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State Rep. Job Tate’s replacement won’t be as conservative as he is

Wed, 04/05/2017 - 14:16

OUT OF HERE: State Rep. Job Tate is leaving Vermont to deploy with his U.S. Navy reserve unit. Tate is the only House Republican not to endorse Gov. Phil Scott’s candidacy, and Scott will name his replacement.

State Rep. Job Tate, one of the most outspoken conservative voices in Montpelier, is resigning his seat in the state House after receiving news of his U.S. Navy Construction Battalion unit’s imminent deployment.

Tate, a Navy reservist first elected in 2014, was the only Republican representative not to endorse Gov. Phil Scott in the GOP primary in 2016.

Now Scott gets to pick Tate’s replacement from a list of three names provided by the state Republican Party.

RELATED: Candidates seek to replace Rep. Tate

That choice will most likely reflect Scott’s moderate brand of Republicanism, not Tate’s full-spectrum conservatism.

“I think that concern is well founded,” Tate told Watchdog. “I don’t think anyone is surprised (Scott’s) a moderate, and that’s representative of a lot of the state. I’m not going to blame him if he appoints someone who will hold his agenda.”

Tate was an outspoken critic  of Scott’s sanctuary-like response to President Donald Trump’s immigration policies. And while Tate said his top priority is economic policy, he also voted against a resolution supporting abortion rights, a bill to remove firearms from the homes of those accused of domestic assault, and a bill terminating parental notification requirements for students receiving sexual orientation counseling.

“Having been in the trenches and fought the battle, representing these values is hard. Part of me wishes I could hand off my seat, but I think that is vanity rather than a desire for good representation,” he said.

The three candidates the party nominated are: Killington Police Chief Whit Montgomery; Dave Soucy, general manager of  Green Mountain National Golf Course; and Jim Harrison, former president of the Vermont Retail and Grocers Association.

“The driving concern in my district has been the economy and taxation,” Tate said. “On those core principles I do line up (with the candidates), but on other issues, voters are going to find more moderation in the candidate appointed,” said Tate. He also noted that his district is not particularly conservative on social issues, but  supported his candidacy because of economic policy.

But Tate said his election proves there is room for true conservatives in Vermont’s government.

“If we don’t have the courage to voice our convictions, we need to ask, why are we fighting anyway? Do we have an empty need to win? We need to believe in the cause of conservatism and sell it better. It’s tough to be a Republican in Vermont. But with the overreach of the left, I have complete confidence in a massive resurgence of the Republican Party in Vermont.”

After all, he added, Vermont was once a conservative state. “Rugged individualism was born out of these hills. I would like to think I had a small hand in progress toward conservatism simply by manning my post and not backing down when faced with withering opposition,” he said.

Tate hopes to leave Montpelier by the end of the week, and Scott has set up interviews with the three candidates.

Operational details of Tate’s deployment with the Seabees were not released publicly.

Emma Lamberton is Vermont Watchdog’s health care and Rutland area reporter. Contact her at elamberton@watchdog.org and @EmmaBeth9.

Schimel receives an attaboy as Senate’s Gorsuch war intensifies

Wed, 04/05/2017 - 00:16

MADISON, Wis. – With the Senate embroiled in a bitter battle over President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, the Republican Attorneys General Association is publicly thanking one of its own for standing by its man.

SEEKING JUSTICE: President Donald Trump introduces appeals court Judge Neil Gorsuch as his nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court. Filibusters and a so-called ‘nuclear option’ loom before Gorsuch’s confirmation vote this week.

RAGA is making a digital ad buy in Wisconsin saluting Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel for his support of would-be Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. The ad is running on Facebook as part of an ad campaign across 10 states thanking attorneys general for their support, according to the association.

“Confirming Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court is the single most important issue in America right now. RAGA and its members are committed to the rule of law,” said RAGA Executive Director Scott Will. “It is critical to support judges who will interpret the law as written and not legislate from the bench. Attorney General Brad Schimel has done a great job speaking out in support of Neil Gorsuch, and we are thanking him for his leadership.”

The Senate on Tuesday formally opened debate on Gorsuch’s nomination, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., insisting a confirmation vote will be wrapped up by the time senators skip town Friday for the two-week Easter break.

Senate Democrats pledged obstruction as Republicans threatened to kill the traditional 60-vote requirement for confirmation. The move to a simple majority is compliments of Senate Democrats who altered the rules in 2013. The change, however, did not include votes on Supreme Court nominees.

McConnell warned his colleagues during a speech on the Senate floor that Democrats were “hurtling toward the abyss” and “trying to take the Senate with them.”

“It appears as if cloture will not be invoked, but we’ll find out on Thursday,” McConnell later told the Washington Post.  “But either way, we’ll be moving toward confirming Judge Gorsuch.”

DIGITAL THANKS: The Republican Attorneys General Association is buying digital ads to thank Attorney General Brad Schimel, among others, for supporting Gorsuch’s nomination.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., one of the most strident of Gorsuch’s Senate critics, vowed Tuesday night to “hold the floor and refuse to yield for as long as he is able to continue speaking.”

It was an interesting “Mr. Smith Goes to Hollywood” move for a liberal lawmaker who four years ago led the charge to change the Senate rules on executive confirmation votes. Democrats, of course, have called out Republicans for insisting on an up-or-down vote for Gorsuch after they refused to bring President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, up for a vote last year.

The political stew over Gorsuch, a widely respected, conservative appeals court judge, has been simmering since Trump announced his pick to fill the vacancy created in February 2016 by the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia. Wisconsin’s top pols have been stirring the pot. In February, Republican Gov. Scott Walker and U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, engaged in a twitter war over Trump’s nominee. Walker was at it again Tuesday. The state GOP has hammered Baldwin hard, calling the freshman senator a hypocrite and a flip-flopper for quickly deciding she would oppose the nominee after asserting she would “fully review” Gorsuch’s record before taking a position.

Schimel has been in the thick of the fight, urging the Senate to end the current 4-4 split in the high court.

“The American people deserve a court that can reach decisions,” Schimel said in a statement. “The United States Senate and Senator Baldwin should grant an up or down vote on Judge Gorsuch quickly. They owe that to the American people.”

M.D. Kittle is bureau chief for Wisconsin Watchdog and First Amendment reporter for Watchdog.org. Contact him at mkittle@watchdog.org.

‘Spontaneous’ left-wing group with scripts hates being described as ‘scripted’

Tue, 04/04/2017 - 17:02

MADISON, Wis. – The nationally organized, local left-wing grassroots group known as Indivisible is getting pretty ticked off about being described as “scripted” — even though its members are raising their own concerns about Wisconsin Indivisible chapters working from scripts.

INDIVISIBLE INDIGNATION: While the left-wing ‘resistance’ movement known as Indivisible doesn’t like to be described as ‘scripted,’ some of its members are complaining about the script.

The outrage – at least the latest outrage – follows an op/ed last week in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel by an Nicole Tieman, communications director for U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Menomonee Falls. The piece, takes aim at the notion that the so-called Indivisible “uprisings” are part of an organic movement, instead of a scripted, well organized and, it appears, well financed national “resistance movement’ led by Democratic activists and seasoned liberal organizers.

“From where I’m sitting, ‘spontaneous grass-roots uprising’ is a gross mischaracterization of what actually is occurring on Capitol Hill and in district offices throughout the nation, and specifically here in Wisconsin,” Tieman wrote.

“Since the start of 2017, on average we have received 10 times more calls than in the previous year. The majority of calls are from individuals reading identical scripts, many of whom are not constituents of Sensenbrenner.”

And much like the scripted calls, Tieman wrote, the congressman’s town hall meetings “have been inundated with planned opposition — individuals who come to meetings with scripted questions and a predetermined plan to disrupt proceedings.”

Nicole Sweeney Etter took umbrage with Tieman’s characterization in a response published Monday in the Journal Sentinel. As “one of the founding members” of Indivisible’s Wauwatosa branch, Etter was disappointed that Tieman – and her boss – don’t see that the movement is all about civic engagement. She points to herself as a poster-child for pent-up political participation.

“While I’ve always been a regular voter and financially contributed to causes I believe in, I’m embarrassed to admit that I couldn’t confidently name all three of my members of Congress until just a few months ago,” Etter wrote. “All that changed after the Women’s March in Madison, the first political protest I ever joined. I started meeting with other elementary school moms to write postcards to our elected officials. Then we connected with neighborhood dads, and Indivisible Tosa was born.”

Etter counts 260 members in the Wauwatosa group, among “1,000-plus folks participating in Milwaukee-area chapters. Each was “drawn to the Indivisible Guide’s very practical advice.”

The “Guide” has become the liberal bible in the “resistance” movement against President Donald Trump, the Republican majority in Congress, and conservative principles just about anywhere in politics.

Indivisible was conjured up by former Democrat congressional staffers. In it, they “reveal best practices for making Congress listen.”

What the guide is really about is disruption, protest, #Resistance and, above all, making sure a friendly mainstream media covers every last second of the political show.

As for scripted, even Indivisible’s members are growing concerned about the centralized message.

On a recent Indivisible Facebook page, group member Angela Schneider got the sneaking suspicion that Tieman’s op/ed was not written in support of Indivisible’s cause.

“It seems to say we Indivisible groups are too scripted. And it seems to portray that we don’t listen,” Schneider wrote. “If this continues, people won’t see us as serious and only representing a few.”

Schneider advised her Indivisible friends to use Tieman’s piece to “do a little self-correction” on the script issue,  mainly because the Journal Sentinel is “anti-“ Gov. Scott Walker and Trump, she wrote. In other words, know your allies.

Indivisible member Beth Grace agreed with Schneider. She disagreed with local Indivisible leader Mike Cummens that Sensenbrenner is afraid of the liberal movement.

“I take this piece as that they are thinking of us as mindless and ignoring us because basically we are acting like Robo-calls,” the member wrote. “Well I respect that using the script makes some people feel more comfortable placing a call to (Sensenbrenner’s) office or standing up to ask a question at a town hall. I think the criticism of using scripting is accurate and that we need to stop doing it as much as possible and speak from our hearts instead.”

On the Facebook site, member Mary L. Kling wrote, “It seemed that (Sensenbrenner) was downplaying the idea of the Indivisible people.”

“This bothers me really as we actually are not a group of ‘scripted, disruptive people,’ Kling wrote. “I think we are people who do not like the way our country is going and have found a kind of unified place where we can find ways of productively letting our voices be heard.”

As Wisconsin Watchdog reported last month, the “Stop Jim” Indivisible movement has been particularly aggressive, turning up in large numbers at Sensenbrenner’s town hall events. The long-serving Republican has led the nation in such constituent sessions, despite the constant disruptions and uncivil behavior by activists.

HEATED TOWN HALLS: U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner has held plenty of town halls since early February, and many have gone from contentious to uncivil. The scene has been the same — by design — at other Republican town hall meetings.

At a town hall  meeting in West Allis, some Trump resisters were finally asked to leave the meeting after constantly interrupting conservative-leaning constituents who had the floor.

Joe Kraynick appears to be the leader of the Wauwatosa Indivisible group, among the more active and disruptive.

Kraynick did not respond to a request for comment, but he laid out his ideas for sticking it to Sensenbrenner in closed-group messages.

He offered some suggestions to activists on making things “rowdier.” Kraynick noted that the Indivisible activists haven’t “gone the full Chaffetz” with Sensenbrenner yet, referring to the raucous left-wing crowds U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, confronted last month.

“It might not be quite time for that yet, but (Sensenbrenner) keeps avoiding answering certain questions,” the activist writes. “Reactions rattle him, he doesn’t like them. He tried at one point to move from Trump’s conflicts of interest to the Clinton Foundation, which earned an instant negative reaction, and he quickly dropped it and never came back to it.”

A review of Sensenbrenner’s town hall records found 17 people who have come to four or more meetings since the beginning of February. Cummens, the leader of the group, has been to eight meetings. Kraynick, the leader of the Wauwatosa group, has been to six. Amy Nowak, the group’s video tracker, has been to five meetings and the rest have all attended four. Some of the events include protesting at Sensenbrenner’s district office in Brookfield.

Schneider, the Indivisible member who posted her concerns on Facebook, said the movement needs “good PR” to support it.

Etter might be the answer. She is a content marketing writer, editor and project manager, according to her LinkedIn page. Her clients include some of the great bastions of liberal thought in Wisconsin – Marquette University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

And the left-wing movement has received plenty of help from a mainstream media that is loath to report on Indivisible’s connections with some of the biggest and well-funded liberal activists and Democratic Party members in the country.

While some Indivisible members have expressed a sense of futility in their efforts to stifle the conservative agenda, Schneider sounds encouraged.

“Well, I have lots of HOPE. I believe in Obama and I believe in US. We just have to be logical and how we help Jim see our position,” the Indivisible member wrote.

M.D. Kittle is bureau chief for Wisconsin Watchdog and First Amendment reporter for Watchdog.org. Contact him at mkittle@watchdog.org.

Mississippi Power announces yet another operational date for the Kemper Project

Tue, 04/04/2017 - 16:49

DELAYED: The Kemper Project will be operational by April 30, the company said in an filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Mississippi Power says the Kemper Project clean coal power plant will be operational by April 30 and that the previously announced delay will cost an additional $70 million.

The company, a subsidiary of utility giant the Southern Company, revealed the information in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Monday. The added expense brings the total cost to $7.237 billion.

The company claims that its 186,000 ratepayers in south Mississippi won’t pay the additional costs for the power plant, which converts lignite coal mined on site into a natural gas-like substance called synthesis gas to fuel its electricity-generating turbines.

The utility announced on March 16 that the facility would miss its mid-March operational date because of tubing leaks in the synthesis gas cooler on one of the plant’s two gasifiers, Gasifier A, which required an outage for a repair. The company says it needs the additional time to restart Gasifier A and establish integrated operation on Gasifier B, which it says has been running since Gasifier A went down.

Getting Kemper operational has been a massive headache for the Southern Company. The utility has blown through seven months of new operation dates and is nearly three years behind schedule. The utility says every month of delay costs it between $25 million and $35 million.

RELATED: Kemper Project clean coal power plant will miss yet another start date

The clean coal power plant has seen cost increases for 22 consecutive months. The project, announced in December 2006, was originally estimated to cost $1.8 billion.

Timeline on the last six months of schedule delays:

  • Oct. 2 – Mississippi Power announces the plant will be operational on lignite by Nov. 30.
  • Oct. 28 – The utility insists that the plant will be operational by that date.
  • Oct. 31 – In an earnings call with investors, Tom Fanning, the CEO of Mississippi Power’s parent company (the Southern Company), says on the call that “as we moved through the startup process and we’ve knocked over these dominoes that you normally expect with the startup process, I think it has gone beautifully. This plant is going to work. It is working.”
  • Nov. 4 – The company announces in a news release that it has revised Kemper’s in-service date to Dec. 31.
  • Dec. 2 – In a news release, the company announces that Kemper’s commercial operation date is pushed back to January.
  • Jan. 31 – The company admits in a news release that the plant won’t be operational until late February.
  • Feb. 22 – Due to the need to shut down one of the plant’s two gasifiers for ash removal, the plant won’t go online until mid-March, according to a news release.
  • March 16 – The company reveals that Kemper will miss its mid-March start date.
  • April 3 – The company says the facility will be fully operational by April 30.

Steve Wilson reports for Mississippi Watchdog. Contact him at swilson@watchdog.org and on Twitter.

Report highlights failure of Education Department’s overreach on campus sexual assault

Tue, 04/04/2017 - 16:00

CAMPUS JUSTICE: Neither accusing nor accused students are served by campus adjudication of sexual assault, a new report finds.

Tuesday is the sixth anniversary of a “Dear Colleague” letter issued by the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights. That letter sparked an intense debate between proponents of due process and victims’ advocates on the necessary and proper role that universities should play in tackling campus sexual assault.

A new report from Stop Abusive and Violent Environments, an organization that has worked to increase awareness about the lack of due process in campus adjudication systems, shows that the 2011 letter has only made things worse for schools.

While OCR claimed the letter was merely “guidance,” it carried with it the threat of a loss of federal funding for failing to comply. In the years after the guidance was issued, OCR opened more than 300 investigations into schools alleged to have violated Title IX by not adequately responding to accusations of sexual assault. In every investigation conducted by OCR, some violation of Title IX has been found, even if the findings are inconsistent with each other.

For example, in one finding, even OCR determined it was more likely than not that the accused student hadn’t committed sexual assault, but found the school in violation of Title IX because it did not immediately open an investigation (because the accuser didn’t want one) and because the school didn’t find the accused to be “not responsible” fast enough.

Schools, predictably, sign on to change their policies (often further reducing the due process rights of accused students) in order to satiate OCR and avoid losing federal funding.

SAVE’s new report doesn’t just detail the problems that accused students face at colleges and universities across the country, but also the problems for accusers. The report explains the “conflict of interest” that is inherent in schools wanting “to maintain and promote a positive reputation of the institution.”

The millions of dollars being spent by colleges to hire investigators doesn’t pay for adequate training, and adjudicators lack the skills to preserve and analyze forensic evidence, according to the report. School administrators also lack the ability to compel students to turn over evidence. At Vanderbilt University, for example, the school found the accused students not responsible because it couldn’t subpoena their cell phones, which held footage of them gang-raping a passed-out young woman. The criminal justice system was the only way for the victim (who didn’t know anything had happened to her) to get justice.

Bending toward injustice

There’s also a conflict of interest that affects accused students. Those adjudicating reports of sexual assault have a moneyed interest in complying with OCR’s requirements that heavily suggest denying due process.

These administrator’s jobs depend on schools’ need to forcefully adjudicate campus sexual assault claims, and if they find for accused students, the media and campus activists will demand their heads.

The SAVE report found that in 2011, complaints to OCR about sex-related discrimination tripled, from 391 complaints a year in 2010, before the Dear Colleague letter, to 1,096 complaints in 2011. As of fiscal year 2014, the number of complaints has doubled to more than 2,000. Every other type of discrimination has remained at the same levels.

Accusers are still filing complaints with OCR (which requires little to no money), while accused students are filing lawsuits at an increased rate. SAVE found that between 1992 and 2009, just 10 lawsuits were filed by accused students. Just two years after the Dear Colleague letter, in 2013, the number of lawsuits began to dramatically increase. In 2016, more than 40 lawsuits were filed (that we know about). That trend has accelerated so far in 2017.

SAVE previously analyzed 51 lawsuits filed since 2012 that had received a judicial decision prior to July 15, 2016, and found that 30 had been decided at least partly favorable to the accused student.

RELATED: Woman who wrote book about Clinton accusers in line for civil rights position

School administrators are publicly supportive of combating campus sexual assault, but there have been internal critics of OCR’s policies.

SAVE quoted John McCardell, vice chancellor of the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., as criticizing the department’s rules. He said the Dear Colleague letter has “imposed on entities ill-trained or equipped for the task, a quasi-judicial role, with the implication that ‘justice,’ however defined, can be satisfactorily rendered through processes that cannot possibly replicate a genuine legal proceeding.”

SAVE also included a quote from a student affairs employee who outlined the inherent bias against accused students by OCR’s policies.

“A Title IX investigation is anything but equitable. A complainant is hand-held throughout the process – called a “victim” or “survivor” from the get-go, given on- and off-campus resources, academic accommodations, counseling, advocacy, etc,” the employee wrote anonymously.

“On the other hand, the accused student has everything at stake from loss of educational opportunity, ruined reputation, compromised future, and sometimes criminal charges, and is in dire need of help. But that student does not have an advocacy center on campus, and does not receive any information about resources or academic accommodations. And the consequences, of course, are not the same. There are no sanctions for a wrongful accusation.”

It is not just group’s like SAVE that have been critical of OCR guidelines. Professors from Harvard Law School and Penn State, as well as the American College of Trial Lawyers, National Association of Scholars and the American Association of University Professors, have all openly criticized the Obama-era policies.

It remains to be seen what President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos plan to do about the problem.

It appears that he has just tapped a “libertarian feminist” to at least temporarily run OCR, but there has been no indication whether the 2011 Dear Colleague letter and subsequent guidance documents will be amended or rescinded.

Mississippi charter schools case hinges on key constitutional question

Tue, 04/04/2017 - 15:59

INTERVENOR: Mississippi Justice Institute Director Mike Hurst argued in Hinds County Chancery Court along with other attorneys against a case brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center that could lead to the end of public charter schools in the state.

A lawsuit brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center that threatens funding for Mississippi charter schools could hinge on a key constitutional question after oral arguments were held Tuesday in Hinds County Chancery Court.

The question is: Does the Mississippi State Constitution allow the redirection of local property tax revenue from local public school districts to public charter schools, which are not under the control of the district? The SPLC says no, and attorneys for the state, the state charter school association, one of the schools and a group of parents say yes.

The arguments hinge on two sections: 206, which created a state education trust fund and allows local districts to levy property taxes; and 208, which requires state funds to go to what are termed “free schools.”

Hinds County Chancery Court Judge Dewayne Thomas set a pair of deadlines for the attorneys in the case after 90 minutes of oral arguments, with May 10 for proposed findings of fact and June 21 for any required rebuttals. A ruling will likely be handed down by Thomas after that time.

RELATED: Mississippi parents win right to intervene in charter school lawsuit

The SPLC’s lead attorney, Will Bardwell, said in his arguments that charter schools violated both sections 206 and 208. He also said the SPLC wasn’t seeking the dissolution of charter schools, but that the Legislature needed to find another way of funding them that didn’t involve local property taxes. He argued since only the state has oversight over charter schools (the Charter School Authorizer Board) and local districts have no control, charter schools shouldn’t receive ad valorem (property) taxes that otherwise would have gone to the public school district.

Bardwell cited a 2012 case heard by the Mississippi Supreme Court, Pascagoula School District vs. Tucker. The court ruled unconstitutional a new law passed by the Legislature that required Pascagoula to share ad valorem revenues with the other school districts in Jackson County. The court ruled in favor of Pascagoula because the state constitution says in Section 206 that a district can “levy an additional tax, as prescribed by general law, to maintain its schools.”

Michael Bentley, who is representing Midtown Public Charter School, said that if Thomas ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, the state’s three charter schools would have to be shuttered and that it would have an adverse effect on their students. He also made the point that the district affected, Jackson Public Schools, has not filed with the plaintiffs and instead filed a motion to be dismissed from the proceedings.

Krissy Nobile, representing the state from the attorney general’s office, hammered home an argument concerning Section 208. According to state law, if a child lives 30 miles or more for a school located in their district, they can attend a school in an adjacent district. The money that the old district received for that child, both in state and local tax revenue, follows the child to the new school.

Nobile also brought up the matter of conservatorships, where the state takes over a failing school district and fires the local superintendent and the school board. Under such a scenario, the Mississippi Department of Education appoints a conservator to get the district back on track. At no point during this process does the local district have any control over the property tax revenues still flowing into its coffers.

Gregg Mayer, who is representing the state’s charter school association, said if the constitutional standard applied by the SPLC — which requires both state and local control to receive both state and local funds — could spell the end for conservatorships and the transfer rule if Thomas ruled against the charter schools.

Bardwell told Mississippi Watchdog that local funding is the “heart of the issue.” He also said there’s a big difference between the 2013 Charter Schools Act and two programs raised by the defendants, school district conservatorships and the transfer law, to defend the funding formula of charter schools.

“Everyone in the courtroom agrees that all the programs we discussed are constitutional,” Bardwell said. “The difference between the Charter School Act and those statutes that provide funding for those programs is that the Charter Schools Act explicitly requires districts to send ad valorem tax revenue to schools outside their control. The other statutes don’t breathe a word about ad valorem tax revenue.”

Mississippi Justice Institute director Mike Hurst, who is representing several parents who have children in both charter and Jackson Public Schools, told Mississippi Watchdog that the SPLC made some key admissions in their arguments in the case.

“I think when the SPLC admitted that the other types of public schools (the Mississippi School of Math and Science, for example) we have around the state — and that the Mississippi Legislature has authorized to receive both state and local funding — are constitutional, I don’t see how they can argue that public charter schools are unconstitutional. They are the same type of setup. It’s a contradiction in their argument.”

Steve Wilson reports for Mississippi Watchdog. Contact him at swilson@watchdog.org and on Twitter.

Woman who wrote book about Clinton accusers in line for civil rights position

Tue, 04/04/2017 - 13:27

A woman who wrote a 2005 book about the women who accused President Bill Clinton of sexual misconduct and ensured Hillary Clinton’s defense of a child rapist became a campaign issue, has reportedly been asked to lead a key federal civil rights office.

OCR PICK? Candace E. Jackson is reportedly the next head of the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights.

Candice E. Jackson, who describes herself in her book, Their Lives: Women Targeted by the Clinton Machine, as a “libertarian feminist,” could become the next acting secretary for the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights. Her appointment was first announced by her alma mater, Pepperdine University. Jackson posted on her personal website that she would be taking a position with the Education Department, but has not commented further since then.

Jackson, who currently practices law in Vancouver, Washington, said her law office would not be active and she would not practice law while she works for the federal government.

OCR has become responsible – more so in the past six years – for forcing colleges and universities to vigorously adjudicate accusations of campus sexual assault. The offices 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter required schools to use a low “preponderance of evidence” standard, even though it amounted to a new regulation that didn’t go through the proper notice-and-comment period. That same 2011 letter encouraged schools to restrict the due process rights of accused students by, among other things, suggesting cross-examination would re-traumatize alleged victims.

The Obama-era guidance also increased the number of investigations of schools that failed to comply with the new guidance document, under threat of the loss of federal funding. Each complete investigation has found something for which to fault the school,  and OCR took the rare step of naming the schools under investigation before any conclusions were reached.

Jackson aided President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign by organizing the travel for three of Bill Clinton’s accusers to attend the second presidential debate. She was also reportedly paid $7,000 by Trump adviser Roger Stone to produce a video interview with Kathy Shelton, a woman who was raped in the 1970s (when she was 12 years old). Hillary Clinton defended Shelton’s rapist in court.

Jackson previously worked for Judicial Watch, an organization that uses Freedom of Information Act requests to shine a light on abuses of power by government and politicians.

Jackson has said little about how she might change OCR.

Critics of the current system would like to see her step back and reduce the burden on schools, while requiring institutions to provide accused students with their constitutional rights to due process. Proponents of the current system would hope she continues on the current path, perhaps even more aggressively.

Alabama senator says he will ‘go to war’ over municipal broadband bill

Tue, 04/04/2017 - 11:36

Alabama state Sen. Tom Whatley recently described his legislation to allow municipal broadband expansion as a “go-to-war bill to me.”

WHATLEY: Said telecom lobbyists are pushing back against his municipal broadband expansion bill and that he will “go to war” over the legislation.

The Auburn Republican introduced SB 151 this session, which would let city broadband networks expand, but only within their home counties. Whatley, whose district includes Opelika, whose city utility, Opelika Power Services, is looking to grow, has twice before tried to get similar legislation through the Alabama Legislature. His bills remained stuck in committee both times.

His 2017 bill requires that no public funds can be used to directly finance the expansion of a public provider; instead, “only revenue bonds, cash, grants, loans, or matching dollars may be used as a source of financing.”

The legislation also would require public providers to “give a 12-month notice of the intent of the public provider to serve an area so that any private provider currently serving the area may determine if it will serve the area with the same level or capacity of service to be provided by the public provider.” The vague nature of the language concerns critics, however.

RELATED: Alabama bills would let municipal networks expand, offer tax credits to providers

Whatley told the Opelika-Auburn News that while he filed other bills that would have allowed intercounty expansion for municipal broadband, he is focused on SB 151 due to the pushback he has received.

“A lot of people are against that bill,” Whatley told the outlet. “AT&T has hired 26 lobbyists to work against me on that bill. It really aggravates me because I have boiled one bill down to where it only allows Opelika to go into Lee County. It cuts out the other counties.”

Whatley’s bill, introduced Feb. 9, has been read once and referred to the Senate Committee on Transportation and Energy.

A pro-rural broadband growth bill with a better shot at passage is Sen. Clay Scofield’s SB 23, which focuses on incentives to private providers and of which Whatley is one of 18 co-sponsors. The legislation would amend the Alabama Renewal Act to provide an income tax credit equal to 10 percent of the investment in new, qualified broadband telecom network facilities and a 10-year property tax exemption on those facilities. The bill also provides an exemption from sales and use tax for equipment and materials used to operate those facilities.

That bill is pending a third reading in the Senate Committee on Transportation and Energy. The Legislature reconvened Tuesday following its annual spring break.

Gov. Robert Bentley has been a proponent of broadband expansion, forming the Office of Broadband Development in 2015, and would likely sign pro-expansion legislation that reached his desk.

RELATED: Alabama governor lays plans for broadband expansion

But Bentley faces possible impeachment over allegations he misused state resources to aid an improper relationship with his political adviser, Rebekah Mason. Twenty-three members of the House signed an impeachment resolution against the governor last April that accused Bentley of corruption in office and willful neglect of duty.

The Alabama Ethics Commission will likely issue results of its investigation into Bentley’s conduct at its meeting on Wednesday. It could turn the issue over to state prosecutors if it finds Bentley broke the law.

Such findings would also give ammunition to lawmakers seeking to oust the governor. The special counsel that is overseeing the impeachment investigation plans to issue its report to the House Judiciary Committee on Friday. Committee hearings will follow, and Bentley will be allowed to respond. A report will then be sent to the full House on May 4.

Bill Stewart, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Alabama, told Watchdog.org he doesn’t expect the process to impact Bentley’s ability to sign bills in 2017. He said the governor would be given due process and afforded the ability to present his side. Besides, the gears of governance tend to grind at a leisurely pace.

“Things move pretty slowly in Montgomery,” Stewart said.

Giant Vermont solar array may curtail other, cheaper renewable energy projects

Tue, 04/04/2017 - 10:08

TOO MUCH SOLAR?: About 150 acres of solar panels are planned for the towns of Ludlow and Cavendish. The power generated would be sold out of state, so its impact on the Vermont grid is unknown.

 

A new solar project spanning about 150 acres and generating 20 megawatts of capacity stands to become the largest solar installation in the Green Mountain State, but it may curtail cheaper renewable energy projects.

Comments from a prior technical hearing indicate that electric power from the Coolidge Solar project could crowd out hydro-electric power from TransCanada’s Wilder Dam on the Connecticut River. During a Jan. 10 hearing, Public Service Board Chair James Volz raised the issue with Ed McNamara, director of the Department of Public Service.

“The reason other plants would be curtailed instead of this one is because this one would be a lower price than those other plants? … Do we in fact know this would be a lower price than the other bidders?” Volz asked.

“We do not,” McNamara replied. “That’s part of the analysis that we need to find out.”

In a nutshell, McNamara’s response hints that the giant solar project slated for Windsor County will not necessarily benefit local ratepayers.

“The potential for curtailment, in my very limited knowledge of the transmission system in this area, is that the curtailment would probably be limited to the Wilder hydroelectric facility,” McNamara added.

No official analysis has be conducted despite the fact that the PSB has already issued a certificate of public good.

Annette Smith, director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, said that analysis would be part of a system impact study to see how these new megawatts are going to affect an established grid.

“How can the Public Service Board do its job and evaluate all the issues surrounding these projects without a system impact study?” Smith said, adding that having one renewable source displace another doesn’t seem consistent with environmental goals.

“This whole idea that you are building renewables to displace fossil fuels doesn’t hold up when you look at the details of this particular site, where it could be displacing hydro, which is a renewable instead of a fossil fuel,”Smith said.

Tom Potvin, who lives in the area, said he was unhappy to learn that the energy project has been approved.

“It’s too bad that just three members of the Public Service Board get to decide on the outcome of all that beautiful farm land. I think the townspeople should have more say on stuff like this,” he said. “I just think it’s going to be a big eyesore.”

Another concern raised during the technical hearing is that both the project’s electricity and renewable energy credits are to be sold out of state to Connecticut. That means the project will not help Vermont reach its year 2025 renewable energy goals.

There is currently no set buyer for the electricity, but Smith said negotiations are in play for a power purchase agreement in Connecticut.

Harvey Scudder, an energy consultant from Brattleboro, Vermont, said forced curtailment indeed can become an issue.

“If the transmission system is limited in how much energy it can take form the solar and hydro, there could be an instance on a sunny day with lots of hydro, then the system can’t take it,” he said. “This happened a little bit with some of the wind projects in the Northeast Kingdom and they had to cut power.”

Scudder said another matter is the intermittent nature of these projects. He said that the scenario for this project is especially cumbersome because, if the alternate nearby energy sources (in this case hydro) is also intermittent, that leaves little control over grid management.

He added that there seems to be a rush in Vermont to build ambitious wind and solar projects before financial incentives, such as federal production tax credits and renewable energy credits, sunset.

“There’s such attractive incentives for solar that it gets built whether there’s really a need in the local system or not,” he said. “This leads to situations where it can’t be delivered to where it can be used.”

CORRECTION: The story has been corrected with a more accurate estimate of the acreage of the Coolidge Solar project.

Michael Bielawski is reporter for Vermont Watchdog.org. You can contact him at mbielawski@watchdog.org.

Washington tribe beats dental lobby, gets dental therapy

Tue, 04/04/2017 - 08:07

After years of failed efforts to pass a dental therapy law in Washington, an Indian tribe took a page from their counterparts in Alaska and exercised their sovereignty to get it done.

The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community accomplished something few others have been able to do: get the powerful dental lobby to stand down, thus paving the way for overwhelming bipartisan support for dental therapists.

“It was truly a battle,” John Stephens, health programs administrator with the Swinomish tribe, told Watchdog. “As George W. Bush would say, ‘[the dental association] ‘misunderestimated the tribal community.’”

ALL SMILES: Brian Cladoosby, left, chairman of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, speaks witth Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, right, as Sen. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, center, a member of the Tulalip Tribes of Washington, looks on. Inslee signed a bill that allows tribes to use federal funding for dental therapists. 

Since they have sovereignty, tribal communities do not need state approval for dental therapists. The 2010 Affordable Care Act, however, requires state authorization to use federal funding through the Indian Health Service, which enables Medicaid reimbursement. Washington’s new law allows up to 100 percent federal funding for care provided by dental health aide therapists (DHATs).

Getting there wasn’t easy, as the situation for patients and providers has been dire.

The American Indian Health Commission for Washington state says 79 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native children ages 2 to 4 have tooth decay. About 75 percent of dentists do not accept Medicaid, leaving more than 700,000 Medicaid eligible adults without care. Dentists who do take Medicaid patients are reimbursed 29 cents on the dollar.

That’s on top of a dental health provider shortage. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services currently identifies 114 dental health provider shortage areas in the state, 33 of which are in Native American populations or at Indian Health Service Facilities.

Similar to nurse practitioners or physician assistants in the medical field, dental therapists are trained and licensed to perform a limited number of the same procedures as dentists. While many public health advocates consider these providers a viable solution to dental care shortages, the American Dental Association (ADA) and its state affiliates, including Washington, generally oppose them.

RELATED: Arizona lawmakers ponder dental therapy to address shortage

“Two years ago from the tribal perspective, we saw that the broader statewide authorization was somewhere between dead and on life support,” Stephens said.

So the Swinomish looked to Alaska for guidance. In 2004, Native Alaskans used their tribal sovereignty to implement dental therapy on tribal land without state authorization, surviving a lawsuit attempt by the ADA and Alaska Dental Society.

Health experts say since the DHATs have been working in Alaska, an estimated 45,000 Alaska Natives now have access to dental care. But the language added to the ACA stymies tribal efforts in other states by requiring state authorization for the midlevel providers. According to Stephens, it’s the only piece of federal legislation related to tribes that puts tribes under the auspices of state authorization.

Truly a battle

So the Swinomish readied for the battle with a two-step approach. First, they exercised tribal sovereignty to hire a dental health aide therapist (DHAT) using private funding to pay for it.

“In the long term it was not sustainable,” Stephens said. “However, it did show that tribal sovereignty could be exercised to deliver this service.”

TRIBAL TEETH: Indian tribes in Washington State used sharp strategy to get state sign-off on dental therapy

While the dental therapist worked on patients, Stephens and the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board (NPAIHB) worked on part two of the plan — developing a tribal licensing system, crafting legislation to satisfy the federal rules regarding reimbursement and getting state policymakers to go along with it.

“We were meeting with the attorney general, as well as the department of health, and we went over in great detail what we were doing, and the framework that we were utilizing to exercise tribal sovereignty,” Stephens said. “We were fully transparent with the state and had actually gotten them to say beforehand that they would not attempt to stop the tribe’s exercise of sovereignty before we made the announcement.”

That caught the dental association flat-footed.

“The Washington State Dental Association (WSDA) did not know that we were doing these things,” Stephens said. “Once we showed that we could exercise sovereignty, going to the legislature, and say ‘we are exercising tribal sovereignty and you have a choice: You can either choose to challenge tribal sovereignty or accept it.’”

Caught flat footed

Seeing the writing on the wall, the WSDA board eventually voted 10-0 to maintain neutrality on the dental therapist bill, which meant it would sail through the Legislature.

“We got a unanimous vote in the Republican-controlled state Senate. That’s almost unheard of. And in the House it was 80-18,” Stephens said. “We acknowledge and appreciate [the WSDA’s] ultimate decision to maintain neutrality and allow this important initiative to move forward.”

The next steps for the Swinomish will be to double the size of the tribe’s clinic. Stephens says the Washington Dental Service Foundation, through insurer Delta Dental, has committed $500,000 over two years for the expansion.

“[The foundation has] had in their own words, ‘a transformational learning process’ with the tribes in Washington,” Stephens said. “They are now totally supportive of what we’re doing and they need to be acknowledged for being willing to do that.”

Oregon is currently the only other of the lower 48 states to dabble with tribal sovereignty, with a pilot program spearheaded by the NPAIHB and reportedly well-received by the Oregon Dental Association.

“It is encouraging that the ODA is on record saying they are going to wait and see what the data looks like, and not oppose our pilot out of the gate,” said NPAIHB project specialist Pam Johnson. “A pilot process allows everybody to step back, see if it’s working, try out different models and then take that information back to the state.”

Dental therapy, however, remains a concern for the ADA.

The group favors outreach workers called Community Dental Health Coordinators (CDHC) and more Medicaid money, and says there are “more than enough dental providers” to meet patient needs.

RELATED: North Dakota board scrambles to oppose dental therapy

At a February board meeting, an ADA representative told attendees that more than 20 states may consider dental therapy in 2017, noting a recent failed effort in North Dakota as a positive: “We expect good news from other states as well. In the meantime, therapists are very few in numbers and in very few states. In contrast to therapists, the number of CDHC programs and graduates continue to grow. But, of course, challenges will continue and we will continue to meet them,” the meeting recap stated.

Michael Hamilton, a senior research fellow in health care policy at the free-market Heartland Institute, finds it remarkable that the ADA would consider restricting access to dental care “good news.”

“Organized dentistry’s line that the sky will fall if lawmakers let therapists practice is bogus,” he told Watchdog.org. “Dentists would retain absolute control over their practices, wouldn’t have to hire therapists, and would oversee the care therapists provide. This is a case of the many obstructing the rights of the courageous, enterprising few.”

Hamilton adds that other states facing high-octane opposition to dental therapy should consider Washington’s tribal model.

“Even a limited dental therapy program is better than none because enterprising dentists will hire therapists to treat more patients, driving down costs,” he said. “For best results, though, let the market work.”

“State’s should be looking at everything,” according to Johnson. “We really need to be moving the ball down the court on oral health access.”

“You should be looking at tribal bills, statewide bills, pilot bills — whatever you can do to start getting boots on the ground and increasing that access.”

Kathy Hoekstra is a national regulatory reporter for Watchdog.org. Contact her atkhoekstra@watchdog.org and @khoekstra.

Wisconsin AG, lawmakers seek victims’ Bill of Rights amendment

Tue, 04/04/2017 - 05:00

MADISON, Wis. – Marsalee “Marsy” Nicholas was 21 and a senior at the University of California-Santa Barbara. She was a beautiful, young woman with a promising life ahead.

VICTIMS’ RIGHTS: – Marsalee “Marsy” Nicholas was killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. Her death spawned a national Victim’s Bill of Rights movement, now coming to Wisconsin.

Until an ex-boyfriend stalked her and shot her to death in 1983.

Just one week after her death, Marsy’s mother and brother were confronted at the grocery store by the man accused of murdering her. The family had no idea, as they returned from Marsy’s grave, that the accused had been set free on bail.

Her brother, Dr. Henry T. Nicholas, began a campaign to bring a Victims’ Bill of Rights to California. In 2008, California voters approved Proposition 9, commonly known as Marsy’s Law – the strongest and most comprehensive constitutional victims’ rights law in the United States.

Marsy’s brother wants to do the same for Wisconsin crime victims.

On Tuesday morning, Marsy’s Law for Wisconsin will unveil a statewide proposal to update Wisconsin’s state constitution to ensure equal rights for crime victims. The announcement at the State Capitol comes during National Crime Victims Week.

Victims of crime and crime advocates will join Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel, state Sen. Van Wanggaard, state Rep. Todd Novak for the announcement.

Marsy’s Law for Wisconsin is launching its first statewide digital ad featuring survivors of violent crime.

Christina Traub, of Madison, shares her story about being strangled and battered by her boyfriend at the time.

“Every time I went into a courtroom it just felt like I was pushed to the background,” she recalled. “Everybody can name a criminal’s basic rights but when asked what rights a victim has I don’t even think anybody would be able to say what those are … That’s why Marsy’s Law is so important.”

“Currently in the United States, the U.S. Constitution and every state constitution has enumerated rights for individuals accused of a crime and those convicted of a crime. Yet, the U.S. Constitution and 15 state constitutions do not extend enumerated rights to victims of crime,” notes Marsy’s Law website.

“Marsy’s Law for All seeks to amend state constitutions that don’t offer protections to crime victims and, eventually, the U.S. Constitution to give victims of crime rights equal to those already afforded to the accused and convicted.”

The laws generally require victims to be informed and heard before criminals can be paroled.

Wisconsin has been a national leader in recognizing victims’ rights.

In 1980, the Badger State became the the first state to create a crime victims bill of rights. Thirteen years later, Wisconsin voters ratified a constitutional amendment creating constitutional recognition of victims’ rights.

What Marsy’s Law for Wisconsin advocates are seeking is an amendment that creates equal and enumerated rights for victims in the state’s constitution.

“We appreciate the leadership of Attorney General Brad Schimel and look forward to working with Sen. Wanggaard and Rep. Novak to keep Wisconsin on the forefront of this issue,” said spokesman Brian Reisinger.  “We’ve worked closely with victims, victim advocates, law enforcement, and others to draft a unique Wisconsin solution that will ensure equal rights for crime victims.”

The national campaign has attracted some star power.

Actor Kelsey Grammer has become a vocal supporter of the national effort, a spokesman for the cause. Grammer, who appeared in ads last year promoting South Dakota’s Marsy’s Law constitutional amendment (approved by voters in November), is a violent crime victim twice over. His father was shot and killed in his home at the age of 38. Six years later, Grammer’s sister was brutally raped and murdered when she was 18.

When his father’s killer was released from prison, the family was never notified, according to the Marsy’s Law website.

“I found out through the National Inquirer. It seemed like a cruel joke,” Grammer, known for his role as  psychiatrist Dr. Frasier Crane on the NBC sitcoms Cheers and Frasier, said in the South Dakota ad. The killer of Grammer’s sister, Karen, remains in prison and Grammer has fought his efforts for parole.

M.D. Kittle is bureau chief for Wisconsin Watchdog and First Amendment reporter for Watchdog.org. Contact him at mkittle@watchdog.org.

UW-Platteville chancellor prepares to fire whistleblower professor

Mon, 04/03/2017 - 17:12
Part 17 of 16 in the series 'Troubled' Campus

MADISON, Wis. — The embattled professor who blew the whistle on misconduct in the University of Wisconsin-Platteville’s Criminal Justice Department is on the verge of being fired by the administrator she accused of corruption and cover-up.

REMOVED: Professor Sabina Burton looks on as UW-Platteville Police Chief Joe Hallman signs off on Burton’s return of her office keys. In January, Burton was ordered to clean out her campus office. Now the chancellor who she accuses of retaliation is moving to fire her.

UW-Platteville Associate Professor Sabina Burton on Thursday received a letter from Chancellor Dennis Shields advising her that he has “found just cause” to dismiss her.

“Having received and evaluated the information I have just described, I find that the evidence supports dismissing you for cause from your tenured faculty position,” Shields wrote.

Burton is entitled to a hearing before the faculty senate, but she said she is confident the hearing will be a show trial, just as Shield’s investigation has been.

“I am at a point where I just want to give up. I feel burned out,” the professor said in an email to Wisconsin Watchdog. That’s what administrators are counting on, Burton said.

“The only way Shields can fire me is if he withholds the hearing in front of a fair panel from me. He can easily do that as he has the power to staff and pressure the panel members,” she said.

As first reported in Wisconsin Watchdog’s series, Troubled Campus, Burton alleges she has been the victim of harassment, discrimination and retaliation at the hands of UW-P administrators since October 2012, when Burton stood up for a female student who said she had been sexually harassed by a male professor in the Criminal Justice Department.

Burton claims administrators took away a grant and committee seats, and effectively stalled her professional career after she spoke out about the handling of the sexual harassment complaint. She claims she was physically threatened by the former acting chairman of the department, that she was defamed by an instructor, and saw her health rapidly deteriorate.

Burton, who has filed previous EEOC complaints, says she is viewed as a “troublemaker” by administration and staff.

She also sued the university and some of its administrators in 2015 in federal court, eventually losing the case.

Shield’s dismissal letter arrived within days of a ruling by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissing Burton’s civil rights lawsuit against the university. In it, the professor charged that she had been discriminated and retaliated against for more than four years. The court found no evidence of retaliation due in large part to the limited evidence that Burton’s attorney at the time brought forward.

Now Burton says administrators are doing what they have long wanted to do: get rid of her without the shadow of a retaliation claim hanging over them. But her dismissal, she says, would only drive home her civil rights claim.

RELATED: UW-P professor blames union attorney with political ax to grind for appeals court loss

In January, Shields ordered Burton to clean out her office and prohibited her from being on campus while the investigation into complaints against the professor continued.

The chancellor at the time advised Burton that he was “initiating the dismissal process” based on a complaint filed by two administrators. Shields informed Burton that if the allegations were true, they would warrant “Burton’s dismissal.”

Among other offenses, the administrators’ complaint alleges Burton behaved “unprofessionally,” including “involving students into your personal concerns.”

Burton denies the allegations and has provided evidence refuting accusations regarding internal email communications, for instance. Court depositions and other communications also show administrators making conflicting statements.

In his dismissal letter last week, Shields claims an investigation, conducted by UW System administrator Petra Roter, found that Burton engaged in “disrespectful, harassing and intimidating behavior” toward her colleagues “in an attempt to undermine them professionally and damage their reputation and careers.”

Roter last month completed a report on her findings. The investigation included interviews with Burton and her accusers, who claim it was Burton who has caused a hostile environment in the department.

Overall, Roter’s report suggests a Criminal Justice Department that has been in disarray for some time.

“Everyone interviewed agreed that Dr. Burton is an excellent teacher,” the report states.

Shields in his letter notes that Burton recorded a series of internal conversations, meetings and proceedings without prior consent or notification. Roger Burton, the professor’s husband, then published the information on a website the Burtons created called UniversityCorruption.org. The site includes a raft of allegations against UW-P administrators and, in many cases, evidence to support the claims.

Burton doesn’t deny making the recordings. She says the recordings provided proof of her accusations. Besides, Wisconsin is a “one-party consent” state, meaning only one of the parties involved must consent to the recording. Burton consented.

“Because the consenting party in these states can also be the individual doing the recording, the conversation may be — and often is — recorded without the knowledge or consent of any other party,” according to an op-ed in the Wisconsin Law Journal.

Employers in Wisconsin may implement policies expressly prohibiting such secret recordings, but not if the employee claims the recording was done in order to document discrimination or harassment, according the Wisconsin Law Journal.

In the dismissal letter, Shields fails to note the false allegations colleagues made against Burton, including potentially defaming comments about the professor’s mental health and her German heritage.

And Shields asserts Burton’s “mission to expose corruption” has dragged students into “conflicts that are outside of the academic mission/environment of the university.”

Burton denies the allegation, saying she has never brought her disputes with the university into the classroom.

PIONEER PROTEST: UW-Platteville students have created Pioneers Against Injustice, a Facebook page to rally support for Burton.

But some UW-P students have created a Facebook page expressing their outrage over the university’s treatment of the popular professor.

Pioneers Against Injustice was formed to “spread awareness and gain support against the unfair treatment Dr. Burton has received from UW-Platteville after advocating for a student.”

“As students at UWP, it is important that we uphold the faculty and staff that have the courage to challenge sexual harassment on campus. Please join us in spreading awareness about the injustice Doctor Burton is experiencing and spreading awareness to our community,” one post states. Students handed out flyers at the UW-P fieldhouse as well.

Last fall, administrators, with little notice, canceled a forum with students regarding their dispute with Burton, as well as concerns about what some students have described as a cover-up of sexual assaults on campus. The approximately 70 students who showed up for the meeting went ahead with the session, airing their frustrations. Burton took questions at that event.

This week, Burton sounded defeated in her email to Wisconsin Watchdog.

“What good will an appeal do? That process is most likely rigged as well. As long as corrupt liberals can do whatever they please in a conservative state there is no hope for justice,” said the professor.

M.D. Kittle is bureau chief for Wisconsin Watchdog and First Amendment reporter for Watchdog.org. Contact him at mkittle@watchdog.org.

Addiction recovery center opens in Rutland, offers alternative to state approach

Mon, 04/03/2017 - 15:50

FREE FROM ADDICTION: Members of Teen Challenge Vermont share their stories of recovery from addiction with supporters. On Saturday, the organization announced it has opened a new office in Rutland. The office is located at the Dream Center on West Street in downtown.

 

RUTLAND, Vt. — A new substance abuse treatment program opened its doors Saturday in Rutland, marking an important step in the state’s continued fight against opioid abuse.

Rutland County has the second highest number of overdose deaths in the state, with 16 drug-related deaths in 2015. Vermont Gov. Phil Scott has made the statewide battle against opioid addiction one of the keystones of his new administration.

Teen Challenge Vermont, a non-governmental addiction recovery program, announced the opening of its new enrollment office with a show of support from Eric MaGuire, director of the Department of Corrections-sponsored Sanctuary House, and Terry Burke, Rutland County chair of the Republican Party.

“We’re at war here,” said Teen Challenge Vermont Executive Director Richard Welch. “There are men on Rutland’s streets who are lonely and in pain. There’s a lot more to be done.”

Teen Challenge Vermont, which operates a year-long, live-in program in St. Johnsbury, reports long-term success rates of 41 percent, about double the 17 percent to 21 percent success rate of methadone clinics like Rutland’s West Side Center.

Of men who complete the program, 84 percent remain clean from drug use.

Mike Bouffard, director of the group’s Rutland office on West Street, is a graduate of Teen Challenge. “In 2006, I was living out of my 1998 Dodge Shadow. … Now I’m here.”

Teen Challenge has 1,200 campuses worldwide, with programs for men, women and young teens. Bouffard and the rest of Teen Challenge attribute their high success rate to the faith emphasized in the program. However, men who enter the program do not have to be Christian, and non-religious groups are ready to partner with the newcomers.

“We’re all in this together,” said Sanctuary House Director Eric MaGuire. “It’s about these men going out better than they came in.” Sanctuary House is an incarceration alternative sponsored by the Vermont Department of Corrections. Residents cost only $19,000 a year to house, while incarceration in prison averages $60,000. Residents also receive counseling to help brake the addiction cycle.

“We’re seeing hope from the level of commitment shown to this new program,” MaGuire told the crowd of almost 250 people present at the announcement. Teen Challenge announced the opening at its second annual Rutland fundraiser on Saturday, located at Rutland Area Christian School.

Faith Stone, the director of Rutland’s methadone clinic, told Watchdog that while the programs have significant differences, she was open to working with Teen Challenge. “It’s important to work together because our goal is the same.”

Former Gov. Peter Shumlin brought Vermont’s opioid epidemic into the spotlight in 2014 and fully backed the creation of methadone clinics throughout the state. Affiliates of the state’s methadone project have criticized abstinence programs like Teen Challenge, however, saying relapse is more dangerous because there is no replacement.

RELATED: Is opioid abuse an addiction or chronic illness?

“Medication offers an increased chance at recovery. People have a hard time doing it on their own,” Stone said. However, she added that both types of recovery programs have a place. “Recovery is a choice folks make for themselves, and they need to find the program that works best for them.”

Burke endorsed the Teen Challenge program. “We see change,” she said. “It’s unmistakable. It’s so encouraging to consider the future effect of these changed men’s testimonies in the streets, the schools, the businesses of Rutland, and even our legislators.”

Emma Lamberton is Vermont Watchdog’s health care and Rutland area reporter. Contact her at elamberton@watchdog.org and @EmmaBeth9.

Mississippi Legislature wraps up session by passing key reform bills

Mon, 04/03/2017 - 15:14

WAH-WAH-WAH: The Mississippi Legislature passed some pro-economic freedom bills in this session, but missed on a few key issues.

 

The Mississippi Legislature concluded its regular session last week and passed several bills that will contribute to economic freedom and accountability in the state. There were also questionable bills that were passed and some promising ones that fell by the wayside.

Here are a few of the highs and lows of the session:

The good

  • House Bill 812, which was signed by Gov. Phil Bryant, will bring civil asset reform to the Magnolia State. Law enforcement agencies will have new reporting requirements every time they forfeit property and create a new forfeiture warrant system. The bill also would mandate the construction of a state-run website detailing every forfeiture if funds are provided by the Legislature and require law enforcement agencies to use either local district attorneys or the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics to handle all legal work on forfeitures.
  • H.B. 967 was signed by the governor into law. It will mandate licensure requirements for daily fantasy sports gaming operators by the Mississippi Gaming Commission. The bill also would set requirements for daily fantasy sports gaming, including a minimum age for participation (18) and rules to prevent participation in the games by an operator’s employees. An operator license would cost $5,000 and last for three years before requiring renewal.
  • H.B. 1090, the “Restore HOPE” Act, would add verification requirements for recipients of Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and provide oversight for the tracking of the use of EBT (food stamp) and TANF cards. It’s sitting on the governor’s desk awaiting signature.
  • H.B. 1322 will allow Mississippi brewers to sell their beer on premises after it was signed into law by Bryant.
  • H.B. 1425 would give the governor and other senior state officials more authority over occupational licensing boards. Its passage makes Mississippi the first state to become compliant with the U.S. Supreme Court 2015 decision North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners v. Federal Trade Commission, in which the court ruled that state licensing boards can receive immunity only if they are actively supervised by the state. The bill awaits the governor’s signature.

RELATED: Mississippi gives governor, senior state officials more authority over occupational licensing

  • The Legislature was unable to come to an agreement on a “Christmas tree” bond bill with money for numerous projects around the state after the House and Senate couldn’t come to an agreement over infrastructure spending. It’s the first time in several years the Legislature didn’t add to the state’s debt with a bond bill.
  • H.B. 711 died but would have reauthorized the state’s motion picture and television production subsidy program, which is due to expire this year. Last year, taxpayers spent more than $10 million on the program and, according to a report last year by the state Legislature’s Joint Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review, lost 51 cents on every dollar.

The bad

  • Senate Bill 3033 will give $45 million to the Huntington Ingalls shipyard in Pascagoula. Huntington Ingalls spokesman Bill Glenn told Mississippi Watchdog that the shipbuilding company, which builds most of the U.S. Navy’s warships, would match the state’s contribution 2 to 1. The bill was signed by the governor. Glenn said innovative shipyard upgrades “will allow Ingalls to be more efficient and to provide an even a better value to the Navy and American taxpayers.”

Related: Mississippi taxpayers to give $45 million to Ingalls shipbuilding

  • S.B. 2632 would have banned contract lobbying by state agencies, but died on the calendar in the House.

The ugly

  • S.B. 2941 is one of the “local and private” bills passed each year that are specific to a particular municipality or county. This bill, which was signed by the governor, allows the city of Byhalia in northern Mississippi to keep receipts from a hotel tax that expired last July. The tax is now reauthorized until 2021. Even though the law authorizing the tax expired, the city kept collecting it anyway. Byhalia’s mayor, Phil Malone, didn’t answer repeated requests from comment from Mississippi Watchdog.

Unfinished business

The Legislature will have to come back in a special session to handle the budgets of the Mississippi Department of Transportation and the attorney general’s office.

The MDOT budget fight between the House and the Senate was over the threatened addition of a House amendment that would redirect some of the revenue from the state’s voluntary sales tax deal with online giant Amazon to infrastructure. The bill had already gone to conference and the House voted to send it back to conference. The Senate wouldn’t go along with the plan and the bill died on the calendar.

In the second conference report on the attorney general office’s budget, a requirement was added that would have required Attorney General Jim Hood to deposit any legal settlements into the state’s treasury within 15 days. That bill also died on the calendar, this time in the Senate.

Bills signed into law by Bryant will go into effect on July 1, the first day of the new fiscal year.

Steve Wilson reports for Mississippi Watchdog. Contact him at swilson@watchdog.org and on Twitter.

Why a lone Republican voted ‘no’ on Vermont’s $5.8 billion House budget bill

Mon, 04/03/2017 - 10:20

THE OMEGA MAN: State Rep. Warren Van Wyck, R-Ferrisburgh, was the sole lawmaker to vote “no” on Vermont’s $5.8 billion state budget.

It took just one legislator to rain on the parade of Vermont House members’ 143-1 vote on the state’s $5.8 billion fiscal year 2018 budget plan last week.

Rep. Warren Van Wyck, R-Ferrisburgh, was the House’s lone dissenter in the near-unanimous vote. Afterward he got a scolding by House Appropriations Committee Chair Rep. Kitty Toll, D-Danville, for not being a team player.

“You never darkened my door,” Toll told Van Wyke sternly as reporters huddled within earshot of the conversation. “You never contacted me. You didn’t ask to testify.”

In the contested budget battle spearheaded by Republican Gov. Phil Scott, who refused to budge on his no new taxes and fees mantra, the final first of a two-part budget process came in the House vote late last week. While Democrats and Republicans, rare bedfellows, joined forces to approve the plan, Van Wyck stuck to his guns and voted “no.”

“Since the Democrats overrode Gov. Jim Douglas’s veto in 2009,  the Vermont General Fund budget has annually increased excessively requiring additional taxes and fees,” Van Wyck told Vermont Watchdog about his vote. “To use a simplistic metaphor, by gaining five pounds every year for the past eight years, the overall spending is at least 40 pounds overweight.”

While Van Wyck conceded that this year’s budget bill, H.518, “displays admirable restraint,” he contends that it is still a bloated budget in serious need of a crash diet.

But unlike his Ferrisburgh colleague, House Minority Leader Don Turner, R-Milton, had no qualms voting “yes” on the budget bill.

“Ever since Shap Smith and Peter Shumlin chose to override Gov. Douglas’ FY10 budget veto, House Republicans have been fighting for budgets that don’t raise taxes or fees, keeps spending in line with economic growth, and delivers real results for the Vermont taxpayer. Under the leadership and vision of Gov. Phil Scott, and the Republicans on House Appropriations, we have achieved that,” Turner said in a statement following the vote.

“We believe there is still room this year to make long-term policy changes that will allow us to make investments in educating the next generation of Vermonters, improving our business climate and increase housing for our middle class without negatively impacting vulnerable Vermonters … [but] this is a good start.”

Rep. Jim Condon, D-Colchester, a member of House Committee on Ways and Means, seemed to concur with Turner and the majority of Democrats and Republicans.

“It was easy to vote ‘yes’ on both the miscellaneous tax bill and the budget bill this year because there [were] no tax increases and spending was constrained below the anticipated level of economic growth,” Condon told Vermont Watchdog.  “As a member of House Ways and Means, I was happy to be a part of the process. … Later this year, we’ll learn what impacts, if any, possible federal budget cuts may cause. I’m anticipating a special session in November.”

Meanwhile, Van Wyck doesn’t regret his “no” vote or seem affected by the scolding he received by Toll. He still didn’t like the budget bill, especially elements such as $340,000 being cut from a program that helps homeless people find a motel room on cold Vermont nights.

“This [budget bill] could have been done without jeopardizing programs for the most vulnerable, though other programs could have been reduced or eliminated. To quote President Reagan, ‘A government program is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll see on the earth’ — Washington, D.C. or Montpelier,” he said.

The budget bill has been passed on to the Senate for deliberation by its members.

Lou Varricchio is Vermont bureau chief for Vermont Watchdog.org. You can contact him at lvarricchio@watchdog.org.

Lawsuit: MPS violating constitution by denying bus rides to religious school students

Wed, 03/22/2017 - 21:26

MILWAUKEE – All high school students in Milwaukee are equal, but some are more equal than others when it comes to bus transportation, according to a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday.

NO BUSES FOR ST. JOAN ANTIDA: Despite serving a citywide population of underprivileged children, students at the independent, private high school are being denied school bus transportation by Milwaukee Public Schools. A federal lawsuit filed Tuesday claims MPS is violating the constitution in its disparate treatment.

St. Joan Antida,  an all-girls Roman Catholic high school in Milwaukee, is suing Milwaukee Public Schools after the district refused to provide bus service to the school’s students. There are 70 students that should be receiving bus service from MPS, according to a release Wednesday from the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty,  or WILL, the public interest law firm representing St. Joan Antida.

“We believe that because MPS is treating children at its high schools differently from children that attend private schools, they are in blatant violation of state law that requires those policies to be the same,” said WILL attorney CJ Szafir Wednesday.

State law requires public school districts to provide transportation for students attending private schools within the district. The exception is in districts that rely upon public transportation.

MPS does not provide bus transportation for most high school students unless they live more than two miles from public transportation. Instead, MPS requires high school students to use public transportation. However, students attending MPS citywide attendance high schools are provided bus service if they live more than two miles from the school itself.

St. Joan Antida is chartered by the Sisters of Charity of St. Joan Antida, is independent of the Milwaukee Catholic Archdiocese, and has a citywide attendance area. The school has an enrollment of 143 students with about 87 percent of those students in the free-or-reduced lunch program, according to a press release from WILL. More than 90 percent of the students are minorities. More than 90 percent of St. Joan Antida graduates continue their education in pursuing either a two-year or four-year degree.

“We are going to court to ensure that these children have their rights protected,” Szafir said in a press release. “It is a shame that it has come to this point but (MPS) Superintendent (Darienne) Driver and MPS have been playing fast and loose with the transportation laws for years.”

An email from MPS spokeswoman Denise Callaway said the district would not comment on pending litigation.

Paul Gessner, principal of St. Joan Antida, told Wisconsin Watchdog Wednesday the school first reached out to MPS for transportation in April 2015. After the private school was led to believe that as a citywide school their students would be eligible to apply for bus transportation, MPS told St. Joan Antida in January 2016 that only one student qualified for bus transportation.

“It’s a hardship for many of our families,” said Gessner. “Without transportation it definitely impacts the choice of school that parents can select. The very first thing that we get asked is, ‘Is there a bus?’”

St. Joan Antida also participates in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, the citywide private school voucher program. But Gessner said this isn’t about a voucher school taking money from public schools.

“If the law exists, and it’s supposed to benefit my students, then it’s really not public school money,” said Gessner. “It’s the money that belongs to educating kids and transporting kids.”

“There was an intent in creating that law. They just need to follow that law,” Gessner said.

SEE RELATED: State AG won’t represent Department of Public Instruction in Catholic school case

Jim Bender, President of School Choice Wisconsin, agreed that the issue is separate from school choice.

“All families in Milwaukee pay property taxes through home ownership or rent,” Bender said in a statement Wednesday. “State law is clear that all students, regardless of sector, are to be treated equally with transportation services.”

After the request for bus transportation was rejected by MPS, St. Joan Antida and WILL sent a letter to Driver asking the district to provide transportation or provide a written explanation of the reason for denial.

“They refused to follow the law so we were forced to go to federal court to ensure that the rights of the children of St. Joan Antida are protected,” Szafir said.

Szafir said the lawsuit was filed in federal court because the plaintiffs have a strong constitutional claim.

“We believe the constitutional guarantees of equal protection under the law are being violated by Milwaukee Public Schools where they discriminate against children who attend private and religious schools by denying them transportation,” Szafir said.

State Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, issued a statement Wednesday afternoon saying, “It is a sad day when parents have to go to court to ensure their children have transportation to attend the school of their choice.”

“MPS should immediately heed SJA’s request to bus these students,” Strobel said. “After all, the students’ parents are property taxpayers in the district.”

James Wigderson reports for Wisconsin Watchdog. Contact him at jwigderson@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @jwigderson.

Attorney general’s office remains silent on John Doe leak probe

Wed, 03/22/2017 - 15:29
Part 386 of 385 in the series Wisconsin's Secret War

MADISON, Wis. – Three months after state Attorney General Brad Schimel said his Department of Justice opened an investigation of court-sealed John Doe documents leaked to a liberal British publication, the probe remains ongoing, according to a DOJ official.

INVESTIGATION ONGOING: A spokesman for Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel says an investigation into leaked, court-sealed John Doe documents continues.

And agency representatives are maintaining their right to remain silent about where the investigation stands.

“We do not have any comment or update on the ongoing investigation into the John Doe leak,” DOJ spokesman Johnny Koremenos wrote in an email Wednesday morning to Wisconsin Watchdog.

“We will let you know when there is something to report to the public,” he added.

Sources have clammed up since late last month, when the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that the DOJ seized materials from the state Ethics Commission in early February as part of its probe.

The disclosure followed one week after the newspaper reported state Justice Department investigators reviewed documents in the clerk’s office of the state Supreme Court.

In September, The Guardian published some 1,300-plus pages of cherry-picked information as part a story that, again, fed on the “John Doe II” prosecutors’ theme of some kind of criminal coordination scheme perpetrated by Walker’s campaign and conservative allies.

As Wisconsin Watchdog has reported, the documents leaked to The Guardian strongly suggest that the prosecutors, investigators, or a source or sources very close to them illegally turned over the court-sealed records to the newspaper.

RELATED: More evidence points to prosecutors, investigators, as source of John Doe leaks 

There is a small universe of people who had access to the documents, and that universe is almost exclusively populated by prosecutors, investigators and court officials.

It is clear the documents were not filed in any court, sources say; none of the documents were stamped or marked as exhibits.

The records include handwritten notes on the motion of an unnamed movant (one of dozens of conservatives targeted in the probe), as well as an unsigned draft of an affidavit from John Doe special prosecutor Francis Schmitz.

“There is other actionable intelligence such as the time zone, date and exact time these documents were scanned and later revised and the make and model of the copier used to scan them,” one source told Wisconsin Watchdog.

“There is also evidence to suggest the perpetrator or perpetrators worked closely with outside interests to select the leaked documents,” the source said.

Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, the highly partisan Democrat who in 2012 launched the secret investigation into dozens of conservative groups and Walker’s campaign, has said he supports any effort to determine the source of John Doe leaks.

“The public release of this John Doe evidence without authorization is not merely a violation of the John Doe secrecy order; it is a crime under Wisconsin law,” Chisholm said last year in a statement.

It’s not publicly known what was seized at the Ethics Commission office. But, as Wisconsin Watchdog reported on Feb. 24,  if those “materials” were documents from the unconstitutional probe, former John Doe prosecutor Schmitz could have some questions to answer.

In November, Schmitz signed an affidavit concerning John Doe II evidence, noting that he had complied with a Supreme Court order demanding that he return documents and other items seized from John Doe targets and turn over evidentiary materials to the Supreme Court.

“To the best of my knowledge, I have received statements from all who have direct access to evidentiary materials as part of the prosecution team,” Schmitz wrote in the Nov. 2 affidavit. “In those statements, those individuals all state that they either turned over documents and electronic data and no longer possess same (or copies thereof), or never possessed documents and/or data (or copies thereof) obtained in the course of the investigation.”

The state Supreme Court in 2015 declared the campaign finance investigation unconstitutional and ordered it shut down. Schmitz’s position was deemed invalid from his entry as special prosecutor in 2013. He was given the wrap-up duties of making sure that illegally seized property was returned to its rightful owners, and that “evidence” or copies collected were surrendered from investigators and transferred to the custody of the court.

The now-defunct state Government Accountability Board (predecessor of the Ethics Commission), which assisted Milwaukee County prosecutors and Schmitz in the politically driven probe, should not have John Doe documents in its possession.

Edward Greim, attorney for some of the conservatives targeted in the probe, said that either Schmitz never obtained statements from everyone at the GAB who had access to the Doe documents, or “one or more staff failed to disclose that they had the documents.” Schmitz, as a special prosecutor with an office at the GAB, should have known everyone with access to John Doe materials and where those materials were, Greim said.

“Until we are able to see those statements, we cannot know whether the materials that are being taken from the GAB (Ethics Commission) are all the materials the GAB had,” Greim said.

“At the very least, it raises real questions about the care and safe-keeping of documents and compliance with these orders of the Supreme Court,” the attorney added.

Schmitz did not return a request for comment.

M.D. Kittle is bureau chief for Wisconsin Watchdog and First Amendment reporter for Watchdog.org. Contact him at mkittle@watchdog.org.

Appeals court tosses forced union dues lawsuit, next stop Supreme Court

Tue, 03/21/2017 - 22:40

As expected, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit has affirmed a lower court decision dismissing an Illinois lawsuit that right-to-work experts assert could be the next Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association.

HEADED TO HIGH COURT? The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday affirmed a lower court’s ruling tossing out a public sector right-to-work lawsuit against two unions. The decision was expected and welcome by the plaintiffs, who intend to seek review before the Supreme Court.

But the appeals court ruling means the case may soon be heading to the U.S. Supreme Court, where a restored conservative majority could put an end to compulsory union dues.

“The court’s ruling is no surprise but simply allows the next step forward in the journey to end forced unionism for public employees across the country,” said Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Foundation. “No one should be forced to pay union dues or fees just for the privilege of working for their own government and this decision means the case can now move up to the United States Supreme Court.”

The ruling comes nearly three weeks after the Chicago-based appeals court heard oral arguments in Janus v. AFSCME, which specifically deals with the First Amendment rights of public employees who wish to opt out of their unions, and the fairness of a union’s “monopoly” right to speak for individuals.

The Illinois employee plaintiffs are being represented, free of cost, by the Right to Work Foundation and the Illinois Policy Institute’s Liberty Justice Center, free-market organizations that oppose compulsory union dues and membership.

Under a 1977 Supreme Court decision, unions are not allowed to use membership fees to pay for “explicitly political” activities, but they can demand “fair share” fees connected to collective bargaining.

The lawsuit notes some 6,600 of the state’s 46,000-plus employees are forced to make so-called “fair share” payments to unions rather than pay union dues. Fair Share deductions are to go only to essential union representation activities, not political purposes.

The plaintiffs argue that everything a union does, not just overt political activity, involves government redress.

“They [unions] are in a unique position in between taxpayers and elected officials to help to determine how tax money is spent, how government sets priorities, how school districts are run, lots of things that involve ‘necessary government services,’” Mix told Wisconsin Watchdog earlier this month.

“So the notion that somehow their speech is elevated, no matter what it is … that speech is political by nature because it’s redressing the government,” he said.

Big labor’s latest win could ultimately end in defeat at the high court.

Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees earlier said the lawsuit represents a “renewed effort by corporate and special interest groups to upend the longstanding rights of people who work in public service … to come together.”

“It would be shameful to see the Circuit Court of Appeals decide the case in favor of wealthy special interests and put the working families and communities at risk,” Saunders said in a statement.

AFSCME and the Teamsters are defendants in the lawsuit.

Some observers say Janus v. AFSCME is the “new Friedrichs case.”

Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association took on the broader issues of mandatory union dues, political speech and association. Following oral arguments in January 2016, it appeared clear that the U.S. Supreme Court would narrowly side with right-to-work advocates in updating the 1977 Abood v. Detroit Board of Education.

A few weeks later, conservative Justice Antonin Scalia died. Scalia had been a deciding vote against unions in previous similar cases. His passing resulted in a 4-4 tie, with the automatic affirmation of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholding unions’ right to take fees. The famously liberal court made headlines recently for blocking President Donald Trump’s immigration ban executive order.

Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner, a member of the court’s three-member panel that affirmed the lower court ruling, wrote that Abood remains the guiding force that the appeals court was bound by.

“Of course, only the Supreme Court has the power, if it so chooses, to overrule Abood,” Posner wrote.

That’s what right-to-work advocates are betting on.

Town hall disruption crew now keeping out ‘uninvited’ guests

Tue, 03/21/2017 - 16:51

MADISON, Wis. – It appears the rowdy left-wing Indivisible crowd is going underground.

INDIVISIBLY INVISIBLE: The guidebook for a left-wing campaign to disrupt the conservative agenda. Now, it appears, the very loud “Stop Jim’ Sensenbrenner is going underground to plan its ‘resistance’ efforts.

Not at the town hall events of conservative congressional lawmakers, where these programmed activists have made disruption and disorder the tools of their political theater. But online, where the Democrat-led Indivisible campaign organizes town hall-crashing activities, among its other “Resist Trump” demonstrations.

Indivisible members targeting U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Menomonee Falls, are moving their once-public communications, hiding behind Facebook secrecy settings.

And it’s in these members-only digital spaces where they now appear to be planning their disruption campaigns against Wisconsin conservative leaders, including Republican Gov. Scott Walker, according to online communications obtained by Wisconsin Watchdog.

Wisconsin Indivisible organizers say they are setting up various Facebook groups for “internal communication and collaboration.”

“They will be invitation only and will not be visible to the uninvited on Facebook or any other Internet search,” A group Facebook post noted. Facebook calls these privacy settings ‘secret’ groups. Members will be able to post to discussions, upload project documents and files, collaboratively edit documents, create work group events and online conference calls.”

The “uninvited” would be anybody from the press and public, including the conservative lawmakers they’ve been targeting. The public would learn that this “grassroots” effort is really directed and led by national Democrats and billionaire donors who support a raft of liberal causes.

USA Today reported this week that the George Soros-backed Democracy Alliance is mulling over funding Indivisible’s anti-Trump campaigns. As previously reported, many of the founders of Indivisible and its Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda are former congressional Democrat aides with ties to liberal mega donor Soros’ groups.

The Stop Jim Work Groups, as the Wisconsin Indivisible chapter targeting Sensenbrenner likes to describe its committees, are establishing “dedicated work groups” to:

  • Coordinate and mobilize phone calls and letter writing timed to target key legislative and political issues.
  • Generate highly visible informed crowds wherever and whenever Sensenbrenner appears anywhere (including D.C.).
  • Coordinate efforts of all progressive groups in the district.
  • Maintain engagement online with action items, news alerts, education and the occasional humor.
  • Coordinate media coverage for all Stop Jim events in the district.

Just who will serve on the “well needed humor” committee for these hilarious liberals remains to be seen. But the Stop Jim committee devoted to pounding out calls, emails and other communications will “coordinate a targeted campaign of daily communications” to Sensenbrenner.

That includes:

Keeping up with the veteran congressman’s legislative schedule, “creating daily call postings on phone calls, emails and postcards,” and “pushing the daily call postings out to other resistance groups in the district who have agreed to subscribe to the service.”

The group also will be responsible for “learning the issues and Jim’s positions on them.” Critics of the left-wing movement have said knowing the issues and where Republican lawmakers stand hasn’t seemed to be an Indivisible prerequisite, based on previous town hall demonstrations.

The Action Event Work Group will be responsible for publicity on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere, as well as “media notification” and “questions prep.” As Wisconsin Watchdog has reported, Indivisible groups are fond of giving their town hall participants canned questions about the repeal and replacement of Obamacare and other issues.

Then there is the Communication Work Group.

TOWN HALL TESTED: Despite the constant disruptions and uncivil behavior by some audience members, U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, is among the congressional leaders in holding constituent town halls.

“This group will promote communication and coordination between all progressive groups in the district and nearby,” the Indivisible Facebook page states.

It’s interesting to note that Wisconsin conservative groups were victims of a lengthy “John Doe II” investigation based on prosecutors’ and bureaucrats’ theories of illegal coordination. Conservatives had their homes raided, their possessions seized, and their communications tapped into by government agents for communicating with like-minded individuals.

The Communication Work Group also will “encourage the formation of new Indivisible groups targeting” members of Congress and the state Legislature, as well as Walker.

Alerted to Indivisible’s plan, a Walker spokesman declined to comment.

RELATED: The left prepares ‘Indivisible’ playbook for Sensenbrenner town hall

As Wisconsin Watchdog reported earlier this month, the “Stop Jim” Indivisible movement has been particularly aggressive, turning up in large numbers at Sensenbrenner’s town hall events. The long-serving Republican has led the nation in such constituent sessions, despite the constant disruptions and uncivil behavior by activists.

At a recent town hall in West Allis, some Trump resisters were finally asked to leave the meeting after constantly interrupting conservative-leaning constituents who had the floor.

“You can only listen to lies for so long,” one woman is heard saying in a video from the event as she walks out the hall.

Sensenbrenner is heard urging participants that the rules of the town hall include “respecting people (who do not share) your opinion.” “He is entitled to his opinion, just like everybody else, without interruption,” the congressman said, referring to a man who was commenting at the meeting.

Joe Kraynick appears to be the leader of the Wauwatosa Indivisible group, among the more active and disruptive.

“Welcome to the resistance!” he said earlier in an online communication to fellow would-be liberal activists.

“Come prepared to take action and meet others who are working to resist Trump’s agenda,” Kraynick wrote.

Kraynick did not respond to a request for comment, but he laid out his ideas for sticking it to Sensenbrenner in closed group messages.

He offered some suggestions to activists on making things “rowdier.” Kraynick noted that the Indivisible activists haven’t “gone the full Chaffetz” with Sensenbrenner yet, referring to the raucous left-wing crowds U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, confronted last month.

“It might not be quite time for that yet, but (Sensenbrenner) keeps avoiding answering certain questions,” the activist writes. “Reactions rattle him, he doesn’t like them. He tried at one point to move from Trump’s conflicts of interest to the Clinton Foundation, which earned an instant negative reaction, and he quickly dropped it and never came back to it.”

Sensenbrenner spokeswoman Nicole Tieman said she fails to see what groups like Indivisible are trying to accomplish “other than robbing their friends and neighbors of the opportunity to have their voices heard and problems addressed.”

“Constructive, civil discourse is a critical part of our democratic system, but what we’re seeing from Indivisible groups in our district and nationwide is neither constructive nor civil,” she said.

M.D. Kittle is bureau chief for Wisconsin Watchdog and First Amendment reporter for Watchdog.org. Contact him at mkittle@watchdog.org.

Memo comparing voucher and public school aid doesn’t tell whole story

Mon, 03/20/2017 - 17:27

WAUKESHA, Wis. – Democrats assert a Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo shows state aid to schools participating in one of Wisconsin’s three private school voucher programs will receive approximately $1,000 more in per-pupil funding than the average public school under Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed budget.

MISSING FROM THE MEMO: A memo from the state’s Legislative Fiscal Bureau requested by state Sen. Janet Bewley, D-Ashland, shows more state aid to voucher schools than public schools. But the memo does not take into account all state spending.

School choice supporters say that the memo is deceptive – again – because it doesn’t count all money going to public schools.

The memo to Sen. Janet Bewley, D-Ashland, prepared by the fiscal bureau, shows that voucher payments for a K-8 pupil would equal $7,540 in 2017-18 and $7,757 in 2018-19. Voucher payments for a student enrolled in grades 9-12 would equal $8,186 in 2017-18 and $8,403 in 2018-19.

State per-pupil aid under the governor’s proposed budget, based on 2017-18 enrollment figures, would be $6,703 on average.

The LFB is a nonpartisan agency responsible for fiscal analyses for the Wisconsin Legislature and its members.

“Even as property taxpayers and the families of more than 850 thousand public school students are promised more,” Bewley said in a press release accompanying the memo, “tax dollars are siphoned off to voucher schools and independent charters that get first place in line, take $1,000 to $1,700 more per student and too often force property taxpayers to make up the difference.”

“For the last three sessions Republicans have devised plans to slip more for voucher school lobbyists into the bill, and my guess is we can expect more of the same,” said Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, in the same press release. “This memo shows why families with students in public schools and property taxpayers should be very wary of GOP plans to widen this gap at the public’s expense.”

But the Democrats fail to note that the fiscal bureau memo does not include all funding for public schools, according to a coalition of supporters of Wisconsin’s voucher programs. 

“Funding for public K12 schools in Wisconsin contains many different streams including state equalized aid, local property taxes, state categorical aids and federal aids,” a statement by School Choice Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Federation for Children and the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty asserts.“Funding for the Parental Choice Programs contain only one – direct state aid.” 

The voucher-supporting groups said the Democrats are trying to make it look like public schools have less money than schools in the voucher programs. But when state equalized aid and local property taxes are combined, the average per-student expenditure was $10,312 for 2016, according to the coalition’s statement. That does not include categorical aids and federal funding.  

“When compared in full, students in the Parental Choice Programs will receive thousands of dollars less per child than a student in a traditional public school,” the coalition states.

Walker’s budget proposal includes $648.9 million in new state aids for K-12 education. Of that, $509 million is allocated for a per-pupil funding increase for public schools, provided the school system can show employees are paying 12 percent of their healthcare premiums and 6 percent of their pension costs for the school districts to receive the extra dollars, as allowed under Act 10.

Enacted in 2011, Act 10 eliminated collective bargaining for public employee benefits. Since Walker signed the bill into law, the Madison-based MacIver Institute says Wisconsin taxpayers have saved over $5 billion.

This additional spending means a $200 per-pupil increase in 2017-18 and $204 increase in 2018-19 in categorical aid, which means it is not part of the state’s school aid equalization formula, but is included in the $6,703 total in the memo. The increase in public school per-pupil aid is roughly the same as the $217 per-pupil increase on average for the state’s voucher programs.

SEE RELATED: Report shows Democrats ignore key data in school funding debate

This is not the first time the Democrats have used a memo from the LFB with incomplete information to try to score political points.

In June, Bewley requested another memo from the LFB to try to show that state aid for schools is down since 2010, the year before Walker took office. That memo, too, did not include local property taxes, federal aid and additional state categorical aid, and included a one-time education spending cut that coincided with savings from the passage of Act 10.

In August, Bewley received another memo from the LFB which she claimed showed three-quarters of the state’s school districts are receiving less general aid than before the Republican governor took office in 2011. However, that memo did not include changes in enrollment, local property taxes and other forms of state aid.

In addition, the August memo did not include the cut in federal aid for education. Republicans produced their own memo at the time showing state aid to Wisconsin’s school districts is actually up since 2011.

James Wigderson reports for Wisconsin Watchdog. Contact him at jwigderson@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @jwigderson.

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