State News: CAFOs, Free Speech, Gerrymandering

One-Third Of Wisconsin CAFOs Operating Under Expired Permits

Around a third of Wisconsin’s large-scale animal farms, known as concentrated animal feeding operations or CAFOs, are currently operating under expired permits, according to data from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources website. Many of the permits expired in 2016.

Operating a farm with an expired permit is not an uncommon or illegal practice, but it is a source of frustration for farmers and residents concerned about oversight. As the number of large farms has increased, the agency says they have seen more expired permits, but staffing levels haven’t kept pace with the growing workload.

“Work continues on reissuing those permits,” said agency spokesman Jim Dick in an email. “The DNR has recently added four new regional CAFO positions to further increase field inspections. We are currently training those staff.”

Under state and federal rules, CAFO permits are issued every five years.

The state exceeded its 15 percent backlog threshold for CAFO permits in 2012 and 2013. Since then, the DNR has worked to reduce that to 9.9 percent in 2014 and 2015.

The DNR expects to further reduce its permit backlog within the next year to 18 months.

Lawmakers Clash Over Proposed Changes To UW System Free Speech Rules

State lawmakers clashed in the state Capitol on Thursday over a bill that would change free speech rules on University of Wisconsin System campuses.

The bill would require the UW System Board of Regents to write a new free speech policy penalizing students who “interfere with the expressive rights of others.”

Under the plan, students could be suspended or expelled for engaging in behavior that is “violent, abusive, indecent, profane, boisterous, obscene, unreasonably loud” or other “disorderly conduct that interferes with the free expression of others.”

Supporters of the measure argue it will encourage a more politically diverse roster of speakers on campuses.

“Campuses across the country are under attack as intolerance and physical aggression have replaced healthy debate and a free marketplace of ideas,” said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, during testimony.

The UW System has not registered official support or opposition to the bill.

Opponents to the proposal argue it jeopardizes the free speech rights of students who want to protest campus events or speakers.

Rep. Jill Billings, D-La Crosse, said she’s worried the bill’s language could compromise the constitutional rights of those students.

The bill has yet to be scheduled for a vote in committee.

4 Wisconsin Counties Now On Record Opposing Gerrymandering

Tuesday night, Jefferson County became the latest to pass a resolution calling for state lawmakers to draw legislative districts without trying to favor Democrats or Republicans.

Jefferson County Board Chairman Jim Schroeder joined the majority, which passed the resolution on a voice vote by a lopsided margin.

“I voted yes,” Schroeder said, “because I believe that the people want a nonpartisan redistricting process. Indeed, I believe that the people want their public servants to behave as public servants, and not as Republicans or Democrats.”

Jefferson County joins Wood, Lincoln and Dunn counties in calling for the nonpartisan districts. In November, a federal court ruled Wisconsin’s Republican-drawn legislative map was unconstitutional.

All four of the counties supported Donald Trump by double-digit margins in the 2016 presidential election.

But Schroeder isn’t sure the Republican led state Legislature will heed the advice of the county boards.

“One can hope,” Schroeder said. “We don’t do this as an empty exercise. Even if we believe that the Legislature is not amenable to hearing that message, we’re going to send it anyway.”

Ordinance Would Limit Manure-spreading Methods in Kewaunee

Kewaunee County is home to many concentrated animal feeding operations, also known as CAFOs.

Kewaunee County administrator Scott Feldt helped write a draft ordinance that would require farmers to use low-pressure methods to drop liquid manure on their fields rather than using sprayers that look like giant sprinklers.

Feldt said farmers can now only spread manure in the spring and fall, under the ordinance they could apply it for six months.

“You’d have roughly six months to be able to apply some of that manure as well as, from a farming practice standpoint, you’re getting the nutrients to the plants when they need it most, when they’re growing,” he said.

A companion ordinance would also require waste haulers to be certified in the county. Small farms would exempt from the requirements.

When asked about the proposed ordinance in Kewaunee County, Gov. Scott Walker said his proposed budget has “sizeable” increased funding for counties to help small- to mid-sized farms to deal with those “particular issues.”

The Kewaunee County Board will hold a public meeting on the spraying issue Wednesday, June 7.

Wisconsin Public Radio, © Copyright 2017, Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System and Wisconsin Educational Communications Board.

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