Saturday, April 13, 2024
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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Milwaukee Press Club 'Excellence in Wisconsin Journalism' 2020 & 2021 Award Winners

Supporters: It’s time to Move Forward on I-94 Expansion

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Although work has yet to begin to expand I-94 in western Milwaukee County, supporters hope they are almost done with the waiting.

Wisconsin’s Department of Transportation is wrapping-up its public meetings on the plan to expand I-94 between the Zoo Interchange and the Marquette Interchange from the current six lanes to eight lanes.

Tracy Johnson with the Commercial Association of REALTORS® Wisconsin said it’s been 10 years since the expansion was first proposed, and it’s time to finally start the work.

“We need to address the safety concerns along this corridor,” Johnson told the Center Square on Wednesday. “There are too many cars. We don’t have the capacity now, and we’re certainly not going to have the capacity moving forward.”

Johnson says Wis-DOT’s own numbers show a spike in crashes along the 3.5 miles between the Zoo and Marquette interchanges.

There continues to be, however, strong opposition.

“You’ve got environmental concerns, which have been significantly addressed. You’ve got social justice concerns, which again have significantly addressed. And then you have people who are just anti-freeway,” Johnson explained.

You also have the Milwaukee County Board.

County commissioners are set to meet Thursday to vote on a resolution that pushes for a “Fix in Six” plan that would replace the current six lanes of I-94 with a new set of six lanes.

“Six lanes are cheaper by 3-6%,” Jonson added. “I know we’re talking about billions of dollars, and I can’t even comprehend what that is. But that is not significant to say six lanes is a cheaper alternative.”

Wis-DOT has estimated the cost for the eight-lane expansion at $1.2 billion. But no one is saying just how much Wisconsin’s share of that cost would be.

Expansion supporters say it’s key to get money for the project included in the next three state budgets.

Johnson said Gov. Evers has made the expansion a priority, mainly from a job-creation standpoint. But he’s facing new opposition.

“I know that a lot of activists are going after the governor right now,” Johnson said. “I hope he remains vigilant.”

Then there are Republican lawmakers who will write the next state budget. Johnson said three top supporters of the plan, Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, Sen. Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfield, and Rep. Joe Sanfilippo all retired from the legislature.

Johnson said “we believe there is support” in the Assembly and Senate.

Wis-DOT will close its public comment period next month, following two public meetings this week.

Then there is the budget process next spring. And finally, Johnson said, they are expecting a Record of Decision next fall. After that, she said they hope to move toward actually building the new lanes sometime in 2026.

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Liberal Justice Anne Walsh Bradley Not Running for Reelection

(The Center Square) – Wisconsin’s next supreme court race could be even more contentious and even more expensive than the last one.

Liberal Justice Anne Walsh Bradley on Thursday surprised the state when she announced she will not run for re-election next year.

"My decision has not come lightly. It is made after careful consideration and reflection. I know I can do the job and do it well. I know I can win re-election, should I run. But it's just time to pass the torch, bring fresh perspectives to the court," Walsh Bradley said in a statement.

She is one of Wisconsin’s longest serving justices, serving her third 10-year term on the court.

“In the 177-year history of the court, only four justices have served longer than my length of service,” she wrote.

Walsh Bradley’s decision means the next election will be open.

Former Republican attorney general, and current Waukesha County judge, Brad Schimel has already jumped into the race. There aren’t any declared Democrats yet.

Schimel on Thursday said Walsh Bradley’s decision isn’t changing anything for him.

“From the beginning of my campaign, I made it clear that I’m not just running against one person, I’m running against this Court’s leftist majority,” Schimel said. “I wish Justice Ann Walsh Bradley well in retirement after decades of public service. I look forward to continuing the fight to bring integrity and respect for the Constitution back to the Supreme Court of Wisconsin.”

Wisconsin’s last race for the supreme court, in April of 2023, set records for spending. The race between Justice Janet Protasiewicz and former Justice Dan Kelly cost more than $56 million. That makes the 2023 Wisconsin race the most expensive judicial race in American history. Many court observers and politicos in Wisconsin say the 2025 race could be just as expensive, or even more expensive.

Protasiewicz’s victory flipped the Wisconsin Supreme Court to a 4-3 liberal majority for the first time in 15 years.

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State Bar of Wisconsin Changing Diversity Definition to End Discrimination Suit

(The Center Square) – The State Bar of Wisconsin isn’t ending its diversity clerkship that faced a federal discrimination lawsuit, instead it is changing the definition of diversity.

The State Bar agreed to tweak the program and make it about the diversity of ideas and experiences, rather than base the clerkship on race and gender.

“The settlement clarifies the definition of ‘diversity’ but makes no changes to the program,” State Bar Executive Director Larry Martin said. “The Diversity Clerkship Program, which has been creating opportunities for Wisconsin-based law students for three decades, will continue to exist and to operate in its current form.”

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty sued, saying it’s against the law to hire anyone based on race or gender.

WILL Associate Counsel Skylar Croy said they have had to make it a habit to remind people of that fact.

“Defeating unconstitutional DEI programs has become WILL’s area of expertise, and we are not stopping here,” Croy said in a statement. “While we are pleased with this victory, we know the fight is far from over. In fact, this is only the beginning of a movement, and our lawsuit will provide a roadmap for future victories in all 50 states.”

WILL has also sued over DEI programs at the University of Wisconsin that it says are race-based.

The bar said the only thing that is changing about the Diversity Clerkship is the focus on race in its definition of diversity.

“Under the settlement, the new definition states: Diversity means including people with differing characteristics, beliefs, experiences, interests, and viewpoints. Diversity promotes an environment in which all individuals are treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their differences and without regard to stereotypes, and helps to ensure a better understanding and consideration of the needs and viewpoints of others with whom we interact,” the bar added.

WILL sued on behalf of Daniel Suhr, who is a lawyer in the state and is required to be a member of the bar.

After the settlement, Suhr said the new definition is the first step toward restoring fairness to the Diversity Clerkship.

“Premier internship opportunities should be available to students based on merit – not race. I am proud to partner with WILL to set a strong precedent for the next generation of law students,” he said in a statement.

The Diversity Clerkship Program is a 10-week, paid summer job where first-year Marquette University Law School and University of Wisconsin Law School students are matched with law firms, corporate legal departments and government agencies.

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Group Allegedly Involved in Pre-pandemic Wuhan Coronavirus Research to Testify Before Congress

Lawmakers plan to interrogate the head of Eco Health Alliance, the group accused of conducting dangerous coronavirus research in Wuhan, China just before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic will hold a public hearing May 1 where Dr. Peter Daszak is expected to testify. Daszak is the president of Eco Health Alliance, a U.S. nonprofit health research company that used taxpayer-funded grants to conduct coronavirus research.

The lawmakers on the committee also allege that newly obtained documents show Daszak’s previous testimony misled the committee or misrepresented the facts.

“These revelations undermine your credibility as well as every factual assertion you made during your transcribed interview,” the letter said. “The Committees have a right and an obligation to protect the integrity of their investigations, including the accuracy of testimony during a transcribed interview. We invite you to correct the record.”

One of those obtained documents appears to show Daszak saying he plans to work with Wuhan researchers.

A federal grant database shows that Eco Health Alliance received millions of dollars since 2014 from the federal government to study coronaviruses that originate in animals and in some cases can transfer to humans, with an emphasis on China.

A key and highly disputed part of the inquiry is whether Eco Health Alliance’ research included making coronaviruses more dangerous,.

Under former President Donald Trump, the federal National Institutes of Health cut all funding to the group in question over the controversy.

Under the Biden administration, funding has been restored, and NIH has emphatically stated that Eco Health Alliance did not play a role in the start of the pandemic.

“Unfortunately, in the absence of a definitive answer, misinformation and disinformation are filling the void, which does more harm than good,” NIH said in a 2021 statement. “NIH wants to set the record straight on NIH-supported research to understand naturally occurring bat coronaviruses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, funded through a subaward from NIH grantee EcoHealth Alliance. Analysis of published genomic data and other documents from the grantee demonstrate that the naturally occurring bat coronaviruses studied under the NIH grant are genetically far distant from SARS-CoV-2 and could not possibly have caused the COVID-19 pandemic. Any claims to the contrary are demonstrably false.”

In 2022 and 2023 NIH awarded Eco Health Alliance a total of at least $1,230,594 to research “the potential for future bat coronavirus emergence in Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam.”

The idea that the COVID-19 virus began in a Wuahn lab was once denounced as a conspiracy theory but has now gotten more widespread credibility.

The FBI announced last year after its investigation that COVID-19 most likely came from a Wuhan lab. That news came just after the Department of Energy also said the Wuhan lab was most likely the origin of COVID-19, though neither agency expressed a high degree of confidence in that theory.

Other groups have suggested it came from the Wuhan wet market, though no definitive answer has been settled on.

Trump Calls for Sanctions, Censure of Special Counsel Jack Smith

Former President Donald Trump called for special counsel Jack Smith to be sanctioned or censured for "attacking" the judge in Trump's classified documents case.

Trump's comments on Thursday come after Smith and his team of prosecutors made it clear they think Judge Aileen Cannon's latest ruling was based on "an unstated and fundamentally flawed legal premise." Prosecutors objected to Cannon's order to produce proposed jury instructions under two different legal scenarios. Smith said both legal scenarios were flawed.

In response to the judge's order, prosecutors said they need clarification on Cannon's position so they can appeal if needed. They asked the judge to decide before the trial if the Presidential Records Act "has an impact on the element of unauthorized possession" of classified documents. Failure to do so could make it impossible to prosecute Trump because of the double jeopardy clause in the Fifth Amendment, which prohibits anyone from being prosecuted twice for the same crime.

Trump lashed out Thursday morning.

"Deranged 'Special' Counsel Jack Smith, who has a long record of failure as a prosecutor, including a unanimous decision against him in the U.S. Supreme Court, should be sanctioned or censured for the way he is attacking a highly respected Judge, Aileen Cannon, who is presiding over his FAKE Documents Hoax case in Florida," Trump wrote in a message posted to Truth Social.

Trump also said Smith shouldn't be on the case.

"He shouldn’t even be allowed to participate in this sham case, where I, unlike Crooked Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, and all the rest, come under the Presidential Records Act," Trump wrote. "I DID NOTHING WRONG, BUT BIDEN DID, AND THEY LET HIM OFF SCOT-FREE. HOW DID THAT HAPPEN, JACK? A TWO TIERED SYSTEM OF JUSTICE. ELECTION INTERFERENCE!"

Trump has pleaded not guilty to 40 felony counts that allege he kept sensitive military documents, shared them with people who didn't have security clearance and tried to get around the government's attempts to get them back.

Trump faces a rematch against President Joe Biden in this year's presidential election. Trump also faces three other criminal cases in New York, Georgia and another federal case in Washington D.C. He's used millions of dollars in campaign contributions to pay his mounting legal bills.

Trump also is appealing a $464 million fine in a civil case in New York. He posted a $175 million bond to appeal that decision.

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Biden Cancels Replenishment of Strategic Oil Reserves

The Biden administration will pause its replenishment of the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserves because oil has become too expensive, the White House said.

Earlier in his term, Biden drained about half of the U.S. oil reserves down to their lowest level in decades in order to try to lower gas prices, which surpassed a record national average of more than $5 per gallon in 2022 before coming back down. Now, Biden’s effort to replenish those reserves have been stalled.

Critics warn that lower oil reserves are a national security issue for the U.S. If the reserves are low when a larger war or crisis occurs, refilling the reserves could be much more difficult and certainly more expensive.

“It’s pure insanity to watch the Biden Administration cut American oil production and then claim they can’t refill our critical reserve because of the price,” Daniel Turner, founder and executive director for Power The Future, said in a statement. “Joe Biden drained the SPR for political reasons, cut our domestic production for his climate agenda and now he’s leaving our critical reserve more vulnerable because he’s incompetent. As a result, Americans are paying more at the pump, more at the grocery store and our SPR is less full during a time of rising turmoil in the Middle East.”

Biden has taken fire from Republicans for hindering U.S. oil production and lowering the reserves. The Biden administration has increased regulatory pushback for oil domestic production while raising ongoing concerns about climate change.

“The Biden administration’s war on U.S. energy is crippling hardworking Americans and has led to our Strategic Petroleum Reserves being at their lowest levels since the 1908s,” U.S. Rep. Mike Collins, R-Ga., wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “Reverse course and restore U.S. energy dominance!"

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Evers Vetoes Legislation to Ban Males From Girls Sports

(The Center Square) – Add this to the list of vetoes from Wisconsin’s governor.

Gov. Tony Evers on Tuesday vetoed the Republican-backed legislation that would have banned trans athletes from girls sports in the state.

“I will veto any bill that makes Wisconsin a less safe, less inclusive and less welcoming place for LGBTQ people and kids, and I will continue to keep my promise of using every power available to me to defend them, protect their rights, and keep them safe,” Evers said in a statement.

The legislation would have kept anyone born a male out of girls sports in middle school, high school and at the college level.

Republicans approved the plan on a party-line vote. Rep Barb Dittrich, R-Oconjomowoc, was the author.

On Tuesday she said Evers turned his back on biological girls, and the vast majority of Wisconsin voters with his veto.

“Today, Wisconsin’s governor took a position against federal Title IX and against Wisconsin’s girls in a disgusting veto of the Save Women’s Sports Act that I authored with Sen. [Daniel] Knodl,” Dittrich said. “While he and his ilk continue to gaslight our citizens that this legislation was about hate and exclusion, he ignores the fact that the legislation provides categories for every Wisconsin student while respecting and protecting the safety and merit of our state’s biological girls.

The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association, the group that runs high school sports in Wisconsin, allows trans athletes to compete.

Trans female athletes, those born male but who transitioned to female, must have undergone testosterone suppression therapy for a year before they can play on a girls team under WIAA rules.

Trans male athletes, those who were born female but who transitioned to male, only need to start taking testosterone in order to be able to play on boys teams.

“States across this country may give way to radical policies targeting LGBTQ individuals and families and threatening LGBTQ folks’ everyday lives and their ability to be safe, valued, supported, and welcome being who they are. As long as I am the governor of this great state, Wisconsin will not be among them,” Evers said.

Dittrich said the governor is out of touch.

“Tony Evers sets himself up against the vast majority of Wisconsinites with this disgraceful veto. According to Marquette University Law School polls, 70% of Wisconsinites agreed with this legislation. His veto today clearly demonstrates his disrespect for women and girls as well as for protecting their hard-fought achievements,” she said.