State News: Special Elections, Farm Incomes, Home Bakers
Group Sues Walker for Empty Legislative Seats
A group run by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is suing Gov. Scott Walker for his decision to leave two Wisconsin state legislative seats vacant this year, including the 1st Senate district that serves Door and Kewaunee counties.
The National Democratic Redistricting Committee announced the lawsuit Monday on behalf of several voters from the 1st Senate District and the 42nd state Assembly District in south central Wisconsin. The group’s complaint states Walker has a “legal duty to call for such an election to fill the vacancies ‘as promptly as possible.'”
Both districts were vacated Dec. 29, when former state Sen. Frank Lasee and former state Rep. Keith Ripp resigned from the Legislature to take jobs in Walker’s administration.
“Gov. Scott Walker’s refusal to hold special elections is an affront to representative democracy,” Holder said in a press release. “Forcing citizens to go more than a year without representation in the general Assembly is a plain violation of their rights and we’re hopeful the court will act quickly to order the governor to hold elections.”
Walker argues that because the seats were vacated in late 2017, he’s not obligated to call the elections in 2018.
Farm Incomes Expected to Continue to Decline
Income for Wisconsin farms is expected to fall again this year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture projected the country’s net farm income to be $59.5 billion in 2018, a 6.7 percent decrease from 2017’s forecast.
While net farm income was up slightly last year, 2018 is expected to be the fifth year of lower income levels after a record high in 2013 at $123.8 billion. If the forecast is accurate, this year will have the lowest U.S. net farm income since 2006.
“It’s a challenging forecast,” said Jim Holte, president of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation. “We’ve dealt with cyclic (price) situations in the past and it’s probably just a circumstance of our business. But this is a difficult time for many farmers.”
Paul Mitchell, professor of agricultural and applied economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said Wisconsin incomes will likely follow the USDA’s projections.
“It’s a broad economic decline right now in agriculture where we’ve oversupplied the markets, basically. There’s uncertainty about trade and that creates some issues,” Mitchell said.
With little income, Mitchell said farms are having to borrow more to cover basic operating expenses.
Mitchell said strong land values in the state have allowed farmers to continue to operate. But without a price rally, he expects more farms will be forced to declare bankruptcy this year.
Green Bay Schools Consider Armed Guards
All Green Bay public schools may have armed security officers in their hallways in the future. It’s a plan that is in its formative stages, Green Bay Police Chief Andrew Smith said.
Smith said he estimated that 40 officers plus substitutes could cost $2.5 million dollars, and that state and federal money might be available to offset the cost. The officers would work for the police department, and ideally be retired police officers or retired military personnel. Officers would wear street clothes and carry a sidearm but have access to a police rifle in case an intruder were to enter a school. He is not aware of any other Wisconsin communities with armed guards stationed at every school.
“They would pull out that rifle and they would be able to match whatever firepower this person had,” Smith said, adding that he would require any security officers to have that extra training. “As you know, we already have rifles in our police cars, our officers have all been trained on how to use them.”
Milwaukee to Bid for Democratic National Convention
Congresswoman Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee, said the national convention has quite an economic impact on the host city. Moore said two years ago, the Democratic National Convention brought 54,000 people and $231 million in economic activity to Philadelphia.
Milwaukee Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce President Tim Sheehy said it would be a “tremendous opportunity to showcase the world-class facilities, business climate and opportunities that Milwaukee and Wisconsin have to offer.”
The city has the meeting space needed to hold the convention and Milwaukee’s suburbs have enough hotels to accommodate lodging needs, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said.
Wisconsin has never hosted a national convention for either of the major parties.
The DNC typically issues a formal request for proposals in the spring and visits the finalist cities late in the summer.
Judge Rules for Home Bakers
A Lafayette County Circuit Court judge has denied a state Department of Justice request to limit how much bakers can make from selling homemade goods. State lawyers asked Judge Duane Jorgenson to clarify how much home bakers could earn, suggesting a $5,000 sales cap.
But Jorgenson ruled the question “misconstrues and mischaracterizes” his original decision in an order filed Monday. In the order, Jorgenson called the request “an effort to re-litigate issues.” He also pointed out the deadline to appeal his October ruling has already passed.
Dela Ends, one of the farmers who sued the state, said the $5,000 cap would have been the lowest in the country. “The whole idea of this was to help small businesses get a leg up and a cap like that is just continuing to be restrictive,” Ends said.
Jorgenson said in his ruling that any regulations on home bakers should come from the Legislature, not the court.
But Lisa Kivirist, another plaintiff in the case, said home bakers have been unsuccessful in getting changes passed.
“We have wanted a law ever since we worked to first introduce the Cookie Bill back in 2014,” Kivirist said. “It’s our elected representatives who are stalling this process.”
Lawmakers in the Assembly recently held a public hearing on a bill that would cap sales at $10,000 for home bakers, a proposal that Kivirst, Ends and other baking advocates oppose.
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