Security for Wisconsin lieutenant governor increases dramatically

May 15, 2019

 FILE - In this Jan. 3, 2019 file photo, Wisconsin Lt Gov-elect Mandela Barnes, left, and Democratic Gov-elect Tony Evers address the media in Madison, Wis.

MADISON Wisconsin's Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, the first African American to hold the post in state history, had nine times more hours of security protection during his first two months in office than his Republican predecessor had all of last year, records show.

The online publication WisPolitics.com first reported on the issue Tuesday based on records it received from the Wisconsin State Patrol and Barnes' official calendar. The Associated Press also received a portion of the records later Tuesday.

Barnes is a former state representative who ran on the ticket with Gov. Tony Evers. They defeated then-Gov. Scott Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch in November.

It's not clear why Barnes was receiving so much more protection. Wisconsin State Patrol spokesman Mark Rescheske said the decision was made by the patrol and the governor's office.

He would not say whether a security threat warranted the coverage. Barnes, when asked about it Tuesday, declined to comment and referred questions to the patrol.

Evers' spokeswoman, Melissa Baldauff, said it is ultimately up to the State Patrol to determine coverage.

"We will not compromise when it comes to safety and security," she said.

Wisconsin Republican Party spokesman Charles Nichols called the additional security Barnes is receiving "appalling" and said he was misusing taxpayer money to "use the State Patrol as his own personal chauffeur service."

Wisconsin's Dignitary Protection Unit, which is part of the State Patrol, provides security to the governor, his family and staff. It also provides security to other elected officials, including the lieutenant governor and those visiting Wisconsin on official business, as directed by the State Patrol superintendent.

The records provided run from Dec. 28, 10 days before Barnes was sworn into office, through March 1.

The records show that Barnes had protection for seven days when he had no official events, based on the WisPolitics.com review. Three of those days were Sundays, when the only entry on Barnes' calendar was church. Another day, a Saturday, all Barnes had listed was a 30-minute phone interview.

On one of the Sundays, Barnes received 18 hours of protection when he attended church with Evers in Milwaukee and then came to Madison six hours later.

The records also show that Barnes received protection on six days when the majority of his scheduled events were either in the state Capitol or within a couple blocks of it. He averaged more than 18 hours of protection those days, one of which was the Jan. 7 inauguration.

Barnes also had security protection on Feb. 26 when he went ice fishing for the first time with Democratic state Rep. Nick Milroy in Springbrook, located about 270 miles north of Madison.

The total cost of the 898 hours of work from the Dignitary Protection Union over the two-month period totaled $36,662. Kleefisch received protection for just seven days and 95.5 hours in all of last year, compared with 47 days that Barnes did over two months, the WisPolitics.com review found.

In 2017, Kleefisch had 170.5 hours of coverage. Barnes had five-times as much in just over two months.

Kleefisch's former chief of staff, Dan Suhr, said that when Kleefisch first took office in 2011 she did not have State Patrol protection. Kleefisch did have it during the Act 10 union protests, but only for official or campaign events where she was appearing as the lieutenant governor, not personal reasons such as going to church, he said.

After that volatile period when Walker and others were receiving death threats, Kleefisch stopped receiving State Patrol protection and instead received it from less-expensive Capitol Police, Suhr said.

Then in 2017, when Kleefisch's office added a staff member, she only received law enforcement protection on an as-needed basis for events that were considered higher risk, Suhr said.

The only reason Suhr said he could see for Barnes to have around-the-clock protection is "if there's a security threat which justifies it."


Wisconsin Assembly approves 'born alive' anti-abortion bill

MADISON, Wis. The Wisconsin Assembly passed a so-called born alive anti-abortion bill Wednesday that President Donald Trump has touted, a move that comes as conservatives across the country push to end the constitutional right to abortion.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has promised to veto the measure, which was one of four anti-abortion bills up for passage in the Republican-controlled Assembly. The GOP-majority Senate would also have to approve the bills before they would head to Evers, but it didn't have a vote scheduled as of Wednesday. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said he anticipates floor votes in his chamber in June.

The moves in Wisconsin come as anti-abortion politicians and activists feel emboldened by the addition of conservative justices to the U.S. Supreme Court. They hope to ignite legal fights and eventually overturn the landmark 1973 decision Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion.

Alabama lawmakers on Tuesday night approved a bill that would ban nearly all abortions. And Missouri's Republican-led Senate was taking up a bill Wednesday that would ban abortions after the eighth week of pregnancy, which is similar to so-called fetal heartbeat laws enacted by Mississippi, Kentucky, Ohio and Georgia.

 Wisconsin Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz speaks against a Republican-backed "born alive" abortion bill as fellow Democrats, left to right, Rep. Chris Taylor and Rep. Evan Goyke, watch Wednesday, May 15, 2019, in Madison, Wis.

"It's kind of chilling what's happening nationally, including Wisconsin," Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz said at a news conference.

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and bill sponsor Majority Leader Jim Steineke wouldn't say if they would support a six-week abortion ban like what was approved in Alabama.

Hintz called the "born alive" bill a distraction being pushed by Republicans to change the conversation away from popular items in the governor's budget that the GOP opposes, such as Medicaid expansion.

Wisconsin already bans abortions 20 weeks after fertilization, except in cases in which the mother's life is in danger. This is well before the generally accepted age of viability, which the Supreme Court said in Roe v. Wade is between 24 weeks and 28 weeks. Wisconsin also has a law passed in 1849 that bans abortions and would take effect if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

The bill before the Wisconsin Assembly on Wednesday addresses the extremely rare occurrence in which a baby is born alive during a failed abortion attempt. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recorded just 143 instances nationwide in which live births resulted from at least 9.3 million abortion attempts between 2003 and 2014. There is no comparable data in Wisconsin because state officials don't track it.

Wisconsin Right to Life, which supports the bill, said it hasn't heard of any cases in Wisconsin since the Wisconsin State Journal reported in 1982 that two babies survived abortion attempts in Madison and later died.

According to the CDC, only 1.3% of abortions take place after 21 weeks, and these often involve either severe fetal anomalies or conditions that endanger the mother.

When anomalies are so severe that a newborn would die soon after birth, a family may choose what's known as palliative care or comfort care. This might involve swaddling the newborn in a blanket and allowing the baby to die naturally, without medical intervention.

Under the bill, abortion providers would be required to care for babies that survive an abortion. Failure to do so would be a felony punishable by up to six years in prison and a provider convicted of killing such a baby would face life in prison.

Doctors insist the bill is a solution in search of a problem. They and other opponents say babies are almost never born alive during failed abortion attempts and in the rare instances when they are, doctors are already ethically and legally bound to try and keep them alive.

Evers has said he will veto the bill because current criminal penalties would apply to providers who won't care for or kill abortion survivors.

Debate over the bill went on for a little more than half-an-hour on the Assembly floor. Democrats kept veering away from the bill to criticize Republicans for erasing provisions in Evers' budget that would have expanded Medicaid coverage to tens of thousands of Wisconsin residents.

Rep. Debra Kolste, a Janesville Democrat, said the bill is based on "false facts and false premises."

Steineke told Democrats the bill wasn't anti-abortion, but about saving the life of a baby after it is born alive unexpectedly. He said the goal was to remove "any gray area" in the law to make explicit that doctors must do everything possible to save the life of the child.

"How are you going to explain this when you go back home?" he asked Democrats. "You're not willing to specify the exact conditions under which a doctor has to provide care? Good luck."

During an April rally in Green Bay, Trump said it was shocking that Evers would veto the bill. Trump has made his support for "born alive" bills a staple of his rallies, accusing doctors of executing babies who survive a failed abortion.

Evers responded by saying it is "blasphemy" and "horrific" for Trump to say that doctors in the state want to execute babies.

The Assembly was also voting on three other abortion-related bills. The others would cut off Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood, prohibit abortions based on the fetus' race, sex or defects and require providers to tell women seeking abortions using the drug mifepristone that the process may be reversed after the first dose.


Budget panel OKs Evers' clean water borrowing plan

MADISON, Wis. The Legislature's budget-writing committee overwhelmingly approved Democratic Gov. Tony Evers' proposal Tuesday to authorize more borrowing for clean water projects, handing the governor a small victory after killing his plan to replace lead pipes across the state last week.

The state Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Administration jointly run the clean water program and safe drinking water program. The clean water program provides low-interest loans to municipalities for planning, building or replacing wastewater treatment facilities, reducing nonpoint pollution and reducing storm water runoff. The safe drinking water program provides matching dollars for federal aid for building and upgrading drinking water infrastructure such as well houses and water mains.

Evers has declared 2019 the year of clean drinking water in Wisconsin.

His budget calls for increasing the clean water program's borrowing authority by $13.5 million to cover hardship projects that have qualified for funding since 2017.

The program sets aside subsidies each biennium to help municipalities that meet financial hardship criteria, including whether the municipality's median household income is 80 percent or less than the state's median income and annual charges per residential user for wastewater treatment would exceed 2 percent of the median household income, according to the Department of Natural Resources website.

Republicans decided to eliminate the hardship component in the current state budget and reduced borrowing authority by $40.6 million.

They retained eligibility for initial applications submitted prior to mid-2017 and final applications submitted prior to mid-2018, however. The state Department of Administration at the time estimated that the $40.6 million reduction in borrowing authority would leave about $6 million in borrowing authority to cover those projects.

But the Department of Administration has since discovered accounting mistakes that show the program actually needs authorization to borrow up to $19.5 million to cover the projects.

As for the safe drinking water program, Evers wants to add $3.6 million in general obligation bonding authorization as a transition during the next fiscal year from general obligation bonds to revenue-backed bonds. General obligation bonds can be repaid from a variety of sources. Revenue bonds are repaid using money generated from specific projects.

The Joint Finance Committee considered the proposals Tuesday. Republicans control the committee but joined the three Democratic members in voting to approve both proposals unanimously with almost no discussion.

Democrats still complained bitterly, though, about committee Republicans' decision Thursday to erase an Evers proposal to authorize $40 million in borrowing to help municipalities replace lead laterals, which are pipes that carry water from mains into homes. Republicans have argued that most of the money would be spent replacing laterals in Milwaukee and that it wouldn't be fair to the rest of the state.

The provision was one of more than 100 Evers' proposals the GOP stripped from the spending plan that day in a single vote.

The committee's co-chairman, Republican Rep. John Nygren, tried to cut off comments about the move Tuesday, saying he doesn't plan to revisit past actions as the committee continues reviewing Evers' budget. Democrats appealed that ruling, using it as a platform to rail against Republicans over lead pipes.

Democratic Rep. Evan Goyke, of Milwaukee, told the panel that his home has lead pipes. He poured a glass of water from a thermos he said held water from his faucet and challenged anyone to drink it. Democratic Sen. Jon Erpenbach, of Madison, said that if southeastern Wisconsin, a Republican stronghold, was struggling with lead pipes, the Legislature would be holding extraordinary sessions to deal with the problem.

"OK," Nygren responded. "Politics on full display."

The panel ultimately voted 11-4 to not allow committee members to revisit past votes.

Committee Republicans scrapped another Evers proposal Tuesday to save a grant program that helps home and small business owners replace failing septic systems. Under the current state budget, the program ends in mid-2021. Evers had proposed continuing it indefinitely. The GOP did approve providing the program with another $185,000, however. Its currently appropriated $840,000 annually.

 

Associated Press

 

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