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Northwoods Political Digest

July 03, 2020

Nygren: Evers cost taxpayers big time

The co-chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee said it took a lawsuit to make it happen, but 10 months after breaking the state’s open records law, Gov. Tony Evers finally fulfilled his request for public records about farmer mental health and public funds.

State. Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) said the governor wasn’t even in step with his own administration.

“While Gov. Evers initially denied my request and needed a lawsuit to prompt compliance, his own agency, DATCP, fulfilled the same request with no complaints and in a timely fashion,” Nygren said this week.

Nygren said the entire lawsuit could have been avoided, saving taxpayer resources, had Evers simply fulfilled the original request or worked with him to address concerns.

“Instead, he claimed the request was too burdensome and denied it outright,” the lawmaker said. “It is curious that, within days, Gov. Evers and his staff fulfilled a records request for a secret audio recording of a meeting with Legislative leadership, but when it came to turning over records related to business before the Legislature, Gov. Evers was suddenly incapable of following state law.”

In July of 2019, the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP) requested the release of funds from the Joint Committee on Finance (JFC) for counseling vouchers for farmers. 

In response, Nygren stated, JFC co-chairpersons informed DATCP that it needed to work with the Speaker’s Task Force on Suicide Prevention and answer important questions raised by task force members about program operations and transparency. 

Instead, Nygren asserted, DATCP, at the direction of the governor’s office, attacked JFC. claiming insufficient funds existed at DATCP for farmer mental health and withheld information from the Legislature.

Nygren says he requested records from DATCP and the governor’s office related to farmer mental health over a one-month period. DATCP fulfilled the request but the governor’s office denied the request. 

The petition filed in November by Nygren sought to have the court require Evers and his staff turn over public records related to the original records request.

BCPL voluntarily cuts budget to support Wisconsin

The Board of Commissioners of Public Lands (BCPL), chaired by state treasurer Sarah Godlewski, has announced a voluntary cut of at least 5% to its operating budget for this fiscal year. 

This cut was made in an effort to contribute to the state budget which has been heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Wisconsinites are feeling the economic impact of this public health crisis, and the state is no exception,” Godlewski said this week. “This is an all-hands-on-deck effort to help get on top of the state budget. I’m proud that effective management of our costs will allow us to do our part.”

The BCPL manages $1.2 billion in school trust fund assets, which is the nearly sole source of funding for Wisconsin public school libraries.

This year, Godlewski says the Common School Fund made a record distribution of $38.2 million to public school libraries, and, when COVID-19 forced students to learn from home, the BCPL stepped up to make a special distribution of $5.25 million to help librarians and school districts address the digital divide.

“As one of the oldest state agencies in Wisconsin, we believe it is important we do our part during this challenging time,” executive secretary Tom German said. “The BCPL exists to serve our beneficiaries and we will continue to serve them at the highest level while making this contribution to support Wisconsin.”

The voluntary cut is expected to total around $90,000. The cut will impact procurements of due diligence reports, software, appraisals for land bank transactions, and road work on trust lands for upcoming timber sales. 

Godlewski says the BCPL has consistently stepped up to provide funding for schools, municipalities, and communities, and the voluntary budget cut is yet another way the BCPL continues to support the financial well being of Wisconsin during difficult times. 

Hebl calls for special session

After a round of violence and destruction of statues at the state capitol, state Rep. Gary Hebl (D-Sun Prairie) is calling for a special session of the Legislature.

“I cannot condone the violence and statue destruction that took place Tuesday night on the Capitol Square,” Hebl said. “I completely understand the anger and frustration of protestors fighting against an unjust system. However, the removal of the Forward statue and the statue of Hans Christian Heg on the capitol grounds smacks more of destruction for destruction sake than fighting for justice.”

The cause of protesting systemic racism is just; wanton destruction is not, Hebl said. 

“Mob mentality and violence detracts from that fight,” he said.

Hebl said the Legislature needed to go into special session to address the institutional racism that permeates society. 

“Waiting until after the election is not soon enough,” he said. “These are issues that need to be addressed immediately. We must also examine why police forces too often seem to focus on aggression and militarization instead of de-escalation in tense situations. Chokeholds and other excessive aggressive acts must be eliminated.”

Hebl said Wisconsin Republicans are hoping the current furor sweeping over the country will die down by the time they come back into session so they can once again focus on doing what their corporate donors demanded of them.

State mails postcards to eligible but unregistered residents

The state of Wisconsin is mailing postcards this week to more than 198,600 state residents who appear to be eligible to vote but are not currently registered.

The official postcards tell potential voters how to register online at https://myvote.wi.gov and give them deadlines and other information about ways to register for upcoming elections. The postcards also include a toll-free number which routes them to a WEC call center.

“Many groups are contacting Wisconsin residents in 2020 about registration and voting,” said Meagan Wolfe, administrator of the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC). “Voters can trust that this postcard and other official mailings from the WEC contain accurate, nonpartisan information about how and when they can register and vote in Wisconsin.”

The WEC sends the postcards because of Wisconsin’s membership in the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) (https://ericstates.org), which helps states improve the accuracy of America’s voter rolls and increase access to voter registration for all eligible citizens. 

Wisconsin sent similar postcard mailings to 1.28 million eligible but unregistered residents in 2016 and 384,000 residents in 2018.

ERIC helps the Wisconsin Elections Commission develop the mailing lists of eligible but unregistered residents, starting with a list of people who have been issued a driver license or a state ID card by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation since the previous mailing. 

ERIC compares that list to Wisconsin’s statewide voter registration system to find eligible but unregistered residents. Names of people currently serving a felony sentence were removed from the mailing list, as were people who have asked to be removed from the active voter list. 

Also taken off the mailing list are people who recently moved without providing the USPS with a forwarding address. 

Some registered voters may inadvertently receive postcards. That can happen when a registered voter’s record does not match the same person’s DOT data. Registered voters who may receive postcards should not worry that their registration is in jeopardy, the state says. Those voters may want to visit the MyVote website, call the toll-free number or contact their municipal clerk to check that their information is accurate, and to correct any data errors. 

This year’s mailing to eligible but unregistered Wisconsin residents will feature intelligent mail barcodes for the first time, Wolfe said.  

“This will serve as a ‘pilot’ mailing for the use of intelligent mail barcodes, which the WEC is building into the statewide voter system for mailing absentee ballots this fall,” she said. “The barcodes will give us detailed information on undeliverable mailings and other delivery statistics.”

This postcard mailing is different from another WEC mailing that has been in the news recently. In early September, approximately 2.64 million Wisconsin registered voters will be receiving a mailer with information about all three ways they can vote in the Nov. 3 election — at the polls on Election Day, in-person absentee at their clerk’s office, or absentee by mail.  

The September mailing includes information about how to request that an absentee ballot be mailed to you by visiting https://myvote.wi.gov, but it will also contain an absentee ballot request form and business return mail envelope for use by voters who do not have internet access.

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