Daily Digest: Regional EPA director raises concerns

Good morning and happy Wednesday. Here's the Digest.

1. Former Wisconsin DNR head takes over EPA regional office. When Cathy Stepp became head of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in 2010, Gov. Scott Walker said she'd bring a "Chamber of Commerce mentality" to the job. By the time she left the DNR late last year, critics say Stepp, a home builder by trade, left Wisconsin's DNR "in tatters" following a tenure that included declines in environmental enforcement actions, increased fees for state parks, cuts to the agency's science personnel and two incidents of federal authorities intervening after manure from dairy farms began to contaminate drinking water in the northeastern part of the state. Now, she's in a bigger job, leading the Environmental Protection Agency regional office that oversees Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and 35 tribes. Leadership at Minnesota's Department of Natural Resources and Pollution Control Agency say they aren't concerned with Stepp helming EPA Region 5. But ask environmentalists and conservationists, and it's a different story. (MPR News)

2. Liberal judge wins Wisconsin court election. Judge Rebecca Dallet's runaway victory in a Wisconsin Supreme Court race cheered Democrats eager for more evidence their party is ready for a winning fall in midterm elections. And Dallet's hammering of conservative judge Michael Screnock on Tuesday prodded Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who had endorsed Screnock, to warn his fellow Republicans that more losses could be coming. "Tonight's results show we are at risk of a #BlueWave in WI," Walker, who is up for re-election in November, tweeted. "Big government special interests flooded Wisconsin with distorted facts & misinformation. Next, they'll target me and work to undo our bold reforms." Although the race was viewed by some as a bellwether, results of past Supreme Court elections have not consistently proven to be predictive of what will happen in November. President Trump won the state by less than 1 percentage point in 2016, while Dallet thumped Screnock by double digits. (AP)

3. Minnesota among 17 states suing over citizenship question. Seventeen states, the District of Columbia and six cities sued the U.S. government Tuesday, saying the addition of a citizenship question to the census form is unconstitutional. The Trump administration's decision to ask people about their citizenship has set off worries among Democrats that immigrants will dodge the survey altogether, diluting political representation for states that tend to vote Democratic and robbing many communities of federal dollars. Supporters of the plan for the 2020 census argue that enforcing voting rights requires more data on the voting-age population of citizens than current surveys are providing. It would be the first time in 70 years that the government uses the census form sent to every household to ask people to specify whether they are U.S. citizens. New York Attorney General Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a Democrat who announced the new lawsuit in Manhattan federal court, said the plans would have a "devastating effect on New York, where we have millions of immigrants." "It's unlawful. It's unfair," Schneiderman said, adding that it would end a longstanding bipartisan effort to have the Bureau of the Census conduct a full and fair count of the population, including citizens and non-citizens. (AP)

4. Kids who skip tests to be labeled "not proficient." All but invisible in past years, the thousands of students who opt out of Minnesota’s standardized math and reading tests will be counted against their schools and districts under new state and federal laws. The state’s new plan under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act  will count every student who misses the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments as “not proficient,” except in rare cases of a medical exemption. This change in the way Minnesota calculates student proficiency could mean a small number of schools will be targeted for state support — at the expense of truly low-performing schools — simply because parents and students refused the test. That is drawing criticism from both detractors and supporters of standardized testing. (Pioneer Press)

5. Five issues for the rest of the legislative session. The session has already been one of the busiest in recent memory, with a flurry of bills making their way through committees with a handful of high-profile — and unexpected — issues taking center stage. When legislators come back from a spring break next week, here are the big issues that will be at the top of their agenda: Guns and school safety, sexual harassment, the state vehicle licensing and renewal and registration system, cracking down on bad drivers, and taxes. (MinnPost)

 

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