Tag Archives: wisconsin

Wisconsinites challenge Irish butter ban

In butter-loving Wisconsin, a ban on Irish butter has sparked a fight.

A handful of Wisconsin residents has filed a lawsuit challenging a 1953 state law that bans the sale of Kerrygold Irish butter, or any other butter that hasn’t been graded for quality.

Tired of trekking across state lines to stock up, the plaintiffs say it’s unconstitutional to require that all butter sold in Wisconsin undergo a “government-mandated ‘taste test.”” Wisconsin is the only state with such a stringent rule.

Kerrygold Irish butter comes from grass-fed cows and is said to have superior health benefits to butter that doesn’t. Few Wisconsin dairies produce such butter.  Nordic Creamer is an exception.

Grazing animals have from 3 to 5 times more CLA than animals fed grain in feedlots. Butter from grass-fed cows also contains more vitamins E, A, and beta-carotene. Dairy products from grass-fed cows also provide K2, a rare vitamin that helps prevent calcium buildup in consumers’ arteries.

The Japanese have approved vitamin K2 as a treatment for osteoporosis, saying it reduces the occurrence of new bone fractures and helps maintain bone density mass.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty is representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. The conservative legal group says the issue is one of economic liberty, not consumer safety.

The lawsuit was filed against the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. The agency says it has to uphold state law.

Wisconsinites are  accustomed to dairy protectionism taking legal precedence over their rights as consumers. For years, margarine was banned from sale in the state.

Even today, margarine may not be substituted for butter in restaurants unless requested by the customer, and butter substitutes are not allowed to be served in state prisons.

 

University disputes employee was fired for supporting Trump travel ban

A University of Wisconsin-La Crosse police dispatcher says she was fired for supporting President Donald Trump’s travel ban.

University human resources director Madeline Holzem sent a letter sent to Kimberly Dearman this week asking her to resign or be terminated, the La Crosse Tribune reported.

The letter says Dearman was investigated after a complaint from a colleague and was found to have violated university employee policies against unbecoming conduct and abusive or threatening language.

Dearman’s lawyer, Lee Fehr, said Dearman told a colleague the travel ban would prevent terrorists from entering the United States. She said those immigrants should go back where they came from.

“It is a very tragic situation that an employee in casual conversation would end up losing her job because another employee is somewhat offended,” Fehr said.

Fehr told the UW System Board of Regents that his client’s comments were spurred by an email from the university’s chancellor, Joe Gow. The email sent to faculty, students and staff rebuked the president’s move.

Gow said Dearman wasn’t fired for her political opinions.

“I want to be very clear,” Gow said. “We would never let someone go based on their political beliefs. We always follow due process and policy if anyone is let go.”

Fehr said his firm hasn’t taken any legal action, but that he asked the university to reinstate Dearman to her position.

Holzem said there was more to the story but declined to elaborate, citing possible legal action.

Wisconsin officials say Sanders shares blame for minors voting in primary

Wisconsin election officials this week blamed undertrained poll workers and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ social media posts for dozens of instances in which 17-year-olds managed to vote in last year’s state presidential primary.

A commission report found that as many as 70 teenagers in nearly 30 Wisconsin counties voted illegally in the April election. Sanders won the Democratic side of the primary; Ted Cruz won the Republican side.

Many states allow 17-year-olds who will be 18 by Election Day to vote in their primaries, but Wisconsin requires voters to be 18 to vote in its.

In its report, the commission determined that “some political campaigns” provided false information about 17-year-olds being able to vote in primaries and it circulated on social media, creating confusion and driving the Wisconsin teens to the polls.

The report doesn’t name a specific candidate or provide examples of the alleged false information. But commission officials this week said it was primarily Sanders’ campaign, though commission spokesman Reid Magney acknowledged that staff didn’t see anything misleading from Sanders about Wisconsin laws, specifically. Magney said the report was based on “anecdotal” information the commission received from multiple sources.

Andrea Kaminski, executive director of Wisconsin’s League of Women Voters chapter, told the commission she was “distressed” to read about the 17-year-olds voting, saying voters and poll workers need to be better educated about voting laws.

Commission Chairman Mark Thomsen responded by telling her that Sanders’ national campaign “blurred the differences” in states’ laws in its messaging and “the candidate has to have responsibility for those errors.”

Asked during a break how Sanders could be held responsible for internet users misinterpreting his messages, Thomsen said he thinks candidates for national office need to keep in mind that election laws vary from state to state.

“It’s your obligation to tell your campaign people and the voters what the rules are in your jurisdiction,” Thomsen said. “You can just sit in D.C. and say here it is. I would hate to see youthful exuberance end up in criminal prosecution.”

Sanders’ campaign didn’t immediately reply to an email seeking reaction to Thomsen’s remarks. The Vermont senator enjoyed strong support among young voters and he pushed for the inclusion in primaries of 17-year-olds who would be eligible to vote on Election Day, successfully suing for that right in Ohio just weeks before Wisconsin’s primary.

Commissioner Ann Jacobs said during Tuesday’s meeting that it’s unclear who’s responsible for what appears online. Sanders may have said 17-year-olds could vote in one state and his supporters or kids twisted the message as it spread across the internet, she suggested.

“To say the campaign itself promulgated it may be the case, or it may not be the case,” she said.

Commissioner Julie Glancey said she didn’t want to point fingers at any campaigns. The panel ultimately voted unanimously to remove the phrase “some political campaigns” from the report and simply say false information spread through social media.

Thomsen added that it’s troubling Wisconsin poll workers allowed the 17-year-olds to vote. The commission will look at training to “make sure we’re not encouraging 17-year-olds to commit crimes.”

The commission consists of three Republicans and three Democrats. Thomsen, Jacobs and Glancey are all Democrats.

The 17-year-olds who voted were referred to local prosecutors. District attorneys in counties with the most underage voters told The Associated Press they chose not to charge them because they genuinely believed they could vote and didn’t intend to commit fraud.

Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne, a Democrat, told The AP on Tuesday that he has reached deferred prosecution agreements in four of the seven cases that reached his desk. Deferred prosecution agreements are deals in which first-time offenders can avoid a conviction if they satisfy conditions such as completing community service.

Ozanne said he hasn’t decided whether to charge the remaining three teens. He declined to comment on whether he felt the teens intentionally tried to commit fraud.

Gov. Scott Walker told reporters in Milwaukee that 17-year-olds voting is all the more reason why voter photo identification is so important. He said he anticipates poll workers will probably make a point of checking birthdays as well as names on the cards from now on.

President Donald Trump has called for a “major investigation” into voter fraud and alleged, without any evidence, that 3 million to 5 million people may have voted illegally in the November general election. The commission report lists no instances of underage voters casting ballots in Wisconsin’s general election.

Walker-backed tax break gives $572M to people with incomes over $500,000

Last fall, I had the opportunity to travel across Wisconsin.  No matter where I went, I found stagnant wages, underemployment and was confronted with a growing sentiment that our economic system is rigged against hardworking Wisconsinites.  It’s easy to see why.

Over the last three decades, the average incomes for Wisconsin’s top 1 percent have increased by 120 percent, yet the incomes of the remaining 99 percent grew by just 4 percent (Pulling Apart 2016, by the Wisconsin Budget Project and COWS).  Not only are middle income people paying the largest percentage of their income of any group in state and local taxes (Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy), but the number of Wisconsin middle income families is declining faster in Wisconsin than any state in the nation (Pew Charitable Trust).

 

Wisconsin’s economic system is rigged to benefit those at the top and one need not look further than the Manufacturing and Agricultural Tax Credit beloved by Gov. Walker and legislative Republicans.  The biggest corporate tax giveaway in Wisconsin history, this corporate handout is projected to cost more than $650 million over the next biennium, with 88 percent of this tax giveaway going to individuals making more than $500,000. Eleven millionaires, making more than $35 million each, will receive nearly $22 million in tax breaks, funded by your tax dollars.  Despite claims that this drives economic development, recipients are not required to create one single job and can even outsource jobs!  In fact, Wisconsin had roughly 4,000 fewer manufacturing jobs in September 2016 than September 2015.

 

 While Wisconsin’s wealthy continue to receive bountiful handouts, most other working families continue to struggle, working harder and harder just to get by. This is why last week I joined several of my Democratic colleagues in introducing legislation that provides Wisconsin’s middle income families with the raise they need.

 

Combined with instituting a millionaire’s tax on families making more than $1,000,000, we take the money Republicans want to send to Wisconsin’s wealthy and we instead give a tax break to the low and middle class families who need it the most.  Our tax cut is targeted to individuals earning between $12,000 and $60,000, and married couples making between $20,000 and $100,000, with the average family of four earning an annual income of $45,000 receiving a $607 tax break.  From needed car maintenance to additional extracurricular programs for the kids — we know Wisconsin families benefitting from our tax breaks will reinvest this money in Wisconsin’s economy.  A thriving middle class isn’t just the result of a strong economy — a strong middle class builds a strong economy.  This proposal puts more money into the pockets of Wisconsin’s families, which means more money in our local economy. 

 

To the hard working families of Wisconsin — we hear you. We understand the struggles you face every day.  We are committed to doing everything we can to give you a needed raise and to build an economy that works for you, not just those at the top.

State Rep. Chris Taylor is a Democrat who represents Madison.

Animal liberation activists protest at Baldwin town hall meeting

Activists with the animal liberation network Direct Action Everywhere staged a demonstration during U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s town hall meeting March 12 at Milwaukee Area Technical College.

The activists were protesting the Democratic senator’s Dairy Pride Act to fight back “against non-dairy products that are mislabeled as milk, yogurt and cheese.”

A news release from Baldwin’s office in January said the Dairy Pride Act “stands up for Wisconsin dairy farmers by combating the unfair practice of mislabeling non-dairy products. Current Food and Drug Administration regulations define dairy products as being from dairy animals. Although existing federal regulation are clear, the FDA has not enforced these labeling regulations and the mislabeling of products has increased rapidly. This hurts dairy farmers who work tirelessly to ensure their Made in Wisconsin dairy products meet FDA standards and provide the public with nutritious food. It has also led to the proliferation of mislabeled alternative products that contain a range of ingredients and nutrients that are often not equivalent to the nutrition content of dairy products.”

Baldwin says the Dairy Pride Act would require the FDA to issue guidance for nationwide enforcement of “mislabeled imitation dairy products within 90 days and require the FDA to report to Congress two years after enactment to hold the agency accountable for this update in their enforcement obligations.”

The protesters expressed concern the measure pits dairy against alternatives such as soy and almond milk and “therefore contributes to systematic violence against cows exploited for milk.”

The protesters said the legislation could confuse consumers about the nutritional value of alternatives, as well as  perpetuate the injury animals suffer in large farms and the damages factory farms and dairies cause in Wisconsin watersheds.

“The level of water contamination is highly detrimental to families and community members residing in the Kewaunee area,” said activist Guy Leffel. “When highly contaminated water with manure fills their bathtubs and flows out of their faucets which intend to provide them with clean drinking water, clearly we have a huge health problem.”

“The protest is a part of a growing international movement seeking to create a growing political haven for non-human animals, including bans on products of violence against animals and legal personhood for all animals,” according to a news release.

On the web

For information about the animal liberation activists, including their action set for March 18, go online here.

Wisconsin Republicans clash over fetal tissue bills

Republican Wisconsin lawmakers who for years have sought to ban the use of aborted fetal tissue in the state are now bickering over what to do. Two GOP factions have formed in the Legislature.

One supports banning the use of aborted fetal tissue outright — an approach that has the backing of anti-abortion groups. The other wants a more limited effort that targets just the sale of fetal tissue — an approach that supporters believe could get attract enough votes to garner passage.

Sen. Alberta Darling and Rep. Cindy Duchow, both Republicans, last month introduced a bill that would ban the sale of aborted fetal body parts but not prohibit using them in research.

Fifteen Republicans, including Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, signed onto that measure.

But some Republicans and anti-abortion groups say the bill is ineffective and duplicates federal law.

Rep. Joel Kleefisch and Sen. Terry Moulton circulated a bill this past week that would ban research on fetal tissue from abortions performed after Jan. 1, 2017.

The two also circulated a bill requiring medical facilities to give mothers of babies that are stillborn or miscarried at the facility the option of donating their remains to research, which they say establishes an alternative source of fetal tissue for researchers.

Rep. Andre Jacque, one of seven Republicans who are co-sponsoring the more stringent effort, said he expects it to get “significantly more” support than the proposal from Darling and Duchow. Kleefisch said both bills could pass.

A group of four Wisconsin anti-abortion organizations has urged legislators to reject the bill from Darling and Duchow but supports the proposals from Kleefisch and Moulton.

The two approaches have some overlap. Neither would outlaw the continued use of cells from a fetus aborted in 1970, which previous proposals had targeted.

Both would require facilities that provide abortions to dispose of fetal remains through burial or cremation. And both would face fervent opposition from university researchers and Democrats.

“The ban would be devastating to the remarkable opportunity we have to develop new, lifesaving vaccines, therapies and cures that will benefit patients across Wisconsin,” Cures for Tomorrow, a research coalition that includes UW-Madison said in a statement about Kleefisch’s bill.

The coalition, which also includes the Medical College of Wisconsin, UW Health and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, previously said it does not support additional regulation on fetal tissue research.

“Lifesaving medical research in Wisconsin already follows the highest level of ethical standards and federal laws regarding tissue donation,” Democratic Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling said in a statement. “Rather than blocking lifesaving research and outsourcing Wisconsin jobs, we should be building on our state’s strong reputation as a leader in cutting edge bioscience and medical breakthroughs.”

Judge bars Trump from enforcing travel ban against Wisconsin family

A federal judge has blocked President Donald Trump’s administration from enforcing his new travel ban against a Syrian family looking to escape fighting in their native land by fleeing to Wisconsin.

A Syrian Muslim who fled to Wisconsin has been working since last year to win asylum for his wife and 3-year-old daughter so they can leave Aleppo and join him here. He filed a federal lawsuit in Madison in February alleging Trump’s first travel ban had stopped the visa process for them. U.S. District Judge Michael Conley ruled that challenge moot after a federal judge in Washington state blocked the travel order.

The process restarted for the family and they’re now preparing to travel to Jordan for visa interviews at the U.S. embassy, the last step before U.S. customs officials decide whether to issue them visas. But the family doesn’t have dates for the interviews yet and Trump’s new travel ban goes into effect March 16, stirring fears that the process could halt again before visas are issued, according to the Syrian man’s attorneys.

The man filed a new complaint late last week alleging the new ban is just as problematic as the first, calling it anti-Muslim and alleging it violates his right to due process, equal protection and freedom of religion. He asked Conley to declare the ban unconstitutional on its face and block enforcement against his family.

It’s unclear whether the new ban applies to asylum seekers like the Syrian family. Government attorneys argued during a teleconference with Conley on Friday that it doesn’t; the man’s attorneys maintain it does. Conley acknowledged it’s murky but still issued a temporary restraining order barring enforcement against the family, saying the man seems to have a good chance of winning the case. The judge set a hearing for March 21.

The restraining order doesn’t block the entire travel ban; it simply prevents Trump’s administration from enforcing it against this specific family.

The U.S. Justice Department is defending the ban. Spokeswoman Nicole Navas said agency attorneys were reviewing the Syrian man’s complaint and declined further comment on it and Conley’s order.

Trump issued an executive order in January banning travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries, including Syria, from entering the United States. The order sparked numerous lawsuits, including the Syrian refugee’s initial federal complaint in Wisconsin. U.S. District Judge James Robart in Washington state blocked the ban on Feb. 3.

Trump issued a new order that removed Iraq from the list of countries and temporarily shuts down the refugee program. Unlike the first order, the new ban won’t affect current visa holders and removes language that would give priority to religious minorities. Hawaii filed a lawsuit challenging the new ban Wednesday; other states with Democratic attorneys general plan to sue next week.

According to the Syrian man’s lawsuit, he fled his country to avoid near-certain death at the hands of two military factions, one a Sunni-aligned group fighting against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and one fighting in support of Assad. The pro-Assad forces thought he was sympathetic to the other side and the anti-Assad army targeted him because he was a Sunni and traveled to pro-Assad areas to manage his family’s business.

Both sides tortured him and threatened to kill him, the lawsuit said. The pro-Assad forces also threatened to rape his wife. He came to the United States in 2014 and was granted asylum last year. He then began filing petitions seeking asylum for his wife and daughter.

He has filed all his court actions anonymously to protect his family.

Democrat Tim Cullen weighs run for Wisconsin governor

A retired Wisconsin state senator who was one of the 14 Democrats who went to Illinois in an attempt to block Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-union legislation said he’s on track for a run to challenge the incumbent Republican.

Tim Cullen, of Janesville, has been traveling the state for months with the intent of running for governor in 2018. He has been the most public about his desire to run against Walker, although several other Democrats are also considering it.

Cullen, 73, told The Associated Press “I don’t know” of any reason that would stop him from getting into the race at this point. Cullen said he was working on lining up the logistics of a campaign, including launching a website and hiring staff, so he could announce it sometime before the end of April.

His comments drew derision from Walker’s campaign spokesman Joe Fadness. “Headquarters in Rockford?” he asked in a message on Twitter.

Cullen, along with 13 other Democrats, went to Rockford, just across the border from Wisconsin in Illinois, in an ultimately vain attempt to stop a vote in 2011 on Walker’s proposal effectively ending collective bargaining for most public workers. Cullen and others remained in Illinois for three weeks before Republicans passed the bill, known as Act 10.

Cullen has been outspoken about the need of Democrats to do a better job reaching out to rural Wisconsin residents who helped fuel Republican victories in the November election. Those rural voters, along with a lack of enthusiasm from urban Democrats, were vital to President Donald Trump being the first Republican presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan in 1984 to carry Wisconsin.

Cullen retired after one term in the state Senate in 2015. He was previously in the Senate between 1975 and 1987. Cullen was head of the state Department of Health and Family Services under Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson for one year, leaving in 1988 to be an executive for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Wisconsin.

Cullen has toured the state with former Republican Sen. Dale Schultz to speak about the need for more bipartisanship to solve the state’s problems. That moderate approach could be a liability for him in a Democratic primary for governor, when turnout among more partisan party stalwarts is high.

A number of other Democrats also are considering a run, but no one has officially announced. They include state U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, of La Crosse, state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout of Alma, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, state Rep. Dana Wachs of Eau Claire and Jefferson County District Attorney Susan Happ.

Kind last month refused to rule out a possible run. Walker, in a fundraising email sent Tuesday, singled out Kind as a possible candidate, calling him a “liberal Washington insider.”

Walker hasn’t officially announced his plans to run again, but he’s raising money and making all the moves necessary to launch his bid for a third term sometime this summer.

UW-Milwaukee hosting voting justice conference

Continue reading UW-Milwaukee hosting voting justice conference

Supreme Court: Weapons allowed on Madison buses

The Wisconsin Supreme Court overturned an appeals court ruling and sided with a gun rights group, ruling that the city of Madison must allow bus passengers to carry concealed weapons.

The ruling, which could be used to challenge other transit systems across the state, concluded that local governments cannot enforce rules that contradict Wisconsin’s concealed-carry law.

The court ruled 5-2, with Justices Ann Walsh Bradley and Shirley Abrahamson dissenting. Justice Daniel Kelly wrote the majority opinion.

Wisconsin Carry, a gun rights advocacy group, challenged the administrator of Madison’s Metro Transit in 2014 after it prohibited a passenger with a concealed-carry license from bringing a gun on a bus. The group argued Metro Transit’s policy prohibiting weapons of any kind on buses cannot supersede the state’s concealed-carry law signed by Gov. Scott Walker in 2011. The law allows people to get licenses that allow them to carry a concealed gun or carry a gun openly in school zones. Metro Transit adopted its rule in 2005.

An appeals court sided with the city in 2015, saying that Metro Transit’s rule did not amount to an “ordinance” or “resolution” banning concealed weapons, which the concealed-carry law prohibits.

In overturning that ruling, the Supreme Court concluded that passengers can bring firearms or other type weapons on buses, as long as they follow other applicable laws.

Justice Kelly argued that the concealed-carry law’s purpose is to allow the carrying of concealed weapons as broadly and uniformly as possible. He further said that the court must consider the “plain meaning” of the concealed-carry law rather than debate word choice. Following that reasoning, Metro Transit’s rule functions similarly to an ordinance or resolution passed by a municipality banning concealed weapons and therefore is superseded by the concealed-carry law.

In her dissent joined by Abrahamson, Bradley argued that the majority opinion expanded the law’s intent to fit its purpose. She argued Metro Transit’s policy does not amount to an ordinance or resolution.

Wisconsin Carry President Nik Clark said he expects the ruling to have implications in other Wisconsin cities, both in public transit systems and some public outdoor areas.

“There are other mass transit entities around the state that have prohibitive policies,” he said. “Once we review the decision, we’ll have a better understanding of how far-reaching it is.”

Clark said people who rely on public transit should be able to carry concealed weapons just as people who drive their own cars.

City of Madison attorney John Strange said the court ignored basic legal principles for a desired result.

“From a public safety perspective, the decision creates greater risk to passengers by allowing guns on moving and crowded buses,” he said.

Metro Transit’s spokesman Mick Rusch said that Metro Transit is concerned about the ruling’s impact on passenger safety but will comply with the law.