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Industrial hemp has commercial uses, including its oil for health and beauty products and hemp fiber for building materials. (AP file photo)

Across the Region: Judge rejects Menominee’s hemp arguments

WISCONSIN

Judge rejects Menominee’s hemp arguments

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Menominee Indian Tribe which sought protection for industrial hemp.

The tribe filed a lawsuit last November against the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Department of Justice after the agencies destroyed its hemp crop grown on its reservation in northeastern Wisconsin.

Industrial hemp has low levels of THC, the active chemical in marijuana. But it has commercial uses, including its oil for health and beauty products and hemp fiber for building materials.

The tribe argued that it was exempt from a state law banning the crop. Judge William Griesbach disagreed. He wrote that because the tribe is located in Wisconsin, the exemption does not apply.

 

Attorney argues redistricting plan hurts Democrats

A GOP plan that reworked the Wisconsin Assembly’s district lines was one of the worst examples of partisan gerrymandering in American history, an attorney challenging the new boundaries argued Tuesday.

Nicholas Stephanopoulos told a panel of three federal judges weighing whether the redistricting plan is constitutional that Republicans redrew the districts to marginalize Democrats and consolidate their own power for years. The plan solidified at least 10 additional Assembly districts as Republican strongholds, he said.

Legislators redraw district boundaries every 10 years to reflect population changes. Republicans reworked the maps in 2011 after taking control of the Senate, Assembly and the governor’s office.

A dozen voters who support Democrats filed a federal lawsuit last July alleging the boundaries discriminate against Democrats by diluting their supporters’ voting power, violating constitutional free speech and equal protection guarantees. They want a panel of three federal judges — U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb, U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Kenneth Ripple and U.S. District Judge William Griesbach — to declare all 99 Assembly districts unconstitutional and redraw the boundaries.

The judges have set aside four days for a bench trial. The proceedings began Tuesday morning with Stephanopoulos’ opening statements.

He promised the evidence would show Republicans, their aides and their lawyers drew up the plan in secret without any input from Democrats and they saw the new maps as a chance to seize power for a decade.

He alleged Tad Ottman, an aide to Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, remarked that the new maps will determine who serves in the Legislature 10 years from now and the GOP had an opportunity and an obligation to draw maps that the party hadn’t had in decades. The maps evolved until the number of safe Republican Assembly districts rose from 49 to 59, Stephanopoulos asserted.

He called the new maps deliberate, severe and unjustifiable and said they amount to one of the worst cases of partisan gerrymandering in U.S. history.

The state Department of Justice, which is controlled by Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel, is defending the maps. Assistant Attorney General Brian Keenan responded with a short opening statement of his own, saying the evidence won’t show any actual gerrymandering.

He said the term traditionally refers to creating strange, salamander-shaped districts to pack a party’s supporters together. The new districts are consistently shaped, and adopting the plaintiffs’ arguments would mean redefining gerrymandering, he said.

Keenan went on to argue partisanship is to be expected when one party draws legislative boundaries and the plaintiffs’ equation creates a false sense of certainty. He called their numbers “educated guesses” that don’t predict the future, saying they use statistics like a drunken man uses a light pole — for support rather than illumination.

 

NORTH DAKOTA

Filipino oil worker gets $250K in discrimination claim

A Williston-based oil field service company will pay $250,000 to a worker it fired after he complained of harassment to settle a discrimination and retaliation lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The lawsuit filed a year ago alleged that a white manager for American Casing & Equipment Inc. harassed Matthew Clark, a worker of Filipino heritage who came to the North Dakota oil patch from his home state of Washington, by directing racial slurs at him, jabbing him with a finger in the stomach and chest, and once urinating on his leg while he worked under a truck.

“This case has conduct that clearly shocks the conscience of any decent human being,” said attorney Joshua Newville, who represented Clark.

The EEOC said the harassment began in November 2012 and continued for more than a year, and that a supervisor made no attempt to stop it. Clark ultimately was fired in January 2014 when he complained to the company’s safety manager, the federal agency said.

“They cannot simply ignore harassment and fire employees who complain about being abused rather than doing something about it,” Tina Burnside, an EEOC attorney in Minneapolis, said in a statement.

In a court filing last year, the company denied the allegations and maintained that Clark was an “at-will” employee, meaning he could be fired at any time. Under U.S. labor law, an at-will employee can be dismissed without warning for any reason other than an illegal one, unless the presumption is modified by an employment contract, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Under the settlement reached earlier this month and approved Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland in Bismarck, American Casing and Equipment will pay $250,000 to Clark and train all employees on the federal law prohibiting racial discrimination and retaliation.

“This settlement sends a strong message to employers that race and national origin harassment and retaliation will not be tolerated in the workplace,” John Hendrickson, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Chicago District, said in a statement. “EEOC hopes that the changes implemented under the consent decree will serve as a model for creating a workplace free of discrimination in the oil field service industry.”

American Casing and Equipment has operated for nearly a quarter century in the Williston Basin oil production area in the Dakotas, Montana and Wyoming. The company provides services ranging from pipe work to hole drilling.

 

IOWA

Supreme Court rejects Sioux City casino owner’s appeal

The Iowa Supreme Court has refused to pump new life into the lawsuit filed by owners of the former Argosy Sioux City riverboat casino against state regulators and other parties.

On Monday the Supreme Court denied the Belle of Sioux City’s request for the court to review the Iowa Appeals Court ruling that upheld lower court decisions that led to the casino’s closure.

The Appeals Court concluded the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission acted properly in 2013 when it decided to grant a gambling license to the land-based Hard Rock casino and reject an application by the Argosy’s owners. It was owned by the Belle of Sioux City, a subsidiary of Penn National Gaming Co.

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