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United States Supreme Court Blocks Wisconsin's Voter ID Law for November

Posted by Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert is the Publisher of the Northeast Wisconsin - Green Bay Progressive.
User is currently offline
on Friday, 10 October 2014
in Wisconsin

supreme-court-2013WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court on Thursday night blocked Wisconsin from implementing the Walker Administration's voter identification law on the eve of next month's election.

In a related action, a district court judge in Texas ruled that state's voter ID law is racially discriminatory and violates the Voting Rights Act. The Texas attorney general's office said it would appeal.

Both Wisconsin and Texas had claimed the new rules were intended to crack down on instances in which voters impersonate others at the polls. Such incidents are extremely rare, courts have found.

The court gave no reason for its action, as is routine for such emergency orders. But Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented, arguing that the court cannot block an appeals court ruling unless the lower court "clearly and demonstrably erred in its application of accepted standards."

The Wisconsin law requires voters to produce a photo ID at the polls based on a 2011 law that was rolled out in time for low-turnout primaries the following year. Because of early problems, a state court blocked further use of the law.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Advancement Project, a civil rights group, contended that the law jeopardizes the votes of some 300,000 residents, mostly racial minorities, seniors, students and people with disabilities and that imposing the photo ID requirement on such short notice "will cause chaos at the polls".

Although the Supreme Court has wavered in the past, such as allowing discriminatory practices like the southern poll tax to stand during Jim Crow years, as a general trend it has supported of the right to vote as the fundamental constitutional right of each citizen that should not be superseded by administrative convenience.

State officials argued that they had been implementing the photo ID rule since early September. "Plaintiffs are asking this court to pinball state and local election officials between enforcing and not enforcing the law with November elections dgless than four weeks away," their brief said. "Voters would get the pinball treatment, too."

Thursday's ruling blocks, for now, the vision of large numbers of registered voters, mostly racial minorities and seniors, being turned away from polls. If that were to happen, the result of the election might have to be blocked or reversed by the courts.

The Walker Administration, through it's Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, has pledged to continue the fight to implement the law.

But, at least for now, it's off again.

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Sand Mines Place “Communities at Risk”

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 07 October 2014
in Wisconsin

frac_sandSenator Kathleen Vinehout writes about the findings of two recently released studies regarding frac sand mining.


EAU CLAIRE - “What new information do we have about the mines?” the Eau Claire reporter asked me.

The reporter was referring to two sand mine studies recently released; one by a committee under the charge of the Trempealeau County Board and the other by the Boston Action Research group of the Civil Society Institute.

Communities at Risk, the Boston study, details sand mining activities across the Midwest. Western Wisconsin is the epicenter of the explosion of mines. The study mentions familiar concerns about frac mining including water and air quality and financial issues and adds new details on data and possible legislative remedies.

A Final Report on the Public Health Impacts of Non-metallic Industrial Sand Mining in Trempealeau County is a comprehensive overview of possible health effects. The committee made 59 recommendations including minimizing light and noise pollution; keeping communities stable; and protecting air, ground and surface water.

Recommendations were developed with the support of data collected from residents. For example, almost 90% of residents wanted protection of water. The “most important” two strategies were Protecting Drinking Water and Protecting the Environment.

The Trempealeau report detailed problems with water affecting both residents and other industries. Residents reported changes to the taste of water following mine blasting; one neighbor had a well replaced by the mine because of damage; the Gold’n Plump chicken processing plant cleaned very fine sand from water and spent several thousand dollars on sand separators and specialized screens to minimize sand in the water. The company wonders whether they need to drill a new well.

Also newly reported, Communities at Risk included new details from Wisconsin DNR data showing “highly damaging water pollution” in the form of heavy metals in sand wash ponds adjacent to mines. Heavy metals entering surface water can be a problem with iron ore mining but, to my knowledge, was never previously identified with sand mining.

Both studies expressed concern about the effects of contaminated water and air on human health. The Trempealeau Committee recommended ongoing water monitoring for several years after the mine closes. Air monitoring should be conducted for dust particles at the mine and in residential sites near the mine.

Monitoring should begin on the smallest and most dangerous of dust particles – those smaller than 2.5 microns. The Boston study reported Wisconsin does not now require monitoring on these particles.

Because exposure to dust can cause disease many years later, the Boston study recommends local and state officials conduct baseline health studies now and continue for many years into the future.

And what about all those jobs created by the mine? Both reports discuss economic impacts of mines.

The Trempealeau report detailed job creation at two mines; one had 30 full-time employees and three part-time office workers, all lived within an hour of the mine. The other mine, still under construction, had 5 full-time operators who were all from outside the region. They expected to hire 25 employees once under full operation.

The Boston report examined a study on the costs and benefits of mining. The study expressed concern about the mines effect on other industries including tourism, writing “frac sand mining jobs would continue to be a miniscule fraction of all jobs in the counties with frac sand resources, suggesting that, in many cases, the risks far outweigh any benefits”.

What can the state do to assist communities grappling with the impacts of mining? Wisconsin needs more inspectors to monitor compliance with existing laws. The two positions approved in the last budget are not nearly adequate.

Trempealeau County is right to monitor small and large particles. Let’s use the state’s resources to assist local counties. We don’t have to look far to find out how this can be accomplished.

The Minnesota Legislature directed it’s DNR to create a guidance document for local government stating what and how to regulate the mines and how to protect water quality and public health; new air standards for silica dust are in the works. And Minnesota funds a “Bluffland Landscape Coordinator” who assists local government in drafting ordinances to protect the blufflands.

These are good ideas to help struggling communities at risk.

###

Below you will find links to those studies.  Kathleen includes recommendations for legislative action to assist communities and counties affected by sand mines.   http://www.thewheelerreport.com/wheeler_docs/files/0925csi.pdf http://www.tremplocounty.com/landmanagement/nmm/documents/PublicHealthImpactsofNMISMinTrempealeauCounty.pdf

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BadgerCare Coverage Gap Worst in Rural Counties

Posted by Citizen Action of Wisconsin, Robert Kraig
Citizen Action of Wisconsin, Robert Kraig
Robert Kraig is Executive Director, Citizen Action of Wisconsin, 221 S. 2nd St.,
User is currently offline
on Friday, 03 October 2014
in Wisconsin

healthcare-familyNewly released county-level data shows number of residents by County forced off BadgerCare and left in “coverage gap.”


STATEWIDE - New Wisconsin Department of Health Services county-level data obtained from an open records request by Citizen Action of Wisconsin quantifies the BadgerCare coverage gap at the local level.  The data shows the statewide impact of the coverage gap caused by Governor Walker’s misguided decision to reject federal dollars to strengthen BadgerCare. Contrary to the widespread assumption this is primarily an urban problem, the data shows that the relative impact is greater in rural areas than in cities (see charts below).

Governor Walker’s decision to turn down billions in federal funds for BadgerCare forced 62,776 parents off the program in April, leaving 26,600 in a coverage gap unable to affordable private coverage. The Federal government, at the request of US Senator Tammy Baldwin, recently intervened by creating a special enrollment period in the health care marketplace for uninsured Wisconsinites forced off BadgerCare. While this will help some parents who missed the first open enrollment period, health advocates believe that many in the gap simply cannot afford the premiums, copays, and deductibles associated with private insurance.

On November 4, over 1 million Wisconsin voters will have the opportunity to weigh in on the issue when they vote on BadgerCare advisory referendums in 19 counties and 1 city.

Counties with the highest percent of individuals forced off BadgerCare still uninsured

Florence *

55.17%

Pierce

52.29%

Polk

51.84%

Forest

50.97%

St Croix *

50.37%

Green Lake

49.57%

Adams

49.06%

Oconto

48.59%

Sawyer

48.49%

Waushara

48.17%

* - Has BadgerCare referendum on November 4th ballot

Counties with most residents kicked off BadgerCare, as percent of population

Ashland

2.63%

Price

2.32%

Washburn

2.31%

Rusk

2.21%

Sawyer

1.99%

Barron

1.93%

Bayfield *

1.89%

Langlade

1.85%

Iron *

1.84%

Taylor

1.84%

* - Has BadgerCare referendum on November 4th ballot

Comparison of Major Metros



COUNTIES

Total residents kicked off of BadgerCare

Residents Stuck in "Coverage Gap"

Percent left  Uninsured

Brown

2,635

1,253

47.55%

Dane

3,150

1,054

33.46%

Douglas

565

272

48.14%

Eau Claire

1,354

523

38.63%

Kenosha*

1,720

772

44.88%

La Crosse

1,245

492

39.52%

Manitowoc

908

374

41.19%

Marathon

1,790

743

41.51%

Milwaukee

10,239

4,556

44.50%

Oneida

622

227

36.50%

Outagamie

1,840

843

45.82%

Portage

796

307

38.57%

Racine

1,969

896

45.51%

Rock

1,882

795

42.24%

Sheboygan

1,059

459

43.34%

Waukesha

2,431

1,016

41.79%

Winnebago

1,812

839

46.30%

Wood

1,253

483

38.55%

STATEWIDE

62,776

26,641

42.40%

13 of 20 Counties with BadgerCare referendum marked above in bold/underlined

* - City of Kenosha has referendum

 

Full data for all 72 Wisconsin counties can be found here.

“Governor Walker’s political decision to force 62,000 Wisconsinites off BadgerCare is inflicting needless damage to families and communities all across the state, especially in rural areas,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “Walker and his allies in the Legislature need to stop playing politics with the health and economic security of hard pressed families in every Wisconsin county who are working to get ahead and live the American Dream.”

Web link to Press Release here

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State GOP Plagiarizes Legislation

Posted by Judy Poull of Saukville
Judy Poull of Saukville
Judy Poull of Saukville has not set their biography yet
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 30 September 2014
in Wisconsin

walkerWisconsin GOP’s Big Dirty Secret Reveals Hypocrisy of Walker Attack Ads on Burke's Jobs Plan.


SAUKVILLE - Most people don’t know that our state Republican legislators and governors have been plagiarizing legislation signed into law since 1973 when ALEC was founded. ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) was formed to be a secretive Republican bill mill. Its purpose is to radically remake states’ policies in favor of the interests of big national and global corporations, who in turn donate lavishly to ALEC and to our legislators in a pay-to-play enterprise. Have you ever noticed how our state is going backwards on rights for the individual--civil rights, voting rights, women’s rights, rights to public education, worker’s rights and the dismantling of unions and the opposition to increasing the minimum wage, consumer’s rights, the public’s right to essential services and health care (federal aid for Medicaid expansion), etc. Did you notice how all the progress made in the 20th century for the people is now being eliminated simultaneously in the states controlled by Republicans? That is the work of ALEC and the Republican legislators and governors in our nation who plagiarize from ALEC model bills and pass them into law to the advantage of big corporations.

ALEC’s donors include David Koch, who inherited oil industry wealth from his father, Charles, who was a co-founder of the John Birch Society of which David is a member. Foreign special interests, including TransCanada, London and Belgium big liquor and gun corporations (Winchester), Bayer, etc., are also members of ALEC and influence U.S. Republican legislation.

Some of our Republican state legislators are prolific plagiarizers of ALEC legislation, including Jeff Stone (voter I.D./suppression), Glenn Grothman (voucher schools, refusing federal money for Medicaid expansion), and Alberta Darling’s bills are practically all produced by ALEC (bills against telecommunication regulations, collective bargaining, insurance industry reform, and bills for tort reform giving advantages to corporations, for voter I.D./suppression, the privatization of schools, predatory lending, etc.). Scott Walker was also a member of ALEC as a legislator, and as Republican Governor, he signs Republican legislation produced by ALEC into law.

ALEC is being exposed, finally, and many corporations are leaving ALEC. Google’s motto is “Don’t Be Evil,” and after ALEC recently maintained its denial of global warming in its policy issues, the Chairman of Google said publicly about ALEC: “They’re just literally lying.” Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and YELP are cutting ties with ALEC, along with Amazon, Coca-Cola, General Motors, Bank of America, Proctor & Gamble, and 80 other corporations.

Mary Burke’s job plan is a combination of the best job plans in the nation that would bring the citizens of Wisconsin out of this job drought. They are her plans—they are not her legislation or laws. She will discuss her plans with the citizens of Wisconsin and the legislature, not ALEC, and after reaching compromise, legislation will be introduced to be passed into law, and democracy will return to Wisconsin.

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New Audit Raises More Questions About WEDC

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Monday, 29 September 2014
in Wisconsin

walker-wedcThe most recent audit of the state’s job creation entity, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), continues to report problems with management of economic development grants and loans. Coupled with previous audits, the new audit raises questions about WEDC's policies and procedures, whether it is successful in assisting with job creation and ultimately, whether it is a good investment of taxpayer dollars.


MADISON - “I’m really uncomfortable with all these questions,” Linda told me. We were discussing the most recent audit of the state’s job creation agency: Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC).

WEDC is a quasi-private entity formed by the governor in 2011 in an attempt to boost job creation. It is run almost entirely with state tax dollars.

A recently released Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) report adds detail to the agency’s administrative costs and management of economic development grants and loans in Fiscal Years 2011-12 and 2012-13.

The big question, did the agency successfully assist businesses in creating jobs, was not addressed in this audit. A companion audit last year reported there was no verification of claims of tens of thousands of jobs created.

The recent audit detailed administrative expenses and the management of tens of millions in economic development grants and loans. The audit found instances of missing or poor documentation in aspects of operation, including non-payroll expenses, merit awards, and the tracking of grants and loans. Poor accounting practices have plagued WEDC since its creation.

The earlier audit found WEDC didn’t have basic managerial processes in place, nor a clear budget or consistent accounting practices. Even in the September 2014 agency response to the recent audit, WEDC officials acknowledged written accounting procedures had not been developed. They plan to develop a formal accounting procedure manual in 2015.

The 2013 audit found WEDC did not oversee delinquent loans, reporting “In October of 2012, WEDC officials told the governing board they became aware one week earlier that WEDC had never monitored repayment of loans, including those that were past due.”

The recent audit reported that WEDC presented a limited methodology on calculating loan delinquencies. The limitation obscured the fact that nearly 9% of the total outstanding loan balance was delinquent.

I observed the delinquency rate at commercial banks on commercial and industrial loans was between .8 and 2.5% during the same period according to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. WEDC officials are quick to point out they are not a bank and make riskier loans than banks.

In their September 2014 response to the LAB audit WEDC continued to obfuscate the truth. In what appears to be an attempt to mislead, the letter lists several management outcomes and details “significant progress made” in six categories, even though the audit didn’t evaluate and in most cases never discussed these items.

In one item, WEDC officials claimed a “major reduction” in delinquent loans. But the audit found many loans were written off, forgiven or restructured to delay a payment – hardly “significant progress”.

Is the agency adequately monitoring loans and grants awarded to businesses and referring to a collection agency those loans that are delinquent? Most assuredly in the first two years, the answer was ‘no’.

Did WEDC use taxpayer money to assist businesses in the creation of verifiable jobs? We can’t answer this question. Although we know from the first audit that not a single job was verified in the first year of WEDC’s existence.

Is WEDC a wise investment of taxpayer dollars? We still don’t know. However, there is plenty of evidence to say in its first two years, the agency was a mess.

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