State Justices Question Proposal on Redistricting Process

By John Forester | January 14, 2021

From …

Justices today appeared skeptical of a conservative-backed proposal to create a process for the state Supreme Court to handle redistricting cases.

The petition asks the court to officially signal immediate acceptance of any redistricting suits, bypassing the traditional path through the lower courts.

Rick Esenberg, president of the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, argued before the court in a public hearing that the proposal is necessary to ensure any upcoming legal battles get solved by state courts instead of federal ones.

Conservative justices hold a 4-3 majority over liberals on the state’s highest bench.

But Chief Justice Patience Roggensack, a conservative, criticized Esenberg’s argument. She said the proposal would make the court a proactive body on litigation instead of a reactive one to what others present.

“That’s just not how we operate,” she said. “We determine cases and controversies that are brought to us by someone else.”

Roggensack added justices retain only a handful of staffers and not the “huge” numbers she said would be necessary to draw new maps.

The Legislature redraws electoral maps once every decade according to the latest Census data. Republicans controlled all branches of government during the previous redistricting period in 2011, sealing a GOP-favored playing field for the following decade.

But Dem Gov. Tony Evers is likely to veto the maps lawmakers present this time around, sparking a court battle over what the state’s political borders should look like in 2022 and beyond. Often, such disputes go to federal court, but many conservatives think they’d have a better outcome by going the state Supreme Court route.

Former GOP Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen before the court today said the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed Census data. He said that delay would create an even greater time crunch than usual for lawmakers to pass maps and then for the courts to take action if Evers vetoes the maps.

Roggensack pointed out the court already takes original action on certain cases, lifting them from the lower courts. She asked why justices should sign on to a rules change to allow something that they already do.

Liberal Justice Jill Karofsky agreed with Roggensack’s assessment that the proposal would be unnecessary as nothing now blocks people from petitioning the Supreme Court. She said WILL only wants to ensure a gerrymandering case would be a “rocket docket” in the state in order to beat similar lawsuits filed in federal courts, where conservative prospects may be less favorable.

Meanwhile, Justice Brian Hagedorn, another conservative who has emerged as a swing vote on the high court, asked Jensen what his “main objective” is with the proposal.

“Our main objective is that a state court handles this matter,” Jensen said. “Our other concern is time. You need a process if you’re going to be able to wrap this up in time.”

But Christopher Ford, chair to Evers’ People’s Maps Commission, slammed the petition and its supporters, arguing conservatives want to use the court as “a political tool” to benefit Republicans’ gerrymandered maps.

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Vos Takes Swipe at LeMahieu Over COVID Bill

By John Forester | January 13, 2021

From . . .

In his remarks (following Evers’ State of the State address), Vos also took a veiled swipe at Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, who reached a deal with Evers on a slimmed-down COVID-19 bill.

After the Senate passed the bill on a voice vote, LeMahieu touted the liability protections it included for businesses, nonprofits and others.

Vos said Assembly Republicans will continue to “work to reach a consensus as equals, but never compromise our conservative ideals.”

“It seems some would think the only way to find common ground is to cave into the governor’s demands,” Vos said.

LeMahieu responded in a statement the bill was a “great win while we continue to work on our core priorities of opening schools, lifting gathering bans, and putting limits on local bureaucrats.”

See Vos’ prepared remarks here.

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All Candidates for Spring Elections Granted Ballot Access

By John Forester | January 13, 2021

From …

All candidates who submitted nomination papers to run in the state’s April election and the special election for the 89th Assembly District have been granted ballot access after state elections commissioners deadlocked on the sole challenge they took up.

Commissioners Bob Spindell, Mark Thomsen and Chair Ann Jacobs voted against sustaining the challenge, marking the first time the trio have voted as a block. Spindell, a GOP appointee, and Thomsen and Jacobs, both Dems, frequently butted heads in the leadup to last year’s election.

The 3-3 deadlock meant state Superintendent of Public Instruction candidate Deb Kerr’s challenge to fellow candidate Shandowlyon Hendricks-Williams’ nomination papers was not sustained. Hendricks-Williams was later granted ballot access on a unanimous vote along with all other candidates.

The challenge from Kerr alleged none of the signatures gathered by Hendricks-Williams were valid because her nomination papers feature her title of “Dr.” which is prohibited by state law.

But Hendricks-Williams’ attorney argued the nomination forms were completely correct outside of that issue and thus fell within the “substantial compliance” language laid out in statute. Attorney Stacie Rosenzweig also noted Hendricks-Williams’ campaign had run its nomination papers, with the “Dr.” included, by the commission’s staff for approval and the issue had not been flagged.

Under the commission’s administrative code, the onus is still on the candidate to file papers that comply with requirements even if they have been reviewed by the commission. Still, Assistant Administrator Richard Rydecki said the staff should have flagged the issue.

Spindell, Thomsen and Jacobs sided with Rosenzweig in arguing the nomination papers met the substantial compliance provision and said the commission should err on the side of granting ballot access. Jacobs also said after the title on Hendricks-Williams’ papers was not flagged as an issue by staff, commissioners should “honor the work that we do.”

“I think we have to be honest with candidates when we mess up and recognize that we owe them in some regard a duty of good faith and fair dealing and we failed here,” she said.

Meanwhile, Republican Dean Knudson argued it was “beyond dispute” that titles cannot be included on nomination papers. Both of the commission’s clerk appointees, Republican Marge Bostelmann and Dem Julie Glancey, sided with Knudson.

Glancey added she was worried allowing Hendricks-Williams’ nomination papers would set a bad precedent for the future as staff indicated last night’s meeting was the first time the commission was hearing a challenge on the issue.

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Governor Evers’ State of the State Address

By John Forester | January 13, 2021

From The Wheeler Report . . .

Governor Evers delivered his 2021 State of the State Speech virtually to the Wisconsin Legislature this year, while both houses of the Legislature provided for some in-person presence and some virtual presence by members.

The Speech.

In his speech, Evers said:

According to supporting documents providing by the Governor’s Office, the broadband recommendations for the Governor’s 2021-23 budget will include:

The total biennial investment in all broadband initiatives is approximately $205 million.

The total biennial investment in Broadband Expansion Grants is approximately $150 million.

The total biennial investment in new Internet Assistance Program is approximately $40 million.

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Evers’ Backs Senate Version of COVID-19 Bill

By John Forester | January 12, 2021

From …

Gov. Tony Evers today praised the Senate COVID-19 bill as a “good start” and urged the Assembly to pass the amended legislation so he can sign it “without delay.”

But Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, criticized the changes his Senate GOP colleagues made to the bill and cast doubt on its prospects in the other chamber.

In a statement after the Senate passed the bill, Evers also praised new Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg.

“I’ve been grateful to work together with Republican Majority Leader LeMahieu to find common ground and pass a bill on COVID-19 that reflects a good faith effort in compromise and bipartisanship,” Evers said. “Although it’s not the COVID compromise we originally proposed, AB 1 as amended by the Senate is a good start to support our state’s response to this pandemic.”

Last week, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, announced his version of the COVID-19 bill and expressed confidence that the Senate would sign on. But LeMahieu suggested the Senate wasn’t on board with that version shortly before the Assembly went to the floor and passed it.

Multiple Assembly GOP sources told last week that Vos told Republican members during a closed-door caucus on Thursday that LeMahieu had gone behind his back to work out a deal with Evers.

During yesterday’s committee hearing on the Senate version, LeMahieu said he’d been running language by the guv, but hadn’t received a commitment on whether he would sign it.

Vos’ office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Evers’ call to pass the bill.

But Steineke said the Senate bill “fails to address so many of the issues we’re hearing from constituents from all over the state. The message from our neighbors and communities has been loud and clear: we must open our state while keeping our vulnerable safe.”

Steineke criticized the bill for dropping provisions that would’ve stripped government officials of their powers to restrict meetings at houses of worship to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and banned employers from being able to require a vaccine as a condition of employment.

“We will continue to advocate for the priorities of our constituents over the next few weeks as we move towards a response to the Senate’s actions during our next floor period later this month,” Steineke said.

In a statement, LeMahieu pledged the Senate in the coming weeks will work to reopen schools, lift bans on gatherings and limit “the powers of local bureaucrats to shut down churches and main street businesses.” But he focused on the liability protections included in the bill that passed today.

“We’ve heard from service organizations of all political stripes, from employers large and small, from critical industries around our state, that the most important factor in their ability to survive the future is protection against the threat of costly, unfounded litigation,” LeMahieu said. “Today, the Senate passed a bill which can deliver a win for our state as we work to govern responsibly during this time of turmoil.”

— The state Senate overwhelmingly passed the revised COVID-19 bill.

The bill last week passed the Assembly along party lines. Today senators sent it back to the Assembly by voice vote after first attaching an amendment 29-2.

Sens. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, and Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, were the only two to oppose the substitute amendment. Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, didn’t attend today’s floor period and didn’t vote on the amendment.

A spokesman for Nass declined to comment, and instead referred to a statement the senator made yesterday in which he slammed the amendment as an attempt to “placate to Governor Evers” by removing GOP wish list items like a prohibition on mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations.

Larson on the floor said the bill should receive a “D-” grade for “doing the absolute minimum” to help Wisconsinites through the pandemic.

Instead, he touted a separate Dem substitute amendment to the bill that among other things would have expanded Medicaid funding through the Affordable Care Act and prevented school districts from losing funding if per-pupil counts dropped over the 2020-21 school year.

Justin Bielinski, a spokesman for Larson, told the Milwaukee Dem wanted to vote against the bill itself but since it passed by voice vote, opposing the substitute amendment was his only opportunity. He said the main sticking point was the bill’s liability shield for schools and businesses.

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SAA Survey Reponses from Dr. Shandowlyon Hendricks

By John Forester | January 12, 2021

Dr. Shandowlyon Hendricks, candidate for Wisconsin State Superintendent, joined the race shortly after we forwarded the SAA candidate survey to the announced candidates and was not initially afforded the opportunity to respond to the survey questions.

We are pleased to share Dr. Hendricks’ survey responses at this time.

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COVID Vaccines and School District Employees

By John Forester | January 12, 2021

From the Legal Side…

In its most recent Legal Update, the Strang Patteson Law Firm focuses on the legal issues surrounding school districts imposing any rules governing employees and the COVID-19 vaccine.

The SAA regularly receives these legal updates and we believe this is valuable information for SAA members.  We are distributing this update to SAA members with the permission of the Strang Patteson Law Firm.  The information in this update is no substitute for consulting with your district legal counsel, and we encourage you to do so.

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State of the State Address Tonight

By John Forester | January 12, 2021

From WisPolitics . . .

Gov. Tony Evers will give his third State of the State address tonight, his first to be delivered virtually.

The speech will be streamed on the guv’s Facebook page and YouTube channel.

The speech, scheduled to begin at 7 p.m., is expected to run about 30 minutes.

Assembly and Senate Republicans plan to be in the Capitol tonight to watch the speech on TVs that will be set up in their respective chambers. The offices for the minority leaders said Dems aren’t expected to be in the chambers to view the speech.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader, R-Oostburg, both plan to deliver responses this evening.

See the guv’s Facebook page here.

See his YouTube page here.

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Senate Will Take Up Amended COVID-19 Bill Today

By John Forester | January 12, 2021

The State Senate will be on the floor this morning at 11:00am to take up an amended COVID-19 bill that removes many provisions from the bill passed by the Assembly.

Senate Substitute Amendment

LFB Summary of SSA 1

Assembly Bill 1

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WPF: Wisconsin Taxes as Share of Income Drop for Ninth Straight Year

By John Forester | January 12, 2021

From …

For the ninth straight year, state and local taxes paid by Wisconsin individuals and businesses dipped as a share of income, according to a new report from the Wisconsin Policy Forum.

The report found both state and local taxes grew 2.3 percent to $31.7 billion in fiscal year 2019-20. But income growth, including wages, employer benefits and business income, outpaced the increase in tax collections, helping drive down the tax burden.

A slowdown in state tax collections also impacted the calculation. They grew 1.5 percent in 2020 to $20.7 billion, the smallest increase in a decade.

For 2019-20, state and local taxes accounted for 10.2 percent of personal income, down from 10.3 percent the year before. The Wisconsin Policy Forum said it was the lowest burden since at least 1970, when it began tracking the numbers.

The Wisconsin Policy Forum doesn’t have a national comparison for its look at the state-local tax burden. The most recent national comparison is based on numbers from the Census Bureau and showed the state ranked 23rd highest in 2018 for the state-local tax burden. That was down from 17th highest the year before.

See the report here.

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