Court Rules Wisconsin Republicans’ Actions Illegally Obstruct Conservation Efforts

Court Rules Wisconsin Republicans' Actions Illegally Obstruct Conservation Efforts

WEATHER PARK, Wis.— The state’s highest court said Friday that the budget committee run by Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature can’t properly stop conservation projects started by Gov. Tony Evers’s administration.

Since he took office in 2019, Evers’s relationship with Republican lawmakers and environmentalists across the state has gotten worse. This choice is a win for him.

In a statement, the governor said, “I’ve spent years working over years of Republican obstruction, and this historic decision rightfully resets constitutional checks and balances and restores separation of powers.” “The people of Wisconsin deserve and expect their government to work, and work for them, not against them. This decision is a win for them.”

Misha Tseytlin, the attorney for the Legislature, didn’t answer right away when The Associated Press sent him an email Friday morning asking for comment.

The court decided 6-1 that the rules that say the Joint Finance Committee can stop projects and land purchases that are paid for with Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program money go against the idea that the legislative and executive branches should have separate powers.

When the program was set up, the Legislature gave the executive branch the power to give out stewardship money, Justice Rebecca Bradley wrote in the majority decision. She wrote that once lawmakers were given that power, they couldn’t change the decisions about how to spend the money without changing the spending rules.

In 1989, the Legislature made the stewardship scheme. The state’s Department of Natural Resources gives grants to local governments and non-government groups for environmental projects with program money. The program’s money is also used by the gubernatorial cabinet office to buy land for public use and conservation. According to court records, the Legislature has given the agency permission to buy land for up to $33.2 million each fiscal year until 2025–26.

Republicans have been against the program for a long time, saying that it stops land from being built on and removes areas from the local tax rolls. In April 2023, the finance committee stopped the DNR from using $15.5 million from the program to buy a conservation lease on 56,000 acres (22,662 hectares) of forest. This would have been Wisconsin’s biggest effort to protect land ever. In the end, Evers got around the committee in January by getting federal money to pay for the buy.

In October, the governor filed a lawsuit, saying that congressional committees run by a small group of Republicans had gone beyond what the Constitution allows them to do.

He said that the committees were wrong to hold back raises that had already been passed for University of Wisconsin employees. He also said that they should not have stopped updates to commercial building and ethics standards or funding for stewardship programs. Later, the raises were made, but the governor said that Republicans were trying to change state law without first passing a bill and bringing it to him to sign or veto.

Evers asked the court, which leans left, to take the case right away, without waiting for lower courts to make decisions. In February, the justices agreed, but they said they would only look into whether the finance committee stopped efforts at stewardship in the wrong way.

The only judge who didn’t agree was Chief Judge Annette Ziegler. In her letter, she said that the judges should have let the case go to lower courts first. She also said that the stewardship question was “handpicked” by the court’s left majority.

“Why are you so rushed?” Ziegler wrote. “There is no good reason to have picked this case and this one issue out of the queue ahead of all the others, putting them ahead of schedule and ahead of time.”

Evan Feinauer, an attorney with the Clean Wisconsin environmental group, said that the decision will help keep public lands safe for future generations.

Source: AP

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