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Northwoods Political Digest

November 01, 2019

Allen circulates bill requiring agencies to report fees

Rep. Scott Allen (R-Waukesha) is circulating legislation for co-sponsorship that would require state agencies to report on statutorily and administratively required fees.

“There are more than 16,100 references to fees on the books, in both state statute and administrative code, and it does not appear they are tracked particularly well,” Allen said. “For instance, the fee for a ‘Wild ginseng harvest license issued to a resident’ has been $15 since 1997. Is that fee adequate for the state to recoup its costs, or unnecessarily burdensome on state residents?”

The legislation would require agencies to submit to the governor and Legislature, along with biennial budget requests, a report that details each fee the agency is authorized to charge, along with the amount or method of calculation, an identification of statutory authority, whether the agency charges the fee, whether the fee has changed over time, and agency recommendations regarding the fee.

“The market and technology changes with more frequency than administrative rules or state statutes,” Allen said. “A biennial evaluation of fees is a reasonable expectation of government. Fair fees benefit everyone.”

Evers creates a Complete Count

Committee for the 2020 Census

Gov. Tony Evers this week signed an executive order creating a Complete Count Committee for the 2020 Census. 

The committee will work to educate Wisconsinites on the importance of completing the 2020 census, develop outreach strategies to reach hard-to-count communities, and identify and reduce barriers that impede participation in the counting process.

“Ensuring a fair and accurate count in the 2020 census is essential to the future of our state, as it determines how more than $600 billion in federal funding will be distributed and how Wisconsin’s next electoral maps will be drawn,” Evers said. “At the end of the day, the census isn’t just a head count — it’s about visibility, voice, and value. So we need to make sure every Wisconsinite is participating in the count and encouraging their family, friends, and neighbors to participate, too.”

The United States Census Bureau defines hard-to-count populations as children, immigrant and refugee communities, low-income families, renters, and those who do not live in traditional housing, people of color, individuals with disabilities, and rural communities. 

It is estimated that the hard-to-count population in Wisconsin is more than 600,000 Wisconsinites.

UW System president Cross announces plans to retire

University of Wisconsin System president Ray Cross announced this week his intention to retire, capping off a 42-year career in higher education.

Cross, 71, will continue to serve as UW System president until his successor is found after a national search. He notified chancellors, regents, system leadership, and employees of his decision this week.

“Serving as president of the UW System has been the most rewarding work of my life,” Cross said. “I believe there is no better investment for the state of Wisconsin than the University of Wisconsin System. From cutting-edge research on cancer, water quality, and how children learn to educating Wisconsin’s future leaders, the UW System has never been more important.”

Cross was named UW System president in January 2014, and began his appointment Feb. 15 of that year, after spending three years as chancellor of UW Colleges and UW-Extension. He managed UW System during a time of steep budget cuts and a sustained tuition freeze, yet he says he always maintained a focus on ensuring quality and student success.

Regent president Andrew S. Petersen praised Cross’s tenure.

“Ray has been tireless in his efforts to lead the UW System with vision and integrity,” Petersen said. “His forward-looking attitude influenced policymakers and opinion leaders to embrace and support the UW System. Ray stabilized the UW System at a time of legislative skepticism and financial challenges, and he restored transparency and credibility at the Capitol and among the public.”

Petersen said the regents will conduct a national search for a successor. Details will be forthcoming.

“The University of Wisconsin System is a tremendous asset for the state, for our communities, for our students, and for businesses,” Cross said. “There is no better talent generator than the UW System. It has been humbling to work on behalf of the people of Wisconsin to advance the mission of our public universities.”

Nearly 250 national experts sign letter supporting clemency for Dassey

Nearly 250 people — including a wide range of retired U.S. government officials and some of the nation’s most prominent legal and political experts — have released an open letter to the office of Gov. Tony Evers, in support of Brendan Dassey’s petition for executive clemency.

Dassey, who was convicted of first-degree murder, mutilation of a corpse, and second-degree sexual assault, was sentenced to life in prison, though he recanted his confession at trial. His case was part of the Netflix series Making a Murderer, which examined the trials of Dassey and his uncle Steven Avery.

Dassey’s conviction was later overturned by a federal magistrate, but the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ultimately upheld the conviction 4-3.

“We call upon you, Gov. Evers, to use your sovereign power of executive clemency, whether in the form of a pardon or a commutation, to end the incarceration of Brendan Dassey,” the letter states. “You are an educator; you are a reformer; and you are a believer, like us, in justice, mercy, and redemption.”

The 250 signatories represent a wide range of nationally recognized legal experts, including dozens of former prosecutors and senior U.S. government officials, as well as the psychologists who pioneered the study of false confessions, many of the nation’s top juvenile justice experts, leading law enforcement authorities, and exonerees.

The full list includes more than a dozen retired senior U.S. government officials, including two former deputy attorneys general of the United States, a former deputy secretary of Homeland Security, three former federal judges, a former senator, and the former United States Pardon Attorney. 

“Brendan’s case is so much more than just a Netflix series,” said Laura Nirider, co-director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law (CWC) and an attorney for Brendan Dassey. “From former senators to formerly incarcerated individuals, Brendan’s plea for help has been backed by an authoritative coalition of expert voices. We’re deeply honored that so many prominent Americans have asked Gov. Evers, as a matter of conscience and decency, to grant Brendan a commutation or pardon.”

Incarcerated since age 16, Dassey celebrated his 30th birthday on Oct. 19. He is not eligible for parole until 2048, at which time he will be 59 years old.

The petition for executive clemency asks Evers to consider both a pardon, which would result in Dassey’s immediate release and the restoration of some of his legal rights, and a commutation, which could result in his immediate release or shorten his sentence and would leave the convictions intact. 

Grounds for clemency include both Dassey’s innocence and the extreme length of his sentence.

Advocates have created an online petition at www.bringbrendanhome.org to support Dassey’s clemency petition and bring attention about the case to the office of Gov. Evers. 

To date, more than 15,000 people from Wisconsin and from around the world have emailed Evers asking that he pardon Dassey or commute his sentence.

Baldwin urges CMS to increase childhood lead screenings

Following National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week last week, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) joined her colleagues in urging the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to do more to address prevention, screening, and treatment of children affected by lead exposure.

In a letter to CMS administrator Seema Verma led by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), the senators demanded an update on the steps CMS will take to address demonstrated gaps in data pertaining to blood lead level screenings and urged CMS to renew its commitment to ensuring appropriate lead screening for children at risk of lead exposure. 

Right now, federal law requires blood lead screening “as appropriate for age and risk factors” for all children enrolled in Medicaid, including lead screenings at 12 months and 24 months of age.

However, because the data is incomplete, CMS is impeding its own ability to address lead poisoning prevention, the senators argue. Lead exposure can lead to serious health consequences, including a lifetime of disease and behavioral challenges. 

Even as rates of lead poisoning are falling nationwide, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that children in at least four million households across the United States are currently exposed to high levels of lead, whether from paint, contaminated soil, water, toys, or other household items.

'“Childhood lead exposure remains a serious public health challenge for communities across the country,” the senators wrote. “With Medicaid serving as an essential health coverage source for the nation’s children, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) plays a critical role in the prevention, screening, and treatment of children affected by lead exposure. Accordingly, as we enter National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, we write to receive an update on the steps CMS is taking to address demonstrated gaps in data pertaining to blood lead level screenings and urge CMS to renew its commitment to ensuring appropriate lead screening for children at risk of lead exposure.”

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