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Local
La Crosse mayor mulling room tax increase

La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat is in very early conversations about raising the room tax to help offset the cost of a proposed $42 million La Crosse Center renovation and expansion.

Kabat

Kabat met with a La Crosse County Convention and Visitors Bureau committee Wednesday and sent a letter to La Crosse Common Council members asking them to consider raising the tax on hotel room reservations to 12 percent from the current 8 percent.

“It would allow for visitors and tourists to in essence contribute more to the cost of the Center facility,” Kabat said.

The city has committed to borrowing $35 million to pay for the renovation and expansion, which is expected to bring the city-owned convention center’s economic impact up to about $45 million annually. The remainder of the funding is coming from a $5 million state grant and La Crosse Center funds.

The La Crosse Common Council will vote Thursday on whether to move forward with a west concept that would add an about 12,000-square-foot ballroom, meeting rooms and increase connectivity. The concept allows a variety of additional options, including more meeting space, a larger exhibition hall and a hallway connecting the two ballrooms.

Should the council approve the concept, Kabat hopes that the stakeholders will take a serious look at what it will take to pay off the debt for the project.

“We’re looking at ways rather than just city tax levy to help pay for that debt service and room tax would be one of them,” Kabat said.

He intends to have a financing plan by this summer and thinks the room tax should be a part of that.

Kabat stressed that the proposal wasn’t formalized yet and he intends to have conversations with a variety of stakeholders, including meeting with the CVB board next week, before introducing any legislation.

“I’m asking folks to think about the potential of room tax as being part of that financing plan,” Kabat said.

Specifically, he’s looking at applying the full increase, which would amount to about $1.3 million to the debt service payments, which are estimated at an average of $2.7 million annually. Currently, the 8 percent room tax is divided about equally between the city, the CVB and the La Crosse Center.

Including room tax funds would be a regional sharing of the costs, Kabat said, and recognize that the entire region, as well as visitors and tourists, benefit from the investment in the convention center.

“I think it’s only fair for city of La Crosse taxpayers that the mayor and the council are looking at every possible way to fund this project without having to raise property taxes,” Kabat said.

The mayor is asking city council members to consider raising the tax on hotel room reservations to 12 percent from the current 8 percent.

Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

A skier dodges the oncoming artificially made snow Wednesday at Mt. La Crosse. Despite the warm temperatures and rain over the weekend, conditions remain good at the ski area, largely due to snowmaking operations that began in November.


Local
La Crosse County might have redistricting vote in April

La Crosse County voters could see a redistricting-related referendum on the April 2 ballot.

Members of the La Crosse County Board’s Executive Committee voted unanimously Wednesday morning in favor of a resolution that would put an advisory redistricting referendum in front of the voters this spring.

PDF: La Crosse County Nonpartisan Redistricting Referendum

In December, the Vernon County Board also approved putting a similar redistricting referendum on the ballot for April. La Crosse County’s proposed referendum will have wording very similar to Vernon County’s.

The referendum is being requested by the county’s chapter of the League of Women Voters, and three members of that group’s board of directors offered comments to the committee Wednesday morning to make the case for the referendum, but in a way the LWV members were “preaching to the choir.”

In August 2017, the county board approved a resolution opposing the partisan redrawing of political district boundaries, commonly known as gerrymandering, and calling for “the creation of a nonpartisan procedure for the preparation of legislative and congressional redistricting plans.”

More than 40 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties have approved resolutions opposing partisan gerrymandering.

The aim of the proposed referendum is to gauge support among La Crosse County voters for creating a method of redistricting that takes politics out of the equation. The referendum asks for a yes or no answer to this question: “Should the Wisconsin Legislature create a nonpartisan procedure for the preparation of legislative and congressional district plans and maps?”

Wisconsin, like the vast majority of states, leaves the redrawing of congressional and legislative boundaries up to the state Legislature. This is done every 10 years, after the results of the U.S. Census come in.

When Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled Legislature did the redistricting in 2011, according to a lawsuit ruling by a panel of three federal judges in November 2016, the resulting plan was an instance of unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering, an attempt by the GOP to create districts in which Republican candidates would have strong advantages.

The federal panel’s ruling was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which didn’t rule on the merits of the case but sent the legal challenge back to the lower court to give the plaintiffs a chance to prove they had standing to bring suit — basically, showing that they were harmed by the gerrymandering.

Garland

The local LWV representatives told executive committee members Wednesday morning that there is a high price to pay for partisan gerrymandering. For one thing, said Nora Garland, there’s a financial cost: The state has spent $3.5 million defending the 2011 redistricting plan, she said, and the case hasn’t been resolved yet, with a trial tentatively set for April.

Garland also said the gerrymandering has resulted in the election of more legislators with more extreme views.

Perhaps the greatest cost, from the LWV’s perspective, is gerrymandering discourages participation in elections, both by voters and candidates.

“The problems inherent in the redistricting process as it is carried out now — in secrecy, with restricted debate and in disregard for what the public wants — is causing many of us to believe that our votes don’t count,” said LWV board member Pam Knudtson. “When people see that the system is rigged in this way, they often decide it’s not worth their time and effort to participate and to vote. We believe this is a great threat to democracy.”

Strong majorities of voters in other counties apparently agree that a new nonpartisan redistrict process is necessary. At least six counties so far have had redistricting referendums so far — four of them in last November’s general election — and “yes” voters have prevailed by wide margins.

Dane County’s 2014 referendum passed with 82 percent voting “yes,” while last year’s referendum votes too place in Eau Claire (74 percent “yes”), Sauk (72 percent), Outagamie (72 percent), Winnebago (69 percent) and Lincoln (65 percent) counties.

Frantz

“That’s a significant message and we want to continue giving that message to our Legislature, that we don’t want to continue to accept where we are,” said LWV board member Ellen Frantz.

The League of Women Voters and possibly other members of the Fair Maps coalition will take on the responsibility of voter education, so the county wouldn’t be on the hook for the cost of an educational campaign.

The deadline for getting a referendum for the spring ballot filed with the county clerk is Jan. 22. The full La Crosse County Board is expected to vote on the referendum resolution at its monthly meeting on Jan. 17.


Govt-and-politics
breakingtopicalfeatured
Fitchburg lawmaker who is paralyzed says GOP Assembly leaders broke law by excluding him from lame-duck votes

A Fitchburg Democratic state lawmaker who is paralyzed from the chest down says Assembly Republican leaders broke the state open meetings law last month by not revealing when early-morning votes would be held to enact a package of controversial laws during a lame-duck session — and he’s asking that those votes be voided as a consequence.

Rep. Jimmy Anderson, D-Fitchburg, said in an interview with the Wisconsin State Journal this week he will file a verified complaint Thursday with Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne.

The complaint, an advance copy of which was provided to the State Journal, asks Ozanne to file a lawsuit on behalf of the state against Assembly GOP leaders by alleging they violated the state open meetings law.

According to state law “no duly elected or appointed member of a governmental body may be excluded from any meeting of such body.”

Anderson was not present for key votes on the controversial lame-duck laws that he opposes, one of which curtailed early voting dates and the powers of the governor and attorney general.

He said that happened after he asked Assembly Republican leaders, the night before the vote, when it would be held — but got no answer. The State Journal has requested a response from the offices of Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke.

Anderson said health and logistical issues related to his disability — he was paralyzed in a 2010 car accident and uses a wheelchair — prevented him from being able to sit in the state Capitol all night and wait for votes to be held.

Anderson said he must coordinate his arrival and departure from the Capitol with health aides who drive him and help with other daily tasks. Also, Anderson said doctors have advised him, for health reasons, not to sit in his wheelchair for more than 16 hours at a time.

Lawmakers originally planned to convene the afternoon of Dec. 4 to pass the bill package. After a series of closed door meetings throughout the afternoon and overnight, they emerged in the wee hours the morning of Dec. 5 and passed the bills, sending them to Gov. Scott Walker, who later signed them.

“I just remember waking up and the vote had already happened. I was frustrated,” Anderson said. “I represent my district and I’m supposed to be there to act in the process.”

Anderson later was able to have his votes paired on two of the bills, a process by which two lawmakers, typically from opposite parties, arrange to have their votes offset each other to account for an excused absence. But Anderson noted he wasn’t able to cast other procedural votes related to the bills and wasn’t able to speak about them during the Assembly debate.

According to the state open meetings law, “any action taken at a meeting of a governmental body held in violation of this subchapter is voidable” upon an action brought by the state attorney general or the district attorney of the county where the alleged violation occurred.

Anderson said the experience was particularly jarring because he said most lawmakers and legislative staffers have been very helpful addressing issues related to his disability since he took office in 2017.

The Assembly sergeant-at-arms office has gone to lengths to ensure he can participate fully, Anderson said, such as building a device to help him cast votes on the Assembly floor. They also have provided a special clip-on microphone to Anderson that allows him to give speeches on the Assembly floor while the chamber is in session.

“This is the first time I’ve ever run into an instance where the Legislature has put up a barrier in front of me and said ‘No, you’re not allowed to participate,’” Anderson said. “It’s hurtful and it’s wrong.”

Ozanne could not immediately be reached Wednesday to comment on Anderson’s complaint.


ASSOCIATED PRESS 

Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur is introduced at a news conference on Wednesday, in Green Bay.


MICHELLE STOCKER, CAPITAL TIMES 

State Rep. Jimmy Anderson, D-Fitchburg, left, claims Assembly Republican leaders broke the state open meetings law last month by not revealing when early-morning votes would be held on bills during a lame-duck session.


Crime-and-courts
Anquin St. Junious charged with second-degree reckless homicide in fatal stabbing

Anquin St. Junious was charged Wednesday with second-degree reckless homicide in a Jan. 2 stabbing death.

St. Junious

During the initial hearing in La Crosse County Circuit Court, St. Junious was also charged with threats to injure or inflict physical pain, strangulation and suffocation, and misdemeanor battery, all repeated offenses. He was previously sentenced to five years in prison for stabbing a bartender in 2011.

According to the criminal complaint, medical staff administered several life-saving procedures but were unable to resuscitate Virgil R. Stewart, 42, who was pronounced dead at 2:49 a.m. Jan. 2.

The autopsy revealed a “single, approximately, two-centimeter-long puncture wound to Stewart’s upper-right collarbone area,” according to the criminal complaint.

The complaint laid out a series of conflicting statements from witnesses.

One witness said she saw Stewart exiting a residence at 607 S. Seventh St. She saw St. Junious and a woman going down the residence steps ahead of Stewart, all of them were speaking and didn’t appear aggressive, according to the criminal complaint.

Then, a physical altercation ensued, according to the complaint, and the witness thought St. Junious punched Stewart until she heard Stewart say, “He stabbed me, he stabbed me, call 911, call 911.”

According to the cab driver’s statement in the complaint, he didn’t witness any physical altercation but heard the woman tell Stewart not to touch St. Junious.

The woman with St. Junious gave investigators two statements, according to the complaint.

The first stated that Stewart swung a bottle at her and she subsequently swung a knife back at him.

The second statement in the criminal complaint, made on Jan. 4., said Stewart followed her and St. Junious out of the residence and said, “[racial slur] you must wanna die, you must wanna die,” to St. Junious and wouldn’t move away from the taxi when St. Junious told him to do so. St. Junious then pulled out a knife and stabbed Stewart, according to the statement.

The woman told police she didn’t know St. Junious had a knife, according to the complaint, and thought the injury inflicted was only a “nick.”

St. Junious physically assaulted the woman, slapping and choking her, and demanded she tell police it was self-defense, according to the criminal complaint.

The woman told police she feared St. Junious would have people hurt her, according to the complaint.

Authorities found a nine-inch knife with St. Junious when they went to his residence before transporting him to the police station, according to the complaint,

St. Junious was intoxicated during the interview and didn’t always recall events chronologically, according to the report.

St. Junious told police that he and the woman ran out of the residence at 607 S. Seventh St. and Stewart came out after them, blocked them from closing the taxi door, and repeatedly said, “I’ll kill y’all.”

He qualifies for a public defender but will need outside counsel due to conflicts.

His preliminary hearing is Jan. 24 and bail is set at $100,000 cash bond. If posted, St. Junious will need a GPS monitor and be confined to house arrest. He also has a no-contact order with the woman involved in the case.


La Crosse County Circuit Court felony cases in January
La Crosse County Circuit Court felony cases in January

St. Junious