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Tony Evers to propose nonpartisan redistricting process in budget

Gov. Tony Evers Tuesday unveiled a proposal to do away with the state’s partisan redistricting process and give the responsibility of drawing the state’s political maps to a nonpartisan agency.

The governor’s plan, to be included in his state budget request, mirrors the independent process in Iowa and would take effect before the state’s redistricting process gets fully underway.

The proposal would directly address partisan gerrymandering, the subject of a ongoing federal lawsuit, and follows calls the governor issued on the campaign trail for a redistricting process supposedly free from political influence.

“The people should get to choose their elected officials, not the other way around,” Evers said in a statement. “By creating a nonpartisan redistricting commission in Wisconsin, we’re making sure that when we’re redrawing district maps in 2021, we’re putting people before politics.”

Like dozens of other states, Wisconsin’s Legislature, controlled by Republicans, is chiefly responsible for drawing the state’s political maps, subject to veto by the governor.

Evers’ plan, however, would align Wisconsin with a handful of other states where independent commissions draw the lines.

Evers’ proposal would give responsibility for drawing political boundaries to an existing state agency, the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau, at the direction of a newly-formed, nonpartisan Redistricting Advisory Commission. The state Legislature would still vote on the redistricting bill, but it would be restricted in the changes it could make.

The commission would consist of five members. The leader of each party in either house would get an appointment, and then the four appointees would together select a fifth member who would serve as the chair.

Commission members would need to be eligible to vote in Wisconsin, and the plan would prohibit politicians or those who hold office for a political party from serving. It would also ban employees and other members of the Legislature or Congress as well as their relatives. The Commission would be required to hold a public hearing on the bill in each congressional district.

Under the plan, the Legislative Reference Bureau would not be allowed to use voting patterns, party information, incumbent residence information or demographic information in drawing district maps, except where required by law.

The plan comes as a federal lawsuit challenging the state’s political maps continues to make its way through the courts after the U.S. Supreme Court last summer remanded the case back to the Western District of Wisconsin. A federal judge recently pushed back the trial of the case to July given expected decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court in similar cases this summer.

Sachin Chheda, chair of the Wisconsin Fair Maps Coalition, which seeks to end partisan gerrymandering, praised Evers’ proposal in a statement and called on the Legislature to support it.

“We applaud Governor Evers for his leadership as we try to end the map-rigging that has corrupted Wisconsin politics,” Chheda said. “This decision gives us a chance to have representative democracy again in Wisconsin.”

Republicans, such as Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, have previously dismissed concerns over partisan gerrymandering.

Spokespersons for Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, didn’t immediately respond to a request seeking comment.

Under the plan, the Legislative Reference Bureau would not be allowed to use voting patterns, party information, incumbent residence information or demographic information in drawing district maps, except where required by law.

Local
La Crosse crews tackling snowdrifts, stuck vehicles
Erik Daily, La Crosse Tribune 

Josh Navrestad of the La Crosse Street Department sets out no parking signs Tuesday in preparation for snow removal along Third Street.

The city of La Crosse is taking steps to tackle the fallout from last weekend’s winter storm, with Street Department crews removing snow from the roadside starting Tuesday and the Police Department announcing Tuesday that it will begin towing vehicles that haven’t been moved since the storm.

Street Department crews will tackle removing snow from the roadside in several locations throughout the city starting Tuesday night.

Weather permitting, the snow removal from downtown La Crosse, Old Town North and other locations will continue for several nights until complete, possibly extending into the morning hours.

Motorists are asked not to attempt to drive on the streets or cross intersections when the snow crew is present. The large mounds of snow in the street will make it very difficult for cars to get through.

The effort will also affect parking in some areas, which are marked by orange temporary no-parking signs.

La Crosse police warned the owners of vehicles parked on the street that haven’t been moved since the wintry mix fell Saturday and Sunday, saying the vehicles will be considered abandoned according to state law.

The department recommends people move their vehicles prior to being towed. If they are towed, the city will notify the vehicle’s owner of the impounding by certified mail and the owner will have 10 days to claim the vehicle. There’s a $150 towing processing forfeiture and a $30-a-day storage fee.


Photos: A look back at our seemingly never-ending winter in the La Crosse area
Photos: A look back at our seemingly never-ending winter in the La Crosse area

Evers' first budget sets up fight with Republicans

MADISON — Gov. Tony Evers’ first budget, to be unveiled this week, will surely please his Democratic supporters by fulfilling campaign promises to legalize medical marijuana, expand Medicaid and spend more money on public education.

But there’s one big problem. Many of the ideas will be dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled Legislature, or face little chance of passing without significant changes. Add to the mix huge issues upon which even Republicans can’t agree and it seems a stalemate is inevitable.

Republicans have made clear their opposition to Evers’ proposals to accept federal money to expand Medicaid, legalize medical marijuana and decriminalize small amounts of recreational pot and freeze enrollment in private voucher schools.

Even in areas where there appears to be common ground — such as cutting middle class taxes — Evers and Republicans have been unable to compromise to get it done.

Former Gov. Scott Walker didn’t sign the last budget until late September, after Republicans struggled with how to fund roads and ultimately decided to punt and borrow more money rather than raise taxes or fees.

Now, under a split government for the first budget since 2007, Evers faces the challenge of following through on the campaign promises that got him elected knowing that Republicans who must vote on them won’t comply.

Some of the bigger conflicts in the budget that Evers will release Thursday include:

Roads

Perhaps the biggest unknown is Evers’ transportation plan. He has signaled he will increase the state’s 32.9-cent gas tax to pay for roads in a comprehensive plan to find a long-term funding solution. Assembly Republicans last session endorsed a gas tax increase, but were rebuffed by Senate Republicans and Walker. Republican lawmakers have shown openness to toll roads, but some conservative Republican senators stand ready to block any type of tax or fee increase.

Marijuana

Evers wants to legalize medical marijuana and decriminalize up to 25 grams of recreational pot. The plan appears to be a non-starter among Republicans, with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos saying it has a 10 percent chance of success.

K-12 schools

Evers campaigned on the promise to increase funding for K-12 schools by 10 percent, or $1.4 billion. Republicans say they support increasing school funding, but not as much as Evers wants.

Voucher schools

Evers, the former state schools chief, wants to freeze enrollment in voucher schools starting in 2021, a move Republicans oppose. Evers says an enrollment freeze would save money on property taxes, but supporters of the program say it will deny people the chance to escape failing public schools.

Higher education

Evers plans to continue a tuition freeze at the University of Wisconsin for at least two years, boost funding by $150 million and allow for immigrants living in the U.S. illegally to pay in-state tuition. Republicans oppose the in-state tuition plan, a version of which they stripped from state law in 2011.

Taxes

Evers will propose a 10 percent income tax cut targeting middle income earners. He vetoed a similar Republican bill last week. Evers and Republicans disagree over how to pay for the tax cut.

Health care

Evers has promised to propose accepting federal Medicaid expansion, a move that would add about 76,000 low-income people to Medicaid and save the state about $280 million over the next two years thanks to an infusion of federal dollars. But Republicans have been outspoken against it, saying putting more people on Medicaid will shift costs to the private sector and ultimately cost the state more in later years.

Planned Parenthood

Evers will include nearly $28 million to support women’s health care issues, including restoring funding for Planned Parenthood that was blocked by Walker. Vos said Planned Parenthood wouldn’t be given “one more nickel.”

Redistricting

As he promised in the campaign, Evers proposed a nonpartisan redistricting process that would take away the Legislature’s power to draw political boundary maps. Republicans support the current process. The most recent GOP-drawn maps are being fought in court. The next round of redistricting will occur after the 2020 Census.

Unfulfilled promises

Evers campaigned on defunding the state’s job-creation agency, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. But since winning election, Evers backed off on eliminating WEDC and instead will propose tightening restrictions on tax breaks it gives companies. Evers also campaigned in support of raising the minimum wage to $15-an-hour. He said his first budget will provide a pathway to getting that done, but won’t go all the way in two years.


Erik Daily, La Crosse Tribune  

Onalaska co-op goalie Jack Weber make a save against Reedsburg co-op's Danny Ely in the second period of Saturday's sectional final at the OmniCenter. Weber recorded 19 saves in a 6-0 victory.


Local
Women's Fund, coming off record grant year, to accept requests, fling for spring

The Women’s Fund of Greater La Crosse, which distributed just four, $500 grants during its first disbursements in 1999 but more than a half-million dollars since, will open its two-month grant application process Friday.

Green

“Because of the incredible support our community has shown over the past 20 years — at our events and through individual donations — we have been able to grow our impact,” said Kaycie Green, the fund’s executive director.

That support allowed the fund to distribute a record $71,700 during its 2018 grant cycle, which was $20,000 more than the previous high. Those disbursements went to 19 Coulee Region organizations to help fund 20 programs.

Agencies that received grants last year included Bluff Country Family Resources’ Survivor Future Investment Fund, Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater La Crosse’s “Time with Laquita” mentoring program, Catholic Charities’ care packages for homeless women, Couleecap’s Transitional Housing Program, the La Crosse County Health Department’s Women’s Transportation Fund, the La Crosse Area Family Collaborative and The Parenting Place for its play groups for positive relationships, among others, Green said.

“Each year, we have expanded the scope and reach of our grants. Our mission is intentionally broad,” she said, adding that any nonprofit that provides programs to support women and girls can apply for a grant.

Many grants provide help “at critical moments that can mean the difference between housing and homelessness, staying in school or dropping out, and having the transportation needed to make it to work or being fired,” Green said.

“Women are still primary caretakers for their families, and often they are also the primary income earners. When we let women slip through the cracks, we’re allowing their children and community to slip, too. We know an investment in women is also an investment in our future,” she said.

The fund’s 20th anniversary endowment match campaign, titled Growing Possibilities, has enabled it to boost its endowment and grant-making power in the future.

An anonymous donor agreed to match up to $100,000 in the campaign, which got a lift last year when the donor agreed to allow memorial gifts from last year count toward the goal.

Memorial gifts got a boost last year when the family of Roberta Gelatt, one of the fund’s founders, specified the fund as a beneficiary in her obituary last year, Green said. Donations came from all over the country.

Green also acknowledged the late Marilyn Ondell for the legacy gift of $15,000 she bequeathed to the Women’s Fund.

“We are proud to honor her memory and legacy by making this enduring investment in local women,” Green said.

“We’re inching ever closer to closing out our campaign and adding $200,000 to our endowment to cap off our 20th year,” said Green, who also credited individuals and businesses with boosting the fund with gifts, sponsorships and attending fundraising events.

One such event, the Women’s Fund’s annual Spring Fling, is just around the corner, slated for 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. April 6 in the Radisson Ballroom. The event will feature lunch, a silent auction and shopping with local vendors. Tickets, at $40 apiece, are available on the fund’s website.

A longstanding tradition for some groups of friends is picking themes for their tables, and then decorating the tables and dressing according to the themes.

Themes over the years have ranged from pointed — such as tables of Rosie the Riveters, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburgs and suffragists — to the whimsical, including biker babes, pajama partyers and tropical islanders or vacationers, Green said.

Not everyone dresses up, which is fine with fund members — and men are welcome to attend as well, she said.


Green