Thursday, February 22, 2024
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Thursday, February 22, 2024

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

UW System closing Richland campus, just 60 students enrolled

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The University of Wisconsin is all but closing one of its smallest campuses.

UW President Jay Rothman said in a letter Tuesday the UW-Platteville will end all in-person classes at its Richland campus.

Rothman ordered Platteville’s chancellor to end the degree program at the Richland campus because only 60 students are taking classes there right now.

“While the University of Wisconsin System remains committed to the branch campuses and to providing as broad of access for students as possible, there comes a time when financial pressure and low enrollment makes in-person degree level academic instruction no longer tenable,” Rothman wrote in his letter.

Next year the 60 Richland students will be transitioned to either the Platteville or Baraboo campuses.

No one is saying what will happen to the faculty and staff members teaching at the Richland campus.

And Rothman isn’t saying if this will be the last or only small UW campus to close.

“Each of the branch campuses have a different strategy about what it’s going to look like going forward,” Rothman said earlier in the week. “But we’ve got to address [enrollment], and we have to have the branch campuses be sustainable in the long run.”

The UW System says only the main campus in Madison, as well as the campuses in Green Bay and Superior added students this fall. The rest either saw enrollment flatline or drop.

Sen, Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, who represents the Richland area said the loss of classes at the campus will hurt the community.

“I am saddened to hear that the UW Board of Regents has decided to end in person instruction at UW Richland. I know this was a difficult decision that they have been discussing for quite some time,” Marklein said in a statement. “There is no doubt that this is a major change for our community. The campus has been a hub of activity and learning for many, many years. I appreciate the UW’s efforts to provide options for those affected and ideas for ways to fill in the gaps that this departure will leave in Richland County.”

UW officials say they may use the Richland campus as an outreach center, or offer adult education and enrichment classes there in the future. But nothing is certain.

school choice policies

Wisconsin Assembly Approves Plan to Splits Choice School Funding From Public Schools

(The Center Square) – Wisconsin is considering a massive shift in how public and choice schools get their money.

The Wisconsin Assembly approved the plan to decouple the Racine and statewide school voucher programs, replacing the local property tax money that currently pays for those programs with state dollars.

“Currently, legacy charter schools are completely funded by [general purpose revenues]. The Milwaukee Choice program will be funded completely by GPR by 2025,” Rep. Ellen Schutt, R-Clinton, said. “What this bill does, is says that new independent charter schools, and the rest of the choice program should also be funded by GPR and not by aid-reductions from the local school district.”

That would shift millions of dollars for choice schools in Wisconsin from local school districts to the state.

It would also mean a steadier and more reliable stream of dollars for choice schools.

“Decoupling resolves an issue that involves how the current funding mechanism affect public schools and property taxes. This has been a sore spot that creates unnecessary tension between public and private schools,” School Choice Wisconsin President Nic Kelly told The Center Square. “Decoupling is good tax policy that was already enacted for Milwaukee years ago. We want the rest of the state to be treated the same way.”

Decoupling would mean a boost for public schools. Schutt’s legislation would give public schools a one-time, 25% revenue limit increase. The legislature says that will cost as much as $351 million for the next school year.

Some public schools could end up losing money in general state aid, but the decouple legislation would hold them harmless.

“This bill will really help our public schools when they're setting their budgets every year, giving them some idea about how much money they truly will have,” Schutt added. “It will fix the confusion that is currently out there with the way we fund choice and charter, because it's different based on the type of school it is. We had some administrators come down to testify and say that this was really a great idea, and actually Gov. [Tony] Evers supported this idea when he was the superintendent back in 2015.”

Rep. Joel Kitchens, R-Sturgeon Bay, however said during debate on the plan that Evers’ office no longer wants to talk about decoupling.

The proposal next heads to the Wisconsin Senate.

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Assembly Majority Leader Puts Responsibility on Milwaukee to Restore Faith in Vote Count

(The Center Square) – The number-two in the Wisconsin Assembly says if lawmakers can’t come to terms on an early count law, it is up to Milwaukee to restore the voters’ faith in their election operation.

Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu said he doesn’t have the votes to pass Monday Count legislation. It would allow Milwaukee to count ballots the day before election day in order to avoid an after-midnight vote dump.

Assembly Majority Leader Tyler August, R-Lake Geneva, said Republicans in the Senate should vote on the plan. If they don't, August said, then Milwaukee’s election managers need to act.

“It's incumbent upon the city of Milwaukee to get their act together and count those ballots during the day and have that done so that there isn't constantly this question about the processes in the city of Milwaukee,” August said.

Milwaukee uses a central count location, and election managers in the city say that slows down the counting of absentee ballots. Many times, that leaves a lull between when the votes from election day are tallied, and when the absentee vote count is delivered.

Critics say that lull, and the after-midnight ballot drop, leads to questions about election integrity in Milwaukee.

“People feel like the election is heading in one direction, [then] all the ballots come in at one time in the middle of the night, and it appears that there's some kind of nefarious nature to what's going on,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said Tuesday.

Critics of the Monday Count plan also see room for something nefarious. They fear that if Milwaukee has an absentee ballot count ahead of election day, then someone can somehow manufacture an exact number of votes to win.

August said other communities in Wisconsin don’t have the same troubles as Milwaukee and said that’s part of the problem.

“When I go to vote in the city of Lake Geneva they are processing those absentee ballots, there are hundreds of them in Lake Geneva, as well as a smaller staff, less election workers than in the city of Milwaukee has, and they're able to get those done and part of their report that they send into the county clerk by like 9 p.m.,” August said. “So, Milwaukee needs to take a look at what they're doing when it comes to counting absentee ballots, and for their own sake to prove to the people that their processes are secure, and safe, and fair. And get those reports in well before the middle of the night.”

Migrant Students Abbott's Defense of the Border

Denver Schools Facing ‘Unprecedented Challenge’ With Influx of Migrant Students

Denver’s public school system has been taking in as many as 250 new students a week since the new year, which it attributes to the increase in the number of migrants arriving in the city.

Denver Public Schools Superintendent Alex Marrero called the situation an “unprecedented challenge” in a message to the community posted on the district’s website. The district said the influx of new students will cost an additional $837,000 “to support additional needs across the system.”

From July 1, 2023 to January 2024, there were 3,221 new-to-country students with more than 1,300 coming to Denver schools since Oct. 1, 2023, the district stated.

The district is hiring more staff to deal with the increase in students and focusing on hiring people who are bilingual, according to the superintendent.

“The pace of new arrivals has remained steady since the start of 2024, with roughly 200-250 students joining us each week,” a report to the school board stated last week.

On Feb. 5, the city of Denver started enforcing 42-day limits on migrants living in city-owned shelters.

“We are watching enrollment data closely over the next few weeks to see if/how our student population moves in response,” the report stated.

The school district provides a phone number to call “to speak to someone in your language.”

The district has struggled with dwindling enrollment since the pandemic. Enrollment reached 93,800 in the 2019-20 school year and then fell to 90,300 in the 2020-2021 pandemic year. In 2021-22, enrollment stayed about the same at 90,250 and then dropped to 89,200 in 2022-23.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has been sending migrants from Texas to sanctuary cities across the U.S. On Feb. 12, Abbott posted on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, that Texas has bused more than 16,200 migrants to Denver.

"Texas will not stop until President Biden secures the border," Abbott stated on X.

Denver Public Schools did not respond to an email seeking comment.

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Wisconsin Assembly Eyes Limits on Governor’s Veto Powers

(The Center Square) – Republicans in the Wisconsin Assembly are taking the first step to reign in some of the governor’s veto power.

Lawmakers on Tuesday took up Assembly Joint Resolution 112, which would change the Wisconsin Constitution to stop the governor from raising a tax or a fee on his own.

“Wisconsin's unique partial veto is considered one of the most powerful policy tools in the country,” Rep. Amanda Nedweski, R-Pleasant Prairie, told reporters. “From Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson's infamous Vanna White veto, to Democrat Gov. Tony Evers 402-year tax increase, we have seen abuse of the partial veto addressed with proposed constitutional amendments by legislatures nearly 30 times in the last century.”

Nedweski said this proposed constitutional amendment would apply to Evers specifically, but would apply to all future governor’s as well by banning the governor from single handedly increasing taxes or creating fees.

“The will of the people is the law of the land, not the will of the governor,” Nedweski added. “This would appropriately rebalance power between the executive and the legislature, and further restrict the executive from completely rewriting the law. The governor is not a legislator, and the partial veto was not intended to give the governor legislative power.”

Tuesday's vote was the first vote for the plan. It would need to pass the legislature again next year before it would go to the voters, likely next spring.

“We very narrowly crafted this legislation to address the specific situations that we believe members of the public would find the most egregious, the ability for a single person to increase taxes or fees on the people of Wisconsin with the single stroke of a pen,” Nedweski said. “The people should not be subjected to political trickery that does not reflect their will as represented by their legislators.”

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Robin Vos: Medical Marijuana Not Going to Happen This Year

(The Center Square) – Wisconsin’s assembly speaker is not calling his proposal for medical marijuana dead, but he says it’s not going to happen this year.

Speaker Robin Vos told reporters Thursday there are too many different views of marijuana to find a consensus on a strict-medical only plan.

“I think we have now seen, unfortunately, people who from the very beginning have said that they have concerns that this will lead to widespread recreational marijuana and many of my colleagues on the other side continue to say that that is their goal which of course that's their right,” Vos said.

Vos’ plan would create five state-owned marijuana dispensaries that would sell non-smokable marijuana to people with 15 specific health conditions.

Republicans in the Wisconsin Senate, specifically, don’t like the idea of state-owned pot shops.

“I still think we have the votes in the Assembly to pass it,” Vos added. “I've not had anybody come to me who was a supporter and say they have changed their position. But when we see that the Senate wants to have a more liberal version than one that we're willing to pass, it probably doesn't leave us enough time with the waiting days of the session to get an answer that both chambers can adopt.”

Democrats in Wisconsin have made no secret of their support for fully legal, recreational marijuana and never signed on to Vos’ plan either.

Wisconsin remains one of just 12 states without a medical marijuana law. Wisconsin is one of 26 states that has not legalized recreational marijuana.

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Trump’s First Criminal Trial Date in New York Scheduled for March 25

Former President Donald Trump’s first criminal trial date, in a case involving porn actress Stormy Daniels, will be March 25.

A New York judge rejected a request to dismiss the case from Trump. He faces charges in multiple states while commanding the lead for the Republican nomination in the presidential race.

His lawyers, appearing before Judge Juan Manuel Merchan, said the case will interfere with his campaign to return to the White House. Trump has three other prosecutions unresolved, one of which involved a district attorney under heavy scrutiny in Georgia on Thursday.

Trump’s defense lawyer, Todd Blanche, said the president should not be spending the next two months in preparation for a trial when he should be on the campaign trail. Trump, after the decision, said he would be in court during the day and “campaigning during the night.” It echoes previous statements he has made.

This New York case, with a prosecution led by District Attorney Alvin Bragg, was the first for the former president to be charged with a crime. Others followed in Florida, Georgia and Washington, D.C.

Trump and his legal team say no crime was committed. Prosecutors say he falsified internal records kept by his company, hiding the true nature of payments that involve Daniels ($130,000), former Playboy model Karen McDougal ($150,000), and Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen ($420,000). Prosecutors say the money was logged as legal expenses, not reimbursements.

Reportedly, the payments kept quiet accusations of sexual affairs, including birth of a child.

Cyrus Vance Jr., whom Bragg followed into the office, declined to pursue the case. The charges are punishable by up to four years in prison.

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Witness Says Relationship Between DA Fani Willis & Nathan Wade Started Years Earlier

A former friend of Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis testified Thursday that Willis' romantic relationship with a special prosecutor started years before Willis hired him to lead the election interference case against Donald Trump.

Robin Bryant-Yeartie, a friend since college and former Fulton County District Attorney's Office employee, said that Willis began a romantic relationship with Nathan Wade in 2019 shortly after they met at a judicial conference.

Wade, who took the stand after Bryant-Yeartie, said the relationship with Willis started in March 2022, after he had been hired in November 2021.

The conflicting testimony during a contentious legal hearing Thursday comes as Judge Scott McAfee looks to determine if Willis should be removed from the case.

In August 2023, a Fulton County grand jury indicted Trump and 18 others, including former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former state Republican Party Chair David Shafer, on charges they tried to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in Georgia. Trump has pleaded not guilty.

Bryant-Yeartie testified that she had a falling out with Willis when she resigned from the Fulton County District Attorney's Office.

Judge Scott McAfee has yet to decide if Willis can continue on the case. The hearing is expected to resume Thursday afternoon and could go into Friday.

The morning hearing was tense, filled with objections from multiple lawyers representing the different parties.

Tony Evers Signs his Own Legislative Maps Evers’ Maps redistricting maps wisconsin legislative maps

Vos: Vote on Evers’ Maps Part of Republican Strategy

(The Center Square) – The top Republican in the Wisconsin Assembly says the legislature has done what the Wisconsin Supreme Court suggested and passed new maps. Now, he says it’s time for the court fight over redistricting to stop.

Republicans in the Wisconsin Assembly and Wisconsin Senate on Tuesday approved Democrat Gov. Tony Evers’ preferred maps. The vote is part of a strategy to head off maps that do even more damage to Republicans in the state from the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos told reporters that strategy is aimed not just at getting the least-worst maps for Republicans but is also aimed at getting on with the 2024 elections and avoiding a multi-million-dollar court battle.

“To actually be and we begin the campaign talking about ideas and why our side is better for Wisconsin, I think that is a better answer than drawn out court battles and going through millions of dollars of taxpayer expense when there's really no need to do so,” Vos said.

The legislature sent Evers the maps Tuesday, which means he has until Tuesday to sign them.

If he does, Vos said, the entire fight in front of and about the Wisconsin Supreme Court would then end.

“Once we pass the maps, more or less, the lawsuits stop. There's no need for us to try to do an appeal to the Supreme Court because the legislature has adopted a map. It's been signed by the governor. There's no need for us to go through this process to say that Janet Protasiewicz is biased, and we need a Caperton decision, because she won't be deciding on the maps,” Vos explained. “So, I think a lot of the things that we have for the potential to go to the U.S. Supreme Court with and win on are no longer viable. Which is why if the governor signs the map, I am supremely confident that that is the map that we will run on in November.”

Vos said he is also confident that Wisconsin Republicans can win under Evers’ maps. He said Republicans have better candidates and a better message.

Evers’ maps would give Democrats a decided advantage in November, if not flip the legislature from Republican-controlled to Democrat-controlled.

Evers on Tuesday said he would sign the maps if Republicans passed them unchanged.

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Special Counsel Jack Smith Asks Supreme Court to Hurry Up on Trump Request

Special counsel Jack Smith asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday to reject former President Donald Trump's request to delay his Washington D.C. case on charges of election interference.

On Monday, Trump filed an emergency motion with the nation's highest court to pause an appeals court ruling that rejected his claims of presidential immunity. Smith told the high court there was no reason for a stay in the case. Smith wants the Supreme Court to allow Trump's election interference case to move ahead.

"Delay in the resolution of these charges threatens to frustrate the public interest in a speedy and fair verdict – a compelling interest in every criminal case and one that has unique national importance here, as it involves federal criminal charges against a former President for alleged criminal efforts to overturn the results of the Presidential election, including through the use of official power," Smith's team wrote.

Trump's defense team said anything other than a stay would result in "irreparable" harm to Trump.

"Conducting a months-long criminal trial of President Trump at the height of election season will radically disrupt President Trump’s ability to campaign against President Biden – which appears to be the whole point of the Special Counsel’s persistent demands for expedition," Trump's team wrote in Monday's filing.

Smith wants the D.C. case to move forward, whether the Supreme Court wants to take it up or not. And he wants it done fast.

"If, however, this Court believes that applicant's claim merits review at this time, the government respectfully requests that it treat the application as a petition for a writ of certiorari, grant the petition, and set the case for expedited briefing and argument," prosecutors wrote. "An expedited schedule would permit the Court to issue its opinion and judgment resolving the threshold immunity issue as promptly as possible this Term, so that, if the Court rejects applicant’s immunity claim, a timely and fair trial can begin with minimal additional delay."

Earlier this month, a federal appeals court dealt Trump's defense a major blow when it said he doesn't have presidential immunity to protect him from charges of election interference.

Smith's team of federal prosecutors charged Trump with four federal counts related to contesting the 2020 election and the storming of the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6, 2021. The charges include conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, conspiracy to defraud the United States, obstruction, and conspiracy against the right to vote and to have one's vote counted, according to the indictment. Trump has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Judge Tanya Chutkan previously delayed the trial date indefinitely. It had been set for March 4, the day before Super Tuesday. The judge has yet to set a new date for the trial.

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In its second vote attempt in exactly a week, the U.S. House on Tuesday night impeached Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who becomes the first sitting cabinet member to be impeached in U.S. history.

Mayorkas was impeached largely along party lines by a vote of 214-213, with three Republicans voting with 210 Democrats against.

As more than 10 million illegal border crossers entered the country in three years and a record number of known or suspected terrorists have been apprehended under Mayorkas’ watch, House Committee on Homeland Security Chairman Mark Green, MD, R-Tenn., led the charge to impeach him.

Green filed the resolution to impeach Mayorkas on two counts alleging high crimes and misdemeanors, after holding over a dozen hearings and releasing multiple reports detailing how Republicans contend he was derelict in duty and created a national security crisis.

Article 1 states Mayorkas violated his oath “to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, to bear true faith and allegiance to the same, and to well and faithfully discharge the duties of his office, has willfully and systemically refused to comply with Federal immigration laws.”

Article 2 states he violated his oath “to well and faithfully discharge the duties” because he “knowingly made false statements, and knowingly obstructed lawful oversight of the Department of Homeland Security of his office.”

“Congress has taken decisive action to defend our constitutional order and hold accountable a public official who has violated his oath of office," Green said after Tuesday's vote. "The House Committee on Homeland Security’s investigation and subsequent impeachment proceedings demonstrated beyond any doubt that Secretary Mayorkas has willfully and systemically refused to comply with the laws of the United States and breached the public trust. As a result, our country has suffered from an unprecedented border crisis that has turned every state into a border state, causing untold suffering in communities across our country.”

Green also urged the Senate “to do the right thing and remove Secretary Mayorkas from office following a thorough trial.”

U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Mississippi, ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, countere: "This baseless impeachment will do nothing to secure the border – Republicans have admitted as much. Instead of providing the Department of Homeland Security the resources it needs or working together towards a bipartisan solution, they have rejected any solution for the sole reason that they can have a political wedge issue in an election year."

The Democratic-led Senate is expected to acquit Mayorkas. Democrats have argued Mayorkas’ failures do not constitute high crimes and misdemeanors, calling it a sham and political ploy.

House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-Louisiana, said, “For nearly a year the House Homeland Security Committee has taken a careful and methodical approach to this investigation and the results are clear: from his first day in office Secretary Mayorkas has willfully and consistently refused to comply with federal immigration laws fueling the worst border catastrophe in American history. He has undermined public trust through multiple false statements to Congress, obstructed lawful oversight of the Department of Homeland security, and violated his oath of office.

“Alejandro Mayorkas deserves to be impeached and Congress has a constitutional obligation to do so. Next to a declaration of war, impeachment is arguably the most serious authority given to the House and we have treated this matter accordingly. Since the secretary refuses to do the job that the Senate confirmed him to do, the House must act.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Mayorkas' impeachment trial will begin this month.

“The House impeachment managers will present the articles of impeachment to the Senate following the state work period. Senators will be sworn in as jurors in the trial the next day. Senate President Pro Tempore Patty Murray will preside,” Schumer said Tuesday night.

The first attempt to impeach Mayorkas failed last week after three Republicans voted with Democrats: U.S. Reps. Tom McClintock of California, Ken Buck of Colorado, and Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin. Gallagher has since said he is not running for reelection.

After missing last week’s vote, Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, who is battling cancer, returned to Washington, D.C. With his vote, the House was able to impeach despite four members being absent. Two Florida Republicans, Reps. Brian Mast and Maria Elvira Salazar, and two Democrats, Reps. Lois Frankel (Florida) and Judy Chu (California), were not present to vote.

Chu said she tested positive for COVID-19 and would have voted against impeachment. Mast said he and Frankel were stuck at the Palm Beach International Airport. Salazar has not yet released a statement about her absence.

Johnson has appointed impeachment managers including Rep. Harriet Hageman, R-Wyoming. After the vote, Hageman said, “Mayorkas willfully disregarded his oath to uphold our laws and repeatedly lied to Congress about his role in the border crisis and censorship of US citizens – the House held him accountable. As an impeachment manager, I will help make this case to the Senate.”