Janesville backyards got an environmental and agricultural boost in 2015 when the city council decided to allow residents to raise chickens within city limits.
Environmentally minded residents might soon have more options for sustainable living if proposals covering backyard beehives and compost piles become city ordinances.
The sustainable Janesville committee has discussed both policy ideas for nearly two years, Chairman Aaron Aegerter said. Now, they’re almost ready to be presented to the city council.
“Every city is including major sustainability plans in all their decisions,” he said. “This allows for small-scale residents to do what they can to support nature and get more in touch with the environment right in their own backyard. It does encourage a more smaller, practical application.”
The compost ordinance cleared its first hurdle Monday by passing the plan commission, 4-2, with Jens Jorgensen and Carl Weber dissenting.
The proposal will move to the city council next month.
The compost ordinance would allow for backyard compost piles located at least 5 feet from property lines and at least 20 feet away from neighboring buildings. The piles are an environmentally savvy way to dispose of grass clippings, garden vegetation and produce, Aegerter said.
Composting natural materials can turn them into fertilizer. Throwing them into the garbage does not benefit the environment because landfill soil is tainted by trash.
“This way, you’re not filling it into another contaminated landfill. Usually, the chemicals and other breakdowns of plastics makes that soil unusable if you’re planning on using it for your garden soil,” Aegerter said. “But it’s more than just soil. It’s a really rich fertilizer that can increase health and yield of vegetables and flowers.”
The compost ordinance originally was part of a larger idea to transform backyard landscaping, which would have given residents more freedom to plant prairie grasses and flower gardens. The committee split the proposals to prevent complications, and it plans to continue working on the landscape policy in the coming months.
As for the beehive ordinance, the committee is still finalizing details. It has taken time to thoroughly examine bee allergy concerns, Aegerter said.
The ordinance likely will have minimum height rules for barrier fences—which would raise the bees’ flight path—and require an on-site water supply to discourage bees from leaving the yard.
Aegerter stressed that these hives would be for honeybees, which tend to be much less aggressive than yellowjackets or other wasps.
Some Janesville residents already keep bees. Enacting an ordinance would help regulate that activity, he said.
“We feel it promotes more pollination of flowers within the community and an opportunity for city residents to grow their own food,” Aegerter said. “The bees are under pressure with colony collapse disorder. We’re hoping to encourage more honeybees to help sustain their populations in case it gets worse.”
The committee based both the ordinances on similar policies in peer communities. The compost proposal could reach the council later this month, while the beehive ordinance would likely be introduced sometime in early 2019, Aegerter said.
Amid public outcry, state lawmakers worked into the night Monday to advance Republican legislation to scale back the power of the incoming Democratic governor and attorney general, limit early voting, and change an election date to help a conservative justice keep his seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
In written testimony, Democratic Gov.-elect Tony Evers asked Republican lawmakers to abandon their lame-duck session instead of trying to “override and ignore what the people of Wisconsin asked for this November.”
“This is rancor and politics as usual,” he wrote of their plans. “It flies in the face of democratic institutions and the checks and balances that are intended to prevent power-hungry politicians from clinging to control when they do not get their way.”
But outgoing Gov. Scott Walker downplayed the significance of the legislation’s proposed changes and signaled he would sign it if it gets to his desk before he leaves office Jan. 7.
“Much of what we did over the last eight years is work with the Legislature, not at odds with the Legislature,” he told reporters after a menorah lighting ceremony at the governor’s mansion. “For all the talk about reining in power, it really doesn’t.”
Walker said the measures seek to maintain the current friendly dynamic between the Republican governor and GOP-controlled Legislature.
The Legislature’s budget committee commenced a hearing shortly before 2 p.m. as hundreds of opponents outside the hearing room banged on the doors and chanted, “Respect our vote!”
Public testimony wrapped up just after 10 p.m. and the committee was poised to take votes on the legislation today. Leaders hoped to take up the legislation in the Senate and Assembly later today, allowing them to send it to Walker.
Whether they could get the measure through as written remained unclear.
Republicans in the state Senate cannot afford to lose more than one vote to get their lame-duck plan through their house. With support for some parts of the measure shaky, opponents focused their lobbying efforts on five senators in hopes of getting two or more of them to abandon all or part of the plan.
Opponents’ attention was on GOP Sens. Rob Cowles of Green Bay, Dan Feyen of Fond du Lac, Luther Olsen of Ripon, Jerry Petrowski of Marathon and Patrick Testin of Stevens Point. None said whether they would back the entire measure.
Among the numerous provisions included in the legislation are ones that would limit early voting to two weeks; give Republicans more control of the state agency overseeing job creation; curtail the governor’s ability to write state rules and adjust public benefits programs; and allow lawmakers to replace the attorney general with private attorneys at taxpayer expense.
At a stop in Wausau, Evers said he would consider litigation should any of the measures become law.
“We will actively be looking at either to litigate or do whatever else in our power to make sure the people of Wisconsin are represented at the table,” Evers told reporters.
Olsen said he did not think a proposal to move the 2020 presidential primary from April to March would ultimately be adopted, even as GOP Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau said it could still be taken up.
But Walker also said he anticipated the measure being changed before he sees it. In another sign of displeasure with the measure, Republican Rep. Romaine Quinn of Barron wrote in an update to constituents that he wanted the presidential primary to be moved to February, when another election is scheduled, to avoid adding taxpayer costs or burdening clerks.
The plan to move the presidential primary is aimed at making sure conservative state Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly is not up for election on the same day as the presidential primary, when Republicans fear Democratic turnout will be high. Moving the primary to March would cost nearly $7 million.
“I probably don’t think you’ll see it,” Olsen said of that measure.
Olsen, who spoke briefly in a Capitol hallway, did not discuss what he thought of other aspects of the sweeping legislation.
The other Republican senators who are facing the most serious lobbying were not talking Monday.
Opponents spent the weekend mobilizing after GOP leaders released the legislation late Friday. On Monday, they testified before the committee, flooded lawmakers with calls and emails, and rallied on the Capitol steps.
Some moments echoed the raucous protests of 2011 over collective bargaining, with opponents chanting and banging on the hearing room doors. Most of those testifying sharply but politely decried the legislation, but some yelled from the audience or refused to end their testimony after two minutes and were escorted out of the hearing by police.
Early on, the Joint Finance Committee’s co-chairman, Republican Rep. John Nygren of Marinette, warned the crowd he could clear the room if it became too boisterous.
“This is not a two-way conversation,” Nygren told the crowd.
Republicans have a commanding 64-35 majority in the Assembly, making passage there much easier than in the Senate.
GOP lawmakers said they want to re-balance power before Evers takes over for Walker.
“We want both branches (of government) to have an equal seat at the table,” said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, a Rochester Republican.
Vos said he started considering the legislation this summer, before he knew who would win the race for governor. Drafting files made public Monday showed the legislation was put together in the weeks after the Nov. 6 election.
Fitzgerald, the Senate majority leader, downplayed the measures that are being considered.
“People are outraged,” he said. “I’m not sure where that’s coming from right now. ... I still characterize this as inside baseball.”
Democrats condemned the plan as an effort to reverse the election.
“This is clearly an attempt to undermine our democracy in Wisconsin,” said Josh Kaul, the Democrat who beat Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel and would lose many of his powers in the legislation.
Helen E. Ames
Peter H. Bouma
Marilyn J. Kuhl
Keith J. Kuper
Dolores “Jean” Logterman
Charlene P. Olson
Rev. Gerald “Pastor Pete” Peterson
Mary Ellen Schneider
Clarence Ernest Schultz
Ann Johanna Spath
William W. Swift
Delavan police are investigating Sunday’s double-fatal shooting in Darien as a murder-suicide.
In a news release, police identified the suspect as Steven W. Kohs, 34.
The shooting victim who died was William Swift, 48. The victim who survived is Rebecca L. Kohs, 39.
All three are from the village of Walworth.
Delavan Police Chief Jim Hansen said Monday that Steven and Rebecca were an “estranged husband and wife.” He said investigators still are looking at “all possibilities” regarding how Swift was involved.
Online court records show Rebecca filed for divorce from Steven on Feb. 5, but the case was dismissed March 12.
Just after midnight Sunday, police responded to 127 N. Walworth St. and found Steven dead from a possible self-inflicted gunshot wound. Inside the apartment, police found Rebecca with a gunshot wound and Swift dead of gunshot wounds.
Hansen said police recovered the weapon from the incident, but he would not specify what kind of firearm.
Police have said they expect Rebecca to make a full recovery after she was taken to Mercyhealth Hospital and Trauma Center, Janesville. Hansen said he last saw her at about 5:30 a.m. Sunday when she was being reunited with her kids, and she appeared “fine.”
A spokeswoman for the hospital confirmed Monday that Rebecca was treated and released.
Hansen said he believed Rebecca was friends with the renter of the apartment where the shooting happened. He believes the renter was the person who reported the shooting to the Rock County 911 Communications Center, and she also was present when the shooting took place.
Hansen said police still were gathering details.
Police are investigating the shooting as a murder-suicide after getting information from neighbors, statements from the two surviving witnesses and other evidence at the scene, according to the Monday news release.
Autopsies of the two men could yield more information. Police also are looking at cellphone records.
Both of those, along with other elements of the investigation, “may take two months to complete,” the release states.
Police have said no one else was injured and that the community is not in danger.
The incoming Democratic attorney general said legislation Republican lawmakers plan to take up today to strip him of many of his powers is designed to reverse the results of last month’s election and if passed is sure to wind up in court.
“This is just not the process we should have in an advanced democracy,” Josh Kaul said in an interview late Sunday. “This is an attempt to undermine the election we had less than a month ago by fundamentally changing the way our state government operates.”
Kaul narrowly defeated Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel in last month’s election and is to be sworn in Jan. 7.
In response, Republicans who kept their control of the Legislature are seeking to pass sweeping legislation they unveiled late Friday that would allow lawmakers to replace the attorney general with private attorneys of their choosing for key cases; require lawmakers to sign off on court settlements; give lawmakers instead of the attorney general control of how to spend court settlements; and eliminate the solicitor general’s office that oversees high-profile litigation.
The legislation would also take powers from incoming Democratic Gov.-elect Tony Evers, limit early voting to two weeks and move the 2020 presidential primary at a cost of $7 million to taxpayers to make it easier for conservative state Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly to win his election that year.
If passed by lawmakers, outgoing Gov. Scott Walker would have to sign it for it to become law.
“If it does pass, it’s certain to end up in court,” Kaul said.
Kaul would not say whether he would bring such a lawsuit himself or whether he expected others to do so. He declined to spell out his views on what aspects of the legislation he believes could be illegal, saying no one has had a chance to fully analyze it and lawmakers could drop or amend it.
“My focus right now is on encouraging them as a Legislature not to pass this bill. My hope is we won’t get to the point where we have to look at the legality of the legislation,” he said.
The bill would be expensive for taxpayers because lawmakers could pick private attorneys to conduct the most complicated, costly litigation, Kaul said. The legislation would also give lawmakers a chance to more easily use private lawyers at taxpayer expense when they themselves are sued.
“That’s great if you’re a highly connected attorney, but it’s bad if you’re a taxpayer,” Kaul said.
Schimel has not said what he thinks of the legislation that limits the power of the office he is leaving. A Schimel aide did not respond to questions Sunday. Walker has said he will appoint Schimel as a Waukesha County circuit court judge before he and Schimel leave office next month.
Republican lawmakers have not explained why they want to curb what the attorney general can do, other than to say they believe power in the state needs to be rebalanced.
Another element of the bill would give lawmakers, rather than the governor, control of state litigation, such as a lawsuit authorized by Walker to challenge the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. Evers and Kaul campaigned on ending that Obamacare lawsuit, but GOP lawmakers who support it could keep the lawsuit alive if the bill passes.
The provision that would require a legislative committee to approve court settlements would make it harder to resolve cases, Kaul said. Opposing attorneys might not want to make public details of settlement talks if they aren’t sure the state would go for them. Legislators would have to get up to speed on a raft of mundane cases.
“Is that committee really going to come in and meet every time there’s an environmental case the (Department of Justice) wants to settle?” Kaul said. “It’s another illustration of how the bad the process is here.”
Over the weekend, an attorney for the liberal group One Wisconsin Institute said it would bring a legal challenge to the limit on early voting if it passes. The group successfully struck down a similar limit in 2016.
As a private attorney, Kaul helped the group with that case. He declined to say whether he thought a new challenge would succeed and said he would recuse himself from the issue as attorney general because of his past work for the group.