Gov. Tony Evers will propose in his state budget a way to draw legislative boundaries in a way that favors neither political party.
The move would put election maps in the hands of a nonpartisan state agency instead of with Republicans who control the Legislature and drew the state’s current legislative boundaries that are 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.”
But Republican lawmakers are sure to block the proposal that is the latest in a series of measures revealed before Evers releases the entirety of his first state budget Thursday.
In a case that has reached the U.S. Supreme Court, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos are defending the state’s election maps that favor keeping Republicans in power.
A panel of judges in 2016 ruled 2-1 that Wisconsin’s maps violated Democrats’ voting rights because they were so heavily tipped in Republicans’ favor. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2016 found that those who brought the case didn’t have legal standing to sue and sent the case back to the lower court.
A new trial is scheduled for July.
Under Evers’ proposal, the maps would be drawn by state employees at the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau, which writes comprehensive reports on issues facing the Legislature and houses files associated with drafting bills.
The plan would bar mapmakers from using voting patterns, party information, incumbent residence information and demographic information to draw the boundaries, except where required by law.
The bureau’s map process would be overseen by a nonpartisan five-member commission appointed by legislative leaders of both parties.
Each of the four leaders would get to appoint one commissioner each and those four members would appoint a fifth commissioner to serve as the commission’s chairperson.
Under Evers’ proposal, commissioners may not be anyone who holds a partisan public office or political party office nor may they be employed by or related to any lawmakers.
Public hearings on the proposed maps would be held in each congressional district.
In a recent Marquette University Law School poll, an overwhelming 72 percent of those polled said they support legislative and congressional district boundaries being drawn by a nonpartisan commission, as Evers has proposed, rather than the state Legislature.
That’s compared with just 18 percent who said the Legislature should continue to draw the boundaries.
“Gov. Evers has heeded our call for moving nonpartisan redistricting reform forward, and now the Legislature must follow suit,” said Sachin Chheda, chairman of the Wisconsin Fair Maps Coalition, which is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the state’s current election maps.
Aides to Fitzgerald and Vos did not immediately have a reaction to Evers’ proposal.
The Milton School District believes a new approach to solving facility concerns—making additions to six of the district’s seven buildings instead of building a new high school—could convince the public to approve a referendum on the district’s third attempt to do so since 2016.
The district hosted an open house Tuesday night to answer questions from community members about the $59.9 million facilities referendum.
Representatives from each of the district’s seven schools, district staff, PRA Architects and JP Cullen were available to answer questions following a brief presentation. About 75 people were in attendance.
Community members at recent school board meetings have expressed strong opinions both for and against the referendum. Tuesday night’s crowd showed there are some people who are still on the fence about how they will vote.
Emily Kerl, a retiree and district resident, said she welcomed the opportunity to ask district staff questions about the referendum one-on-one. She also said the new plan to renovate several school buildings made more sense than building a high school.
Kerl has an 11-year-old grandson who attends Northside Intermediate School. Her grandson has special needs, and she was pleased to hear the referendum would include Americans With Disabilities Act upgrades at most schools and a special education wing in the middle school.
Casey Rusch-Weiland, a special education teacher at Milton Middle School, said she teaches in a classroom that is divided in half. Her students, many with sensory sensitivities, struggle to focus in close quarters.
Students with special needs often need physical or occupational therapists to teach them skills such as typing, tying their shoes, brushing their teeth and other life skills because parents aren’t always equipped to teach those skills at home, Rusch-Weiland said.
There is not enough space at the middle school for therapists to work with students individually, leaving them to teach in hallways or converted closets. This leaves students sometimes feeling embarrassed or isolated, Rusch-Weiland said.
As a retiree, Kerl had concerns about her family’s taxes going up while living on a fixed income. She wants to remain in her home for as long as she can and provide for her grandson, who lives with Kerl and her husband, she said.
If passed, the referendum would add $164 in taxes per $100,000 of fair market property value per year, according to tax impact documents from Baird, a financial advisory company.
Kerl said the tax impact was less than she expected and that she would discuss it with her husband before making her decision to vote.
Other residents at the open house had questions similar to Kerl’s. Some were ardent referendum supporters, but most were people looking to learn more.
Superintendent Tim Schigur said adding to most district buildings instead of building a new high school seems to appeal to voters. Lowering the cost has also alleviated concerns from some taxpayers, he said.
The district will be adding additional information to its website based on questions asked Tuesday, Schigur said.
Cynthia Luger Conroy
Michael J. Getchell
Arturo Luis Gomez
Peter Hiemstra Jr.
Kathleen F. Hume
Jon “Jerry” O’Leary
Carol A. Oswald
Oswald J. Rhyner
Stainless-steel security screens have been installed over the windows in two interview rooms at the Rock County Sheriff’s Office after a suspect jumped out of one of them to escape last fall.
The sheriff’s office has released videos of the incident in response to a Gazette request under the state open records law.
The windows previously had regular home-style screens that could be pushed out, said Capt. Todd Christiansen of the detective bureau.
The video shows a male diving through the window soon after a detective escorts him into the room. A second camera picks him up sprinting across the lawn.
About 13 minutes later, the detective returns to find the room empty and utters an exclamation.
Christiansen declined to identify the detective.
Christiansen said detectives have used two interview rooms since the sheriff’s office moved from downtown Janesville in the late 1980s, and the windows’ security was never upgraded until now.
The incident also underwent an administrative review, and only the windows were found at fault, not the procedures, Christiansen said. No one was disciplined.
Quantrell D. Schwartzlow, 17, of 312 Mowe St., Orfordville, was charged with escape in the incident. He has pleaded not guilty, and his case is pending in Rock County Court.
He also has pleaded not guilty to a charge of strangulation/suffocation in connection with an Aug. 1 incident, court records indicate.
Schwartzlow had been arrested Oct. 18 at Orfordville Parkview High School and was placed in the interview room the same day, authorities said at the time.
He was taken out of the room and “manipulated” his way back into the room, Deputy District Attorney Perry Folts said at an earlier court hearing, suggesting he planned to jump after his first exposure to the room.
Schwartzlow dropped 12 to 16 feet to the ground after going through the window, Christiansen estimated. No camera caught his landing.
Christiansen said Schwartzlow did not appear to have injured himself.
He was caught in Janesville at a friend’s house about 3½ hours after his escape, police reported at the time.