Email date: 4/20/09
In this update:
1. Wanted: Public hearings on Impartial Justice bill
2. Information on officials’ finances hard to come by
At a March 30 town hall meeting in Green Bay organized by the Democracy Campaign as part of its Judicial Independence Project, Assembly Majority Leader Tom Nelson told the audience that public hearings would be held within weeks on the Impartial Justice bill overhauling state Supreme Court elections and the reform measure would likely be taken up by the full Assembly before the state budget process is concluded. The budget is supposed to be finalized by June 30.
Assembly Elections and Campaign Reform Committee chairman Jeff Smith made similar remarks at a March 26 community forum in Eau Claire.
At a March 20 forum in Milwaukee the chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Corrections, Insurance, Campaign Finance Reform and Housing, Senator Lena Taylor, told those in attendance that her committee would wait until after the April 7 high court election to take action on Supreme Court campaign reform but said "don’t be surprised" by an announcement on April 8 about planned actions.
Well, it’s been nearly three months since Senate leader Russ Decker issued a statement saying the Impartial Justice bill was one of three bills that would "come up soon" in the Senate.
Please take a few minutes to contact Senator Taylor and Representative Smith and urge them to promptly schedule public hearings on the Impartial Justice bill. Also let the other members of the Senate committee and Assembly committee know that you want action taken on Supreme Court election reform.
The national Justice at Stake Campaign issued a statement the day of the most recent Supreme Court race saying the third costly race in three years "reaffirms the need for state-level reforms to protect courts from special interest influence." The group went on to say the "growing culture of big money in Wisconsin’s high court campaigns has become a national story. Wisconsin’s leaders need to step up, so that judges don’t spend their time dialing for dollars from special interests and the parties who appear before them in court."
Indeed, Wisconsin’s leaders need to step up. If you agree, let the committees that currently have possession of the Impartial Justice bill know that it’s time to act. And then if you haven’t already done so, add your voice to ours and groups like Justice at Stake by signing our Impartial Justice petition.
About a month ago, a five-state review of open government laws was issued that showed Wisconsin’s laws are generally strong but have some notable failings. More recently, the Appleton Post-Crescent shined light on one such failing, showing how an outdated law makes it hard for Wisconsin citizens to gain access to information about their elected officials that they are entitled to have.