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Northwoods Political Digest

January 17, 2020

Lawmakers: Presidential candidates must pay their bills

State Sen. Jeff Smith (D-Brunswick) and Rep. Amanda Stuck (D-Appleton) have introduced The Recovery of Unsettled Municipal Payments Act.

Wisconsin is already shaping up to become another battleground for the 2020 presidential race, and the lawmakers say campaign events draw large crowds and require significant resources from local government to ensure participants can attend safely.

Their bill would prohibit a presidential or vice-presidential campaign with outstanding bills from receiving a permit for another event until all debts are paid. The legislation would also allow municipalities to charge in advance of the events for costs related to police and sanitation services.

The cities of Eau Claire and Green Bay still have outstanding bills for presidential campaign visits from the 2016 election, with the biggest offender being the Trump campaign, the two Democrats say.

As of Jan. 12 , the Trump campaign still owes the city of Eau Claire $47,398 and $9,380 to the city of Green Bay. But Hillary Clinton’s campaign also owes the two cities, $11,892 to Green Bay and $6,812 to Eau Claire.

This pattern of unpaid bills is not unique to Wisconsin, the lawmakers say — the Trump campaign still owes $841,219 to municipalities throughout the United States, as of June 2019.

“It’s one thing to ask for our vote, it’s another to ask us to pick up your tab,” Smith said. “Charging campaigns in advance of events protects our municipal budgets and sends a clear message that Wisconsin voters value someone who pays their way. Pay up, or don’t come back.”

Stuck said it was great to see presidential candidates visiting Wisconsin, but she said property taxpayers should not be left on the hook for the increased costs to local law enforcement agencies. 

“This legislation makes sure that candidates visiting Wisconsin pay their bills beforehand, so that local communities aren’t left footing the bill,” Stuck said.

Darling, Knodl: Tough crime bills protect victims and witnesses 

Protecting crime victims and witnesses will help ensure more convictions and make sure criminals can’t intimidate their way to a mistrial, says state Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and Rep. Dan Knodl (R-Germantown), and this week the Republicans announced a series of bills to get tougher on crime. 

Darling and Knodl authored three of the bills, which are designed to keep witnesses safe and able to testify.

“Too often criminals are let off the hook because witnesses are too scared to testify,” Darling said. “These bills will get more criminals off the street because witnesses and victims will be protected.”

The first bill makes any attempt to intimidate a victim of domestic abuse a Class G felony. The other two bills give the courts additional options to conduct victim or witness testimony via video-conferencing or through deposition if there’s a reasonable belief that they may have been intimidated or are at risk of not cooperating fully due to intimidation.

“Increasing protections for crime victims and witnesses is important, particularly in cases of domestic abuse,” Knodl said. “We should be making it harder for criminals to continue terrorizing our communities, not easier. The legislation we’re introducing today moves us in the right direction.”

The bills are part of nine pieces of legislation aimed at making Wisconsin safer.

Stanford Taylor will not run for state superintendent in 2021

State superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor announced her decision this week not to run in the 2021 election for state superintendent of public instruction. 

Gov. Tony Evers appointed Stanford Taylor to the office in January 2019, and her term ends July 2021.

“I am honored to have been appointed by Gov. Evers to lead the Department of Public Instruction and will always be grateful to the governor for the trust he placed in naming me as his successor,” Stanford Taylor said. “I promised Gov. Evers I would commit to completing the two-and-a-half years left in his term as state superintendent and to continue the work we had started together at the DPI, and I will maintain that commitment while I serve this office.”

Stanford Taylor says she is making her decision public now so others interested in being the state’s chief education officer and leading the department will have sufficient time to organize their campaigns. The state superintendent says she hopes her successor will continue to maintain a focus on educational equity and ensure that all of Wisconsin’s students graduate college and are career ready.

“Every child in this state deserves the chance, the opportunity, and the supports to become a success,” Stanford Taylor said. “This will only happen if we — educators, the governor, legislators, parents, and community members — work together to make sure every student has what they need to learn when they need it.”

During the next few months, Stanford Taylor will be developing the department’s 2021-23 budget request, which she says will focus on providing students and schools with the needed supports and resources to ensure all students are successful.

Evers announces ombudsman for the Wisconsin National Guard

Gov. Tony Evers this week announced that lieutenant colonel Brian Bischoff will serve as ombudsman for the Wisconsin National Guard.

“The ombudsman will play a critical role in restoring trust in the Wisconsin National Guard’s handling of sexual assault and harassment allegations,” Evers said. “Everyone serving in the Wisconsin National Guard deserves to know that their concerns about sexual assault and harassment will be carefully, fairly, and thoroughly reviewed.”

Bischoff is a member of the Georgia National Guard and veteran of the Iraq war. He has more than 17 years of experience as an attorney for the Army, including serving as one of the federal National Guard Bureau’s first Special Victims’ Counsel. 

In that role, he advocated for survivors of sexual assault before military agencies, boards, and courts-martial.

On Dec. 9, 2019, Evers issued executive order #62, which ordered top-to-bottom changes in the Wisconsin National Guard in response to a federal review that detailed system failures by the Wisconsin National Guard in its handling of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and retaliation allegations. 

The federal review was conducted by the federal National Guard Bureau Office of Complex Investigations at the request of Gov. Evers and U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin.

Under the order, the office of ombudsman is tasked with assisting survivors and complainants in the review of allegations of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and retaliation within the Wisconsin National Guard. The ombudsman is required to provide quarterly reports to Evers on such matters. 

The Wisconsin National Guard is required to fully accommodate the ombudsman, including providing full access to personnel and records deemed necessary by the ombudsman, in accordance with law and policy.

Local government lobbyists: New transportation grant points to infrastructure needs 

Lobbyists for local government said this week the overwhelming popularity of a new Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) grant program points to a continued need to invest in Wisconsin infrastructure.

“The new MLS grant program not only will help communities with projects all across the state, but it has also provided state officials with a clear, undeniable record of the unmet needs,” said Mike Koles, executive director of the Wisconsin Towns Association. “We applaud the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s streamlined application process. The process ensures that whatever needs can be met with these funds will happen sooner rather than later, which saves taxpayers money by avoiding the inflationary costs that manifest themselves when projects are pushed further into the future.”

The bi-partisan 2019-21 biennial budget provided $75 million to local and tribal governments in one-time funding through the Multimodal Local Supplement (MLS) program. The grants pay up to 90% of total eligible costs with local governments providing a minimum of 10% cost share.

According to the DOT, 1,596 eligible grant applications were submitted by cities, villages, towns, counties, and tribal governments. The needs detailed in the applications total $1.47 billion.

“The needs are unquestionable, and while we realize this one-time grant program is not a long-term answer to more than a billion dollars of reported local community needs, it is a significant step in the right direction,” said League of Wisconsin Municipalities executive director Jerry Deschane. “We have to start chipping away at these lists of projects.”

Wisconsin Counties Association executive director Mark O’Connell said the grant program will allow counties to continue to invest in much needed transportation projects in their communities.

“We commend the Wisconsin Department of Transportation for their leadership in creating a program that empowers our county highway departments to apply and receive these funds expeditiously, allowing them time to make the biggest impact,” he said.

MLS funding is available for new projects statewide related to roads, bridges, railroads, transit capital and facility projects, bicycle and pedestrian accommodations, and harbors.

“Our members were able to document their needs, and as you can see, those needs are real, and they are significant,” said Dan Fedderly, executive director of the Wisconsin County Highway Association. “While we know this isn’t the comprehensive funding solution Wisconsin desperately needs, we are appreciative that the Legislature and governor agreed to create the program. Every little bit helps.”

To be eligible, projects required a six-year completion timeframe. Design-only projects, planning studies, and maintenance activities are ineligible for the grants, which will be capped at $3.5 million per project.

The project selection process will be competitive, with a focus on measurable economic benefits. Stakeholders will provide input through local government committees, which will meet in the coming weeks to score project applications. MLS project awards will be announced by WisDOT in February.

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