THU PM Update: Law enforcement coalition raises concern about hemp industry bill

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— A broad bipartisan coalition of lawmakers and activists today touted a measure that would encourage the growth of the state’s fledgling hemp industry.

But the measure faces opposition from law enforcement agencies who worry that a provision in the bill would allow drivers to operate their vehicles with THC in their blood.

SB 188, which was today heard by a Senate agriculture panel, would bring Wisconsin’s laws in line with newly passed federal regulations. Backers say the legislation gives the state control of its hemp program at a time when Wisconsin is poised to expand the crop.

Interest from farmers has soared after a successful pilot program in 2018. DATCP saw nearly 250 growers and 100 processors get licensed to experiment with the crop.

As of May 29, DATCP has issued over 1,300 additional grower licenses and 600 additional processor licenses. Spokeswoman Donna Gilson says those figures mean roughly 2,500 Wisconsonites are licensed to work with hemp.

The spike in interest led Sen. Patrick Testin, R-Stevens Point, to label hemp as “Wisconsin’s comeback crop” while speaking to reporters at an afternoon news conference.

But a coalition of sheriffs, deputies, police chiefs and district attorneys oppose a provision in the bill to provide a safe harbor for those who ingest trace amounts of THC, the psychoactive chemical in hemp’s cousin crop: marijuana.

State law mandates that hemp stays below a THC threshold of 0.3 percent, but Wisconsin also has a zero-tolerance THC policy. And law enforcement officers say they have no way to distinguish between those using hemp products and those who have ingested marijuana. The practical effect of the bill in its current form, they say, would “open roads and highways to stoned drivers.”

Testin indicated the provision in question would likely be taken out but said he hoped that it could be reintroduced as separate legislation.

“We’re going to continue to work with law enforcement to get them to a point where they are comfortable with these products,” he said.

See the bill:

— The Assembly Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee today unanimously approved a pair of bills that stiffen penalties for drunken drivers.

AB 15 and 17 would require those charged with first-offense OWI to appear in court and would implement a presumptive mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison for OWI homicide, respectively.

Those two bills were part of a package of four OWI-related proposals introduced by Rep. Jim Ott, R-Mequon, earlier in the session. All four proposals were scheduled for an exec before the panel a month ago, but Chairman John Spiros, R-Marshfield, canceled the vote after a flurry of last-minute amendments left their passage in doubt.

While both sides of the aisle reached compromise on AB 15 and 17, negotiations on AB 16 and 18 continue. In their original form, those measures would create a mandatory minimum prison sentence for those convicted of fifth and sixth-offense OWI and would make first-offense OWI a criminal misdemeanor rather than a civil violation.

But Ott told today that Rep. Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit, proposed appropriations to both bills that the Mequon Republican couldn’t support.

According to Ott, Spreitzer introduced an amendment to add more than $3 million over the course of the biennium to AB 16 in order to provide the Department of Corrections with resources for drug and alcohol treatment classes for fifth and sixth-offense OWI convicts.

While Ott said he supports treatment options for such offenders, he noted that many are ordered by courts to attend those classes and pick up the tab out of pocket.

“I’d have trouble voting for the bill myself if we’re taking $3.3 million of taxpayer money to pay for people’s bad behavior when they already are paying for it themselves,” he said.

But Spreitzer noted that those treatment options are only available to offenders after they are released and that DOC is already paying for treatment options for those serving prison sentences.

“My stance on the amendment is that incarcerating people for an extra year – which will cost money, take people away from their jobs and families, and increase our prison population (something I am overall working to do the opposite of) – is only worth it if in doing so we are reducing the likelihood that these people commit future OWIs once they are released,” he said in an email.

As for AB 18, Ott said Spreitzer proposed an amendment totaling close to $14 million over the biennium to ensure that additional prosecutors and public defenders would be available to handle an influx of criminal referrals stemming from first-offense OWI.

Ott said the appropriation was not necessary as the Legislature already planned to provide additional funding for those positions. The Joint Finance Committee on Tuesday approved $38.4 million in general purpose revenue to boost pay for prosecutors and public defenders while adding 26.5 positions in district attorney offices across the state.

The bulk of that money — $25.7 million — would increase the rate paid to private attorneys who act as public defenders. Meanwhile, $3.6 million of it would go to helping counties cover the costs of attorneys appointed by circuit courts to represent the indigent.

But Spreitzer said that amount is the bare minimum needed to address the current caseload, and doesn’t take into account “thousands of new criminal cases” the bill would create.

“Without the amendment, this bill will overburden our criminal justice system and starve it of the resources needed to effectively prevent drunk driving and prosecute other crimes,” he said

See AB 16:

See AB 18:

— Outgoing Dem Chair Martha Laning has nothing but respect for judicial candidates who turn down help from political parties because they want to keep politics out of the Supreme Court.

She also says they need to change.

Reflecting on her four years as party chair, Laning said Wisconsin Dems need to become more engaged in state Supreme Court races, even if candidates aligned with them philosophically are hesitant to accept the help. Her comments come after Appeals Court Judge Lisa Neubauer’s loss in the spring election, spoiling liberals’ hopes of taking over philosophical control of the court.

Laning likened it to candidates for state office who detest money in politics and decide to place limits on their fundraising.

“The reality is if you do that yourself right now, you really diminish your opportunity to win so that you can help create guidelines in the future, get people elected to the Supreme Court to get money out of politics,” Laning said in an interview with

In 2018, the state GOP was the biggest donor for Sauk County Judge Michael Screnock, making $412,905 in donations as he lost to then-Milwaukee County Judge Rebecca Dallet. This spring, the state GOP made $134,168 in in-kind donations to Brian Hagedorn, who transferred $150,000 to the state GOP in the weeks leading up to the April 2 election. By law, a donor can’t earmark money given to a committee, and Hagedorn’s campaign said it was transferred for GOTV and party activities.

Meanwhile, the state Dem Party made in-kind donations of $31,086 to Neubauer in the final week of the campaign. In 2018, Dallet listed an in-kind contribution of $3,564 in the final week of the race.

“We just need to be sure that all candidates, that we level the playing ground and we don’t have one party that’s heavily weighing in and another party that’s not,” Laning said.

In looking back on her four-year term, Laning said she’s most proud of increasing the party’s fundraising and building out the field staff with 11 positions compared to zero when she started. The party now counts 24 staffers, including those 11 in the field, compared to seven when she arrived.

The party raised $6.2 million in 2018 through its regular state account and another $512,068 in the fund that can accept corporate contributions.

In 2014, the last off year, before Laning became chair, the party raised $4.1 million. Still, she also has operated under a new set of fundraising laws that Republicans put in place just before her term began that formally lifted restrictions on how much a political party can raise and put into law a provision allowing corporate contributions.

Looking ahead, Laning said the party needs to expand candidate services to focus on those running for local offices, as well as the Legislature. She said the party has hired a training director and is looking to help train campaign managers for local candidates, among other things.

She also said the party needs to up its digital game, noting the false information that can be circulated on social media. That includes efforts by Russia to influence U.S. elections.

“We need more investments in that area so that we can be sure that accurate information is getting out to the voters and that we can combat, that we have the ability that when something is done that we see as unethical or wrong, that we have a response to that — a rapid response,” Laning said.

Listen to the full interview:

Follow this weekend’s convention in the Dem Convention Blog:

— Supreme Court candidates Ed Fallone and Jill Karofsky will address the Dem state convention this weekend.

Their appearance comes after the party was sharply critical of Justice-elect Brian Hagedorn speaking to the GOP convention earlier this month in Oshkosh, where he thanked activists for their support and told them they “saved” the state Supreme Court.

Party spokeswoman Courtney Beyer called it “highly inappropriate” for an elected judge to speak at a blatantly partisan event.

Asked about that stance when Fallone and Karofsky will address the Dem convention, Beyer said the party maintains its “belief that having an elected, soon-to-be sitting Supreme Court justice speak at an explicitly partisan event is inappropriate.”

Then-candidates Tim Burns and Rebecca Dallet spoke to the Dem convention 2017 ahead of their bids for the court in 2018.

— A federal magistrate has granted a request from GOP lawmakers to stay discovery in a trial challenging actions taken in the December lame-duck session.

GOP lawmakers earlier this month asked to stay discovery and cancel a June 4 pretrial conference while U.S. Judge James Peterson considers a motion to dismiss the suit.

The state Dem Party, which filed the suit accusing GOP lawmakers of violating the U.S. Constitution by taking powers away from the guv and AG, countered the court had historically denied such requests.

But Magistrate Stephen Crocker wrote in yesterday’s ruling that while that “used to be true; it’s not true anymore.”

Crocker added it was likely Peterson would rule on the motion to dismiss by the end of August, but it wasn’t clear if something would come down sooner. In his order, he stayed discovery until Peterson issues a ruling or Aug. 30, whichever comes first.

He also offered several trial dates in late summer and early fall 2020, giving the parties until June 6 to report back to the court which ones would work for them.

Read the ruling:

— Planned Parenthood isn’t opposed to a request from GOP lawmakers for the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals to hear oral arguments on a judge denying legislators’ motion to intervene in a suit challenging abortion restrictions.

But Planned Parenthood would prefer the arguments be heard during the court’s August sitting rather than July.

Republicans approved a new law in the December lame-duck session giving them the power to intervene in lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of a state law, and they used it to argue they should be allowed to do so in the Planned Parenthood suit.

But a federal judge last month rejected the request, saying lawmakers hadn’t shown that Dem AG Josh Kaul would provide an inadequate defense of the law.

In the new filing, Planned Parenthood also didn’t raise any objections to the GOP request for an expedited appeal.

Read the filing:

From …

— Dem lawmakers are asking U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to take “urgent action” to protect Wisconsin farms and other businesses from the impacts of the ongoing trade war.

In a letter sent today, the lawmakers say President Trump’s decision to enact tariffs on “key allied nations” poses a threat to Wisconsin’s economy. They note retaliatory tariffs on some of the state’s top products such as cranberries, cheese and ginseng are having a “devastating impact” on communities across the state.

They highlight the state’s loss of 700 dairy farms last year, also noting Wisconsin had more farm bankruptcies than any other state.

“Unless immediate action is taken, the economic chaos created by President Trump’s trade war will continue to increase customer costs, drive more farmers into bankruptcy, and result in thousands of jobs lost in Wisconsin,” the lawmakers wrote.

See the letter:


June 13: luncheon: The future of transportation funding in Wisconsin

Transportation funding has become one of the key debating points in the two-year state budget making its way through the Legislature. Gov. Tony Evers proposed an 8-cent-a gallon increase in the gas tax plus while getting rid of the minimum markup on gasoline — something the administration said would more than wipe out the increase. Republicans have removed the minimum markup provision and left in the gas tax increase for now. Where will the debate lead and will it result in a long-term solution?

Hear details from some of the key players in the debate at a issues luncheon set for Thursday, June 13 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at UW-Milwaukee’s Waukesha campus just off I-94.

Panelists for the discussion: Wisconsin DOT Secretary Craig Thompson, Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow, state Rep. Debra Kolste, D-Janesville and a member of the Assembly Transportation Committee, and state Rep. Joe Sanfelippo, R-New Berlin and a member of the Assembly Transportation Committee. subscribers and members receive discounted pricing for WisPolitics luncheons of $20 per person, including lunch. Price for the general public is $25 per person, including lunch.

This event is sponsored by: Kapur & Associates, UW-Milwaukee, Wisconsin Academy of Global Education and Training, ELEVEN25 at Pabst, Milwaukee Police Association, The Firm Consulting, Medical College of Wisconsin and Spectrum.

The Waukesha County Business Alliance is an event partner.

For more information and registration, visit:



LRB-2520: Extending voting rights to certain 17-year-old individuals and requiring a referendum. By Reps. Taylor, Neubauer and Sargent and Sen. Risser.

LRB 2365/1: Billing practices for certain health care providers and granting rule-making authority. By Rep. Kolste and Sen. Smith.

LRB-0120: Holding a referendum to increase a political subdivision’s levy limit. Reps. Novak and Shankland and Sens. Marklein, Bewley and Testin.

LRB-0117/1: Eliminating the state trail pass. By Rep. Hebl.

LRB-0116/1: Changing the dates for which an annual vehicle admission receipt or an annual state trail pass are valid. By Rep. Hebl.


AJR 49: honoring Wisconsin native Arike Ogunbowale for an incredible college women’s basketball career with the University of Notre Dame. Committee on Rules.

SBR 42: Honoring the life and public service of Senator John Maurer. Referred to Committee on Senate Organization.

SBR 43: Recognizing June 9 to 15, 2019, as Army Week in Wisconsin. Referred to Committee on Senate Organization.

SB 244: Liability of owners of vehicles involved in certain speed limit and failure to yield right-of-way violations, driver education instruction, and providing a penalty. Referred to Committee on Transportation, Veterans and Military Affairs.

SB 245: Applying the indoor smoking ban to vapor products and marijuana. Referred to Committee on Government Operations, Technology and Consumer Protection.

SB 246: The requirement for stating name and address prior to voting. Referred to Committee on Elections, Ethics and Rural Issues.

SB 247: The use of a surveillance device by an owner of real estate in connection with the sale of the real estate and providing a penalty. Referred to Committee on Utilities and Housing.

SB 248: Term and repayment for loans under the Safe Drinking Water Loan Program. Referred to Committee on Local Government, Small Business, Tourism and Workforce Development.

SB 249: Advanced practice registered nurses, extending the time limit for emergency rule procedures, providing an exemption from emergency rule procedures, and granting rule-making authority. Referred to Committee on Health and Human Services.

SB 250: Mandatory parenting classes. Referred to Committee on Insurance, Financial Services, Government Oversight and Courts.

SB 251: Exception from local levy limits for political subdivisions receiving certain utility aid payments. Referred to Committee on Natural Resources and Energy.

SB 252: A flood risk reduction pilot project and making an appropriation. Referred to Committee on Natural Resources and Energy.

SB 253: Creating the Wisconsin Renewable Energy Development Authority to participate in and guarantee certain energy-related loans, implement other energy-related programs, and make certain grants and making an appropriation. Referred to Committee on Government Operations, Technology and Consumer Protection.

SB 254: Certifications for advance directives and findings of incapacity related to powers of attorney for health care. Referred to Committee on Health and Human Services.

Track bills for free:

Capital Times: With parts of lame-duck laws on hold, just one Wisconsin agency has acted on guidance documents

AP: Wisconsin hemp bill draws opposition from law enforcement

Racine Journal Times: Foxconn to be Mount Pleasant’s biggest taxpayer at nearly $1.2M for 2019

AP: Wisconsin high court hopefuls to speak at Democratic event

CBS: Barr says Mueller “could’ve reached a decision” on whether Trump obstructed justice

New York Times: Trade War Starts Changing Manufacturers in Hard-to-Reverse Ways

Washington Post: Despite Trump administration denials, new evidence suggests census citizenship question was crafted to benefit white Republicans

CNN: Trump unleashes fury on Mueller, again disputes US intelligence findings on Russia

CNN: Judge appears exasperated at Roger Stone arguments against Mueller

POLITICO: Third House Republican blocks massive disaster aid package


– 11:45 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.: Press Club Newsmaker Luncheon with U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson.

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