the brief filed by the environmental group on behalf of two Medina residents whose property abuts the Dane County pumping station, “…By ordinance, only the Zoning Committee can issue, or modify, a conditional use permit by a majority vote of its members, among whom the Administrator does not number, and … only after consultation with the town, notice and public hearing.”  

The environmental group believes the permit issued by Lane has no legal effect and the zoning committee’s original requirement for Enbridge to maintain clean up insurance remains on the books, even though the county can no longer enforce the provision due to the budget rider.

“It is not enough that Enbridge can go ahead and build its pump station in Dane County. Now, their appeal to the County Board to strike language from the Conditional Use Permit for environmental cleanup insurance is insulting taxpaying citizens of Dane County and members of the Zoning and Land Regulation Committee who exercised their duty to constituents,” Mary Beth Elliott, Tar Sands Team Leader for 350 Madison, stated in the news release.

She continued, “Zoning committee members worked extensively to grapple with the potential horrific effects of a tar sands spill here from a pipeline to flow at an unprecedented 1.2 million barrels daily. They knew what they were doing in requiring environmental insurance, based on the testimony of an internationally recognized insurance expert. The environmental insurance requirement needs to remain on the permit, not be struck because a foreign pipeline giant can afford high paid lobbyists to influence legislation.”

Enbridge, according to 350 Madison, had a staff of four lobbyists in Madison during the run up to the budget bill, but the company claims its lobbyists never met with lawmakers.

Enbridge is responsible for more than 800 spills since 1999. In Wisconsin, pipeline ruptures in 2007 spilled about 29,000 gallons of crude oil onto a farm in Clark County and about 176,000 gallons of oil onto a farm in Rusk County. In 2009, a rupture spilled about 1,200 barrels of oil on a farm in Grand Marsh.

The worst Enbridge spill was the 2010 spill in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. About 843,000 gallons of tar sands oil flowed into a creek and then the river, making the Kalamazoo disaster the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history.

The spill revealed the destructiveness of tar sands oil. Tar sands ore, mined from deforested land in Canada, must be mixed with chemicals to move through a pipeline. This makes the crude more acidic and leads to more ruptures and spills, according to the Sierra Club.

In Michigan, when the tar sands crude spilled and was exposed to air, toxic gases forced the evacuation of more than 300 homes and a thick, heavy tar gunk sank to the river bottom.

The cleanup on the Kalamazoo, which environmentalists and the EPA say still is incomplete, has cost more than $1.2 billion — an amount well over the cap on Enbridge’s liability insurance.

Related to this story…

When refugees arrive in U.S., here’s what they can expect

The Obama administration has announced plans to steadily increase the number of refugees accepted in the United States for the next two years.

Those fleeing Syria and other war ravaged countries whose claims have been investigated and who have been invited to live in the United States are considered refugees.

Refugees and migrants fleeing Syria and others countries often arrive in their new homes with little or nothing. Here’s a look at what they can expect when they arrive in the U.S.:


Currently 70,000 refugees from around the world are allowed to come to the United States. The U.S. will accept 85,000 people in 2016 and 100,000 in 2017. People fleeing Syria will account for much of the increase, though not all.

Although more than half of U.S. governors have objected to plans to resettle Syrian refugees in the United States, with some declaring that they won’t allow resettlement in their states, the federal government controls resettlement programs. State authorities have no legal authority to bar refugees from moving to their jurisdictions.


Upon arrival in the United States, each refugee is eligible for a $1,975 arrival and placement grant that is managed by one of nine refugee resettlement agencies working with the federal government. At least $1,125 of that grant must be spent on housing, including a bed for each person, basic furniture such as a couch, kitchen items including dishes and silverware, and weather-appropriate clothing. The remainder is used to cover additional costs for the aid agency.

Low-income refugee families with children may be eligible for temporary assistance for needy families, a welfare program in which state rules govern eligibility and the amount of money families receive, for up to five years. Immigrants without children or otherwise not eligible for the temporary assistance program qualify for the refugee cash assistance program run by the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement. Eligibility for that program lasts eight months.

Elderly, blind or disabled refugees may be eligible for cash assistance through the Supplemental Security Income program for up to nine years.


Low-income refugees may be eligible for Medicaid for up to seven years. While immigrants to the U.S. are not generally eligible for Medicaid, refugees invited to move to the U.S. are exempt. Each state determines which refugees meet the eligibility requirements. Those who don’t qualify for Medicaid can receive refugee medical assistance for up to eight months.


Refugees must register with the Social Security Administration after arrival and are almost immediately eligible for a work permit. Social services, including job placement programs, are available to refugees for up to five years.


Low-income refugees may also be eligible for food-assistance programs.

Illinois medical marijuana sales start Monday

More than 3,000 patients with Illinois-issued ID cards will be able to buy medical marijuana legally for the first time on Nov. 9, according to the state official overseeing the pilot program.

Eight licensed dispensaries are authorized to start selling cannabis on that day, program director Joseph Wright told The Associated Press. The number will grow to a dozen dispensaries by the end of the month and up to 25 by the end of the year, Wright said.

More than two years after Illinois enacted its medical cannabis law, growers began shipping their products to dispensaries around the state, following instructions sent to them by the Illinois Department of Agriculture. A statewide digital tracking system has been launched to prevent any diversion of marijuana to the black market.

“It’s a safe industry with a strong infrastructure here in Illinois,” said Ben Kovler, CEO of Green Thumb Industries, which has started shipping marijuana from its Rock Island cultivation facility to its dispensary in Mundelein and other retail shops. “We’re all in touch with local police. There will be no surprises.”

Kovler cautioned patients that they must have their ID card and have designated a dispensary with the Illinois Department of Public Health before they can make a purchase. “I’d hate for somebody to drive and learn that at the end of the drive,” Kovler said.

Transportation from cultivation center to retail shop will be governed by official instructions sent to growers. They can transport marijuana only between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. Vehicles carrying it must be staffed by at least two cultivation center employees.

Growers must enter unique product ID numbers into the system before they can ship. Florida-based BioTrack THC, which has the Illinois contract for tracking medical marijuana from seed to sale, has similar state contracts in Washington, New Mexico and New York, said CEO Patrick Vo.

In Illinois, BioTrack will be paid $230,000 to get the system running, with annual hosting and maintenance costs of $37,000, Wright said.

The tracking system allows state officials to monitor in real time the location of seedlings, sale products and even plant waste scheduled for destruction. “In the system, any change in quantity requires some type of action or description,” Vo said.

The system also is designed to catch violators who might add black-market marijuana to the legitimate system, Vo said. Tracking each product protects patients with weakened immune systems from marijuana that hasn’t been tested for harmful microbes, poisons from fungus, pesticides and solvents.

“I’m certain there are a lot of people on the fence” about Illinois’ pilot program “and people who are staunchly prohibitionist,” Vo said. “Accountability, transparency and safety are things both sides can get behind.”

Illinois has 3,300 patients approved for the program. The Illinois Department of Public Health started mailing patients their official program ID cards last week.

The eight licensed dispensaries are located in Marion, Mundelein, Canton, Quincy, Addison, North Aurora, Schaumburg and Ottawa.

Illinois is among 23 states with medical marijuana programs.

“We’re thrilled,” said Bradley Vallerius, spokesman for Revolution Cannabis-Delavan, a cultivation center in central Illinois, which plans to ship products to dispensaries this weekend.