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Across the Region: April 13

WISCONSIN

Wisconsin Supreme Court likely to see new chief justice

Justices on the Wisconsin Supreme Court will remain the same following Tuesday’s election, but there likely will be a new chief justice for the first time in nearly 20 years.

Justice Ann Walsh Bradley easily defeated Rock County Circuit Judge James Daley, sending her back to the court for a third 10-year term. But voters also approved a constitutional amendment that gives the seven justices the power to decide who will be chief justice, rather than having it go automatically to the most senior member as it has for the past 126 years.

Given that the court is controlled by conservatives, that likely means liberal Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson’s 19-year tenure as head of the state’s highest court could be ending soon.

Abrahamson, 81, has served on the court longer than anyone in state history, joining in 1976, and is also the longest-serving chief justice.

Bradley, a close ally of Abrahamson’s, said the court has not discussed how it will move forward once the amendment becomes final. That is likely to happen at an April 29 meeting of the state elections board, which must certify the results before they take effect.

Under the new amendment, which passed by a 6-point margin, the justices have to decide every two years who will serve as chief justice. Only six other states use a similar seniority-based system as Wisconsin, while 22 others have a peer selection process.

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state chamber of commerce, spent at least $600,000 on an effort to get the amendment passed. Liberal advocacy group the Greater Wisconsin Committee worked to defeat both the amendment.

Bradley coasted to victory over Daley, winning by about 16 points based on unofficial results.

 

Attorney general appeals federal abortion ruling

Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel has appealed a federal judge’s ruling striking down a law that required doctors performing abortions to first obtain admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

The Republican Schimel filed notice of the appeal of U.S. District Judge William Conley’s decision Monday.

Conley on March 20 blocked enforcement of the 2013 law, ruling that any benefits to women’s health from the requirement were “substantially outweighed” by restricting women’s access to abortion.

Planned Parenthood and Affiliated Medical Services brought the lawsuit.

Gov. Scott Walker signed the bill into law after the Republican-controlled Legislature passed it two years ago. Walker has said he believes the law will ultimately survive legal challenges.

Courts have put similar restrictions on hold in five other states.

NORTH DAKOTA

After Indiana uproar, governor decries discrimination

North Dakota’s Republican governor sent a memo to 17 government departments on Monday saying discrimination against anyone is unacceptable, just two hours before every Democrat in the Legislature delivered a letter calling on him to go further and issue an executive order prohibiting bias against gays and lesbians.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s chief of staff sent the letter to all agency directors appointed by the governor.

“This administration expects all cabinet agencies to hire employees and to maintain agency staff based on ability and performance,” Chief of Staff Ron Rauschenberger wrote. “Ours remains a policy of non-discrimination, including no discrimination based on sexual orientation.”

All 38 Democrats from the House and Senate delivered a letter to Dalrymple later in the day asking him to issue an executive order to require state agencies to ban discrimination in hiring and employment based on sexual orientation. Republicans hold two-thirds majorities in both chambers of the Legislature. It was not immediately clear if Dalrymple would sign such a formal executive order.

The debate over gay rights ramped-up in North Dakota in the wake of a backlash against religious objections laws in Indiana and Arkansas that critics say could sanction discrimination against gays and lesbians. Facing criticism especially from major corporations such as Apple and Wal-Mart, Republicans in those states scrambled last week to clarify that the laws should not be used to discriminate.

Amid that national uproar, North Dakota’s House voted Friday to kill a proposed law that would have prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation in housing, government, public services and the workplace. Unlike the other states, the North Dakota proposal did not deal with religion.

After the Legislature killed the measure, Dalrymple issued a statement chiding lawmakers for missing an opportunity protect gays and lesbians in the state from discrimination, the third time in six years the measure had failed to pass.

“Discrimination based on an individual’s sexual orientation is not acceptable,” said Dalrymple’s statement.

Fargo Democratic Rep. Josh Boschee, the state’s first and only openly gay lawmaker, told The Associated Press that Dalrymple’s statement last week “gave us some ammo” to push further. North Dakota civil rights law does not include sexual orientation as a protection, and several officials said they had not been aware of any formal policy on the issue before Dalrymple issued the memo Monday.

NEBRASKA

Claim: Nebraska oil committee broke open-meeting law

Two groups say the Nebraska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has violated state open meeting laws, and they want the state attorney general to void any action stemming from the commission’s March 24 hearing on a proposed Sioux County wastewater disposal well.

Bold Nebraska and the Nebraska Sierra Club filed a complaint Tuesday with the office of Attorney General Doug Peterson, asking for an investigation. Ken Winston with the Nebraska Sierra Club says the commission didn’t follow its own rules and state law.

Terex Energy Corp, of Broomfield, Colorado, wants to truck salty groundwater and chemical-laden fracking wastewater that result from oil searches and production to a ranch north of Mitchell.

IOWA

Medical marijuana supporters march at state Capitol

Advocates seeking expanded access to medical marijuana in Iowa held a march at the state Capitol.

More than 50 supporters of a proposal to expand the use of medical marijuana participated Tuesday. They support legislation that has won committee-level approval in the state Senate and could soon come up for a floor vote.

The legislation would make medical marijuana available to people with certain chronic diseases, such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Those approved by a doctor could purchase marijuana products produced in Iowa and sold at state-licensed dispensaries.

Last year, the Legislature approved a law allowing some residents with epilepsy to use oil with an ingredient derived from marijuana for treatment. But the law did not establish an in-state program for the production and distribution of the oil.

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