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Wednesday, March 4, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 7.0° F  Fair
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Emily's Post: Local control is dead in Wisconsin, long live local control
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It seems like every day dawns with a fresh legislative insult from the state GOP, and Wednesday was no different. A bill (supported by landlords and property owners, and the construction and building industry) introduced on May 26 that would "prohibit local governments from enacting ordinances that limit a residential landlord's ability to obtain and use personal information from tenants and prospective tenants, including income and source of income, occupation, court records, rental history, and credit information," as well as preempt local ordinances that prevent landlords from showing and leasing apartments soon after tenants move in, got itself an even worse amendment.

Introduced by Sen. Dale Schultz the amendment would have done away with all local ordinances regulating landlord/tenant relations a move directly aimed at Madison and which, yet again, runs contrary to the Republican mantra of "local control."

Fortunately, the amendment was tabled during the course of yesterday's public hearing and vote, but that doesn't mean it's gone forever. It also doesn't mean that the bill itself doesn't have some serious problems.

According to Tenant Resource Center Director Brenda Konkel, one of the major issues with the bill is its focus on allowing landlords to set minimum income-to-rent ratios without allowing the tenant to prove that they've been able to make rent for the last two years at a similar rate (which is what current Madison ordinances allow). That means people on Section 8 or other forms of assistance would almost certainly be shut out of most housing, regardless of whether or not they could actually pay for it.

The bill also allows landlords to consider an applicant's past arrest and conviction record going back an unlimited number of years. That means someone with one arrest 40 years ago could be denied housing because of it.

"We had a task force in Madison that spent several years working on the best way to deal with this," Konkel told me. "Now they can deny you for whatever they want and for as long as they want."

As for the showing and lease provisions, Konkel says she's willing to let that one go in the name of fighting back on the other, more onerous changes. I found that somewhat surprising the issue of when a landlord is allowed to start showing an apartment for the next lease cycle is one that has affected me personally, as a renter, for years. It's nearly impossible, especially for students, to know whether or not you want to re-up on a lease after just a month or two of living in a place. It's also incredibly annoying to have prospective tenants wandering through your home for months on end if you don't sign right away.

But, Konkel explained, "Our current ordinance doesn't go far enough, so giving up on that to fight the other provisions in this bill would be OK by me." (She suggests the law should be that landlords can't make tenants re-sign until 3/4 of the way through their lease-it's currently only 1/4).

Of course, the public hearing yesterday was yet another example of the farce that Republicans have turned all such meetings into.

Scheduled just two weeks after the bill and just a day after the amendment was introduced, it ran for only two hours and featured Committee on Insurance and Housing Chair Sen. Frank Lasee, himself a realtor, routinely interrupting and cutting off members of the public and subject experts who got up to speak in opposition.

"He didn't let me finish anything," Konkel noted. Schultz, the amendment's author, was apparently please with the issues brought up by Konkel and others, though, and expressed his willingness to work with them on changes to it in the future. Sens. Coggs, Larson, and Carpenter the three Democrats on the committee all expressed deep reservations with the whole of the bill, though. They complained that it had been pushed through and voted on too quickly, was too Madison-focused, and would likely have unintended consequences.

On the plus side, when asked if the bill would end up being attached to the budget Lasee said no, "because then there would have to be another public meeting." Apparently he's not a big fan of public input. The bill will likely come up for a floor vote after the budget is finished, so this particular battle is far from over.

Misdirected outrage

Rightwing radio host Charlie Sykes and his faithful acolytes are in an absolute tizzy after protesters yesterday showed up at a Special Olympics event at the capitol to silently protest a speech by Gov. Walker.

This MacIver Institute "news" segment is dripping with disdain for the demonstrators, accusing them of disrespecting the Special Olympians by "blocking their view" of the governor.

What's interesting, however, is that this particular protest was positively low-key in comparison to much of what else has gone on lately. Even Kelly Kloepping, vice-president of communications for Special Olympics Wisconsin, said "the protesters were respectful and caused no disruption."

According to Dane101's Jesse Russell:

At Wednesday's event there were already a handful of protesters in the audience before the speakers started. Walker spoke last, and through the more than a half dozen speakers before him the protesters in attendance applauded and were respectful.

There was a tense moment when a group of more than 20 students arrived in zombie make-up, fresh from a "die-in" protest on the State Street side of the Capitol. However, the protesters stood to the sides and in the back during the early speakers and it wasn't until Walker took the stage that they made their presence known.

As Walker stepped to the podium the zombie protesters went to the front of the audience and, along with other protesters in the crowd, turned their backs. Some raised their fists in a symbol of "solidarity." They stood silently and allowed Walker to speak and when he finished the zombie protesters walked away, shook the hands of Special Olympic athletes and wished them luck in the games.

That hardly sounds like anyone was showing disrespect to those in attendance, and even the protest target wasn't shouted down. But far be it from the people looking for any excuse to denigrate protesters to use the Special Olympics and its athletes as a prop.

After all, Walker's own budget is likely to have many negative effects on people with disabilities, through cuts to programs like Family Care, transit options, and special education (among others). I spoke with two women yesterday who'd recently lost their jobs working for an in-school special education program that got the ax because of budget cuts in anticipation of the Walker plan.

An acquaintance of mine put it succinctly: "That's an old Reagan tactic. When you are about to slash funding for a group, you invite them into the Oval Office for a photo op because the image is what people see and remember."

So if folks really want to support the actual people involved in things like the Special Olympics, their time might be better spent making sure these programs are strengthened, not cut as opposed to clutching their pearls over a few, quiet zombies.

Worth watching

Another good read explaining why the massive cuts to the WiscNet broadband program will be so incredibly detrimental to the state. I'll have a more in-depth look at this issue in an upcoming post.

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