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State Supreme Court reinstates measures passed in lame-duck session

MADISON

The state Supreme Court late Tuesday reinstated most of the lame-duck laws Republican lawmakers approved in December to trim the powers of the state’s top Democrats.

With a pair of 4-3 orders, the high court canceled a trial that was to commence today and put back in place almost all the lame-duck laws while it considers an appeal.

Under one of the most significant aspects of the rulings, Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul—at least for the time being—will have to get the approval of a committee of lawmakers before settling lawsuits. Under another, the Evers administration will have to take public comments for weeks before publishing certain documents.

After Tuesday’s rulings, just two provisions of the lame-duck laws have been kept from going into effect. One would have limited early voting; the other would have required a public commenting period for older government documents.

The status of the laws could change in the months ahead because the Supreme Court has to make more rulings in the case, as well as another one. A federal judge is overseeing another challenge to the lame-duck laws that is in its early stages.

“Today’s ruling is a win for the people of Wisconsin,” said a statement from state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau. “The Supreme Court correctly decided the statutes enacted by the Legislature should remain in effect. We are confident that the constitutionality of these laws will be upheld when the court hears the full case in the coming months.”

Lester Pines, an attorney for Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, said Tuesday’s rulings will greatly slow the ability of the Evers administration to respond to routine questions from the public because it will have to take public comments for 21 days on documents it drafts before officially publishing them.

“I think it’s important for the public to know if they send an email about how to comply with the law that it is entirely possible that the response to the email will be substantially delayed,” Pines said.

The rulings came 15 hours before a two-day trial was to begin in Dane County Circuit Court over the provision of the lame-duck law on government documents.

Conservatives on the court canceled the trial by staying proceedings while the high court considers an appeal of initial decisions in the case. In a separate ruling, the same justices ordered the reinstatement of most of the lame-duck laws while they consider the case.

Backing the reinstatement of the laws were Chief Justice Patience Roggensack and Justices Rebecca Bradley, Daniel Kelly and Annette Ziegler. Dissenting were Shirley Abrahamson, Ann Walsh Bradley and Rebecca Dallet (the Bradleys are not related).

More decisions to come

In an overnight session in December, Republican lawmakers approved legislation to limit the powers of Evers and Kaul just before they took office. A flurry of lawsuits followed.

In one, arms of the Service Employees International Union alleged the lame-duck laws violated the state constitution’s separation-of-powers doctrine, which delineates what actions each branch of government can take.

In March, Dane County Circuit Judge Frank Remington initially blocked some provisions of the laws, including ones that spelled out how government documents had to be written and another that limited Kaul’s ability to settle lawsuits.

Today’s trial was meant to determine whether a more lasting order should be issued on how government documents are published. A subsequent trial this fall was expected to determine the future of other parts of the laws.

Tuesday’s orders halted proceedings before Remington. The Supreme Court in April agreed to take part of the case, but with Tuesday’s orders assumed more control over it.

Three other challenges have been filed over the measures.

The state Supreme Court last month heard arguments in a lawsuit brought by the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin and other groups that contends legislators brought themselves into session illegally and that all its actions should be declared invalid. The high court is expected to rule in that case this summer.

In another case, a federal judge struck down a provision in the lame-duck laws that would have limited early voting.

In the last case, the state Democratic Party alleges the lame-duck laws violated the First Amendment rights of Democratic voters. That case is in its early stages.

Attorney general’s power

For now, attention turns to the provisions of the lame-duck laws that had been blocked.

Historically, the attorney general has overseen litigation. Kaul this year—at a time when parts of the lame-duck laws were blocked—used his powers to get the state out of a lawsuit over the Affordable Care Act, which is widely known as Obamacare.

Now, he will have to get approval from the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee to take similar actions in other lawsuits.

“This litigation will continue,” Kaul said in a statement. “We will continue to stand up to the Legislature’s unconstitutional attempt to undermine (the Department of Justice’s) ability to get justice for Wisconsinites.”

Under the latest rulings, the Evers administration will need to begin following the part of the lame-duck law that requires it to allow for a 21-day commenting period before adopting “guidance documents” that tell the public how it will implement or enforce state rules and laws.

Evers and the unions bringing the lawsuit argue the definition of “guidance documents” is so broad that it would apply to thousands of documents, including emails government workers send to Wisconsin residents about routine matters. That could cripple the ability of the executive branch to provide information to the public, they contend.

GOP lawmakers argue they have the right to determine how state agencies communicate with the public. They say the state Department of Natural Resources voluntarily adopted a similar process for regulatory documents under former Gov. Scott Walker.

In his initial ruling in March, Remington concluded the requirement for guidance documents was a “cumbersome burden” that “substantially and unreasonably interferes with the orderly operation of the various state agencies to which they apply.”

The Supreme Court is letting that provision go into effect for documents that have been written since March and that will be written in the future. But it blocked a requirement that older documents be revoked if they didn’t go through a commenting period before this July.


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Freedom! Last day of school, first day of summer

JANESVILLE

Life is good, and soon there will be Popsicles.

If the last day of school had a motto, that would be it.

On Tuesday, Janesville elementary school children celebrated the last day of school with games, pizza, a fifth grade “clap out”, picnics and a range of other joyful events.

At Jackson Elementary School, students spent the morning playing outside as they enjoyed a field day, an event that included:

  • Playing a version of duck, duck, goose that allowed them to pour a Dixie cup of water on a teacher’s head, but only in the nicest way possible.
  • Hula-hooping themselves to exhaustion.
  • Running through, up, over and under an obstacle course.
  • Throwing stuff.

Between their activities, we asked students to reflect on their school year and share their plans for the summer.

Maya Wojcik, 10, will be in fifth grade next year.

“I guess I’m going to miss my teachers and math,” Maya said.

Math?

“Yeah, I like math,” Maya said. “It’s, like, one of my hobbies.”

Her friend Lyza McGuigan, 9, said she would miss her teachers and reading.

“At school, they have books that I don’t have at home, and the library is very peaceful and quiet, and I like to read that way. My house is very chaotic.”

Lyza and Maya are going to have a cleaning club this summer called Dust Bunnies. Lyza stressed that it wouldn’t be a club with meetings and stuff like that. Nobody likes meetings. Instead, Lyza and Maya will be charging $5 a room for their cleaning services.

Maya also will get to travel to Poland to visit family. This is the third time she’s visited the country.

Kaysten DeMotthi, 8, has more chill plans for the summer.

“I’m just going to eat Popsicles at my house,” Kaysten said.

Kaysten’s friend Cecil Wright, 8, declared that the last day of school was the best. They didn’t say this with any maliciousness—they were just having fun right that minute.

They’ll miss gym class and their friends.

Cecil will especially miss his friend who lives in the trailer park and doesn’t know where Cecil’s house is and so probably can’t come over to play.

Aracli Mernio and her friends Mar’tavia Warner and Brooklyn Chambers will miss teacher Kelly Gilligan. The girls are all 10.

Mar’tavia said she’ll also really miss her principal, Kristen Moisson

Really, she’s going to miss the principal?

Yes, Mar’tavia loooooves Mrs. Moisson.

With another full year of school under their belts, the kids had plenty of advice for youngsters moving up a grade.

Most of it boiled down to “follow the rules,” but Maya advised other kids not to “go into drama.” This does not mean avoid the theater. Rather, it means not to gossip or spread rumors.

Violet Rosburg, 8, advised her fellow students to “follow directions and never give up.”

Words to live by.


Principal targeting 'attendance barriers' during her summer break

How do you get truants to school?

Get to know their families, and stop calling them truants.

That’s Kristen Moisson’s theory, anyway.

This summer Moisson, who is the principal of Jackson Elementary School, plans to visit some of the families who have trouble with absenteeism.

She’ll be joined by school resource officer Denise Stutika.

Stutika, who usually serves at Edison Middle School, will not be there to threaten parents. Rather, both principal and officer will be looking for ways to solve problems and connect with families.

Moisson sees the problem as one of “attendance barriers.”

“We want to ask, ‘How can we help you?’” Moisson said.

That help might be something as simple as an alarm clock or a morning phone call. It might mean letting a child take a different, slightly later bus.

She also wants parents not to give up if their children miss the bus or something makes them late.

“If it’s 9 a.m., we still want them to come. If it is 11 a.m. or 1 p.m., we still want them to come,” she said.

It’s crucial to show parents that a school isn’t just another institution bent on enforcing its rules, whatever a person’s circumstances might be.

“It’s all about building relationships,” Moisson said.


Council clears way for new industrial site on south side

JANESVILLE

A 303,000-square-foot speculative industrial building planned for the city’s south side will be about twice the size of any other such facility recently built in Janesville.

Constructing something so large without having a secure tenant is a big risk and big investment, and it requires a lot of faith that the Janesville market will continue to flourish for years to come, a city official said.

The Janesville City Council approved a tax increment financing agreement Monday night that clears the way for the building.

In the agreement, the city will provide $2.4 million spread over 10 years to help TI Janesville II construct the facility on an 18-acre site at the northwest corner of Beloit Avenue and Highway 11. The developer is a subsidiary of Milwaukee-based Zilber Property Group.

The building will generate about $12.7 million in new value for the site, bringing the property value to about $13 million, according to a city memorandum.

In a separate move Monday, the council amended the boundaries of the surrounding TIF district so the site would be included. That move requires approval by the joint review board, which is scheduled for today.

Once the project earns final approval, construction will begin almost immediately. City Economic Development Director Gale Price expects crews to start work next week and finish by the end of the year.

The new building will be marketed for either distribution or manufacturing. It will be located just east of a former John Deere warehouse now owned by Zilber and leased to Generac, Price said.

Part of the new building will cover the site of a former flea market that John Deere sold to Zilber earlier this year, he said.

Price called the speculative facility a “build-to-suit situation.” Crews will construct the building shell and could make interior modifications once a tenant signs a lease, he said.

The building eventually could house one or two tenants.

Considering most local speculative facilities range between 100,000 square feet and 150,000 square feet, Zilber’s desire to build bigger reflects the company’s belief in the area economy, Price said.

This will be Zilber’s first new project in Janesville. The neighboring Generac site is the only other building it owns here.

The Rock County Development Alliance had a working relationship with Zilber and recruited them to Janesville. Zilber bought the old John Deere warehouse in August 2017 and soon inquired about additional development on site, Price said.

Janesville has a recent track record of getting projects finished and finding the necessary labor force to fill new positions. That makes the market attractive, he said.

The Gazette was unable to reach a Zilber representative Tuesday.

Speculative buildings can be risky for investors. They are spending money to construct large facilities without anyone promising to move in, Price said.

Developments such as this one historically meant getting plans approved first, then signing a lease and starting to build. But a shift toward more distribution in U.S. manufacturing has reduced the amount of vacant warehouse space available, Price said.

“It’s challenging because in the traditional world, banks like to see a tenant lined up,” he said. “But in the competitive world of economic development, you really need to have the site under construction in order to convince site selectors you’ll be able to bring the property to market on time for the tenant.

“It’s a very different world than where we were at 10 years ago.”


Obituaries and death notices for June 12, 2019

Marjorie A. Bruhn

Carlos B. Godinez

James C. Hulburt

Gary K. Keller

Ronald E. Lexa

June E. Woodrich

Ronald W. Zink