Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Muzzling Democracy

Beer, billboards, sick days, soda, shooting at stuff, mining and manure.

These were some of the subjects the Republican-led legislature and Governor Scott Walker have told communities they can’t properly handle and imposed state laws that slashed local control – usually with the support of powerful special interests that contributed about $47 million since 2010 to partisan candidates for statewide office and the legislature.

A Legislative Fiscal Bureau report in June identified 64 measures the legislature and the governor have approved since 2011 that force communities to pay for state mandates or seize their authority to make decisions about public health, environmental, land use, transportation and other matters.

In addition to stripping locals of their policymaking autonomy, more than half of the proposals were barely aired in public. Thirty-six measures were tucked into two massive state budget bills in 2011 and 2013 that aren’t meant to include non-spending policy items and often got little or no attention.

Here are some of the proposals that took away local government control and the campaign contributions from the special interests behind them:

 The 2013-15 state budget contained dozens of non-spending policy items that didn’t belong in it, including 16 proposals that removed the authority of communities to enact local laws. Some of these budget provisions prohibited communities from enforcing public employee residency requirements, siting cell phone and radio towers; limiting the sale of certain foods and beverages; and enacting commercial erosion controls measures tougher than state law. More than a dozen special interests supported the budget because generous tax breaks and exemptions, environmental deregulation and the hijacking of local control make it cheaper and easier for them to conduct business. Those interests included manufacturers, business, real estate, construction, transportation and agriculture concerns which contributed $4.6 million in 2012 and 2013 to majority Republicans in the legislature, and $15.7 million to the governor;

 Exempt iron mining companies from meeting local zoning ordinances dealing with public health, environment and land use. The measure was passed in 2013 to deregulate iron mining in Wisconsin for an out-of-state mining company that wants to build a large open-pit mine in Ashland and Iron counties. The proposal was supported by more than a dozen special interests including business, manufacturing, construction, transportation and natural resources that contributed $7 million between 2011 and 2013 to majority Republicans in the legislature, and $37 million to Walker;

 Prevent communities from enacting or enforcing ordinances stricter than state law involving the construction and remodeling of public buildings. The measure was approved in 2014 with the support of the construction industry and the state carpenters union which contributed $733,365 between 2011 and 2013 to legislators and nearly $4 million to the governor;

 Restrict the ability of communities to regulate sport shooting ranges and bow-and-arrow and crossbow hunting, and provide shooting ranges with greater legal immunity for negligence. Legislative approval for the three laws that accomplished these changes was led by majority Republicans with support from pro-gun and hunting groups who contributed $10,325 to GOP legislators and $17,175 to Walker between 2011 and 2013. But direct contributions from pro-gun interests is minute compared to their spending on outside electioneering activities. For instance the National Rifle Association, the nation’s preeminent pro-gun lobby, doled out $863,500 in reported outside electioneering spending to support Republican legislators and Walker between 2011 and 2013;

 Prevent local communities from prohibiting repairs to nonconforming structures, like docks and boathouses, subject to shoreland zoning based on the cost of the repairs and also prevent local ordinances from being stricter than state shoreland regulations. Legislative approval for the 2012 law was led by majority Republicans and drew support from construction and real estate interests which contributed $1.4 million to GOP legislators and about $5.6 million to the governor between 2010 and 2012;

 Establish requirements for communities to make it more difficult to impose development moratoriums, and limit moratoriums to one year plus a six-month extension if necessary. The 2012 law requires communities to have an engineer certify that a proposed development would overburden public facilities and pose a significant threat to public health and safety. Legislative approval was led by majority Republicans and the measure was supported by construction and real estate interests which contributed $1.4 million to GOP legislators and $5.6 million to the governor between 2010 and 2012;

 Prohibit local governments from enacting family and medical leave ordinances on local businesses. The proposal was enacted in 2011 with the backing of construction, tourism, manufacturing, business and other interests which contributed nearly $5.1 million to the legislature between 2010 and 2011, including $4.2 million to Republicans who controlled the Assembly and Senate, and $11.4 million to Walker;

 Prohibit local governments from enacting ordinances that limit the ability of landlords to obtain or use certain information about tenants or prospective tenants, such as income, credit history, court records, and social security numbers; handle security deposits, tenant property and inspections; show the premises to prospective tenants; and impose moratoriums on evicting tenants. These restrictions were in three measures that became law in 2011 and 2013 with support from the construction and real estate industries which contributed about $1.9 million to legislators between 2010 and 2013, including nearly $1.7 million to majority Republicans, and $6.4 million to Walker;

 The 2011-13 state budget was a Trojan horse for 20 provisions that restricted the authority of communities to govern themselves. One controversial item replaced locally issued brewer’s permits with a broader state permit that critics say limits the ability of local brewers to get wholesale licenses as well as where and how they can sell their products. Other budget provisions prohibited regional transit authorities, local regulation of bird hunting preserves, revamped bidding requirements for local, highway and public works projects, and placed strict levy limits on county and municipal governments. It’s nearly impossible to determine which special interests supported any given proposal due to the lack of specific state disclosure requirements. The dozen-plus special interest groups that supported the 2011-13 state budget contributed $5.8 million in 2010 and 2011 to majority Republicans in the legislature, and nearly $9.1 million to Walker.

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