State News: Gerrymandering, Background Checks, Hemp

New Districts in 2018 Unlikely

When the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Wisconsin’s landmark redistricting lawsuit last October, some legal observers thought they heard signals that justices would strike down the state’s legislative map as unconstitutional.

But five months later, experts say that whatever the court decides in the case known as Gill v. Whitford likely won’t lead to new district lines being drawn for the 2018 elections.

“I think as every day goes by without a decision from the Supreme Court in the Gill case, it becomes less and less likely that there would be new maps being used for the 2018 elections,” said University of California-Irvine election law professor Rick Hasen.

The court may yet issue a decision that strikes down the district lines Republican state legislators drew almost seven years ago.

Some experts thought there was a chance the court could decide Wisconsin’s case as soon as March, and while that’s still possible, it now seems unlikely.

Part of the reason is that Wisconsin’s case is no longer unique in the world of redistricting. Plaintiffs in other states have filed their own lawsuits in the hopes of convincing the U.S. Supreme Court to rule for the first time that there is a point at which redistricting becomes so partisan that it violates the Constitution.

Poll: Majority Favor Universal Background Checks

Roughly four out of five Wisconsin voters favor universal background checks for gun purchases, according to the latest poll by Marquette University Law School.

A total of 81 percent of voters said they supported background checks on private gun sales and at gun shows. Just 16 percent opposed them.

Marquette also asked voters whether they would favor banning “assault-style weapons.” On that question, 58 percent said yes compared to 40 percent who said no.

While the results are in line with historic trends, they come in the aftermath of the Florida high school shooting that left 17 dead in February.

Walker Opposed to Arming Teachers

Gov. Scott Walker said he is opposed to arming teachers, and that he’s working with state lawmakers to introduce a number of bills aimed at changing Wisconsin gun laws and promoting school safety.

The governor weighed in on gun legislation as lawmakers, advocates and constituents across the state and country continue to call for changes to gun laws in the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School earlier this month in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people.

“We’re looking at an entire package (of bills) that will look at school safety and other issues related to that,” Walker said. “There’s more we can do.”

Walker said he started meeting with lawmakers about the bills last week, but wouldn’t disclose information about specific proposals.

Agency Raffle Includes AR-15-Type Rifle

Barron County’s Emergency Services Department is raising money for first responders by raffling off hunting rifles, including one patterned after the popular AR-15 rifle. The raffle features four guns commonly known as varmint rifles, which are used to hunt animals like coyotes. Three are bolt-action rifles but the fourth is a semi-automatic Remington R-15, which is a slight variation of the AR-15. Many recent mass shootings, including the one that killed 17 people at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, were perpetrated by shooters using AR-15 variant rifles.

“This doesn’t look good, and it’s not the best idea in the world, but it was going on prior to this talk, and we need to honor the people that have bought squares and finish it out and try to raise money to improve our new first responders in the county,” said Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald.

Beekeepers Report High Winter Bee Loss

Some Wisconsin beekeepers are reporting high losses of bees this winter. Kent Pegorsch, president of the Wisconsin Honey Producers Association, said 2017 was a difficult year for controlling varroa mites, a parasite that infests hives and kills off developing bees.

“Some people are having good luck with their bees, wintering them. But a lot of people are having very bad luck with winter survival rates for their bees,” said Pegorsch, who owns Dancing Bear Apiary in Waupaca.

For years, Wisconsin beekeepers have been fighting the impacts of varroa mites. Liz Meils, state apiarist for the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, said the state doesn’t start hive inspections until May. But she said in the last five to 10 years, beekeepers have been dealing with around 50 percent of their hives dying over the winter.

“It’s definitely significant and not really sustainable,” Meils said. “The general consensus among beekeepers is that acceptable winter losses should be around 12 percent, up to 20 percent.”

Industrial Hemp Licenses Available

Wisconsin farmers who want to grow industrial hemp can now apply for a state license. The state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection began accepting applications Friday. This is the first season farmers can grow hemp in Wisconsin after the state Legislature lifted a ban on the crop last fall.

DATCP spokeswoman Donna Gilson said the department has seen a lot of interest in the program.

“We already had someone who completed their application (Friday) morning and there were several others in process. That first one was within two hours of the forms being available online,” Gilson said.

The state is not limiting how many licenses are issued or the number of acres for growing in the state. Applicants must pass a background check and pay several administrative fees.

Ken Anderson, president of seed company Legacy Hemp, said he thinks Wisconsin’s regulations are more hands-off than many of the other 31 states with hemp programs.

“(DATCP is) going to allow us to do everything that we need to do, which commercially that’s fantastic,” Anderson said.

The deadline to apply for the upcoming growing season is May 1.

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

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