State News: Lame Duck, ACA Lawsuits

Patterson Charged With Homicide, Kidnapping

“Incredible” and “unbelievable.” Those are two of the words that Barron County District Attorney Brian Wright used to describe Jayme Closs’ escape last week from her alleged captor, Jake Thomas Patterson. Wright made these comments after a Jan. 14 court hearing where he formally charged Patterson with killing Jayme’s parents and kidnapping her in October.

Wright said Jayme, 13, was lucky when she escaped. “Everything had to fall into place that afternoon for it to have happened. Ten minutes either way, on either side … I just, it doesn’t take much imagination to figure out what likely would have been the result,” he said.

Patterson, 21, appeared via video conference in Barron County Circuit Court on Monday afternoon for the first time. Prosecutors formally charged him with two counts of first-degree intentional homicide, one count of kidnapping and one count of armed burglary.

A $5 million bail was set to keep Patterson from fleeing justice.

Investigators say Patterson used a shotgun to blast his way through the front door of James and Denise Closs’ home near Barron on Oct. 15, gunned the couple down and abducted Jayme. The teen was missing for nearly three months before she escaped from the home in the Town of Gordon where she said Patterson had been holding her against her will.

According to the criminal complaint, Patterson apparently planned the crime methodically after he spotted Jayme getting onto a school bus. Patterson didn’t even know Jayme’s name until he abducted her, authorities said.

Groups File Suit to Overturn Lame-Duck Session Laws

A group of plaintiffs filed a lawsuit that aims to overturn all of the measures Wisconsin Republicans passed in a lame-duck session last month, arguing the entire session was unconstitutional. The plaintiffs, which include the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, Disability Rights Wisconsin and Black Leaders Organizing For Communities, also contend Republicans acted unlawfully when they voted to approve 82 last-minute appointments by former Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

At the crux of the plaintiffs’ argument is the procedural step GOP leaders used to call the Legislature into session at a time when lawmakers would have otherwise been adjourned for the rest of the year.

Republicans passed the laws and appointments in the early morning of Dec. 5, 2018, during an “extraordinary” session, which is a session called by legislative leaders. The parameters for extraordinary sessions are laid out in the Legislature’s rules.

But plaintiffs argue the Wisconsin Constitution allows for the Legislature to meet only “at such time as provided by law” or in a “special” session, which is a session called by the governor.

“Because the December 2018 Extraordinary Session does not fall within either category, the Legislature exceeded its constitutional authority by convening the session,” the complaint reads. “Thus, it follows that all legislative business conducted during the December 2018 Extraordinary Session is … unenforceable.”

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos told reporters he was confident the extraordinary session laws would prevail in court.

Evers to Take Action in ACA Lawsuit

Gov. Tony Evers will take action this week to change Wisconsin’s role in a federal lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act. Evers said he was sending a letter to Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul requesting a change of direction.

“It will be asking us to change our stance with that lawsuit,” Evers said. “That’s something I promised, frankly, during the election, and I’m going to follow through on that.”

Evers and Kaul both campaigned on ending Wisconsin’s involvement in the lawsuit, but a new law approved in December’s extraordinary session of the state Legislature makes it more difficult for the new Democratic leaders to do so. Under the new law, the state budget committee must approve any changes to Wisconsin’s role in federal lawsuits.

Wisconsin Burned More Coal in 2017

New federal data show Wisconsin used about 7 percent more coal in 2017 than in 2016 and that the fossil fuel provided more than half of the state’s energy that year. But change is already underway.

Since the most recent data period, three coal-powered plants in Pleasant Prairie, Sheboygan and Green Bay have shut down.

Greg Nemet, a professor of public affairs and environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison La Follette School of Public Affairs, estimates the first two plants burned about 10 to 15 percent of the state’s coal.

“Ten years ago, or even five years ago, it would have been – I would say – shocking to people that we would close down coal plants that still have many years of lifetime left in them and close them down prematurely because they’re no longer economically competitive,” said Nemet. “The economics no longer favor coal. The environment doesn’t do very well with coal, and if we care about clean air and clean water, we have other alternatives.”

Utility companies in Wisconsin have turned toward natural gas. Although a fossil fuel, natural gas burns cleaner than coal, which Nemet said makes it a potentially valuable energy source while the state transitions more fully to renewable sources such as wind and solar.

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