State News: Supreme Court Strips Power from State Schools Leader

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has ruled in favor of a conservative advocacy group in a case that will shift oversight of some school policies from the state schools superintendent to the governor. 

The court ruled 4-2 in the case that began when Gov. Tony Evers was state schools superintendent and former Gov. Scott Walker was in office. 

In the case, then-superintendent Evers argued that he did not need to get executive approval for rules he wrote for the state Department of Public Instruction, despite a state law called the REINS Act, which requires state agencies to get approval from the governor’s office and state Department of Administration, which is controlled by the governor. 

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty filed the lawsuit in 2017, arguing that Evers, as superintendent, wasn’t following the law adopted that same year.

Evers argued the state schools superintendent is a publicly elected, rather than appointed, state office holder with executive power, thereby allowing him to circumvent the REINS requirement. 

The court rejected that argument. 

Justices Ann Walsh Bradley and Rebecca Dallet dissented. 

Supreme Court Upholds Lame-Duck Session

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has ruled in favor of Republican state lawmakers and upheld their actions during December’s lame-duck session of the state Legislature. The lame-duck session passed a number of laws limiting the power of then Gov.-elect Tony Evers and then Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul. It also placed limits on early voting in Wisconsin.

The court ruled 4-3 in favor of the GOP, dismissing an argument that the session was called unconstitutionally.

The plaintiffs in the case, the League of Women Voters, argued that the state constitution does not ascribe the power to call an extraordinary session of the Legislature to lawmakers, thereby making the December session and all actions therein unconstitutional and invalid.

Justices Ann Walsh Bradley, Shirley Abrahamson and Rebecca Dallet dissented.

The court currently has a 4-3 conservative majority. That will move to 5-2 when Justice-elect Brian Hagedorn is sworn in in January.

Because the state Supreme Court is the highest judicial power in Wisconsin, the lawsuit ends here. 

One other case challenging the lame-duck session remains before the state Supreme Court. The court has yet to hear arguments in that case, which argues that the laws passed during the session violate the state constitution’s separation-of-powers guarantee by unfairly limiting the authority of the executive branch.

Two federal cases are also pending.

Assembly Approves Increased Drunken-Driving Penalties

State lawmakers approved two bills aimed at increasing penalties on drunken driving in Wisconsin. The proposals approved by the state Assembly would put in place a requirement that first-time OWI offenders must appear in court and would establish a mandatory minimum prison sentence of five years for OWI offenders who kill someone while driving drunk.

The bills passed with unanimous voice votes. 

Both measures are sponsored by Rep. Jim Ott (R-Mequon), who has advocated for increasing state drunken-driving penalties for more than a decade. The bills have yet to be heard in the state Senate.

Dairy Industry Worries about Declining Workforce

Some Wisconsin dairy leaders worry that increased scrutiny of immigration is having an impact on the immigrant labor force that the dairy industry depends on.

Trisha Wagner, coordinator of the University of Wisconsin-Extension’s Farm Management Program, said continued scrutiny of immigrants is also affecting those who have been working and living in Wisconsin, regardless of their immigration status.

“The increased focus and negativity, combined with potential opportunities back home in, say, Mexico, have caused people to reconsider staying and working here,” Wagner said. “The risk of potentially losing everything that you’ve worked for here due to [the] current political climate – I think that’s been a factor that people have weighed.”

Wagner said for years immigrants have helped fill a decline in the rural labor force, especially in agriculture.

A 2015 industry report estimated 51 percent of dairy workers in the U.S. are immigrants.

Darin Von Ruden, president of the Wisconsin Farmers Union and a dairy farmer from Vernon County, said the threat of more raids by immigration authorities has an impact on those employees at home and at work.

“The culture of fear is definitely something that you’re seeing, with employees not wanting to park their vehicles where they’re visible on dairy farms,” Von Ruden said. “It puts extra stress on them, and that means their productivity isn’t where it should be – and that ultimately affects that farm.”

Bill Would Go after Pet Stores That Sell Dogs and Cats

Pet stores in Wisconsin that sell cats and dogs could face fines under a new bill that aims to close off a pipeline from puppy mills, but opponents say the legislation’s restrictions will have unintended consequences, such as forcing some businesses to close.

Authored by state Rep. LaKeshia Myers (D-Milwaukee), the bill would prohibit pet stores from selling dogs and cats starting on Jan. 1. Violators would be subject to a $10,000 fee for the first offense and $25,000 for each occurrence after that.

Mike Bober, president and CEO of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council – a group that represents breeders, distributors and retailers – said what’s “unfortunate” about this bill is that the consequences of it will fall on pet-store owners.

Illegally sourced animals are offered to the public through roadside sales, Craigslist ads and other online methods, Bober said.

“This tends to be where a lot of people end up going, and in fact, where they’re driven, even more frequently when a ban goes into effect,” he said.

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