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WI Spring Bail Referendum

Wisconsin Spring Bail Referendums Breakdown

President Biden signed his first veto over retirement fund managers’ being able to consider environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors in their investment choices. This begs the question, should the government be dictating what retirement fund managers can and cannot invest in?

Then we break down the confusing questions on your spring ballot with some help from a loyal listener and lawyer, Joe McClear. Rob Lee, staff attorney at Midwest Environmental Advocates.

Check out this episode on Spotify and Apple Podcasts!

Biden and His Vetos

Biden got his first veto, but likely not his last. The president nixed a bill that would’ve overturned a Labor Department rule allowing retirement fund managers to consider environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors in their investment choices.

What is ESG?

  • ESG investments take into account social and environmental impacts: Investment choices are based on considerations like companies’ carbon emissions and executive pay, in addition to potential returns.

What are the arguments for and against?

  • GOP lawmakers want investment fund managers to focus exclusively on growing clients’ retirement savings by maximizing returns rather than advancing what they see as “woke” goals.
  • Democrats say it’s important that fund managers have the option to focus on ESG. They argue that the dichotomy between social goals and investment returns is often false since the former can influence a company’s economic prospects over the long haul.

How did we get here?

During the Trump administration, the Labor Department moved to substantially limit ESG practices for 401(k) funds, but the Biden administration reversed course and made a rule to explicitly allow fund managers to incorporate ESG principles into their investment strategy. Republican lawmakers in both chambers supported the bill to reverse this policy, and Democrats overwhelmingly opposed it (aside from Senators Joe Manchin and Jon Tester and Rep. Jared Golden, who crossed party lines to vote “yea”).

But should the government decide how you invest your money?

So – the party of small government is basically trying to dictate what retirement fund managers can and cannot invest in.  But, if you have the money to be investing, isn’t this conversation between you and the person running your 401k?  If you want to invest in companies that align with your values, shouldn’t that be available? And if you don’t care if the company is killing puppies so long as you see your returns, you should be able to do that too.

Fun Veto Fact: FDR holds the record of 372 vetoes in…12 years.

Let’s Talk About Those Confusing Questions On Your Ballot

With so much attention being focused on the race for Supreme Court Justice, you may be surprised, when you look at your ballot and read the three referendum questions on your ballot. There might be some confusion if you try to read them.

So let’s talk through them.

The Binding Referendums – Questions 1 & 2

The first two questions propose an amendment to the Wisconsin State Constitution regarding the setting of bail. A referendum to amend the constitution must first receive a majority vote in two consecutive years in both houses of the legislature before being placed on the ballot. This type of referendum is called a binding referendum because the legislature is bound by the will of the voters. 

State of Wisconsin Conditions of Release Before Conviction Referendum – Question 1  

State of Wisconsin Conditions of Release Before Conviction Referendum - Question 1

This amendment is just a tweaking of this section of the constitution. It would change the  current wording “serious bodily harm” to “serious harm.” 

State of Wisconsin Cash Bail Before Conviction Referendum – Question 2  

State of Wisconsin Cash Bail Before Conviction Referendum - Question 2

Under current law, a judge can only set bail to ensure that defendants will appear in court.

Arguments in Support of and In Opposition

With regard to the bail amendments to the Wisconsin State Constitution, those who support the bail amendments argue that to keep the public safe, the wording in the constitution needs to be changed. They want to make explicit that in setting bail, judges are permitted to consider a wide range of circumstances in addition to flight risk, thereby giving judges more discretion.

Opponents point out that since the factors that make someone a flight risk are often the same factors that make them a safety risk, the proposed constitutional amendments are not necessary. The opponents also claim that the bail amendment perpetuates injustice in the bail system. A suspect who can afford high bail fees could still be released on bail, while a person of low income who can’t post bail will remain in jail awaiting trial, even if both persons are accused of identical crimes and pose the same flight or safety risk. Incarceration for a poor person could result in the loss of a job and other extreme hardships for that person and their family.

If you listen to today’s show, lawyer Joe McClear calls in to give his reasoning for voting “yes”. You can go back and listen to Dane County Criminal Defense attorney Jessa Nicholson on As Goes Wisconsin on 2/14/23 on why she is voting “no”.

The Advisory Referenda – Question 3

The third question on the ballot, asking about job search requirements for public assistance, is an advisory referendum. As the name implies, this type of referendum is a gauge of public opinion. It takes a majority vote of both houses of the legislature, just one time, to place an advisory referendum on the ballot. The outcome of the vote on an advisory referendum will not change any law or require any action by the legislature.

State of Wisconsin Welfare Benefits Referendum- Question 3 

State of Wisconsin Welfare Benefits Referendum - Question 3

What makes this referendum unusual is that this is only the second time in three decades that a  statewide advisory referendum is being held. In April 1993, there were five referendums on the ballot, all related to legalizing gambling in Wisconsin. In November 2006 there was a referendum about the death penalty. Advisory referendums can be included in the spring non-partisan elections or the fall partisan elections. (Source: Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau.)

Arguments in Support of and In Opposition

Opponents point out that this referendum is not necessary since that requirement already exists for those applying for unemployment benefits and food stamps. Supporters of the referendum in the legislature, citing concerns about labor shortages in the state, believe the referendum is necessary to send a message to the federal government that it should allow such a requirement for recipients of BadgerCare (the state’s health care program for low-income residents).

Take it for whatever it is worth, but Kristin is voting no on all three. 

Reminder! 14 days until the Spring Election!

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