State News: Redistricting, Lame Duck Laws, Tax Cut Veto

Evers to Propose Nonpartisan Redistricting Process

Gov. Tony Evers will use his state budget to propose a nonpartisan redistricting process that would reduce the power of lawmakers to draw their own district lines. The move comes two years before Wisconsin’s next round of redistricting, and at a time when the current legislative map, drawn in 2011, is still being challenged in federal court.

“The people should get to choose their elected officials, not the other way around,” Evers said in a statement. “By creating a nonpartisan redistricting commission in Wisconsin, we’re making sure that when we’re redrawing district maps in 2021, we’re putting people before politics.”

States redraw their political boundaries every 10 years, after the U.S. Census is taken, to ensure that every district is roughly equal in population. Because of the high political stakes, it’s rare for lawmakers and governors from different parties to agree on the same map, which often leads to lengthy and costly legal battles.

Under the proposal Evers announced Tuesday, the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau (LRB) would be responsible for drawing legislative and congressional maps.

The LRB would take its direction from a newly formed Redistricting Advisory Commission. The speaker and minority leader in the Assembly would each pick members for the commission, and so would the majority and minority leaders of the state Senate. Those four commissioners would then pick a fifth member to serve as the chair.

The commission would need to hold a hearing on the plan in all eight of the state’s congressional districts before it’s voted on by the Legislature.

The proposal faces an especially steep climb in the state Legislature, where majority Republicans have said for years they oppose it.

Fourth Lawsuit Filed Challenging Lame-Duck Laws

A fourth lawsuit has been filed challenging December’s lame-duck session of the state Legislature, this one arguing that Republican lawmakers violated the U.S. Constitution when they took powers away from Wisconsin’s governor and attorney general. The latest case, filed Feb. 21 in federal court by the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, argues that the laws the Republican majorities in the Legislature passed late last year violated the will of voters, and that it was up to the court to restore the balance of power.

“Elections matter,” the complaint reads. “In this case, a lame-duck Legislature and outgoing governor deprived the people of Wisconsin of their electoral choice.”

In addition to this federal lawsuit, three other lame-duck cases are already making their way through the court system. The other federal case is focused specifically on new restrictions on early voting passed during the lame-duck session. A judge ruled in favor of plaintiffs in that lawsuit, putting the voting restrictions on hold.

The other two cases were filed in Dane County Circuit Court, which means they could ultimately be decided by the state Supreme Court.

Evers Vetoes GOP-Backed Tax Cut

Gov. Tony Evers last week vetoed the first bill sent to his desk by the Republican-controlled state Legislature: a GOP-backed proposal to cut taxes on middle-income earners in Wisconsin.

In his veto message, Evers said he objected to “passing a major fiscal policy item outside of the biennial budget process, which will begin in less than 10 days.”

The governor also noted the Republican plan, which would have been paid for by unused state funds rolled over from the current budget cycle, didn’t have a funding source past the next two years.

In his message, Evers said he hopes to work for a bipartisan solution during upcoming state-budget negotiations.

“I am troubled and disappointed that this major fiscal policy was introduced and passed without bipartisan support and cooperation,” Evers wrote. “The people of the state of Wisconsin expect and deserve for their leaders to work together, and I plan to do my part to ensure that happens.”

Wisconsin Realtors Group Pulls Support of Hagedorn

A major supporter of state Supreme Court candidate Brian Hagedorn has pulled its endorsement and asked for a return of campaign contributions after recent reports about Hagedorn’s ties to a school that bans gay students, teachers and parents.

The Wisconsin Realtors Association released a statement last week saying that Hagedorn’s public stances on social issues have made it impossible for the industry group to continue its support.

“The real estate-related issues that served as the basis for our endorsement have been overshadowed by other, non-real estate-related issues – issues with which we do not want to be associated and that directly conflict with the principles of our organization and the values of our members,” said Michael Theo, president and CEO of the organization.

According to a campaign-finance report released earlier this month, Hagedorn has received $18,000 from the association, making it one of his largest donors.

Hagedorn will face fellow appellate court judge Lisa Neubauer in April’s state Supreme Court election. The candidates are vying to fill the seat of longtime justice Shirley Abrahamson, who is retiring.

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