State News: Right-To-Work, Fall Colors, Antidepressants

Appeals Court Upholds State’s Right-To-Work Law

A Wisconsin appeals court has upheld the state’s right-to-work law. On Tuesday, the state’s 3rd District Court of Appeals overturned a ruling by a Dane County judge last year that found the law was unconstitutional.

Wisconsin’s right-to-work law, signed by Gov. Scott Walker in 2015, bans mandatory union dues at private sector businesses. Unions have challenged the law in state and federal courts, arguing it’s unconstitutional to require them to represent members who don’t pay fees to support their organizations.

In its decision, the appeals court wrote the unions didn’t prove the law is unconstitutional “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

“The unions have no constitutional entitlement to the fees of non-member employees,” Judge Mark Seidl wrote in the court’s ruling.

The governor lauded the decision. “The purchase of any service should be voluntary and not coerced,” Walker said in a prepared statement. “Wisconsin’s Right to Work law protects freedom, not special interests.”

A federal court also ruled to uphold the law in July.


Antidepressants Pose Risk to Great Lakes Ecosystem

The use of antidepressants among Americans has soared in recent years. Those medications are ending up in the Great Lakes, absorbed into the brains of fish, according to a new study from the University at Buffalo in New York.

“They’re mainly coming from effluents from wastewater treatment plants, and those are basically coming from our own homes,” explains Diana Aga, lead scientist on the study.

The study looked at brain tissue of 10 fish species in the Niagara River, which connects two Great Lakes: Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. More than half of the samples “had norsertraline levels of 100 nanograms per gram or higher.” Norsertraline is a derivative of an active ingredient in a popular antidepressant.

Some of the pollution may come from mismanagement of old pills, possibly dumped down the toilet, that entered the waterways, she said. Increasingly, local community-based “take back” drug programs have popped up to reduce pollution through that type of improper disposal.

But much of the pollution also comes from human waste flushed down a toilet and into wastewater treatment plants and then into United States waterways.

Though sewage is treated before entering these waterways, current wastewater treatment systems do not remove antidepressants, Aga said.

“The main purpose of wastewater treatment plants is really to remove nitrogen,” she said. “The system is designed to do that, but not to remove pharmaceuticals and other organic pollutants. And that includes antidepressants.”

The good news: this accumulation doesn’t seem to be immediately dangerous for humans, Aga said. That’s because most humans don’t eat the head or brain of a fish.

What is concerning, Aga said, is that these levels could affect the brain function of the fish — the way it swims, feeds and captures prey. There’s even evidence that it can cause fish to swim toward light, making them more susceptible to predators, she said.


25 Arrested In Human Trafficking Sting

The state Department of Justice helped coordinate the arrest of 25 suspected sex traffickers in July and August. According to the DOJ, those arrested were charged with both human trafficking and soliciting sex with prostitutes, some as young as 14 years old.

Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel announced the department’s new Human Trafficking Bureau, a seven-person team focused on targeting this issue in Wisconsin. The creation of this bureau doubles the amount of agents focused on human trafficking in Wisconsin, Schimel said.

During the sting, five people connected with sex trafficking were arrested in Door County in July alone, District Attorney Colleen Nordin said. She reiterated that these arrests should make people aware that this is a statewide issue, not just a problem that plagues urban centers.

“When you know (sex trafficking) is so widespread that it can target a community such as Door County, I think that highlights the need for specific resources targeted at this problem that exists amongst all demographics, amongst all types of communities.”


DOJ Halts Review Of Milwaukee Police Department

The U.S. Department of Justice has halted a review of Milwaukee’s police department. The DOJ says it’s changing a program that once focused on improving trust between police and communities. The initiative will now focus instead on helping local law enforcement fight crime.

A department spokeswoman said cities such as Milwaukee that were currently under federal review will be moved into the new version of program. As a result, those agencies will not get federal help to boost accountability or to implement reforms.

Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn had requested the collaborative reform review in 2015 after federal prosecutors declined to charge Christopher Manney, a now-fired white officer who fatally shot Dontre Hamilton, who was black, in the city’s Red Arrow Park.


Conditions Could Mean Less Vibrant Fall Colors

As Wisconsin transitions into autumn, some experts say this year’s fall colors may be less vibrant than normal.

Colleen Matula, a silviculturist for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, says forest health and weather conditions such as temperature and precipitation can have a big impact on the vibrancy of fall leaves.

“As a state, we’ve been encountering more moisture this year, a lot of rain, and that affects forest health,” said Matula, who is based in Ashland. “Like aspen and white birch, we’re seeing a lot of fungal diseases on the leaves and this may affect the yellows that we see in the fall color and the leaf volume on the crown of the tree.”

Matula said increased cloud coverage in some areas can also affect how quickly leaves turn color.

Matula said parts of northern Wisconsin have around 60 percent of leaves changed, while southern regions have up to 30 percent of trees changing color.


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

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