- Associated Press - Monday, January 11, 2016

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Jan. 9

Remain vigilant to keep Wisconsin government transparent

So which is it?

Do political parties in Wisconsin have to publicly disclose contributions they receive from corporations or not?

At the end of last week, that remained in question after the Journal Sentinel’s Daniel Bice raised the issue in a column on Friday morning. A spokesman for the state Government Accountability Board said that a new campaign finance law that allows contributions of up to $12,000 a year by companies did not require disclosure by Democrats or Republicans.

But a nonpartisan attorney for the Legislature and one of the state’s top campaign finance law experts later disputed the contention, saying that the new law does require disclosure. The GAB, which will be dissolved later this year as part of a misguided Republican reform bill in 2015, may take up the issue this week. It also could be resolved by the new Ethics Commission, one of two new state agencies that will replace GAB.

Either way, the answer should be that such contributions are transparent to the public.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), who led the fight to enact the new law last year, told Bice that secret contributions “was clearly not our intent.” In a Nov. 10 meeting with the Editorial Board, Vos argued that the bill would be more transparent because it would encourage corporations to give to political parties instead of to third party groups that have only limited disclosure requirements.

Vos has a checkered record on open government, to say the least.

Over the July Fourth weekend, Republicans who control the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee slipped a provision into the state budget that would have sharply limited which records lawmakers would be required to release to the public. After a public uproar, they killed the provision.

Soon after that, though, an aide to Vos went back to work on a new bill to give the Legislature and individual legislators a different status on open records than other governmental bodies and officials in the state. Vos had to retreat from that idea, too.

Then it was disclosed that the state Public Records Board had quietly voted last year to redefine “transitory records,” such things as text messages, Facebook posts and the like. The board will meet Monday to reconsider that issue and should rescind its earlier decision.

Maybe this was a simple mistake, or maybe there was no mistake at all, but with the group in charge in the state Capitol, citizens need to remain vigilant.


Leader-Telegram, Jan. 7

Legislature in no hurry to clean up act

It’s discouraging but not surprising that few of state Rep. Dale Kooyenga’s Republican colleagues are taking seriously his effort to make the Legislature more honest and accountable in the way it crafts the state budget.

Kooyenga, of Brookfield, isn’t asking his fellow state lawmakers to move mountains. He simply favors requiring that the public be notified at least 24 hours before a motion is voted on by the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee. Kooyenga also told the Wisconsin State Journal newspaper recently that he also is considering a proposal that would require lawmakers inserting items into the budget bill via the Joint Finance Committee to identify themselves rather than being able to hide in anonymity.

There are many examples through the years of why Kooyenga’s proposals are needed. One noticeable effort to sneak through controversial legislation occurred last July, when someone late at night inserted language at the last minute that would have rendered toothless the Wisconsin Open Records Law. A public outcry led to a quick reversal.

This is a tyrant’s dream. Slam through unpopular legislation late at night with scant notice and no one accountable for putting their names on the proposals. Kooyenga, who voted to approve the bill that included gutting the open records law, said he didn’t fully understand the measure when he voted.

Kooyenga deserves credit for trying to clean up this mess, which has gone on for years under both Republican and Democratic leadership. Unfortunately, a pat on the back from those who still yearn for open, honest government is about all Kooyenga can expect. He has been unable to find even one co-sponsor for his bill in the Senate.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos indicated there is no reason to change the process of allowing “wrap-up” motions in the waning hours of the Joint Finance Committee’s work. That type of attitude is to be expected from politicians who see their role primarily to cater to special interests rather than protect the people from bad public policy rammed through when most are asleep. Vos reportedly was behind the effort to gut the open records law.

There has to be a better way to manage a two-year state budget of nearly $70 billion. First off, changing the open records law and many other non-budgetary items don’t belong in the state budget bill at all. Second, legislators should be ashamed that the people’s money is being managed in such a haphazard way. Neither the Legislature nor its committees should be in session after 10 p.m. at the latest.

It’s too bad Kooyenga’s colleagues aren’t taking his reform measures seriously. But then, why should they? Many reside in gerrymandered districts that protect their jobs. Unless, that is, they tick off the party leadership, in which case they could be ousted in the next primary election.

So instead, too many lawmakers shut up and do what they’re told. Hat’s off to Kooyenga for being one voice in the legislative majority advocating honesty and common sense. Too bad it’s not contagious.


La Crosse Tribune, Jan. 3

Pass legislation restricting exotic animals

Exotic animals have their place - such as in their natural habitat in the wild, or even in the care of fully licensed zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. But we think it’s dangerous for the neighbor to keep a lion, tiger, chimpanzee or bear next door.

That’s why we’re in favor of legislation to restrict the ownership, breeding and sale of exotic animals in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin is one of only five states (Alabama, Nevada and the Carolinas are the others) that has virtually no laws that restrict ownership or handling of exotic animals.

Senate Bill 241 and Assembly Bill 333 would prohibit the breeding, sale and ownership of such animals as lions, tigers and leopards, gorillas and gibbons, alligators and crocodiles.

It’s hard to imagine anyone thinking that those animals are pets. They’re wild creatures that can injure, kill or spread disease.

Wisconsin already bans keeping native wildlife as pets - such as white-tailed deer, mink, badgers (not you, Bucky), cougars, black bears, weasels and wolves and Northern river otters. You also can’t keep a striped skunk - not that you’d necessarily want to.

More than a dozen states - including Minnesota - have passed restrictive legislation involving exotic animals in the past 10 years.

We think it’s ridiculous that Wisconsin doesn’t ban private ownership of dangerous, exotic animals.

People who already own such animals would be allowed to keep them. And the list of animals you may keep include venomous snakes, constrictors, some monkeys and some marsupials.

An amendment already has been discussed to weaken the legislation, so we’re not in favor of it.

In October, the Tribune published a report from the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism that pointed to lax oversight of the people who own dangerous, exotic animals in our state.

For many people, a dog or cat is an important member of the family. A lion, however, is an entirely different critter. You really don’t want to see the neighbor trying to walk one on a leash.

Even when operating in a rural area, exotic animal farms often don’t have the expertise, the veterinary care, the land and fencing needed to keep others safe.

We know that wild animals can be beautiful - albeit dangerous to their handlers and to others. It’s the danger we’re concerned about.

These animals deserve respect - usually at a safe distance with proper care, not in your neighbor’s basement or backyard.

Disasters in Ohio and other locations in recent years have served as a dramatic reminder whenever dangerous animals - or careless or troubled owners - go bad.

We believe Wisconsin needs to pass legislation - without amendments to water it down - that will keep people safe from dangerous animals that should not be misused as pets.

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