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Capital City Sunday: Status of existing police reform bills, Foxconn deal reworked, new PFAS push

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MADISON (WKOW) -- A statewide task force earlier this week released a set of 18 recommendations for lawmakers to pursue regarding police reform policy.

Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) is an author on each of those bills. He dismisses criticism the task force cannot help further the process even though members, comprised largely of community activists and law enforcement professionals, could not agree on how to define "excessive force."

Six of those recommendations either match or closely align with bills introduced with bipartisan support and received hearings last month.

"While you don't always get 100 percent [agreement], I think everyone's been involved in the process," Wanggaard said. "I think that's been the most important thing - is to have a good clean, clear process."

Wanggaard, whose previous career was as a police officer in Racine, sided with the law enforcement members of the subcommittee who resisted activists' efforts to ensure the definition would include the word 'proportional' as a means of clarifying officers cannot use any more force than necessary.

"Keep it simple," Wanggaard said. "When you say proportional, what does that mean? That is really broad and it's really not defining."

One of the areas where Wanggaard's bills break from what many Democrats want is in the area of chokeholds. His bill, along with the task force recommendations, allow for exceptions to the ban when an officer is in a life-saving situation or uses one in self-defense.

Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes said it would be too easy for officers to find justification should those exceptions remain in a final bill.

"When there are exceptions, it allows people to sort of run afoul of the law," Barnes said. "And I think that gives people to say too much of an opportunity to say 'my life was threatened.'"

Watch the full interview with Sen. Wanggaard here:

Wanggaard maintained it was unreasonable to put the burden on an officer to face the prospect of violating policy while in a struggle with a violent citizen.

"If you're fighting for your life and you have to choke him, we're not gonna say the guys gotta sit there and say 'well I really can't choke him because it's a violation of policy and procedure' while they're trying to protect their life or somebody else's," he said.

Both Barnes and Governor Tony Evers have criticized the task force, with Barnes calling the recommendations "lackluster" because the end result did not include any drafted bills.

"I wish I could say I was confident but the fact that we didn't see a package of bills come out of that task force is sort of disheartening," Barnes said.

The six-pack of bills offered by Wanggaard and Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) also include a proposal to create an independent review board that would investigate police-involved incidents where officers either kill or seriously injure someone.

The board would use an NTSB-style model to review incidents the way federal investigators review plane crashes; instead of a binary conclusion of whether a cop was wrong or right, the panel would outline the steps that could have minimized the risk of death or serious injury.

Wanggard said he was hopeful the bills, which already had public hearings in March, would come up for votes in committee by the end of this month and before the full Senate in May.

Foxconn deal reworked

The Evers Administration and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation announced this week it reached an agreement with Foxconn to redo the state's contract with the Taiwanese tech giant.

The original deal signed by the Walker Administration offered up to $2.85 billion in state credits should Foxconn hit a target of 13,000 jobs created.

The company pledged to build a state-of-the-art factory for producing next-generation screens. That never happened.

While the company has instead followed its longstanding pattern of vacillating from one big project proposal for the Mount Pleasant campus to another - most recently floating the idea of making parts for electric cars - state taxpayers have been protected under the original deal from paying for non-existent jobs.

Local taxpayers, who've footed the bill for infrastructure projects and those who were displaced from their land to make way for the project, haven't been so fortunate.

The new arrangement scales down the maximum tax credits to $80 million on the promise of creating 1,454 jobs.

"Foxconn kind of overpromised on what they were going to be able to deliver on," said Steven Deller, an economic development professor at UW-Madison. "The state was able to essentially come back and the program is a little bit more in line with what is actually happening at the Mount Pleasant site."

Deller's research specializes in studying the use of government incentives to attract businesses. He said the new agreement is an improvement.

"I think the way the package has been restructured, it's a little simpler, it's a little more straight-forward," Deller said. "It's a little bit more reasonable."

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), who was in Washington D.C. for the 2017 announcement, claimed this week the new agreement "actually gives the company even more financial incentives than the original did."

When asked for clarification on how Vos calculated that assessment, spokesman Adam King referred 27 News to comments Vos gave to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

"This deal doesn’t save the state any money because the entire deal was based on a performance contract that Foxconn was not meeting. They didn’t hire enough people, so they got $0 from the state," Vos told the newspaper. "Under the new deal that was announced they’re going to get money that they wouldn’t have gotten under Gov. Walker.”

Even accounting for the ratio of state dollars per jobs created, the 2017 deal offered nearly $220,000 per job while the new arrangement pays about $55,000 per job created.

"Unfortunately, politics are starting to filter through," Deller said. "It's really, from an economic development policy, this was a good strategy, this was a good move, but there has to be some kind of spin placed on it."

Deller added that while the reworked contract was more realistic, he emphasized his research has found its bad policy altogether to try luring companies with taxpayer dollars.

"You have to consider one thing: companies don't move," he said. "We did some research looking at Wisconsin firms from 2000 to 2012 and you're looking at less than three percent of firms picking up and actually moving."

Deller added the study found companies that did move were more likely to have fewer than ten employees and move fewer than ten miles.

He said government should instead focus on improving quality-of-life issues that attract talent and create an environment conducive to that talent starting new businesses.

"We want those companies that start up, we want them to start up here," Deller said. "Not necessarily to relocate here, but start up here."

Another push for PFAS regulation

Evers and legislative Democrats took another shot at getting the CLEAR Act bill into circulation in an effort to regulate testing and enforcement for PFAS pollution.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances are man-made chemicals that do not break down and have been linked to health problems like cancer, liver problems, higher cholesterol levels, and decreased vaccine efficacy in children.

In Wisconsin, the most serious contamination instances involve people getting from consuming the chemicals over time as it gets into their well water. The most frequent source for these large-scale plumes are caused by the use of firefighting foam at airports -- something that happened in Madison, Marinette, and now La Crosse.

There most recent large-scale contamination found on French Island in La Crosse has left about 1,200 households relying on bottled water.

"We're trying to get an idea of what areas are most immediately affected and strongly affected by PFAS out in the Town of Campbell," said Rep. Jill Billings (D-La Crosse).

Billings said the legislature did not do enough last session when passed a bill that strictly regulated the discharge of firefighting foam.

The original CLEAR Act, which would enact laws surrounding testing, baseline standards for what constitutes PFAS water contamination, and allow for enforcement, went nowhere last session.

"The problem with those bills is it really didn't address testing, they didn't address providing assistance to people," Billings said. "They were very weak bills."

The proposed version is quite broad, included programs for grants and a PFAS action fund. Billings dismissed concerns the bill might have packed in too many mandates and programs to garner support from Republicans.

Billings said she hoped a new set of stories from families affected on French Island would create enough momentum to secure bipartisan support in the GOP-controlled legislature.

"We cannot wait and not address this problem in a comprehensive way," she said. "This is what people want and, as we learn more about this issue, I think the cry's gonna become more broad."

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A. J. Bayatpour

Capitol Bureau Chief

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