Supermajority control of Wisconsin state Senate at stake in April 4 special election

Welcome to the Monday, March 13, Brew. 

Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. Supermajority control of Wisconsin state Senate at stake in April 4 special election
  2. State supreme courts issued 135 opinions last week 
  3. Subscribe to the Donor Privacy and Disclosure Digest, a monthly update on the laws governing nonprofit donor disclosure 

Special general election for Wisconsin state Senate District 8 will determine if Republicans regain supermajority

Republicans currently control the Wisconsin state Senate, but an upcoming special general election will determine the extent of that control. 

Jodi Habush Sinykin (D) and Daniel Knodl (R) are running in a special election for Senate District 8 on April 4. The results will determine if Republicans regain the supermajority in the chamber they acquired following the Nov. 8, 2022, elections. 

Alberta Darling (R) was first elected to District 8 in 1992, and she represented the district until her retirement on Dec. 1, 2022. Darling’s retirement reduced Senate Republicans’ 22-member supermajority to a 21-member majority. 

A party with a supermajority would have the votes necessary to suspend Senate rules, which would speed up the legislative process, and hold impeachment trials of state officials. 

During the redistricting process following the 2020 census, Wisconsin State Senate District 8 was drawn to include portions of Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Washington, and Waukesha counties. Milwaukee County voted for Barack Obama (D), Hillary Clinton (D), and Joe Biden (D) in presidential elections from 2012 to 2020, making it a Solid Democratic county. Ozaukee, Washington, and Waukesha counties voted for Mitt Romney (R) and Donald Trump (R) twice during the same period, making them Solid Republican counties. Based on voting data in presidential, U.S. Senate, and governor and state attorney general elections from 2016-2020, Dave’s Redistricting finds that District 8 has a 56.6% Republican lean. 

In 2020, Darling defeated challenger Neal Plotkin (D) 54.2% to 45.6%.

The images below show the District 8 boundaries before and after redistricting. New district lines took effect Jan. 3 of this year.

Here’s a look at the candidates:

  • Habush Sinykin is an environmental lawyer and small business owner. Her campaign website said, “Jodi is running on the issues that actually matter to the people of the 8th Senate District: keeping good paying jobs here in Wisconsin, ensuring public safety, and protecting a woman’s right to [choose].”
  • Knodl is a small business owner and has served as a member of the Wisconsin State Assembly since 2009. He represents District 24. Knodl’s campaign website said, “My priority is to help keep our communities safe and thriving and make sure state government is working efficiently for the people. Thanks to commonsense budgeting and cutting government waste over the years, we’ve been able to reduce the tax burden on families and small businesses, invest in education and roads, reduce healthcare premiums, and much more.”

Habush Sinykin was unopposed in the Feb. 21 Democratic primary. Knodl defeated two other candidates—Janel Brandtjen and Van Mobley—in the Republican primary. Knodl won 57.4% of the vote. 

The most recent campaign finance reports between Jan. 1 and Feb. 6 show Habush Sinykin raised $252,694 and spent $224,737. Knodl raised $63,060 and spent $5,308. 

Wisconsin has a divided government, meaning Republicans control the legislature, while Tony Evers, a Democrat, is governor. In Wisconsin, a two-thirds majority in each chamber is required to override a gubernatorial veto. Republicans have a 64-35 majority in the state Assembly—not enough for a supermajority in that chamber.

Currently, there are 27 state legislatures where one party has a veto-proof majority in both chambers. In eight states, including Wisconsin, one party controls the legislature while the other party controls the governor’s office.

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State supreme courts issued 135 opinions between Feb.27-March 5

Between Feb. 27 and March 5, state supreme courts issued 135 opinions. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court led the field with 39 opinions issued, followed by North Dakota with 10 and Mississippi with seven.

Those 135 opinions account for 10% of the year-to-date total of 1,361. Pennsylvania, again, leads with 374 opinions issued since Jan. 1, followed by Delaware with 74 and Texas (court of criminal appeals) with 66.

Supreme courts in most states (38) have issued fewer than 25 opinions since the start of the year, and those in Michigan and North Carolina have yet to issue any opinions so far.

Every state and the District of Columbia has at least one supreme court, known as a court of last resort. Oklahoma and Texas have two courts of last resort, one for civil cases and one for criminal proceedings. Supreme courts do not hear trials of cases. Instead, they hear appeals of decisions made in lower courts. The number of justices on each state supreme court ranges between five and nine. 

Some of the state supreme court opinions issued this year include those in:

  • Iowa, where the court reversed a Polk County District Court’s decision to grant more bargaining rights to non-transit union engineers working for the City of Ames.
  • Florida, where the court, on its own motion, removed “existing language saying that: ‘Approved courses in fairness and diversity also can be used to fulfill the judicial ethics requirement.’” 
  • Missouri, where the court reversed the Circuit Court of Stoddard County’s ruling that property deeds can be reformed if a unilateral mistake occurs. 

Supreme courts in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Texas, and Delaware regularly end the year as some of the country’s most active courts. They accounted for 39% of all opinions issued in 2021, 40% in 2022, and, to date, 43% in 2023.

There are a few reasons for Pennsylvania’s outsized number of opinions each year. In most states, concurring and dissenting opinions are filed alongside the court’s majority opinion, but in Pennsylvania, the court publishes those opinions separately. Additionally, when deciding whether a case can be appealed, the court logs these decisions as standalone, typically single-page, orders.

In 2020, we conducted a study identifying the partisan balance on every state supreme court. You can find that research here. We also identified which justices ruled together most often in our Determiners and Dissenters report found here.

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Subscribe to the Donor Privacy and Disclosure Digest, a monthly update on the laws governing nonprofit donor disclosure 

This month, we’ve relaunched our Donor Privacy and Disclosure Digest, a monthly newsletter about nonprofit donor disclosure policy. 

Donor privacy and disclosure policy is an important yet often overlooked area of state and federal law affecting countless organizations and their donors. 

Advocates of expanded donor disclosure say expanded donor disclosure provisions minimize the potential for fraud and establish public accountability. Opponents say increased disclosure violates privacy rights and can inhibit charitable activity. 

Under federal law, nonprofits are generally not required to disclose to the public information about their donors. State laws, however, may require such disclosure. The topic even reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 2021, when, in a 6-3 decision, justices struck down a California law requiring nonprofits to share donor names and addresses with the state attorney general’s office. 

In each issue of the Donor Privacy and Disclosure Digest, we provide news and information on key policy changes, a breakdown of state legislation, and an overview of pivotal legal decisions and case developments. 

Our latest edition includes the following stories and data:

  • We provide an in-depth look of two bills working their way through the Missouri House of Representatives that would modify the state’s Personal Privacy Protection Act. That law prohibits government agencies from disclosing information identifying a person as a member, supporter, or donor to a nonprofit organization. 
  • We provide a bird’s-eye view of recent state legislative actions, including how many donor privacy and disclosure laws were introduced, passed one chamber, or were enacted over the last week and since the beginning of the year.
  • We share links to the latest stories and research on nonprofit donor disclosure laws and policies. 

Click here to read past editions, and click the link below to subscribe!

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