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Committee sends ballot questions to Sauk County Board for consideration

Sauk County Board Executive and Legislative Committee member Bill Hambrecht of Prairie du Sac debates the proposed countywide advisory referendums during a meeting Tuesday.

The Sauk County Board will decide this month whether to place two advisory referendums on fall ballots countywide.

The board’s Executive and Legislative Committee voted 4-1 Tuesday in favor of ballot questions that, if ultimately approved, would seek voters’ perspectives on gerrymandering and the influence of money in politics.

That sends the two proposals to the full board for an up-or-down vote at its May 15 meeting. If approved by the board, the advisory referendums would appear on all Sauk County ballots in the Nov. 6 general election.

One referendum would read as follows: “Should the Wisconsin legislature create a nonpartisan procedure for the preparation of legislative and congressional redistricting plans?”

Another referendum would gauge voter support for amending the U.S. Constitution to include the following language:

  • Only human beings are endowed with constitutional rights — not corporations, union (sic), nonprofits or other artificial entities.
  • Money is not speech, and therefore regulating political contributions and spending is not equivalent to limiting speech.

In January, the committee — which then included three different members — rejected the redistricting referendum on a 3-2 vote. The proposal generated significant public interest, with the overwhelming majority supporting its passage.

The April election resulted in 12 new supervisors winning spots on the 31-member county board. During its organizational meeting later that month, the newly elected board selected the sponsor of the January proposal, Supervisor Peter Vedro of Baraboo, as its chairman.

The board also selected a new Executive and Legislative Committee that is more amenable to the referendum questions. Only one member voted against the proposals Tuesday.

“This is an issue for the Legislature,” committee member Wally Czuprynko of Lake Delton said about the redistricting referendum. “It’s not for us.”

He questioned the purpose and legality of running advisory referendums on issues outside the control of the county board.

Interim Sauk County Corporation Counsel Deb O’Rourke issued a legal opinion prior to the January vote in which she said state law does not authorize county boards to conduct advisory referendums on matters controlled by the state Legislature.

The opinion was controversial, because other county boards have approved ballot questions on state government issues. And O’Rourke’s counterpart in another county, Dane County Assistant Corporation Counsel David Gault, said he disagreed with her interpretation of the law.

In 2010, 54 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties conducted advisory referendums asking whether the Legislature should amend the state’s Constitution to restrict budget raids on the transportation fund.

A majority of voters in each of the 54 counties advised the Legislature that they supported the change. That prompted Wisconsin lawmakers to include the constitutional amendment on ballots statewide in the 2014 general election, and it was approved by an 80 percent margin.

Other counties and municipalities have run ballot questions similar to the two the committee approved Tuesday.

“(The law) says we can seek advisory referendums on any point of interest,” committee member Bill Hambrecht of Prairie du Sac said Tuesday. “It’s advisory to us on the Sauk County Board. It’s advisory to every businessman, to political parties. It’s advisory to the whole world, just simply telling them how the voters of Sauk County feel.”

Follow Tim Damos on Twitter @timdamos

Reporter for the Baraboo News Republic.