Breaking news from our studio in Madison, Wisconsin. City, county, state, and neighborhood news.
City Engineers Propose Storm Water Changes
Madison’s engineering division is drafting revisions to a city ordinance to help combat flooding. The changes would require better storm water practices for both development and redevelopment projects.
The city’s proposed changes are aimed at avoiding the historic flooding experienced by the east and west sides of Madison in summer 2018, when elevated lake levels flooding low lying areas of the isthmus and flash flooding devastated communities in Shorewood Hills.
The ordinance change would require new standards for developers. New development would require elevating structures and larger culverts. It would also require dedicated lots for diverting water to ponds and green ways.
Those looking to redevelop would need to plan to absorb about half an inch of rain with green infrastructure. That includes using things like rain gardens or permeable pavement.
Hannah Mohelnitzky is a spokesperson for the City Engineering office. She says the proposed changes will beef up land use requirements for developers.
“Basically, there is an increase in requirements when it comes to keeping water on the land [and] that’s something that we’ve never done before,” Mohelnitzky says.
“So, say someone wants to build. We want to make sure they have the infrastructure in place and there’s plenty of land also for new development that can keep the water controlled and so it’s not flowing uncontrolled to other areas impacting other people. That’s really important. It may require more land, and more land may mean more money for people to have to purchase to be able to support that infrastructure, but in the end…it will really help our community.”
An online presentation from city engineers Greg Fries and Janet Schmidt show that the flooding has hit low and enclosed areas and historic wetlands the hardest
The changes come as the city also predicts more significant rain events in the future. The same presentation from city engineers shows a fifteen percent increase in precipitation over the last seventy years.
The proposed changes require developers to account for these larger weather events, and their impact on the storm sewer system. The city wants to expand the capacity of the storm sewer system to accommodate a 200-year flood event, which is six to ten inches in a 24-hour period.
“The storm water infrastructure needs to be able to detain the 1, 2, 5, 10, and 100 year storm events, but the new change is adding a 200-year storm event that involves post-development peaks. , but they must put in the storm because we’re getting that 100-year storm event more frequently, which is what Mother Nature is throwing us,” says Mohelnitzky.
The ordinance revisions come as the city and county implement other practices to mitigate flooding. A plan to dredge the Yahara River and improve water flow from Lake Monona to Lake Waubesa is slated to begin in spring. The city also plans to make structural changes to the Tenney Locks, which regulate lake levels.
The city is seeking public comment on the ordinance changes, from both citizens and developers, until April 10. Public input meetings are planned for late February and early March, and more information is available here. You can also email input to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Picture Credit: Inge Maria on Unsplash
AG Kaul Opposes Proposed Lending Rule
Interest rate limits in the United States are one of the oldest forms of consumer protection. These limits are called usury laws, and they’ve existed for centuries. At the time of the American Revolution, every state in the Union had interest rate limits.
That’s according to Lauren Saunders, Associate Director of the National Consumer Law Center, a nonprofit organization that advocates for consumer reform.
“But in the last few decades, banks have managed to escape interest rate limits,” Saunders says. “Banks generally can charge whatever they want, and they can ignore state law. So, predatory lenders have been trying to find a way to use banks to get around interest rate limits so they can charge high, astronomical rates that states don’t allow. We call this ‘rent-a-bank’ lending.”
“Rent-a-bank” schemes work like this: A payday lender will place a bank’s name on a loan. Because national banks have no limit on charging interest rates under the National Bank Act of 1864, that loan can have an interest rate higher than the state cap. The bank, which holds the loan, will then sell it back to the payday lender.
That means payday lenders can use banks as cover for charging exorbitant interest rates. And payday lenders can charge Interest rates that exceed what’s allowed by each state.
Since the 1800s, the Supreme Court has held that contracts concerning the interest rate on a loan won’t be upheld if they were formed with the intent to evade usury laws.
But, last September, two federal regulatory agencies argued in a Colorado federal court district that non-bank lenders, including payday lenders, may charge the same interest rate banks offer.
Those two regulatory agencies are the U.S. Treasury’s Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, or OCC, which regulates and supervises banks, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, FDIC, which regulates and insures credit unions.
Here’s Saunders again.
“The OCC and the FDIC have sided with this predatory lender, World Business Lenders, in a court case, and then they shortly afterwards issued this proposed rule that would codify the ability of lenders that should be limited by state interest rate limits to charge whatever banks can charge,” Saunders says.
Romulus Johnson is a counsel with the FDIC’s Legal Division. He says the new rule-making isn’t intended to prevent states from setting their own interest caps, but rather to make sure banks can sell their loans to maintain the liquidity of their assets.
“The sole purpose of that proposed rule-making was merely to reiterate that, in the FDIC’s view, community banks continue to enjoy the same right of interest rate exportation and assignment of their loans that national banks enjoy under the National Bank Act,” Romulus says.
Martin Gruenberg is a member of the FDIC’s Board of Directors. He voted against the rule-making proposal in November.
“It is essential that the FDIC not unnecessarily undermine the application of state consumer protection laws to rent-a-charter relationships. This proposed rule could well have that effect,” Gruenberg argues.
Yesterday, Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul joined a bipartisan coalition of eighteen state attorneys general opposing the proposal to exempt payday lenders from state interest caps.
Wisconsin does not have a usury law that caps interest rates. But in a press release yesterday, Attorney General Kaul argued the importance of letting states impose and enforce interest rate caps in the future.
Cecelia Klingele on Criminal Justice Reform
Last year, Governor Tony Evers reinstated the pardon review board and issued the first pardons in Wisconsin in nearly a decade, but he also noted during last night’s State of the State that his administration has a lot of work left to do with criminal justice reform.
Part of that work may be achieved through a package of bills that were introduced earlier this year. WORT producer Shaun Soman spoke with UW-Madison Professor of Law Cecelia Klingele about those bills earlier today.
Evers Delivers State of the State Address
Governor Tony Evers took to the podium last night to deliver a speech that touched on the many issues he worked to address during a first term that was marked by repeated spats with a Republican-controlled legislature.
Despite threats to veto an entire budget and the dismissal of a cabinet appointee, Evers still took the time to highlight areas of bipartisan progress.
“In my last State of the State Address, I asked the legislature to set politics aside so we could work together on the issues facing our state,” said Evers. “I said I expected bills to be passed with broad support and in the spirit of bipartisanship. So, one of the things I’m most proud of is that more than 95 percent of the bills I signed my first year in office had bipartisan support. And, by golly, folks worked together on some important issues.”
Evers highlighted healthcare, voting rights, and human trafficking as issues where he and the legislature made progress in 2019. He promised to spend 2020 focusing on investing in communities, youth vaping issues, insulin prices, and water contamination.
Evers also made agriculture, rural investment, and the lagging dairy industry in Wisconsin central priorities, in response to a steady stream of farm bankruptcies and dairy instability in the state. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel found that over 800 Wisconsin dairy farmers either left or were forced to quit the industry last year. When the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, visited Wisconsin last October he said that small farms may have to consolidate to survive.
“They saw when milk prices are low, you need to milk more cows to make up for it,” said Perdue. “When milk prices are high, you need to milk more cows to take advantage of it.”
Evers dismissed that perspective, then ordered the legislature to get to work on the issue through a three-pronged plan. Step one of the plan gets underway next week.
“We’ve heard people who’ve said there’s no place for small farms anymore,” said Evers. “They ought to go big or bust. Well, they’re wrong. Tonight, I am calling a special session of the legislature next week to take up legislation to invest in our farmers, agricultural industries, and our rural communities.”
Evers said that he would also expand the Farm Center, increase staffing at UW Extension, and create new programs that would get food and mental health services to farmers. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald told Channel3000 that he’s willing to hear out Governor Evers’ agricultural proposals.
But the Majority Leader denounced Governor Evers’ push for a nonpartisan redistricting committee to draw fair maps. Evers said that the lack of competitive districts is one of the major reasons that some of his policies, which poll well, are not enacted.
“When more than 80 percent of our state supports medical marijuana, and 80 percent support universal background checks and extreme risk protection orders, 70 percent support expanding medicaid, and elected officials can ignore those numbers without consequence, folks,” said Evers. “Something is wrong.”
Fitzgerald called the proposal “unconstitutional.”
Wisconsin is one of the most gerrymandered states in the union, with very few competitive seats for non-statewide elections. A Marquette poll from last January found that seventy-two percent of Wisconsinites want legislative districts to be drawn by a nonpartisan commission.
But Republicans have consistently opposed redistricting reform and have defended the current maps as fair. Last year, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said that Republican dominance in the legislature was simply because of better candidates and better messaging.
In his response to Evers’ speech, Senate President Roger Roth, a Republican from Appleton, said that Evers was focusing too much on appealing to liberals.
Nicki Vander Meulen, Disability Rights, & the Run for Madison Sch...
Nicki Vander Meulen currently holds Seat 7 on the Madison Metropolitan School District’s Board of Education.
Vander Meulen is a juvenile attorney, has been a disability-rights advocate since a young age, and was elected to Seat 7 in 2017, becoming the first school board member who is openly on the autism spectrum — not just in Madison, but in the entire United States.
WORT producer Shaun Soman spoke with Vander Meulen about her candidacy in the coming April 7th election earlier today.
Madison Considers Stricter Tourist Rental Laws
During its full meeting last night, the City of Madison’s common council advanced an ordinance that would impose stricter regulations on short-term tourist rentals like Airbnb operations.
The city currently requires that short-term rentals must also be the operator’s primary residence, and prohibits them from renting the house when they are absent for more than a month each year.
Alder Arvina Martin represents part of Madison’s west side. She says the regulations are meant to address concerns that arise when those who run short-term rentals aren’t present, and to prevent them from purchasing homes with the sole purpose of renting them out to tourists.
“[In one case] it led to a lot of problems between the homeowner and the neighbors,” Martin says. “[There was a lot] of concern about the volume of folks renting out the particular property, in terms of how many dates it was occupied but also how many people were staying at one time, which was leading to traffic concerns in a neighborhood that is very residential and has lots of small children.”
Matt Tucker is the Zoning Administrator for the City of Madison.
He says that when the City’s initial ordinance regarding short-term rentals was passed in 2013, property owners had to work separately with zoning, Public Health Madison and Dane County, and the Treasurer’s Office to make sure the building was compliant.
Tucker says that those overlapping requirements made compliance difficult for those renting out their homes.
“We found that even the property owners themselves struggle with compliance on this, and that is why there was renewed interest to revisit the requirements to make a more formal process by which one would work through the city building inspection office to obtain a permit for a tourist rooming house operation in the dwelling unit they occupy,” Tucker says.
Under the proposed ordinance, those who want to run a short-term rental unit would have to provide the zoning administrator with information about ownership and property, proof of license from Public Health, registration with the Treasurer’s Office, floor plans, contact information, a guest registry, and an affidavit confirming the house is their primary residence.
The ordinance would also establish a $100 annual permit through the City that Alder Martin says would fund costs of enforcing compliance.
“We are not looking to price anybody out,” Martin says. “We are looking to make sure we can cover the cost of enforcement of these situations. This is not something that the City is looking to make money off of, we just want to be able to properly enforce the ordinances that we have.”
Currently, a new license through Public Health Madison & Dane County costs $561 dollars, and an annual renewal amounts to $186. Those fees fund Public Health’s licensing program.
Doug Voegeli is the director of Public Health’s Environmental Health Division.
He says the additional regulations could cause Madison’s short-term rental market to shrink.
“Perhaps it’s not profitable for them. Perhaps it’s just too much to go through, too many affidavits or licenses or certificates needed to actually become an operator,” Voegeli says. “Those that are currently operators I could see dropping out just because it gets to be too much.”
The Wisconsin State Journal reports that in 2017, “only 15 to 20 of hundreds of Airbnb and other operators” complied with city requirements. At the moment, Voegeli says 244 operators out of an estimated 382 in the Madison area are compliant.