FRI REPORT: GOP legislators rack up $1.5M in legal bills in first five months of 2019

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TABLE OF CONTENTS


QUOTES OF THE WEEK

The priorities of what Gov. Evers said he wanted, we have checked every box. We’ve done it in a way that’s conservative and not liberal. Because we agree we want good schools and a good healthcare system and good roads — we just don’t think we should have had to have the massive tax increases that Gov. Evers proposed, and our budget proves that that’s true.
– Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester.

I’m not going to jump to any conclusions on any one individual senator. Just like you have to do at the end of any Finance process, is come together again and start from scratch, run through the document and see what the issues may be.
– Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, on concerns about the budget among some members of his caucus. Already, Sen. Dave Craig, R-Big Bend, has said he is “gravely concerned” over what he views as excessive spending in the budget. And Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, has said the transportation package, structural deficit and capital budget have made it “more difficult by the day to vote in favor of the budget.”

The choice is very clear on this opportunity today: Passing tax relief onto those who need it the most or take a political stand and break another political promise.
– JFC Co-chair John Nygren, R-Marinette, on JFC Republicans’ tax-cut package. The committee approved two measures, with one reducing taxes by $378.6 million over the biennium, and another to use additional revenue from online sales to reduce income taxes by another $136.1 million in tax year 2020 on top of what the committee added to the budget and existing law. Gov. Tony Evers earlier vetoed a GOP tax-cut bill because Republicans wanted to use money from a surplus to cover the cost in this biennium. Evers had campaigned on capping the ag-manufacturers tax credit to pay for his version.

The difference is he doesn’t give it to the people who don’t need it, and you do.
– Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, who said Evers’ tax cut plan would’ve been twice as large while those making more than $150,000 wouldn’t have seen a dime of the reduction. She also said Republicans were rejecting the guv’s proposal to create a $9.9 million tax credit a year for childcare costs and a $4.1 million proposal to help first-time home buyers.

What if Wisconsin could get over $1 billion from the federal government to improve health care? We can, by expanding BadgerCare, getting money we already send to Washington, but making sure it’s right here in Wisconsin.
– A new radio ad from Better Badgercare Wisconsin continuing to target GOP lawmakers over Medicaid expansion. Digital versions of the ads target Sens. Robert Cowles, R-Green Bay; Luther Olsen, R-Ripon; Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green; Jerry Petrowski, R-Marathon; and Patrick Testin, R-Stevens Point. The radio ads target Marklein, Olsen and Testin.

*Listen to one of the radio ads: https://bit.ly/2KNgvym

Moving forward I think there is so much we can do with our votes. Women hold so much power, just you wait when they unleash it.
– Former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch during a ceremony at the Capitol marking the 100th anniversary of Wisconsin becoming the first state to ratify the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.

It is important that young people recognize not just every four years, but in our state and local elections, school board and city and county board, that there are literally women who gave their lives for us to have that right.
– Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse.

We can do better because in Wisconsin, we know better. We must uplift all women and exclude no woman. No woman left behind.
– Rep. Shelia Stubbs, D-Madison, hailing the 19th Amendment but noting some women of color didn’t get the right to vote until the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Our politics are not letting us solve those problems. Our politics are vicious right now.
– Former House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, lamenting the federal government’s failure to rework entitlement programs and immigration during an address at a conference organized by the Edison Electric Institute.

POLITICAL STOCK REPORT
–A collection of insider opinion–
(Jun. 8-14, 2019)

Rising

UW System: Ray Cross’ shins are feeling a whole lot better. Two weeks after the UW president complains GOP lawmakers sucker punched him by paring an increase in the system budget, they approve more than $1 billion in projects for campuses around the state as part of the capital budget. It’s just slightly less than what Gov. Tony Evers approved and makes the system one of the big winners in the capital budget. Still, there’s already grumbling among some conservative lawmakers at the amount of borrowing in the proposal, which means the fight isn’t totally over. After how the operating budget went, some insiders believe the university had to be expecting the worst, particularly after some Republicans vowed to chop the $2.5 billion capital budget that Evers proposed with nearly $2 billion in new spending. In the end, the document gets the once over with a scalpel, not a hatchet, coming in at $1.9 billion and with less than $1.5 billion in bonding from all sources. Some of the projects that didn’t make the cut from Evers’ budget includes $83 million for a science center on the UW-La Crosse campus. Still, insiders say the university did a good job of bringing lawmakers onto the various campuses to show them the need for upgrades at facilities that generally hadn’t gotten much help during the eight years of Gov. Scott Walker. Some Republicans quietly acknowledge they’d let things go a little during the Walker years as they sought to keep a tight lid on borrowing, requiring a boost in this capital budget. It also doesn’t hurt that campuses around the state touch a number of GOP districts. Still, the capital budget is causing heartburn with some conservative lawmakers, and that could come into play as the Senate tries to pass the budget, insiders say. Sen. Dave Craig, R-Big Bend, has long been considered a likely no on the budget, and he is “gravely concerned over the excessive levels of spending in this budget.” Meanwhile, state Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, says the capital budget, the structural deficit and the transportation package make it “more difficult by the day” to support the final document. With a 19-14 majority, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, can only lose two members and still pass the budget without Dem support. That swings some of the focus to Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, who has been silent publicly about his concerns. It also means Senate leaders may need to win him over to squeeze the budget through that chamber. Don’t forget, some add, conservatives are still smarting over Cross saying he felt like he’d been “kicked in the shins” after JFC cut Evers’ proposed aid increase by more than half for the university and inserted a provision requiring officials to return with a plan on how to spend the money before it would be released. So insiders say the UW can’t breathe easy just yet, though others question why those looking to cut would dive into the capital budget considering there are likely more ripe targets for provisions to be pulled out. Just look at the power JFC gave itself to implement a mileage-based transportation fee down the road without additional legislative approval. Expect that one to get some conservative pushback before the budget is done, insiders say. UW also has to keep an eye on the lingering threat of a full budget veto, though some believe Republicans have made that harder for Evers by putting in such a significant investment into university infrastructure.

Lame-duck laws: Almost all of the laws Republicans approved in the December extraordinary session are back in place — at least temporarily. And all signs point to the conservative majority on the state Supreme Court making that permanent once the justices issue their final decisions in the two suits that were filed over the December actions. The court has already heard oral arguments in one of the cases with the conservative members of the court raising serious doubts over Dem arguments that Republicans lacked the authority to convene in an extraordinary session and approve legislation. Now, the court issues an order lifting a stay that had prevented enforcement of a provision from the lame-duck session blocking AG Josh Kaul from settling suits without legislative approval and one allowing the Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules to suspend rules multiple times. The cumulative orders by the court in the two cases means the actions Republicans took in the December session are now in place — save for provisions on guidance documents. State agencies provide the records to help others understand how to navigate the rules agencies put in place to implement state laws. Under the December actions, agencies had until July 1 to review all those records or they would be rescinded. The court, however, found agencies didn’t have enough time to meet that deadline if the stay had been lifted since they’d been operating the last few months under the assumption that they wouldn’t need to review them, period. The court’s order also halts a trial that Dane County Judge Frank Remington had scheduled to dive into the guidance documents issue. To insiders, the conservative majority on the court has been sending signals for a while that it will ultimately uphold the GOP-authored provisions approved in December. Along with the sharp questioning during oral arguments in one case, the court took the unusual step of taking over the appeal in the second one even though it hadn’t yet been asked. Add it all up, some say, and there’s a good chance those laws now back in effect temporarily will be permanent once the court wraps up its work.

Mixed

Tony Evers: Will he or won’t he? After six weeks of the Joint Finance Committee reworking his budget — and with final votes in the two houses still to go — the focus is starting to shift to the possibility that the guv would nix the entire budget rather than just re-work it with his line-item veto. And if he did, insiders ask, then what? Evers campaigned on three main issues last fall: expanding Medicaid, boosting money for K-12 education and “fixing the damn roads.” JFC Republicans delivered a transportation plan that was in roughly the same ballpark as Evers’ proposal, though it would rely on hiking fees on Wisconsin residents rather than increasing the gas tax to capture new revenue from out-of-state motorists as well. They also approved an additional $500 million for K-12 education, though that’s less than a third of what Evers wanted. And he got nothing on the Medicaid expansion, though JFC did add money to the program. To some, that gives Evers reason to veto the entire budget, because those were his bottom lines. Others, though, question how the guv would get a better deal by nixing what’s soon to be before him. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, will never allow a Medicaid expansion under his watch. Raising the gas tax is politically unpopular, though some believe it’d be more palatable to Wisconsin motorists when they realize it’s that or get nicked by fees. And Vos has also made clear the Legislature wouldn’t come back until October to act on any veto. How would that sit with schools? Republicans will scatter as soon as the budget is done. If Evers vetoed the budget, they’d spend their time right through October telling local school districts they put a $500 million increase into K-12, and it’s Evers’ fault they’re not getting the bigger checks yet. Insiders also continue to try projecting how a veto standoff would go since no one has been through that scenario before. Could Evers get a better deal out of Republicans? Or would some of the more conservative GOP members be happy if things continued at existing spending levels and dig in even more? There are some GOP lawmakers who would be happy living with current law for another two years rather than going along with the spending increases Evers proposed. There are also some who believe there are those in the guv’s office itching for a fight with GOP lawmakers. But others don’t believe a full veto matches Evers’ personality. More likely, some say, he’ll use his line-item veto to get creative. Still, how creative he can get will depend on the final language that comes back to him once both houses are done with the budget. Until then, some say, nothing can be ruled out.

Stewardship fund: The deal to extend the land preservation program another two years isn’t the decade-long deal environmentalists wanted. But it’s also not the gutting of the program some conservatives would have liked to see. So in the end, insiders say, no one’s really happy. But the extension buys another two years to figure out the program’s long-term future. Evers’ original budget proposal included the two-year extension until mid-2022. But just ahead of Joint Finance taking action on the program, Evers tweeted that he now supported reauthorizing the program for 10 years, adding “we have to make sure our kids and their kids can experience our state’s greatest treasures for generations to come.” Budget watchers note it wasn’t the first time the guv shifted positions on one of his budget provisions just before JFC action. And like with his calls for more money to be invested in workforce development and tech colleges, it’s not persuasive with GOP members on the committee. Republican JFC members shoot down a Dem motion that would’ve embraced that approach and added $308.6 million in new bonding authority for the program. Evers originally proposed extending the program by two years at current funding levels of $33.25 million a year using existing bonding authority. In the end, the committee extends the program by two years, approves using $23.9 million that was available in existing bonding authority and adds $42.6 million in new borrowing for the proposed extension. As some Dems look at the guv’s original approach, they wonder if there was an oversight that led to the initial plan for a two-year extension rather than the 10 years that environmentalists wanted. Or maybe the guv’s original proposal for an advisory committee to provide a recommendation on long-term reauthorization of the program was an attempt to send a message to Republicans they wanted to work together. Some also say Assembly Republicans on the committee were more open to a 10-year extension with modifications to the program, while some Senate GOP members wanted to make significant changes. Now, insiders are watching to see the final language inserted into the bill to see if Evers may have an opportunity with his line-time veto to create a longer extension than just the two years.

Juvenile justice overhaul: A year ago, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle hailed legislation to close Wisconsin’s troubled youth prisons as a step in the right direction. Now, they’re still trying to clean up some details and get the funding right. That includes the Joint Finance Committee moving around some bonding set aside in last year’s bill to build the facilities and a bipartisan group of lawmakers trying to finish off details on legislation that would push back some of the deadlines set a year ago. It all underscores that last year’s legislation was as much a political decision as it was an acknowledgment that a new system was needed, insiders say. Problems at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake exploded under former Gov. Scott Walker and were poised to be a political issue for him in his re-election bid last fall. So in the closing days of the session, lawmakers advanced legislation setting a deadline to close the prisons and setting aside $80 million in new borrowing to pay for a transition to a system that included the state continuing to house the most serious offenders while counties would build regional facilities for others. Even then, some acknowledged more money would likely be needed before the transition could be finalized. Still, failing to do the work to figure out the right price tag is spilling into this session. Some say last year’s bill never would’ve gotten done if backers had waited until they had more details on the expected costs. In approving a new capital budget, the GOP-controlled Joint Finance Committee puts all of the $80 million approved in last year’s bill into the county-run facilities. The committee also approves adding $44 million in new bonding to fund changes to the Mendota Mental Health Institute. But the committee rejects an additional $150 million in borrowing that Gov. Tony Evers had requested, and it leaves nothing in the till for the state-run facilities. Dems slam the move, saying it essentially hits pause on the plan that was approved just a year ago, and Rep. Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee, demands to know, “What are you waiting for?” Fellow JFC member Rep. Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, assures Dems Republicans intend to work with the administration on final details and additional money can be approved later this year. The state-run projects are still enumerated, which means work can continue on them. Once the Evers administration has more details, all it has to do is share them with lawmakers and things can move forward, some say. But a few details are proving difficult. One, the Evers administration has selected two sites for the state-run facilities, one in Milwaukee, one outside of Appleton. But there’s blowback from local officials in both areas over the decisions. Some Republicans suggest shifting money around sends a message to the Evers administration to get its stuff in order when it comes to the Type 1 facilities, nail down the details and get rolling on the projects. Dems, though, counter Evers has been forced to clean up the mess he inherited after the previous administration rushed through last year’s bill. And both sides acknowledge there’s a very real concern that unless something gets rolling soon, the ultimate goal of closing Lincoln Hills could be delayed even beyond what is being contemplated. Now slated to close by Jan. 1, 2021, the trailer bill would push that back by six months. Some also say approving additional bonding down the road could be tricky, because it’s going to be expensive to build these facilities, and some lawmakers may balk at the costs. Then there are some counties worried that they’ll move forward on building the regional facilities only to have the state’s commitment come in less than expected, sticking them with the bill. Others, though, say the JFC moving all $80 million already approved to the county facilities was meant to display the state’s commitment to following through. Meanwhile, the trailer bill that would extend the closure of Lincoln Hills and give counties more time to apply for grants to fund regional facilities unanimously clears an Assembly panel as work continues to transition to the new system.

*See more on youth prisons in an item below.

Falling

999: The Joint Finance Committee’s wrap-up motion is often ripe for tomfoolery with lawmakers inserting all kinds of policy into the document before sending it off to the guv. In recent years, that’s ranged from a provision that would’ve allowed the return of the bail bonds industry to Wisconsin to shielding the Legislature from the open records law. (Neither ultimately became law after pushback.) This year, however, the motion was a big, fat nothing. But there’s a reason for that, insiders say. Rather than larding up the budget with policy, the final motion only includes drafting instructions for the Legislative Fiscal Bureau as the JFC puts its final touches on the budget. For all the rumors some sought to kick up about GOP leaders wanting to add provisions targeting weddings barns or expanding the powers of the Public Finance Authority, nothing of the sort makes the cut. But budget watchers note there’s still policy in the budget. It was just put in elsewhere. That’s particularly true with the transportation package, which raised eyebrows with two lengthy additions that include a proposal for a new approach to work on designing highway projects more cheaply and placing limits on local restrictions on operation of a quarry. Then-Gov. Scott Walker vetoed a similar quarry provision from the last budget, and insiders see the passage as ripe for Evers to go to work with his partial-veto pen. Considering how nervous some Republicans have been about adding policy, insiders say it must be a sign that either a deal has been worked out with the Evers administration to veto the entire quarry provision from the budget or to leave it alone. What’s more, some look at the relationship — of lack thereof between Evers and legislative leaders — and assume any assurances are being secured by the industry, not lawmakers. And if Republicans aren’t confident that’s the case, look for them to pull out the language once the budget hits the floor of both houses the last week of June, insiders say.

Taxes: The Joint Finance Committee takes a two-pronged approach to cutting taxes, putting one package in the budget and another in standalone legislation. But some insiders are wondering why. Isn’t the budget supposed to be the catch-all for all things fiscal? And with the Evers administration sending signals it’s open to one of the tax cuts, why not include it to make it that much more enticing for the guy to sign the document? In the end, the committee puts a tax package into the budget that includes a net reduction of $378.6 million. It includes an income tax cut that would average $75 per filer who qualifies in tax year 2019 and a $60 million boost to the lottery credit that lowers property taxes. While the package also includes a slight increase in vaping taxes, the main thrust is to reduce the income tax rate in the second lowest of Wisconsin’s four brackets to 5.21 percent from 5.84 percent. The standalone bill with the second tax break plays off that provision, confounding some even more as to why it wasn’t included in the budget. That bill, spearheaded by Sen. Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfield, would take additional tax revenue from online sales and use it to cut the rates for the two lowest income tax brackets. Republicans previously authored a law that would take revenue from online sales and use it to reduce income taxes. Previously, the sales tax couldn’t be collected unless a retailer had a physical presence in the state. But once the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way to collect the sales tax even from out-of-state retailers, the Wisconsin plan was to use the money to proportionally reduce all four brackets. But due to a drafting error, that reduction would’ve only applied to tax year 2019. The Kooyenga bill would target the reductions in the bottom two brackets while also capturing more online transactions to increase the amount of sales tax the state would take in. It also would make the tax breaks permanent. Under the legislation, the lowest rate of 4 percent would drop to 3.89 percent in tax year 2019. It would then go to 3.76 percent in tax year 2020. The second lowest rate would drop to 5.21 percent from the current 5.84 percent under the budget the committee approved. The bill would take that reduction to 5.08 percent in tax year 2019 and then 4.93 percent in tax year 2020. The state’s top two brackets of 6.27 percent and 7.65 percent would remain the same. Revenue Secretary Peter Barca said the agency has had “constructive” talks with Republicans about the bill, and the proposal clears the committee unanimously, a rarity these days. Even with those signs of bipartisan support, some say Republicans kept that proposal in a separate bill because while they were working with the Evers administration on the language, they also weren’t entirely sure what he would do the proposal if it were sent to him in the budget.

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GOP LEGISLATORS RACK UP $1.5M IN LEGAL BILLS IN FIRST FIVE MONTHS OF 2019

GOP legislators racked up $1.5 million in legal bills over the first five months of the year as they relied on outside counsel to represent them in lawsuits over the lame-duck session, abortion restrictions and the environment.

And taxpayers aren’t just covering the costs to draft briefs or appear in court in the more than half-dozen cases now winding their way through the legal system.

A WisPolitics.com review of the legal bills submitted so far this year shows a Chicago firm charged taxpayers $6,719 for a plane ticket to fly a witness in from Madrid, Spain, for the upcoming redistricting trial in July.

That same firm included $1,617 for meals, according to the bills it submitted to the Legislature. Bartlit Beck, which lawmakers retained in the fall for the redistricting case, signed a contract that capped its legal fees at $840,000. But there are no limits on the expenses it can charge taxpayers while working on the suit with a provision in the contract that states out-of-pocket costs “will be passed through to you dollar for dollar.”

Among the firms retained in the suits, Bartlit Beck was the only one to regularly list meals among the expenses it submitted for reimbursement outside of when lawyers were traveling. There were eight charges for what were billed as “working meals.”

Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, called the $6,719 charge for a plane ticket “outrageous” and challenged GOP legislative leaders to defend sticking taxpayers with the bill for such an expense.

The legal bill doesn’t include details of the flight other than the dates of July 17-20 and the name of one attorney working on the case. The trial is currently scheduled for July 15-18 in federal court in Madison. A WisPolitics.com check of Expedia.com found several flights leaving Madrid, Spain, July 17 for Madison and returning July 20 for less than $2,500 with a single stop in Atlanta for both legs of the trip.

“The Republicans just have an insatiable appetite of using taxpayer dollars to pay their attorneys at a time when they’re not fixing our roads, they’re cutting our schools and cutting our university system,” Shilling said.

But Kit Beyer, a spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said the ticket is for a redistricting expert who is teaching in Spain. Because the courts “set their own timetable, it had to be a refundable ticket that could be changed,” she said.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, meanwhile, continued to place the blame for the legal bills on those who brought the suits.

“We didn’t pick any of these fights – liberal groups suing us did,” said Fitzgerald, R-Juneau. “We wouldn’t need any lawyers at all if Democrats and their front groups would drop their numerous lawsuits against bills enacted by the duly elected Legislature.”

And those bills will only climb higher. Republicans in recent weeks signed a new contract with outside counsel in a union lawsuit over Act 10, while several other suits continue to wind their way through the courts.

Republicans have turned to outside counsel in several cases, charging they can’t trust new Dem AG Josh Kaul to adequately defend state law and represent their interests.

Still, the biggest drivers of the legal bills this year have been an ongoing redistricting lawsuit and several lame-duck lawsuits. The redistricting contracts pre-date Kaul, and the Dem AG has declined to represent any parties in the extraordinary session suits because they deal with the powers of his office and he would have a conflict representing others.

With the federal redistricting case scheduled for trial in July, lawyers have turned in legal bills totaling $834,492 since Jan. 1, according to a WisPolitics.com records request.

Most of that has been billed by Bartlit Beck. The firm has now hit its cap of $840,000 in legal fees with $600,000 of that rolling in since Jan. 1.

The firm has also charged $71,000 in expenses since Jan. 1, including the plane ticket from Spain and the meals. The biggest expense, however, has been $33,214 for transcript fees.

The firm’s flat fee of $840,000 is also based on a trial date occurring before Sept. 1. If it comes later or there is an appeal, the Legislature and firm would negotiate any additional fees.

This month, a federal appeals court put off deciding whether Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has to provide a deposition in the long-running suit until after the U.S. Supreme Court rules in two cases involving similar issues. Those decisions are expected sometime this summer.

The firm also has indicated it would seek to have the plaintiffs reimburse taxpayers for its legal fees if GOP lawmakers prevail.

Meanwhile, GOP attorneys have turned in legal bills for work since Jan. 1 charging:

*$510,042 in a pair of lame-duck lawsuits filed in state courts. Those contracts have no caps on the legal bills, and former state solicitor general Misha Tseytlin is making $500 an hour for his services.

*$120,420 in a federal lawsuit Dems filed over the extraordinary session actions. Last week, a federal magistrate granted a request from GOP lawmakers to stay discovery in a trial challenging actions taken in the December lame-duck session as a judge decides whether to dismiss the case. The lawsuit, filed by the state Dem Party, is currently expected to go to trial in late summer or early fall 2020. Tseytlin is also the lead attorney in that case, and his contract includes no cap.

*$50,350 as GOP lawmakers look to intervene in a lawsuit Planned Parenthood filed seeking to overturn abortion restrictions. Last month, GOP lawmakers asked the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals to hear oral arguments in a judge’s decision denying legislators’ motion to intervene in a lawsuit Planned Parenthood filed challenging abortion restrictions. It is the first time a federal court has rejected a motion to intervene from lawmakers since Republicans gave themselves the power during the lame-duck session to step into lawsuits challenging a state law. The contract with the Virginia law firm Consovoy McCarthy Park includes a rate of $500 an hour for all attorneys and two caps on the expected legal fees. If the courts ultimately deny the Legislature’s motion to intervene, the costs would go no higher than $100,000. But if the motion is ultimately granted, they could climb as high as $500,000.

*$22,071 in two environmental cases before the state Supreme Court. One deals with the DNR’s decision to allow a Kewaunee County dairy farm to expand to more than 6,000 cows in an area where concerns have been raised over groundwater pollution. The other addresses the agency’s approval of eight high-capacity wells. Eric McLeod, a partner at Husch Blackwell, signed a contract that doesn’t include caps on legal bills. It also doesn’t clearly lay out his hourly fee, instead noting that Husch Blackwell partners make between $310 and $820. Still, a WisPolitics.com check of the bills he’s submitted so far shows he’s being paid $540 an hour.

So far, there have been no bills submitted in the lawsuit Operating Engineers Local 139 filed challenging Act 10. The union argues the 2011 law violates the First Amendment, because it has to represent workers who aren’t paying dues.

Republican leaders signed contracts with McLeod and Tseytlin, of Troutman Sanders, to represent them in that suit.

Tab for 2011 maps nears $4 million

With the latest legal bills submitted to the Legislature, the overall tab to defend the maps Republicans drew in 2011 is now nearly $3.8 million.

The biggest chunk of that is the $2.1 million Republicans spent to defend the maps in an initial suit, according to a 2013 story from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. That suit resulted in a three-judge panel ordering a change to two Assembly districts on Milwaukee’s south side, finding the original districts violated the rights of Hispanic voters.

Along with legal bills, that tab included covering the attorneys’ fees for those who sued as well as other charges.

The latest legal bills stem from the lawsuit Dems filed in 2015 challenging the maps as an unconstitutional gerrymander.

A three-judge panel agreed with those suing, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Dems didn’t have standing to file the suit and sent that case back to the lower court. A trial is scheduled for July, though that could depend on a pair of cases the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on this summer. Both deal with similar issues, and if the justices rule against those challenging the maps in those states, it could undercut the challenge filed by Wisconsin Dems.

Legal bills WisPolitics.com obtained through the open records law show taxpayers have been charged more than $1.6 million in the second case.

That includes $912,979 in bills from the Chicago firm Bartlit Beck, as well as $429,701 that former Deputy Attorney General Kevin St. John has charged the Legislature while presenting GOP leaders since early 2017.

Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, said Republicans should be feeling the heat from taxpayers over the mounting legal bills. But he said the very maps they’re spending taxpayer money to defend ensure they won’t, because they’re so tilted in the GOP’s favor.

“The fact that these guys don’t feel any of the consequences speaks to the fact they know they’re insulated from this,” Hintz said. “They’re increasingly comfortable doing whatever they want as they remain intoxicated with power.”


DESPITE CHANGES IN THE WORKS, COUNTY OFFICIALS STILL CONCERNED ABOUT JUVENILE JUSTICE OVERHAUL

Lawmakers this week took steps on youth prisons that build on sweeping legislation approved last session, but county officials remain skeptical.

The measures would push back the timeline to close the Department of Corrections’ troubled youth prisons at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake, pump more money into building partnerships the state is undertaking with counties and tweak the language of last session’s law that restructured juvenile justice in the state.

All of these actions came at the request of five counties that are jockeying to win state funding to build county-run facilities to rehabilitate young offenders under the nascent “Wisconsin model of juvenile justice.”

But some counties told WisPolitics.com that despite wide-ranging overhauls, the moves don’t go far enough.

At the heart of the issue is 2017 Act 185, the law passed last session that mandated Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake be shuttered by Jan. 1, 2021. Serious Juvenile Offenders from those youth lockups would be placed in one of two so-called “Type 1” facilities run by the state, while less serious offenders would be sent to county-run ​Secure Residential Care Centers for Children and Youth, or SRCCCYs. The measure also called for an expansion of the Department of Health Service’s Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center, a mental health intervention facility for violent and treatment-resistant young offenders.

But there have been problems with implementing the law from its inception. First came the Juvenile Corrections Study Committee, made up of the DOC and DHS secretaries, lawmakers, court officials, law enforcement officers, nonprofits, county representatives and family members of former juvenile offenders. The committee was tasked with selected sites for the state-run Type 1 facilities and picked locations in Milwaukee and Hortonia, a town west of Appleton near the Fox Valley.

But the pushback to both of those sites has been fierce. DOC Secretary Kevin Carr and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett faced boos and jeers from city residents during a March listening session when they announced that the site on Mill Road and Teutonia Avenue was “a done deal.”

Hortonia residents also plan to express their vexation with a protest this weekend, citing property taxes, safety, and concerns that a prison will deter the rapidly growing Fox Valley business sector from expanding to the town.

Separately, the Joint Finance Committee this week decided to strip the Type 1 projects of the $40 million in Act 185 allocated for that purpose. The budget panel instead opted to reallocate those funds to the SRCCCY projects, doubling the budget and bringing funding levels to $80 million.

The process of selecting which counties receive the grant funding also has been a slog. The Juvenile Corrections Grant Committee has been responsible for overseeing that undertaking, but the panel has blown through deadlines as it negotiates with counties.

County concerns were crystallized in a May 6 meeting with the grant committee. It was intended to be an opportunity for counties to provide feedback and seek clarification before the panel finalized the application, more than a month after those applications were statutorily mandated to be due.

But several counties instead provided withering scorn of the implementation of Act 185. They railed against a system that failed “to make the policy and cultural shifts necessary to rehabilitate Wisconsin’s youth” and noted that funding levels were inadequate to cover Milwaukee County’s proposal by itself, nevermind the three or four SRCCCYs the panel envisioned.

The funding concerns for the building projects have largely been alleviated, but concerns around the policy and cultural shifts remain. To address those, the grant committee was also tasked with developing a Wisconsin model of juvenile justice focused on creating programming that prepares youth for life after incarceration.

Development of the model also is running behind schedule. The panel has spent a significant amount of time working on it, but all it has to show for its efforts at this point is a document encompassing considerations for what the model should look like.

But county officials told WisPolitics.com that they fear the committee is ignoring that document as lawmakers charge ahead in an effort to meet their self-imposed deadline. Take, for instance, the proposed goal to serve youth “in smaller, regional facilities that are closer to their communities and foster engagement with their families to promote a successful transition home.”

That seems to be at odds with Act 185 author Rep. Michael Schraa’s assertion this week that the committee was looking to move ahead with proposals to build SRCCCYs in Milwaukee, Racine and Dane counties — all three of which would be located south of I-94.

Erik Pritzl, the Health and Human Services executive director for Brown County who has been a key figure in developing the region’s SRCCCY bid, blasted that statement.

“When I go back to those early discussions, the idea was let’s change how we do youth justice services,” he said. “It’s not just about Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake being under scrutiny; it was about where the facilities are located, the benefits of keeping youth closer to home, changing the model of service.

“I don’t think we’re seeing that play out now.”

In an interview this week with WisPolitics.com, Schraa, R-Oshkosh, countered that concentrating on the southern and southeastern part of the state made sense because a vast majority of juvenile corrections placements come from that region.

An April report from the DOC on youth in Corrections custody largely backs up Schraa. The most recent average daily population demographic shows that nearly 57 percent of juvenile offenders come from Milwaukee County while no other county reached double digits.

The numbers show Dane and Racine counties have the second and third largest populations of youth in DOC custody over the last five years. But that data also shows that Brown County’s population is ticking up year after year and overtook Dane and Racine in 2018 as the county with the second largest population.

While the proposed Type 1 facility in Hortonia would serve serious juvenile offenders from the area, Pritzl questioned what happens to young people who would be sent to SRCCCYs in the southern part of the state under the new system.

“We’ve created that distance between families and their youth and that idea of aftercare being successful and reintroducing the youth back to the community is going to be a challenge because they’re that much farther away,” he said.

Pritzl said if the state moves ahead with southern SRCCCYs, counties in the northern and western regions of the state will likely try to use the new correctional system as little as possible. He said they will instead opt to use the so-called “365-day programming” that some counties already employ as an alternative to juvenile detention.

Schraa conceded in an ideal world, there would be funding for SRCCY facilities outside of Milwaukee, Dane and Racine counties. But he said fiscal reality doesn’t always match the ideal world and told WisPolitics.com he hoped to secure funding for another two or three SRCCCYs in the next budget cycle.

“We need one in the northern part of the state, and we need one in the central or western part of the state just so that we don’t run into the same problems as we did with Lincoln Hills and having families three, four hours away,” he said.

Counties also expressed concerns throughout the committee process that the burden of operational expenses might be too much to bear.

John Bauman, the Dane County juvenile court administrator who has overseen the county’s bid, told WisPolitics.com he still has major concerns about medical costs that the county would be liable for as things currently stand.

According to Bauman, if juveniles sent to the Dane County SRCCCY weren’t covered by Medical Assistance or private insurance, the county would then be on the hook for the bill should they need medical attention. While one case alone wouldn’t bankrupt the county, he said “nearly all kids are in mental health or medical crisis when they come to us.”

Pritzl said Brown County shared those concerns as well. He also raised concerns about operating costs, some of which are set in place regardless of how many juvenile offenders are actually at the facility.

“It’s the challenge of how do you manage those average costs over the population you’re serving, because you have a fixed need for staffing that is dictated by the population,” he said.

But for Schraa, operational costs are the line in the sand that he will not cross and said the notion that lawmakers would even consider it is “laughable.”

“If we’re going to guarantee that you’ll at least break even, then there’s no incentive to be efficient,” he said. “If I were operating one of these things and if the state’s going to back me up, everything would be gold-plated.”

Quizzed by WisPolitics.com if the project could withstand a rebellion from the counties on a topic they consider to be a dealbreaker, Schraa conceded that “we need full participation in order for this to be successful.”

But he closed by hinting at another option: private-sector corrections programs.

“There are some private entities that are doing wonderful things with troubled youth,” he said. “And you know, if the counties don’t want free money from the state, then maybe we have to look at a private entity being involved.”


GODLEWSKI SAYS BCPL CAN BE PART OF SOLUTION TO STUDENT DEBT PROBLEM

Treasurer Sarah Godlewski is looking for solutions to Wisconsin’s student loan debt problem.

And she’s thinking the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands that she chairs could be part of the solution by facilitating student loans at cheaper rates.

Godlewski said under the approach she’s looking at, the BCPL wouldn’t lend money to college students directly. Instead, it would provide assets to lenders. The assets could be provided to the lender at a rate that would match what the board makes on current investments such as a bond. The BCPL would also negotiate the rates at which lenders could then turn around and use the money for student loans.

The BCPL oversees a fund created more than 100 years ago following the sale of most school trust lands and manages the remaining property that wasn’t sold. With $1.2 billion in assets, the agency provides funding to public school libraries and loans money to municipalities and school districts for public projects.

She believes the BCPL already has the power to take on such an initiative on student loans.

“I think we as a state can be doing more things where we have good, strong financial returns but at the same time are doing good things for our community. And so that I think is something that’s really important for us to be looking at as fiduciaries,” Godlewski told WisPolitics.com.

It’s one of several efforts Godlewski has undertaken even as GOP lawmakers have shown little interest in providing additional resources to the office after voters last year rejected a constitutional amendment that would’ve eliminated it.

The guv proposed adding three positions to the single position now approved for the office. But the Joint Finance Committee nixed that move with its first votes in early May. That vote also pulled from the budget Gov. Tony Evers’ proposals to have the treasurer sit on a study committee to look at creating a private retirement investment option for Wisconsin residents under the Department of Employee Trust Funds and one to study the creation of a state authority to refinance student loans.

Godlewski said she and Evers, a fellow Dem, believe they can still create the study committees without legislative approval. And she’s already meeting with the heads of the Department of Financial Institutions and the Higher Educational Aids Board to lay the groundwork for an expected study of creating a state-based refinancing authority.

While lawmakers so far have rejected additional funds for her office, Godlewski said she found a grant that had been on the office books for nearly a decade, but not used, to fund additional staff.

One of the few remaining responsibilities for the office is promoting the state’s unclaimed property program, so she’s also making a pitch to lawmakers: Give her the staff she’s requested; in return, she’ll give back $5 million to taxpayers over two years through the program. If she fails, they can take the staff back.

Godlewski is confident she wouldn’t. Though her office still promotes the program, oversight of unclaimed property was moved to the Department of Revenue in 2013 under the belief that agency would better be able to connect citizens to unclaimed funds, because it has access to the tax identification system. But she said that doesn’t account for municipalities and nonprofits that don’t have the typical tax ID number. She said her office has identified more than $200,000 that should be going back to municipalities and nonprofits that wasn’t caught by the current system.

“I just think that is the tip of the iceberg quite frankly,” she said.

Some of the other initiatives Godlewski is taking on include:

*creating a “citizen friendly” annual report on the state’s finances. The Department of Administration each year produces the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, which is prepared using generally accepted accounting principles. But Godlewski said it’s not something her “mom who is a hard working, very intelligent school teacher in Eau Claire is going to be reading” to understand where her tax dollars are going. She hopes to produce the first report by year’s end.

*creating universal child savings accounts as another option for parents beyond a 529 college plan. Other states have set them up, and Godlewski said she’s looking for a way to create one that would be self-sustaining and be a better investment option than the interest rates available on a typical savings account. One option she’s studying is creating a Roth IRA for kids. Money put into those funds can be withdrawn years later tax-free.

“To me, why you want to start a universal child savings account is because you want to set your kid up for financial success,” she said. “So they can use that for whether it is for school, but if school’s not for them, maybe they want to buy a home, maybe they want to use it for medical emergencies or more or less. Maybe they actually want to save it for actual retirement.”


PANELISTS DEBATE FUTURE OF TRANSPORTATION FUNDING IN WISCONSIN

DOT Secretary Craig Thompson says the transportation budget recently approved by the Joint Finance Committee is “far more responsible” than the past five, despite JFC Republicans rejecting Gov. Tony Evers’ proposal to increase the gas tax.

Still, he said that proposal — which would increase the gas tax by 8 cents and index it to inflation going forward — is “the preferable way to do it.”

Earlier this week, Republicans on JFC approved increasing fees and cutting breaks for retailers to help put $483.7 million of new money into transportation over the next two years, while borrowing $326.2 million for projects.

“If you look at what we proposed with the 8-cent increase to the gas tax and indexing that, that is in line with what 30 other states have done in the past five years — including some of the reddest, most Republican states in the country,” Thompson said yesterday at a WisPolitics.com issues luncheon at UWM’s Waukesha campus.

He said the guv’s proposal would cost the average driver about $4 more per month. But he noted some of that tax would be levied on “Bears fans, and Lions fans and Vikings fans coming into the state.”

Thompson also added the proposal would have an administrative fee of less than 1 percent.

“For those reasons, that’s why we proposed to do it the way we did,” he said. “But what the JFC did is ongoing fees, and it’s in the Transportation Fund, and it would be constitutionally protected as well. So I think we need to be open to finding middle ground.”

Rep. Joe Sanfelippo argued Evers’ gas tax proposal wouldn’t be sustainable, and says he would prefer “a more permanent solution.”

“I also don’t agree with the concept that only the people who actually drive on the roads and use them should pay for them and benefit from them,” the New Berlin Republican said. “Every single person in the state of Wisconsin benefits from a good infrastructure system, whether you drive or you don’t.”

JFC has finished its work on the full budget, and Sen. Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said he will be meeting with members Tuesday to see where they stand on the document.

During yesterday’s luncheon, panelists lambasted a recently floated proposal to take some of the budget surplus and distribute it evenly among counties and towns in the state.

The proposal came from 10 Senate Republicans. They proposed taking $133.6 million of the $753 million surplus and funneling it into road work, providing each county with $1 million and each town $1,000 per mile of road in its jurisdiction.

“When I read the proposal, I thought oh, they’re not serious,” said Rep. Debra Kolste, D-Janesville, a member of the Assembly Transportation Committee.

She said the idea “doesn’t make sense,” as counties with large metro areas would get less than a dollar per resident, while smaller counties would get as much as $80 per resident.

Sanfelippo, a Transportation Committee member, says he broadly supports putting any additional money into transportation. But he doesn’t support the specifics of that GOP plan, as it would treat every county the same.

“The fire department puts water where the fire is,” Sanfelippo said. “We need to spend our transportation dollars where the traffic is, where the need is — and that’s primarily the southeast part of the state.”

Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow agreed that “it’s always great to get money.” But he pointed out that $1 million would only go toward fixing about 9 miles of roads, while the county has thousands of miles of roads it has to oversee.

He said the $1 million would be “a nice BandAid, but right as we’re still speaking with the levy limits and everything else. … We’re still going to need more transportation aid than we’ve been getting.”

Thompson, who worked for the Wisconsin Counties Association for 16 years, says he understands counties’ need for more public funds.

But he said the idea of giving every county a flat allotment “doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.”

“I don’t think that proposal was as well thought-out as it needs to be,” he said. “There’s ways that if we were going to do it, we could do some analysis and spend it in a wiser way than that.”

Sanfelippo said the state should look at “sustainable sources of revenue going forward that will grow — which includes the tolling option.”

Thompson agreed, noting that tolling would capture money from out-of-state visitors. And he said the administrative costs of tolling are coming down due to new technologies.

“I think it’s something we should look at,” he said.

Thompson also said a mileage-based fee, otherwise known as a vehicle miles traveled tax, should be explored as a long-term option.

JFC Republicans included $2.5 million in the transportation budget for a study on moving to a VMT tax system. Thompson said the study can help Wisconsin understand VMT better, but he also identified some challenges with that route, and said he’d prefer to approach the issue at the national level.

He explains that monitoring vehicles’ mileage could be done through GPS but said that’s costly and noted people would have privacy concerns. But even a “low-tech” VMT system with some level of self-reporting could cause problems, he said, as it could be difficult to determine how many miles were driven in-state versus out-of-state.

“VMT conceptually I think makes the most sense… but there’s a lot of administrative hurdles in actually implementing that,” Thompson said.

Listen to audio from the luncheon here: http://soundcloud.com/wispolitics/june-13-wispoliticscom-luncheon-the-future-of-transportation-funding-in-wisconsin


WEEK AHEAD

Tuesday: Assembly floor session.
– 1 p.m., Assembly chamber.

Wednesday: Milwaukee Press Club and WisPolitics.com Newsmaker Luncheon with Joe Solmonese, chief executive officer of the 2020 Democratic National Convention committee.
– 11:45 a.m., Newsroom Pub, 137 E. Wells St., Milwaukee.

Thursday: Assembly floor session.
– TBD.

POLITICAL TV
(Check local listings for times in your area)

“UpFront” is a statewide commercial TV news magazine show airing Sundays around the state. This week’s show, hosted by ADRIENNE PEDERSEN, features Assembly Speaker ROBIN VOS, R-Rochester, new state Dem Chair BEN WIKLER and JERRY DESCHANE from the League of Municipalities.

*See viewing times in state markets here: http://www.wisn.com/upfront/
*Also view the show online each Monday at WisPolitics.com

“Rewind,” a weekly show from WisconsinEye and WisPolitics.com, airs at 8 p.m. on Fridays and 10 a.m. on Sundays in addition to being available online. On this week’s episode, WisPolitics.com’s JR ROSS and WisconsinEye’s STEVE WALTERS discuss the Joint Finance Committee’s final actions on the budget, the guv bringing back the pardon process and the state Supreme Court’s latest rulings in the lame-duck lawsuits.
*Watch the show: https://www.wispolitics.com/2019/rewind-your-week-in-review-for-june-14/

Wisconsin Public TV’s “Here and Now” airs at 7:30 p.m. Fridays. On this week’s program, anchor FREDERICA FREYBERG speaks with U.S. Sen. RON JOHNSON on tariffs and immigration. Also on the show, Reps. EVAN GOYKE and JOHN NYGREN talk about the budget, and Wisconsin Policy Forum Research Director JASON STEIN discusses the state stewardship program.

“For the Record” airs at 10:30 a.m. Sunday on WISC-TV in Madison. Host NEIL HEINEN explores the Madison Children’s Museum and Madison Circus Space.

“Capital City Sunday” airs at 9 a.m. Sunday on WKOW-TV in Madison, WAOW-TV in Wausau, WXOW-TV in La Crosse and WQOW-TV in Eau Claire. This week’s guests include Assembly Minority Leader GORDON HINTZ, D-Oshkosh, and a joint appearance by ANALIESE EICHER, of One Wisconsin Now, and BILL McCOSHEN, of Capitol Consultants.

“The Insiders” is a weekly WisOpinion.com web show featuring former Democratic Senate Majority Leader CHUCK CHVALA and former Republican Assembly Speaker SCOTT JENSEN. This week, the two debate the decision to turn down federal Medicaid expansion.

*Watch the video or listen to the show: https://www.wispolitics.com/2019/wisopinion-com-the-insiders-debate-republicans-decision-to-turn-down-federal-medicaid-expansion/

NAMES IN THE NEWS
Send items to staff@wispolitics.com

Upcoming WisPolitics.com/WisBusiness.com events in Kenosha and Milwaukee include:

*A June 17 breakfast in Kenosha on the booming border economy, sponsored by WAGET as part of the WisBusiness.com’s Navigating the New Economy series. Features a panel discussion with Revenue Secretary PETER BARCA; economics professor CASSIE LAU of Carthage College; HEATHER WESSLING, vice president of economic development for the Kenosha Area Business Alliance and former president of WEDA; plus state Reps. TOD OHNSTAD, D-Kenosha, and SAMANTHA KERKMAN, R-Salem. Register for free, courtesy of WAGET: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/navigating-the-new-economy-the-booming-border-tickets-63126086825

*A June 19 luncheon with JOE SOLMONESE, chief executive officer of the 2020 Democratic National Convention committee. The Newsmaker Luncheon, hosted jointly by the Milwaukee Press Club and WisPolitics.com, will feature a round of questioning from a panel of journalists: JASON FECHNER, Spectrum News 1; VICTOR JACOBO, CBS58/Telemundo Wisconsin; MAREDITHE MEYER, BizTimes Milwaukee; and MARY SPICUZZA, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. See details: https://milwaukeepressclub.org/events/joe-solmonese-ceo-of-2020-dnc-headlines-newsmaker-luncheon/

Gov. TONY EVERS today announced leaders at the 2019 Conference of Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Governors and Premiers’ Leadership Summit passed two resolutions aimed at protecting drinking water by addressing lead pipes and the chemical PFAS.

MIKE MURRAY has taken the helm as executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin, the advocacy arm of the reproductive healthcare nonprofit. Murray previously worked as a policy director at the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health, as the policy specialist for the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault and as an aide in state legislative offices.

ANDY GUSSERT has been named 2019 Alliance Professional of the Year by the Boys & Girls Club of America. He is currently the Boys & Girls Club of Wisconsin’s executive director and served on Gov. TONY EVERS’ What’s Best for Kids Advisory Council.

Longtime Wisconsin Hotel & Lodging Association President & CEO TRISHA PUGAL retired on May 31. Her role has been filled by KIRSTEN LEE VILLEGAS, who previously served as chief executive officer of NAIOP Wisconsin and was the state executive director of the Wisconsin Builders Association.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has re-appointed chief judges in five of the state’s nine judicial administrative districts. They are: Chief Judge JENNIFER DOROW of the Waukesha County Circuit Court; Chief Judge BARBARA HART KEY of Winnebago County Circuit Court; Chief Judge WILLIAM HANRAHAN of the Dane County Circuit Court; and Chief Judge ROBERT VANDEHEY of the Grant County Circuit Court.

State Treasurer SARAH GODLEWSKI is hosting a fundraiser with City of Madison Mayor SATYA RHODES-CONWAY at the Madison Club on June 19. See the details: https://www.facebook.com/events/306698243579738

BRIAN SIKMA, policy director for state Sen. DUEY STROEBEL and a member for the Wisconsin National Guard, is shipping out to Afghanistan with the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team. He told WisPolitics.com that he will be deployed no longer than a year and intends to return to the Stroebel office when he returns.

For more Names in the News, see subscriber products from earlier in the week plus the press release page at WisPolitics.com: https://www.wispolitics.com/

For upcoming events, see the “Week Ahead” in this product and in your e-mail Monday morning. Click here for the online calendar: https://www.wispolitics.com/category/events/

If you have a contribution, e-mail staff@wispolitics.com

LOBBYIST WATCH
(from the state Ethics Commission)

Twenty-four changes were made to the lobbying registry in the past 10 days.

Follow this link for the complete list:
https://lobbying.wi.gov/Who/LobbyingRegistryChanges/2019REG/SearchByDateRange

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