State News: Bankrupt Farms, Marijuana, Great Lakes Compact

Increase in Farm Bankruptcies Expected to Continue

A recent report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis found the number of farm bankruptcies in the upper Midwest has more than doubled in the last four years and Wisconsin agriculture experts expect more cases to be filed in 2019.

From June 2017 to June 2018, 84 farms in the bank’s 9th District filed for Chapter 12 bankruptcy, a chapter reserved for farmers and fishermen. The district includes Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana.

Wisconsin led the region with 50 Chapter 12 bankruptcies. That’s 12 more than were filed during the previous year.

Paul Mitchell, director of the Renk Agribusiness Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said he thinks that number will be even higher in 2019.

“This is the time of year when the operating loans for the 2018 crop, the final payments are due and (farmers) are often renegotiating to get new operating loans to put in the 2019 crop,” Mitchell said.

If farmers can’t pay off this year’s operating loan, Mitchell said they’re probably falling behind on other bills like mortgage payments and loans taken out through machinery or input suppliers.

Despite the increase in bankruptcies, agriculture experts agree the industry isn’t in complete crisis.

“That’s 50 out of some 68,000 or so farms we have in Wisconsin. That is not a huge number,” said Mark Stephenson, director of dairy policy analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Stephenson said it’s obvious that dairy is a big part of the decline.

Wisconsin has lost 584 dairy farms since January, an almost 7 percent decline. That’s up from a 5 percent decline during the same period last year.


Eau Claire Sets $1 Fine for Marijuana Possession

The city of Eau Claire has reduced the fine for possession of marijuana to $1 for first-time offenders found with certain amounts of the drug. The change is meant to send a signal to state and federal policymakers that the city is deprioritizing enforcement of marijuana laws.

In an 8 to 2 vote the council passed a resolution Nov. 29 that reduced the range of penalties for possession of marijuana, which ranged from $100-$500 to $1 when the person is found with 25 grams or less of marijuana and it’s their first offense. With court fees included, the cost of being arrested with pot in the city now totals $138.

Acting City Council President Andrew Werthmann introduced the measure, saying it’s meant to bring the city’s laws in line with what citizens want.

On Nov. 6, Eau Claire County voters approved an advisory referendum urging the state to legalize recreational marijuana.

“I think people are waking up and realizing that our laws around the possession of marijuana are outdated and harmful, and that as it is right now there are many people with many different reasons who see that there actually could be positives and benefits to changing those laws,” Werthmann said before the council voted.

In all, 16 counties in Wisconsin approved referendums calling for the legalization of marijuana for medical or recreational use.

The Eau Claire Police Department has weighed in on the council’s proposal to change the fee schedule for marijuana possession.

In a letter, Police Chief Gerald Staniszewski said in 2002, the city decriminalized possession of “personal use” amounts of marijuana, giving police officers the discretion to issue an ordinance citation, which isn’t criminal, for first-time offenders who possess less than an ounce of marijuana instead of referring criminal charges to prosecutors.

Staniszewski said in the last 12 months, there were 410 marijuana investigations out of around 28,000 calls for service.


Great Lakes Mayors Push to Strengthen Compact

Great Lakes mayors in the United States and Canada say they want to slow down proposed changes to rules guiding water withdrawals from the Great Lakes. They fear the alterations will weaken a multi-state agreement that oversees the use of the lakes’ water supply.

In 2008, governors in eight states passed the Great Lakes Compact to protect the Great Lakes from the threat of water diversions outside the basin. A council that oversees the compact is set to adopt changes to the review of proposed withdrawals and administrative appeals of council decisions.

These proposed changes would weaken the compact and public input, said John Dickert, president and CEO of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative.

“We’re asking for a public hearing in every state and province before the governors decide on whether the compact withdrawal or any withdrawal to the compact council should be allowed or not,” Dickert said.

Dickert said they would also like Native Americans to have a greater role in the decision-making process. Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Glen Hare joined U.S. and Canadian mayors Friday in calling for greater protections for the Great Lakes.

“If we lose water, we’re gone also,” Hare said. “I always remind government at different tables and I’ll keep reminding them as we fight to protect our waters.”

One of the issues that Great Lakes mayors have raised is whether there is enough monitoring and enforcement of water withdrawals under the Compact. The compact council was set to take up the proposed changes at its meeting in Chicago on Thursday.

Wisconsin Public Radio, © Copyright 2018, Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System and Wisconsin Educational Communications Board.

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