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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.

Social Security whistleblower calls out agency, media in receiving award from journalists

Fri, 03/31/2017 - 00:15
Part 59 of 61 in the series Deadly Delays

MADISON, Wis. –At an awards banquet Thursday, Whistleblower Ron Klym took aim at the federal agency that he says retaliated against him, but he saved some ammunition for members of the media on hand to recognize him as “Whistleblower of the Year.”

WHISTLEBLOWER AWARDED: Ron Klym, the federal employee who blew the whistle on misconduct in the Social Security Administration, was recognized as”Whistleblower of the Year” Thursday evening during the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council’s seventh annual Openness Awards.

The long-time Social Security Administration employee received the award at the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council’s 11th annual Openness Awards. The “Opees,” as they are known, recognize extraordinary achievement in the cause of open government.

Klym is one of the key whistleblowers and sources featured in Wisconsin Watchdog’s investigative series, “Deadly Delays.” Klym first reported allegations of misconduct inside the Milwaukee Office of Disability Adjudication and Review. He brought to light long delays of Social Security disability claim decisions in Wisconsin and Michigan ODAR facilities.

“A media which refuses to report on rampant waste, fraud, and abuse in its own backyard inspires few options, especially as four whistleblowers with 25 performance awards are intimidated …,” Klym said, referring to Milwaukee area media outlets.

Klym was fired in August, more than two months after Wisconsin Watchdog published the first story in the series and after U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, identified the Social Security employee as a federal whistleblower – entitled to special protection from retaliatory acts.

Klym told a packed house of journalists and journalism supporters about the “dangerous and hostile” work environment at the Milwaukee ODAR and the common practice of intimidation and retaliation against employees who report waste, fraud, and abuse.

“An environment which exacerbates the physical and professional well-being of whistleblowers spits in the face of every American that those bureaucrats are sworn to serve,” Klym said.

Of Klym, the Freedom of Information Council stated:

“This federal employee, a longtime senior legal assistant for the administrative law judges who grant or deny Social Security benefits, blew the whistle on what Watchdog.org, which reported his story, called “incompetence, misconduct and long case delays” at a Milwaukee disability office. Klym was allegedly subjected to additional work assignments, unreasonable deadlines and unjustified suspensions; in August, he was fired. “Absolutely. I am being punished because I am a whistleblower,” he said at the time. Now he’s being honored for it.

Klym also recognized his fellow whistleblowers in the Social Security Administration, including Deborah Holland and Machelle Keller, who brought to light allegations of widespread waste, fraud, and abuse at the Madison Office of Disability Adjudication and Review. A Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General investigation found the Madison hearing office director gambled at a local casino on the taxpayer’s dime, and another manager attended a Green Bay Packers game while on the clock.

The investigation report also states that hiring decisions were largely unchecked, leaving the management official, Hearing Office Director Laura Hodorowicz, free to populate the office with friends and family members of current employees, increasing perceptions of favoritism and diminishing both employee morale and focus on the agency’s public service mission.

Federal investigators also confirmed what whistleblowers had reported, that Administrative Law Judge John Pleuss wrote sexually and racially inappropriate comments about claimants in his case notes. The investigation found “no evidence of any systemic biases in written decisions involving protected groups,” as has been alleged, but whistleblowers contend otherwise. Some attorneys representing disability claimants have sought appeals of Pleuss’ cases.

“I thank all of you for your professionalism in raking the muck which much of the media seems to wallow in,” Klym said in his acceptance speech.

Opee Award winners include:

— John Krueger, an Appleton parent who joined with the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty in suing the Appleton Area School District for not letting him attend meetings of a committee formed in response to his curricula-related concerns. That case is now being decided by the state Supreme Court.

A member of the Freedom of Information Council read a prepared statement by Krueger, who could not attend Thursday’s award ceremony.

“The district disagreed with my interpretation (of open records law) and projected an attitude that said, ‘Sue us if you don’t like it.’ I thought that was an excellent idea,” Krueger wrote. “The real hero in this story is the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, also known as WILL, which sued on my behalf… WILL is a group of dedicated, civic-minded attorneys.”

— Lance Fena, a Milton School District resident, asserted his right to make a video recording at a school board meeting, as the law expressly allows. The board not only backed down after initially adjourning to avoid being filmed, it subsequently began live-streaming its proceedings.

The New Richmond News won the Media Openness award.

“It took more than three years, but this small newspaper in St. Croix County won its case challenging wholesale records redactions by law enforcement agencies all around the state. A state appeals court in May affirmed that local officials were overreacting to a 2012 federal court ruling in the amount of driver-license related information they have been withholding. Issues remain, but the New Richmond News brought a measure of clarity to what had been chaos,” the council notes.

The Open Records Scoop of the Year award was a tie. Katelyn Farral of The Capital Times, “exposed the dismal conditions at a state veterans facility in King, Wisconsin; the Legislature ordered an audit, the federal government issued citations, and the head of the state’s Department of Veterans Affairs resigned.”  The other recipients are “Patrick Marley and other Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporters (who) documented shockingabuses at two state juvenile prisons; the state has increased training and oversight, and federal authorities are looking into possible indictments and civil rights prosecutions.”

—Gilman Halsted, a retired Wisconsin Public Radio reporter who produced award-winning examinations of the state’s criminal justice system, received the 2017 recipient of the Distinguished Wisconsin Watchdog Award.

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

Researchers respond to Evers’ criticism of school choice study

Thu, 03/30/2017 - 15:50

An organization supportive of school choice is firing back at the state superintendent for public instruction for his criticism of a recent study comparing students in voucher and public schools.

WILL PRESIDENT RICK ESENBERG says their school choice study uses the best data available to make a comparison of voucher and MPS students.

Rick Esenberg, president the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL), defended the group’s study, “Apples to Apples: The Definitive Look at Test Scores in Milwaukee and Wisconsin,” from criticism by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers.

“No study is perfect,” Esenberg said in a statement Wednesday. “But ours is the most sophisticated and carefully controlled evaluation of test scores in K-12 schools since the School Choice Demonstration Project.”

The SCDP is a research project based within the University of Arkansas’ Department of Education Reform studying private school vouchers in Milwaukee and elsewhere. The SCDP found the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, the private school voucher program in Milwaukee, had a “positive effect on a student’s likelihood of graduating from high school and enrolling and persisting in a 4-year college.”

Esenberg said that the WILL study, like the SCDP, “contradicts the common narrative among certain politicians and reporters that students in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program under-perform or perform the same as their peers at Milwaukee Public Schools.”

The WILL study showed students in Milwaukee’s private school voucher program performed significantly better than their public school peers in reading and math when controlling for socioeconomic status. The study also found charter schools that were independent of Milwaukee Public Schools outperforming traditional public schools, too, by as much as 10 percent in both subjects.

WILL used data from the statewide Forward Exam and ACT results and adjusted for students’ socioeconomic status to give the “apples to apples” comparison. The Forward Exam is an annual statewide assessment of student proficiency in English language arts, social studies and math.

During a pre-election debate Tuesday at Marquette University Law School, the superintendent said that there is, “no discernible difference in achievement,” between students in voucher schools and students in Milwaukee Public Schools.

“I know the WILL report showed differently,” Evers said. “They weren’t comparing apples to apples. They were comparing apples to giraffes. And that’s just my own opinion.”

Moderator Alan Borsuk asked Evers how the WILL report did not have an equal comparison of students in voucher and public schools.

“I’m not sure they took into account the special education students and the difference between them,” Evers said. “I don’t know why, but that’s the truth.”

“I think if you ignore the studies, the WILL studies, it’s like burying your head in the sand,” said Lowell Holtz, Evers’ opponent in the April 4 nonpartisan election, in response to a question from Borsuk. “We can learn from each other. We can do better. We can make our public schools as good or better.”

SEE RELATED: Study finds charter and voucher schools do better than public schools

Esenberg said the study did not control for special education because the data does not exist for such a comparison.

“Our study does control for socioeconomic status — something which may be correlated with special needs status, but we cannot control for what we cannot measure,” Esenberg said.

Esenberg said part of the problem is the lack of available data from the Department of Public Instruction, run by Evers.

“We hope that someday it will be possible to do such a comparison and we have made a request to DPI for such data,” Esenberg said. “This request has, thus far, been ignored.”

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

First Amendment rights still in peril following climate-change probes

Thu, 03/30/2017 - 00:21

MADISON, Wis. – Wednesday marked the one-year anniversary of the day an army of Democratic prosecutors unveiled a coordinated campaign to hunt down so-called “climate change deniers.” Constitutional experts have described the initiative as one of the more egregious attacks on the First Amendment in U.S. history.

GREEN TEAM: A coalition of Democrat state attorneys general in March 2016 announced a campaign to investigate so-called perpetrators of  ‘climate fraud.’ Former Vice President Al Gore was on hand to applaud the effort, which led to sweeping subpoenas into groups that have challenged the climate change narrative.

One year later, New York Attorney General’s Eric Schneiderman’s coalition of Attorneys General United for Clean Power has disintegrated in the heat of its own abusive law enforcement practices. The same fate seemingly awaits former President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute, caught in the crosshairs of the climate change coalition of the willing, marked the anniversary with a combination of celebration and vigilance.

“While pretending that this was a law enforcement investigation, Schneiderman made clear that he was pushing a policy agenda—‘to defend the climate change progress made under President Obama and to push the next president for even more aggressive action,’” said CEI General Counsel Sam Kazman in a statement.

“Since then, Schneiderman’s coalition has fallen apart: most of its members have left, the subpoenas served on us and Exxon by Virgin Islands AG Claude Walker were quickly withdrawn, and the climate science debate that this gang tried to shut down is more energetic than ever,” Kazman added.  “Ironically, nowhere is that better demonstrated than by (Tuesday’s) environmental Executive Order from the president.”

Trump announced the Environmental Protection Agency will begin unraveling the Obama administration’s carbon-emissions reduction plan that critics have blasted as a job-killing government overreach.

RELATED: Climate change critics: Trump order rolling back Obama plan a big win for Wisconsin

Trump was surrounded by coal miners Tuesday as he signed the executive order. The president has said boosting U.S. fossil fuel production in pursuit of energy independence is a priority for his administration.

“My action today is the latest in a series of steps to create American jobs and to grow American wealth. We’re ending the theft of American prosperity and rebuilding our beloved country,” he said before signing the order at an EPA that clearly is moving in a different direction from the aggressive enforcement agency of the past eight years.

Not surprisingly, the climate change faithful are furious. Obama EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy sees all of her regulatory work going up in smoke.

This is not just dangerous; it’s embarrassing to us and our businesses on a global scale to be dismissing opportunities for new technologies, economic growth, and US leadership,” she said in a statement.

Nathan Richardson of the environmental extremist group Resources for the Future likened the executive order to the short list of America’s “truly shameful” days. Among them, “the Dred Scott decision, the Trail of Tears, Japanese internment, and Abu Ghraib —most of them symbolic of a larger national moral failure.”

As CEI pointed out, Richardson’s opinion was quickly endorsed by Vox explainers and a New York Times reporter.

Those entities need not fear the threat of a sweeping, state-sponsored investigation into what they said and who they associate with. But CEI and other research organizations that have challenged the flawed science of the climate change crowd have had such a probe hanging over them for months.

Former Vice President Al Gore was on hand March 29, 2016, when Schneiderman and 16 other Democratic AGs moved to take up their investigative campaign against ExxonMobil and other alleged violators of “climate fraud.”

CEI soon after was targeted by the Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Walker. The AG sought “kitchen sink” subpoenas that “plainly aimed at suppressing free speech and scientific inquiry” the nonprofit think tank sponsors.

In June, Walker withdrew his subpoenas of ExxonMobil and CEI. The attorney general claimed he was looking into whether ExxonMobil had concealed its “understanding of climate change” from customers and investors.

“He served an astonishingly overbroad subpoena on a public policy organization, demanding that it reveal its internal communications and communications with allies,” CEI’s court motion stated. “He conceded, in his briefing, that his subpoena was unsupported by the statutory authority that he cited as justifying it. And he has undertaken a series of legal maneuvers to evade judicial scrutiny of his actions, even while continuing to threaten CEI.”

The legal battles go on.

In a similar legal battle, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, part of the so-called “Green 20,” sought 40 years of ExxonMobil’s documents in a subpoena. The company’s attorneys in September argued in a Texas court that if Healey’s overly broad subpoena was allowed to stand, “nothing is to stop a state prosecutor from issuing a subpoena to a political opponent seeking decades of records on the theory that a disagreement about policy constitutes fraud.”

U.S. District Court Judge Ed Kinkeide agreed the New York and Massachusetts investigations were politically motivated.The lawsuit remains in play, with Healey refusing to comply wit congressional subpoenas.

In November, a New York Supreme Court justice ordered Schneiderman to release common interest agreements with other state AGs that CEI had sought in an open records request.

“CEI’s court victory is a blow to the anti-free speech campaign led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman,” CEI’s Kazman said in a statement. “While the campaign by him and his cohorts that began in March (2016) continues against those who disagree with him on global warming, we are glad to see that it is being held subject to the basic laws of the land.”

Attorney Andrew Grossman has represented CEI in its legal actions against the attorneys general. Grossman and his Washington, D.C.-based law firm also represented Wisconsin conservative activist Eric O’Keefe in a federal lawsuit against prosecutors of the state’s infamous John Doe investigation. The campaign finance probe, launched by Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, a Democrat, targeted dozens of conservative groups and Republican Gov. Scott Walker. Investigators raided the homes of several citizens and seized millions of electronic communications in the secret dragnet ruled unconstitutional by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Grossman noted the similarities of the politically motivated investigations.

“In both instances you have law enforcement officials using the powers of their office to target people on the basis of their opinions,” the attorney said, adding that liberals increasingly have abdicated their position as defenders of free speech.

Grossman said the failure of the climate change prosecutors’ coalition should be the end of the story, but CEI isn’t taking anything for granted.

“CEI is going to continue to make arguments for First Amendment rights. Not just for themselves; they want to make sure everyone has that opportunity, even those with whom they disagree.”

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

Climate Change critics: Trump order rolling back Obama plan a big win for Wisconsin

Tue, 03/28/2017 - 23:53

MADISON, Wis. – While climate change alarmists see the sky falling in President Donald Trump’s executive order rolling back his predecessor’s “Clean Power Plan,” Badger State free-market advocates are celebrating a “Great Day for Wisconsin.”

CLEAN POWER ROLLBACK: President Donald Trump signed an executive order Tuesday that will roll back his predecessor’s Clean Coal Plan. The action could save tens of thousands of jobs in manufacturing-heavy Wisconsin, dependent on coal-fired electricity.

On Tuesday, Trump announced the Environmental Protection Agency will begin unraveling the Obama administration’s controversial carbon-emissions reduction plan that critics have blasted as a job-killing government overreach.

Brett Healy, president of the MacIver Institute, a Madison-based free-market think tank, said Trump’s decision to review and eventually scrap the “Costly Power Plan” has dramatically improved the lives of Wisconsinites.

“Since Wisconsin is more reliant on coal than most states, this bureaucratic boondoggle would have cost our state dearly in job losses, rate hikes, and lost economic potential,” Healy said in a statement.

A 2015 MacIver Institute and Beacon Hill study found the Clean Power Plan could cost Wisconsin 21,000 jobs and $1.82 billion in disposable income by 2030. The study also estimates the EPA’s array of rules and regulations would cause the average household electric bill to jump $225 and would cost the average Wisconsin industrial ratepayer an extra $105,094 per year if implemented.

In February 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed the CPP, which demands a 30 percent reduction in carbon emissions from U.S. power plants by 2030 – higher in manufacturing-heavy Wisconsin.

At the time, pro-business groups like Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce celebrated the pause in the Obama administration plan while anti-Clean Power Plan litigation supported by 28 states moved forward.

The Clean Power Plan would significantly harm Wisconsin’s economy, increasing electricity rates by more than 20% and eliminating tens of thousands of jobs,” Scott Manley, WMC’s senior vice president of Government Relations, said in a statement at the time.

In December, Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel joined a 24-state coalition of attorneys general urging Trump and congressional leaders to step away from the Clean Power Plan, the critical piece to the Obama-led Paris climate agreement. 

Last year’s stay won by the coalition of states before the U.S. Supreme Court was the first step in putting an end to this misguided policy,” Schimel said Tuesday in a press release. “Today’s Executive Order was the next critical step. We look forward to working with President Trump and EPA Administrator (Scott) Pruitt to complete the legal process necessary to eliminate this unconstitutional overreach once and for all.” 

Trump was surrounded by coal miners Tuesday as he signed the executive order. The president has said boosting U.S. fossil fuel production in pursuit of energy independence is a priority for his administration.

“My action today is the latest in a series of steps to create American jobs and to grow American wealth. We’re ending the theft of American prosperity and rebuilding our beloved country,” he said before signing the order at an EPA that clearly is moving in a different direction from the aggressive enforcement agency of the past eight years.

Not surprisingly, the climate change faithful – described by some so-called “climate change deniers” as a “cult” – are furious. Obama EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy sees all of her regulatory work going up in smoke.

This is not just dangerous; it’s embarrassing to us and our businesses on a global scale to be dismissing opportunities for new technologies, economic growth, and US leadership,” she said in a statement.

Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass, according to liberal publication Mother Jones, called Trump’s actions “a declaration of war on American leadership on climate change and our clean energy future.”

Free-market advocates say the war on business, on jobs, the economy, the constitution, liberty, is drawing to an end with the review and dismantling of Obama’s overreaching Clean Power Plan.

“The CPP was imposed on Americans by unelected, faceless bureaucrats in Washington. President Trump’s executive order rolls back one of the most draconian overreaches in the history of big government,” MacIver’s Healy said. “By signing this order, the President will preserve thousands of jobs in Wisconsin, prevent a spike in electricity rates for hard working Wisconsin families, and keep more income in peoples’ pockets.”

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

Milwaukee County supervisor’s ethics case remains ‘under review’

Tue, 03/28/2017 - 16:00

MADISON, Wis. – An outside ethics investigation of Milwaukee County Supervisor John Weishan Jr.’s 2016 campaign activities continues nearly a year after a judge moved the case out of the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office because of a conflict of interest.

UNDER REVIEW: The 2016 campaign activities of Milwaukee County Supervisor John Weishan Jr. remain ‘under review,’ according to the Brown County District Attorney’s office. The case was turned over to a special prosecutor because of a conflict of interest in Milwaukee.

An official with the Brown County District Attorney’s office on Monday told Wisconsin Watchdog the investigating prosecutor has asked for additional information “for follow-up,” and the materials were received this week. She said Assistant District Attorney John Luetscher “will look at it,” and that the matter “is still under review.”

“He should be able to look at it in the next few weeks,” the official said. Asked why the ethics case has taken nearly a year to investigate, the official said, “We are understaffed here big time. (Luetscher) is an assistant district attorney who handles big-time cases.”

In June, Luetscher said he had asked the West Allis Police Department to assist in the investigation.

Luetscher’s office over the past 10 months had not returned Wisconsin Watchdog’s calls seeking an update on the probe.

Weishan won re-election in early April 2016 despite allegations of felony misconduct in office and lying under oath, accusations related to his campaign.

Weishan has said the allegations by his opponent at the time, Milwaukee-area businessman Scott Espeseth, are “totally false,” to a “point of ridiculousness.”

The complaint alleges Weishan falsified numerous nomination petitions filed with the Milwaukee County Election Commission.

In March 2016, the Milwaukee County prosecutor who specializes in campaign and elections fraud investigations advised Espeseth that further investigation was warranted, according to emails obtained by Wisconsin Watchdog.

Because of a conflict of interest, however, the DA’s office referred the complaint to a special prosecutor. Milwaukee County Chief Judge Maxine White assigned the case to the Brown County District Attorney’s office.

“I have completed a review of the MCEC Complaint and John Weishan’s Answer. Consequently, I have now reviewed all the papers you have submitted,” Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf wrote to Espeseth on March 16, 2016 in a particularly revealing professional email. “It is my opinion that further investigation is warranted.”

Espeseth originally challenged Weishan’s nomination papers in January 2016 “for a considerable number of inconsistencies” and missing information.

“If you add up all the pages that clearly weren’t circulated by him but signed by him as a circulator, he would not be on the ballot,” Espeseth told Wisconsin Watchdog in an April 1 article.

RELATED: Ethics probe of Milwaukee County Supervisor John Weishan Jr. continues

As Weishan pointed out, the Election Commission rejected all of Espeseth’s challenges. Espeseth said he was not surprised that a commission in heavily Democratic Milwaukee County, often criticized for its handling of election complaints, would toss out his challenges against a liberal incumbent.

The law in question is state statute 12.13(3)(a) on filing or receiving for filing certificate of nomination or nomination papers “knowing any part is falsely made.”

Landgraf contacted Espeseth on Feb. 24 of last year advising him what to do should he file a criminal complaint. Espeseth did, two weeks later.

Five days later, Landgraf wrote Espeseth an email saying that he had completed his review of the complaint and that further investigation was warranted.

Weishan has campaigned for his supervisor’s seat five times and has made an unsuccessful run for the Legislature.

“I am totally capable of collecting my signatures. I have done it multiple times,” the supervisor told Watchdog last April.

“When you put it into context with the accusations he made that were rejected by the Elections Commission, this guy is just making these things up. It gets to a point of ridiculousness,” Weishan said.

In April, Espeseth said that whichever way the investigation falls, he will remain active in the community.

“I hope it resolves itself professionally, ethically, and that we can all move forward, and move Milwaukee County forward,” the candidate said.

He could not be reached for comment this week.

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

Don’t want to pay for ‘Sex Out Loud?’ Walker’s budget offers opt-out on student fees

Tue, 03/28/2017 - 09:48

WAUKESHA, Wis. – In addition to a proposed 5 percent cut in tuition at state universities, Gov. Scott Walker wants to help students spend less for college by making some student fees optional.

The governor’s 2017-19 budget proposal would make optional the “allocable segregated fees” portion of the tuition bill at University of Wisconsin System schools. These are the student fees that fund such things as student government, student organizations and even a free bus pass program for UW-Madison students.

OPT-OUT: Gov. Scott Walker is proposing allowing students to opt-out of paying student fees at UW-System campuses to avoid supporting political speech contrary to their beliefs.

“At a time when we want to make college more affordable, we should not be forcing all students to pay for things such as ‘Sex Out Loud,’” said Walker spokesman Tom Evenson in a statement. “The governor’s proposal reduces tuition for students by 5 percent and ensures they have the final say on what their money funds in terms of allocable programs. It is all aimed at affordability and accountability.”

The “Sex Out Loud” program referenced by Evenson is to “promote healthy sexuality through sex-positive education and activism.” The student group received $103,000 in student fees this year and offered classes such as “Kink 420” regarding fetish sex.

In 2016-17, total segregated fees collected by the UW system were $120 million, 6.26 percent of the total tuition and fees collected. Of that, about 17 percent is “allocable” segregated fees controlled by the student governments at UW system schools, according to the Walker administration.

“Allocable fees do not go towards long-term commitments or ongoing operational costs of university owned and controlled buildings,” Walker said in the budget announcement in February. “They provide support for campus student activities and services that are allocated by campus student government and university chancellors. Allowing an opt-out helps students make the decisions on what they do and do not want to fund.”

As part of a merger of state universities in 1971, students and faculty became part of a shared governance program for the UW System. In the 2015-16 budget, Walker modified shared governance to give state university administrations more authority in dealing with university budgets. But the allocable segregated fees are still under student government control for now, with a final say from university administration.

The segregated fee opt-out would be a yes or no across the board. Students would not be able to pick and choose which programs they would fund. In addition, the proposed opt-out would only apply to allocable fees.The governor’s proposal would not affect non-allocable fees, student fees that are controlled primarily by the administration for the costs of student unions, health centers, child care centers and recreational sports centers.

“Long term commitments, or non-allocable fees, are not impacted under this proposal,” Evenson said. “But where students and their families are asked to pay for optional activities, the governor’s budget provides the freedom to choose.”

Allocable segregated fees at UW System schools vary from campus to campus. At UW-Madison, students paid $88.98 per semester for the 2016-17 school year, for a total allocable fees budget of $8.2 million.

By far the largest expense of the allocable fees is $4.7 million for the student government bus pass program. Margaret Bergamini, the student governments “bus pass advisor,” told the Daily Cardinal that 68 percent of students use the bus passes. They account for 2.9 million riders on the bus system, or about 22 percent of Metro’s total ridership.

Mick Rusch, spokesman for Madison’s Metro Transit, told the Capital Times, “This would affect any potential Metro loss in a way we couldn’t begin to guess at at this point.”

The next highest total is $1.3 million to fund student government “administrative” costs, or 16 percent of the total allocable segregated fees at UW-Madison. In the March student government election, there were 3,629 completed ballots on a campus of 41,129 students, or less than 9 percent voter turnout.

Not surprising, student government leaders that control allocable segregated fees do not like Walker’s proposal, even though it would provide students with a way to reduce their higher education costs.

“Students at UW System campuses are a part of a community that benefits from services provided by these reasonable fees.” Graham Pearce, UW System student representatives chairman, said in a statement after the budget proposal was released,

“Allowing individual students to opt-out of paying would destabilize the funding of these services and create an administrative burden to ensure only fee-paying students could access the services those fees support,” Pearce said.

SEE RELATED: Conservative voices drowned out on UW-Madison campus

The sentiment was echoed at the campus level as well.

“This proposal will result in a significant loss of funding to vital entities on campus that are solely for serving students,” said UW-La Crosse Student Association President Jacob Schimmel in a statement. “I hope that this proposal will be reconsidered going forward so that we can properly support the needs of students on our campus.”

Walker’s opt-out plan does have student support, particularly from his son. Alex Walker, chairman of the College Republican Federation of Wisconsin, told the Wisconsin State Journal that students should have a choice of whether they are going to fund student groups they don’t agree with.

“It is frustrating to see political activism funded by students’ segregated fees,” Walker said.

This is not the first time conservatives have tried to allow students to opt out of paying fees to fund student organizations they don’t want to support. In 1996, three conservative students attending UW-Madison law school filed a complaint in federal court claiming student government did not have the right to force them to subsidize student groups’ speech counter to their beliefs. After winning in the lower courts, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System v. Southworth that universities can force students to pay to subsidize speech through student fees so long as the decision-making process is viewpoint neutral.

Wisconsin Watchdog’s M. D. Kittle contributed.

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

Bill would make Wisconsin a ‘constitutional carry’ state

Tue, 03/28/2017 - 08:40

MADISON, Wis. – Law-abiding gun owners would no longer be required to obtain a license in order to carry a concealed firearm in Wisconsin, under a bill being circulated for sponsorship.

‘RIGHT TO CARRY’: Two lawmakers are seeking co=sponsors for a bill that would allow permitless concealed carry in Wisconsin.

The Right To Carry Act, co-authored by state Sen. David Craig, R-Town of Vernon, and state Rep. Mary Felzkowski (formerly Mary Czaja) R-Irma, “simplifies state law while reducing the cost to citizens who chose to protect themselves and their families,” according to a co-sponsorship memo sent out Tuesday morning.

“The current license structure limits those who follow the law and presents administrative and cost barriers to self-protection,” the memo states. “With this bill, we make carrying more affordable and provide greater freedom for those who obey the law while maintaining stiff penalties for criminals who commit crimes with firearms.”

Wisconsin would become at least the 15th state to adopt a “constitutional carry” law, should the Republican-controlled Legislature pass the measure and Republican Gov. Scott Walker sign it.

Wisconsin became the 49th concealed carry state in 2011 when Walker signed Act 35.

More than five years later, the Badger State has issued more than 300,000 concealed carry licenses, making the “clear case to move Wisconsin forward and expand state law to reflect the constitutional right to carry a weapon in self-defense,” Craig and Felzkowski assert in the legislative memo.

Current law requires concealed carry permits, issued by the state Department of Justice, unless the firearm owner possesses an identification card showing he is a “qualified” current or former law enforcement officer.

The Right to Carry Act eliminates the state gun free school zones law but allows schools to post notice that possession of firearms in schools or on school grounds is prohibited under state trespass law. Violators could be charged with a Class C misdemeanor. The prohibitions generally would not apply to a firearm kept in a vehicle.

Concealed carry license holders are not subject to the federal gun free school zones law at Wisconsin schools. The expanded bill would create a new Wisconsin concealed carry license requiring a background check on the applicant but doesn’t mandate a complete training course.

“A person who obtains one of the new ‘basic’ concealed carry licenses would also not be subject to the federal gun free zones law” at Wisconsin schools, according to a memo by the Wisconsin Legislative Council.

Police stations, jailhouses, mental health facilities and other specified buildings in the bill could post notices prohibiting firearms on their grounds. Otherwise, there would be no firearms ban at such buildings.

The legislation would not change laws on gun-free zones on college campuses, although other proposed legislation would allow law-abiding citizens to arm themselves at institutions of higher education.

The bill also would eliminate the current prohibition on Tasers and other electric weapons, with the exception of individuals prevented from possessing a firearm.

And the proposal would allow individuals to carry a firearm or bow while operating an all-terrain vehicle or to carry such weapons into a wildlife refuge.

Opponents decried the bill as “extreme.”

“Democrats and Republicans have been long opposed to allowing guns on school grounds, yet this bill changes that safety presumption. Additionally, the authors have some explaining to do as to why they reduce the penalty from a felony to a misdemeanor for illegally carrying in a school zone. This is a serious legal breach that should be treated as such,” Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, said in a press release.

Craig and Felzkowski note the right to keep and bear arms is guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution and further enumerated in Wisconsin’s constitution granting the “right to keep and bear arms for security, defense, hunting, recreation or any other lawful purpose.”

“It is with this constitutional provision in mind that we reaffirm the rights and liberties of law-abiding citizens to carry a concealed weapon without a license,” the lawmakers state in the memo.

North Dakota last week became the 14th state to legalize permitless gun carry, following New Hampshire in February. North Dakota’s law allows anyone at least 21 who can legally possess a firearm to carry it concealed without having to obtain a permit beforehand.

“It does require that anyone legally carrying a firearm also carry a valid ID and inform police that they are carrying if they are stopped,” according to the Washington Free Beacon.

South Dakota’s Republican governor earlier this month vetoed bills aimed at loosening restrictions on carrying concealed weapons. Montana’s governor, a Democrat, earlier this year killed a constitutional carry bill.

Previous reciprocity bills in Congress died in committee, but permitless advocates see hope for a federal “constitutional carry” law under a GOP-controlled House and Senate and a president who is seen as a gun-rights ally.

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

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

Mon, 03/27/2017 - 16:23
Part 15 of 16 in the series 'Troubled' Campus

MADISON, Wis. – Sabina Burton is just about out of justice, and she is running out of time.

The embattled University of Wisconsin-Platteville associate criminal justice professor, who says she was discriminated and retaliated against for blowing the whistle on misconduct, has lost her federal appeal and could soon lose the job she dearly loves.

‘SABOTAGED’: UW-Platteville Associate Professor Sabina Burton says her attorney failed to include broader evidence of retaliation in her civil rights case. She lost her appeal earlier this month, and alleges big-union attorney Timothy Hawks “sabotaged” her case because of her request for help to Gov. Scott Walker.

Burton blames her former legal counsel, a public-sector union attorney who didn’t like Burton seeking help from Gov. Scott Walker — Public Enemy No. 1 to Wisconsin big labor.

In its decision earlier this month affirming a lower court decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit ruled that Burton’s frustrations “may be significant, but they do not amount to actionable retaliation” under Title VII or Title IX.

The former, part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 further prohibits discrimination, on the basis of sex, under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.

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 a female student told Burton she had been sexually harassed by a male professor in the Criminal Justice Department.

Burton claims administrators took away a grant, 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.

The appeals court agreed that the U.S. District Court in Madison was correct in awarding the university summary judgment because there was not enough evidence to support Burton’s allegations.

“First, we emphasize that “[n]ot everything that makes an employee unhappy is an actionable adverse action,” the appeals court wrote in its decision. “In other words, it does not include ‘those petty slights or minor annoyances that often take place at work and that all employees experience.’”

Burton contends that the university’s hostile actions, directly and indirectly taken against her, were no mere “petty slights or minor annoyances.”

She claims a supervisor repeatedly pressured her to drop the discrimination charges. The associate professor was told that “she might have been considered for the positions of dean or department chair, but that she could not expect to advance if she continued to engage in litigious behavior.”

The appeals court described these as “unfulfilled threats.”

UW-P was represented by the state Attorney General’s Office. The state did not argue the validity of Burton’s expanded retaliation claims, but that the court must not consider them in the first place because the professor’s attorney did not raise the matters during the original lawsuit.

“Burton’s problem is that she did not make these broad arguments to the district court,” the 7th Circuit ruling states.

Burton asserts her legal counsel at the time, union attorney Timothy Hawks, not only failed to adequately represent her, he “sabotaged” her case.

DISMISSAL DECISION: UW-Platteville Chancellor Dennis Shields in January said he was “initiating the dismissal process” against professor Sabina Burton based on a complaint by administrators. Burton has sued administrators on charges of discrimination and retaliation.

“It was my attorney who failed to provide more than these two arguments,” Burton told Wisconsin Watchdog. “I strongly believe if Hawks had entered all my evidence of protected activities and adverse action and rebutted the defendants’ findings of fact as I outlined and documented to him, I would have prevailed.”

Hawks did not return requests for comment. Neither did a UW-Platteville official.

Burton claims Hawks, who represents some of the biggest public unions in the state, was “especially upset when” UW System legal counsel Jennifer Lattis informed Hawks that his client had sought help with her case from Walker. Public sector unions despise the Republican governor for his 2011 collective bargaining reform law, Act 10.

“That is when he (Hawks) opened up about his political affiliation – very strong Democrat and he very much dislikes Walker,” Burton said.

The professor said Walker had invited her to contact his office after she spoke to him following a Lincoln Day Dinner in Des Moines, Iowa, in May 2015.

Hawks includes AFT-Wisconsin (the American Federation of Teachers), the Wisconsin Education Association Council, WEAC, and the Green Bay Education Association on his resume of clients.

Last year, in a keynote speech titled, “On Wisconsin; Life Without Collective Bargaining,” Hawks took aim at Walker and Act 10, five years after its passage.

“When Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker declared open war against public sector unions, Tim was on the front lines,” the Wisconsin Fraternal Order of Police said of Hawks in announcing the speech.

Hawks and his Milwaukee firm have been generous donors to Democratic Party causes, particularly to vocal Walker opponents.

RELATED: Embattled UW-P Criminal Justice professor: ‘I have been treated like a criminal.’

With the appeals court ruling in favor of UW-Platteville, Burton’s professional status with the university remains in limbo.

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

Shields advised Burton in January 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.

Petra Roter, senior special assistant to the vice president for academic and student affairs for the University of Wisconsin System, led the latest investigation into Burton.

Roter recently 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.

Burton disputes many of the report’s findings on the webpage she has used to document her allegations — the webpage that has landed her in hot water with administration.

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.

Earlier this month, Burton filed a federal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging she has been the “target of vicious retaliation by both her fellow professors and the administration of the school.”

Burton says she is focusing on her new claims against the university.

“I am smarter now when it comes to legal battles. I also know how the university administration and UW legal counsel operate,” she said. “I used to believe that they were fair and interested in the truth. Now I know that they just care about covering up and silencing their whistleblowers.”

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

Wisconsin family awaits Supreme Court ruling in property-rights case

Fri, 03/24/2017 - 15:58

For more than 40 years, high school government teacher Michael Murr has taught students about the work of the U.S. Supreme Court.

On March 20, he and 20 family members saw it first-hand, as the high court heard oral arguments in Murr v. State of Wisconsin and St. Croix County — a property rights case he and his siblings have been fighting since 2004.

FINISH LINE: More than a decade of legal battles over family-owned property nears an end at the U.S. Supreme Court

“The concept is the ‘great equalizer,’” Murr told reporters right after the hearing. “We’re against the county, the state, and the United States. And we’re a family of pretty average Americans. And the fact we got this far is a great civics lesson. It says something about the third branch of government — the judicial branch. They’re there to protect individuals down to that level.”

Listed as one of the National Constitution Center’s top 10 Supreme Court cases to watch in 2017, Murr involves two pieces of property along the St. Croix River in Wisconsin that have been in the family since the 1960s.

The two lots, one with a family cabin and the other vacant, were purchased three years apart and are taxed separately. However, land use regulations prohibit the Murrs from selling or developing the vacant lot because the law treats the two lots as one.

Wishing to sell one lot to pay for renovations to the cabin on the other, the Murrs asked the government to compensate them for the property’s value. The county offered $40,000, one-tenth of the $400,000 assessed value. So the Murrs sued, saying the low-ball offer violates the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment.

RELATED: Supreme Court set to hear Wisconsin family’s property rights case

The Pacific Legal Foundation, a donor-supported public interest legal organization, represents the Murrs, bringing the case to the Supreme Court after the Wisconsin Court of Appeals rejected the family’s claim.

SUPREME PROPERTY RIGHTS: PLF general counsel John Groen argued for a Wisconsin family fighting years-long government overreach.

The oral arguments pitted PLF general counsel John Groen against lawyers for St. Croix County, the state of Wisconsin and the U.S. Solicitor General’s office, which filed an amicus brief in support of the Wisconsin Court of Appeals decision against the Murrs.

“It was a unique argument having the state, the county and the solicitor general’s office arguing on the other side with some discombobulate — some different views from those different attorneys and so that made for an interesting argument,” Groen said afterward.

‘A level of unfairness’

In her analysis, Scotusblog’s Miriam Seifter wrote that the justices were searching for a common denominator — that is, a way to define the original property as either one lot or two, in order to determine if a taking actually took place.

“If the parcel at issue is just [the vacant] Lot E, the Murrs have a stronger case that the merger provision effected a taking: They can’t develop or sell Lot E by itself,” Seifter wrote. “But if Lots E and F together constitute the denominator, it seems clear that no taking has occurred. The siblings can still develop or sell the two lots together, and the restriction has a minimal economic effect on them.”

PLF co-counsel Todd Gaziano says this analysis and oral arguments themselves, however, missed a larger point. The government attorneys failed to make the case they were supposed to, according to Gaziano — to support the Wisconsin Court of Appeals ruling that sent the case to Washington in the first place.

“Lost in almost all the reporting was that not a single party or attorney speaking for any government unit supported the test of the Wisconsin (Appeals) court that ruled against the Murrs,” Gaziano told Watchdog.org.

“The narrow question the Supreme Court granted review on was whether that the rule, which required that contiguous lots in common ownership must always be considered together for takings analysis, was required by federal law,” he said. They were effectively arguing for reversal without addressing the question at hand, Gaziano contends. “Unfortunately, the justices didn’t call the government lawyers on their inconsistent position.”

RELATED: Supreme Court will hear Wisconsin family’s property rights case

Another takeaway by both the Murrs and their lawyers was the issue of fairness, in particular one exchange between Justice Samuel Alito and Richard Lazarus, who represented St. Croix County.

From the transcript:

LAZARUS: In — for instance, in this case, the economic impact on the Murrs, right, has to take into account the shared value of the two because the fact is, if you look to what — there is no general issue of material fact with the lower courts on this question, that the value of the two parcels together for one house is $698,000. The value of two houses separate, with a house on each, is $771,000.

JUSTICE ALITO: Well, that’s fine except that, in order to realize the value of the two lots put together, they would have to move away.

“It was interesting,” said Groen. “[Alito] seemed to indicate that there’s a level of unfairness in requiring that they sell their property in order to recover anything.”

“We have no intention of moving,” said Donna Murr, another sibling on hand for the hearing. “That would defeat the whole purpose of what our property rights are. So I was happy to hear his take and get a sense of how he feels about the situation.”

A ruling in Murr is expected in June.

“We’re used to waiting,” said Donna Murr. “So we’ll just wait and remain confident and optimistic the outcome will be in our favor.”

Commentary: Tammy Baldwin special guest at liberal ‘dark money’ summit

Fri, 03/24/2017 - 13:12

MADISON, Wis. – U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin once urged voters to “Tell the Kochs: Get your Dark Money out of Wisconsin.”

DOUBLE STANDARD: Sen. Tammy Baldwin has attacked Koch Brothers “dark money” as she hobnobs with the left groups that do not disclose their donors.

The blistering political statement attacking industrialists and conservative activists Charles and David Koch is noteworthy because Baldwin was a scheduled guest this week at a summit hosted by one of the left’s biggest “dark money” players.

The Madison Democrat was slated to join the Democracy Alliance Investment Conference and National Donor Summit in Washington D.C. Attendance is by invitation only, and the press need not apply. The entry fee was $750, but the cost includes meals and summit program materials.

Billionaire George Soros’ Democracy Alliance is a secretive network of liberal donors that does not disclose its members.

Baldwin was honored Wednesday at the “GiveGreen” reception honoring “climate champions” during the left’s “dark money” fest.

“The importance of electing policymakers both up and down the ballot has never been clearer. Ensuring candidates have the resources they need and ultimately fight for good environmental policy is GiveGreen’s mission,” a Democracy Alliance summit agenda states.

“At this special gathering, attendees will have the opportunity to meet some of the newest champions including Senator Sherrod Brown, Senator Tammy Baldwin, and Oregon Governor Kate Brown and to learn how to become a GiveGreen Ambassador.”

GiveGreen is a project of the League of Conservation Voters Action Fund supported by the NRDC (National Resources Defense Council) Action Fund PAC.

You’ll recall that former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold found himself on hypocrisy row when the godfather of campaign finance reform turned out at a League of Conservation Voters event during his unsuccessful attempt to unseat incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, in last year’s election. The League has been billed as a “dark money heavyweight” that is “fast becoming one of the nation’s strongest ‘dark money’ forces,” according to the Center for Public Integrity.

Baldwin has been a very public opponent of conservative “dark money” groups, more so of late as she faces an onslaught of Republican Party and conservative issue advocacy attacks heading into her 2018 re-election campaign. The ultra-liberal’s Senate seat is viewed as among the more vulnerable.

“Outside spending is only getting worse. Imagine what the Kochs will spend in 2018 if we don’t stop them,” Baldwin said in a 2016 campaign statement. In it, the senator doesn’t “imagine” the kind of spending Soros and company plan to do.

As USA Today reported earlier this week, a “network of some of the nation’s wealthiest Democratic donors is weighing providing money to support several of the new activist groups that have cropped up since Election Day to challenge President Trump and his agenda.”

Liberals coined the phrase “dark money” even as their candidates continue to benefit from the generosity of undisclosed donors.

But what gets lost in all of the “dark money” hysteria is the fact that anonymous donations – speech – is not only perfectly legal, it’s as American as the U.S. Constitution. It was the domain of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, as it is today for climate change activists and free-market advocates.

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

400 new jobs, low unemployment bad news for Walker foes

Thu, 03/23/2017 - 16:47

MADISON, Wis. – After Gov. Scott Walker announced Thursday that Bonn, Germany, candy-maker Haribo plans to spend $242 million building a plant in Kenosha County in an economic development deal expected to create 400 jobs, the left did what it always does in these situations: It complained.

And criticized.

GOOD NEWS/BAD NEWS: Wisconsin continues to see monthly job growth and business expansion announcements. That’s good news for the economy and Gov. Scott Walker. Not so good for the partisans hoping that he fails.

It is what the left has done best during the Walker era, a time of abundant political power for conservatives and a rapidly evaporating liberal presence in state legislative leadership.

While Walker and economic development officials aren’t yet releasing details on just how much the mammoth manufacturing deal is going to cost taxpayers (and this is something that should be closely watched), the initial word was pretty positive for a state that has grown accustomed to big jobs announcements.

Also announced Thursday, Wisconsin posted a 3.7 percent unemployment rate in February, the lowest level since November 2000. The Badger State economy added 7,600 jobs last month, according to initial estimates from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“More people are working in our state than ever before in history, and more than 200,000 private sector jobs have been created since December of 2010,” Walker said Thursday in his weekly radio address. “Importantly, manufacturing job creation has led the way and our state is in the Top 10 in the nation for manufacturing jobs since we took office,” in 2011.

Haribo, creator of the gummy bear, chose Kenosha County as the site of its first factory in North America, according to the governor’s office. The development deal is the latest in a long line of announcements about companies choosing to move to Wisconsin.

Earlier this month Pratt Industries opened a cardboard box plant in Beloit. The 350,000-square-foot factory is expected to employ 120 workers. It’s another sign, Walker said during a ceremony, that Wisconsin is becoming a much more attractive place to do business than its debt-heavy neighbor to the south, Illinois.

“It’s good to be close to the Chicago market but on the Wisconsin side,” Walker said of Atlanta-based Pratt’s new Beloit facility.

The manufacturer employs some 7,000 people worldwide.

Last week, Walker highlighted the state’s $19 billion tourism industry, which Department of Tourism officials say has grown by more than 30 percent over the past five years. The industry is responsible for more than 190,000 jobs statewide.

The left, however, sees failure in the job announcements, the corporate investments, and historically low unemployment figures.

One Wisconsin Now suggested Kenosha County’s big news Thursday was just a show, a cover for Walker’s political problems.

“The day after a new statewide poll showed his approval ratings remain negative, Gov. Scott Walker convened a press conference to make what he touted was an important economic announcement,” the group groused.

The folks in Kenosha County say Haribo’s plans to create 400 direct jobs – not to mention the many secondary market positions the plant would spur– is a pretty important economic announcement.

“Every time this guy (Walker) fails to measure up, he tries to change the measuring stick,” One Wisconsin Now Director Scot Ross said in a statement.

Ross picked at the political scab that liberals have worked since the 2014 gubernatorial campaign: Wisconsin’s failure to create 250,000 private sector jobs during Walker’s first term. That didn’t happen, as the Republican governor had pledged. Still, Walker easily won re-election in 2014 against a candidate and a Democratic Party that made the busted pledge the centerpiece of the their campaign – an old chestnut that they refuse to give up even as Wisconsin’s employment numbers continue to climb.

Unable to latch on to new information, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin on Thursday posted a “Brief History of Gov. Scott Walker’s Record on Job Creation” that pulled from three-year-old employment data.

Also of note was the lack of any statement on the Haribo announcement, as of late Thursday afternoon, from Assembly Minority Leader, Peter Barca, a Kenosha Democrat.

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce President and CEO Kurt Bauer noted that Wisconsin’s labor force participation rate is among the best in the nation. He issued a statement asserting, “Now is not the time to retreat to the days of increased taxes on businesses.”

“Now is the time to be bold. WMC urges lawmakers to build on the efforts of the last six years that have led to such a robust and prosperous economy,” Bauer said.

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

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