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POMMER: ID, rules lawsuits face long odds

By Matt Pommer

Teacher unions and the League of Women Voters have filed two quixotic lawsuits against laws developed this year by the Republican-controlled state government.

The leagues lawsuit contends requiring photo identification in order to cast a vote creates a new class of people who can’t vote. The state constitution, according to the league, bars voting only by felons and people ruled mentally incompetent.

The teacher unions’ lawsuit challenges the new power of the governor to control all administrative rules before they are sent to the Legislature for review. The unions note the state constitution spells out that supervision of public education “shall be vested in a state superintendent and such other officers the Legislature shall direct.”

Neither lawsuit is likely to succeed. The state Supreme Court, which ultimately will settle the lawsuits, has a conservative majority.

Partisanship seems to have taken center stage at the state’s highest court. It isn’t likely the court majority would upset the efforts of Republican Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican majorities in the Legislature.

Critics of requiring a photo ID contend it is an attempt to keep minorities, the aged and college students from voting. Walker said making people have a photo ID is “common sense.” It also is good Republican politics.

Walker is especially interested because he is facing a potential recall election. Petitions to trigger the recall will start to be circulated in mid-November, and a recall election could come in spring. More than 540,000 signatures are required to trigger the vote.

Teacher unions are concerned about how Walker would affect the nuts and bolts of public education. Numerous aspects of school- and teacher-license requirements are spelled out in administrative rules.

Educator worries stem from the public employee union-busting laws enacted by the Legislature and Walker. The governor had called for the laws in an early special session, contending that they were needed to balance the state budget.

Many of the public employee unions had offered to make concessions, but Walker backed what he called the “bomb” to curb unions in the public sector.

One possible court outcome for the union lawsuit would be ruling the new gubernatorial power in education is covered by the constitutional words allowing powers to be given to “such officers as the Legislature may direct.”

Wisconsin recently got a taste of how important the administrative rules process can be.

The Public Service Commission had advanced rules determining how electricity-producing wind farms could operate. The Walker administration blocked the rules, apparently to appease real estate interests. The wind farms were billed as a $1.6 billion industry for Wisconsin to develop, but they now seem in limbo.

Matt Pommer worked as reporter in Madison for 35 years. He comments on state political and policy issues.

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