WISCONSIN DELLS — Wisconsin Dells’ representatives from the State Senate and Assembly covered a range of topics in a listening session in the city Wednesday.
Sen. Joan Ballweg, R-Markesan and Rep. Alex Dallman, R-Green Lake, held the meeting at Kilbourn Public Library. Three attendees showed up to discuss topics including election integrity, the Wisconsin River corridor in the Dells, bipartisanship, the state budget, gerrymandering and the leaked U.S. Supreme Court opinion to overturn the landmark abortion ruling in Roe v. Wade.
City resident John Montgomery brought up the issue of election integrity, which Ballweg said has become an increasingly pressing issue since the COVID-19 pandemic but has subsided with the availability of vaccines.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court is dealing with a lawsuit relating to voting drop boxes, which were allowed for the spring 2022 election, Ballweg said. The court has not decided whether to allow them in the fall elections.
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She also discussed the ongoing review into the election by former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman and guidance in 2020 exempting clerks from the need to send special election workers into nursing homes during the pandemic.
“Every time there is an election, there are two election deputies,” said Ballweg. “One representing Republican, one representing Democrat so that there isn’t anybody trying to sway the vote one way or the other. That didn’t happen in many of these locations.”
Kay James, the former long-time editor of the Wisconsin Dells Events, expressed concern with the investigations, saying that the issues were not as pressing as they appear. She added that people with disabilities need assistance with taking absentee ballots to the polls and that under “your laws,” it is not allowed and disenfranchises them.
“Under the laws that we proposed in the Legislature this year, it was allowed,” said Ballweg. “It currently is allowed that you can designate someone to be the person to drop off your ballot.”
Another local resident, Debbie Kinder, asked Ballweg about the Wisconsin River corridor in the area, which she cited as a state natural area “for the most part.” Kinder was the president of the Stewards of the Dells of the Wisconsin River, an organization dedicated to preservation of the corridor containing the Upper and Lower Dells on the river, until May 10.
“There are places where that state natural area is very thin and there are also private properties along the corridor,” said Kinder. “We are trying to make sure those properties are protected and the main piece that we have to help us with that is the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund.”
The fund was created in 1989 to preserve natural communities, protect fisheries and water quality and expand outdoor recreation opportunities.
Kinder added that the fund was used for Newport Park in Lake Delton. Ballweg said she advocates for the fund and that the fund was reauthorized for the next four years in the most recent state budget at $3.25 million per year.
“Part of my role on joint finance (the Legislature’s budget committee) this year was digging into the DNR part of the state budget,” said Ballweg. “We were authorizing funding that was never asked for. What we tried to do in this is to ‘right-size’ a little bit of the money that was going to be available for stewardship.”
Ballweg said there are “a couple” stewardship requests to finance per month. To improve relations between municipalities and the DNR, she said, the Legislature increased the value of return per acre of land that the DNR pays to the municipalities.
Kinder asked Ballweg and Dallman about the division within state government between the Republican-controlled legislature and Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. Ballweg responded by stating that 90 percent of everything passed through state government has bipartisan support.
She cited the state budget that Evers proposed and that the Legislature and the budget committee remade and which he ultimately signed. An increase in meat processing, dairy export funding and legislation making it easier for family farms to transfer farm equipment following a death in the family were written and supported by Ballweg.
Rep. Tony Kurtz, R-Wonewoc, introduced the idea for meat processing, which Evers supported.
“We did change the governor’s bill a little bit,” said Ballweg. “We put in some enhancements for reporting and metrics. We said that we wanted DATCP (Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection) to work with Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC). The governor only had in milk and dairy and row crops, but he didn’t have ginseng and wood products.”
Ballweg acknowledged differences with the governor over how elections are conducted. Evers also vetoed several Republican bills that would have limited abortion rights. She also mentioned conflicts with the governor regarding allocation of federal COVID relief funds.
Gerrymandering and district maps were another concern of Kinder’s. She said that despite the popular vote electing a Democratic governor and attorney general, the maps all but guarantee a Republican-controlled state Legislature.
“We had a lot of seats flip last election,” said Dallman in response to Kinder’s claims. “The hard part of the maps is, and the governor said this himself, is the way the geography is of our state, it’s hard to not have a Republican Legislature,” noting the concentration of Democratic voters in Milwaukee and Madison.
Kinder and James were critical of the possible loss of abortion rights. Ballweg responded by expressing her belief that “life begins at conception” but that the state will continue negotiations regarding the abortion issue and that Planned Parenthood would remain in existence, but would likely no longer perform abortions if Wisconsin’s 1849 abortion ban is allowed to resume once Roe is overturned.