State News: Lawmakers Divided on Gun-Law Reform

Wisconsin lawmakers and activists are clashing this week over potential changes to state gun laws in the wake of two mass shootings in Ohio and Texas over the weekend. The killings have spurred renewed conversation about the role of state regulations in curbing gun violence, with state Democrats largely pushing for new restrictions while Republicans argue that state laws are sufficient. 

The conversation is happening as the state marks the seventh anniversary of a mass shooting at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek that killed six people

In a statement released Tuesday, Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh) criticized Republican lawmakers who control the state Legislature for their previous pushback on potential changes. 

“People should feel safe in their communities, and yet the vast majority of Wisconsinites are currently represented by politicians who won’t even discuss the most basic steps that can be taken to protect the public and prevent these terrifying acts of violence,” Hintz said. 

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald’s office did not respond to questions about the senator’s position on proposals currently before the Legislature or other possible actions. 

“I don’t support the government intervening to take firearms from citizens without due process,” Fitzgerald told Wisconsin Public Radio in February. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) also did not respond to a request for comment on current or future gun proposals in the Legislature. 

Burnett County Passes One-Year Moratorium on CAFOs

The Burnett County Board has passed a one-year moratorium on large-scale farms with 1,000 or more animal units. The move comes after Cumberland announced plans to build a $20 million farm for up to 26,000 hogs in the town of Trade Lake earlier this year.

Burnett County Board Chair Don Taylor said a study committee will now examine the impact of large-scale farms known as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). The committee will research the  effects of CAFOs on air quality, groundwater and surface water. 

“The committee is just going to take a look at the whole thing and determine what we feel are the best practices for Burnett County,” Taylor said.

Thorp farmer Jeff Sauer, a member of the proposed Cumberland CAFO, feels the moratorium places more regulation and restrictions on farming.

“I still want to be a good steward,” he said. “I still want to be a good neighbor. That’s our goal. That’s our plan. But the motive out there is to prevent it and eliminate it – stop it.”

Conservative Group Sues Evers

A conservative advocacy group filed a lawsuit last week with the Wisconsin Supreme Court challenging Gov. Tony Evers’ veto powers.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) said the lawsuit is in response to several of the governor’s budget vetoes, which he issued earlier this month. The lawsuit contends that Evers used his veto pen to create new laws rather than alter them. 

WILL petitioned the state Supreme Court to take the case immediately, bypassing the state’s lower courts. The organization said Evers’ veto that led to a $75 million grant program for local road projects was one of the offending measures. 

Gannett Merging with GateHouse Media

The nation’s two largest newspaper-publication companies are merging in an effort to combat declining print revenue and circulation among their many news organizations. GateHouse Media’s owner, New Media Investment Group, is taking out a $1.8 billion loan to buy Gannett. The merger – announced Monday – will create an industry giant.

The companies said they’ll be able to save between $275 million and $300 million every year and hope to increase advertising revenue by transforming their digital platform as readers continue to shift to online news sources. Through the merger, the company will own more than 260 daily news operations. Gannett owns 11 newspapers across Wisconsin, including the Door County Advocate; and GateHouse Media owns one newspaper in Milwaukee.

According to the companies, New Media’s CEO, Michael Reed, will remain in that position after the merger. The combined company plans to take Gannett’s name and headquarters in Virginia. 

Hagedorn Sworn In to Wisconsin Supreme Court

Conservative-backed judge Brian Hagedorn was sworn in to a 10-year term on the Wisconsin Supreme Court during a private ceremony Aug. 1. The public investiture and swearing-in ceremony will be held at the Capitol later this month.  

Hagedorn replaced longtime Justice Shirley Abrahamson, who announced last year that she would retire after more than 40 years on the court. The new justice’s ascension changes the court’s partisan balance to 5-2 in favor of conservatives. 

Hagedorn came under fire during his campaign for blog posts he wrote in 2005, when he was Northwestern University law student. The posts compared homosexuality to bestiality and called Planned Parenthood a “wicked organization.”

He was also criticized for his position as founder and a board member of Augustine Academy, a private Christian school in Delafield where the code of conduct prohibits teachers, students and parents from participating in homosexual activity. Hagedorn defended himself against those attacks by saying he would be impartial on the bench, despite his personal convictions. 

Hadegorn defeated fellow appellate court Judge Lisa Neubauer by less than 1 percentage point to take the seat on the state’s highest court.

Wisconsin Public Radio, © Copyright 2019, Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System and Wisconsin Educational Communications Board.