Afternoon State News Briefs: Raucous state Senate passes abortion ultrsound bill
MADISON - After 20 minutes of debate this morning, Democrats screamed through a roll call vote on a bill that might force Appleton's Planned Parenthood clinic to close - and to make abortion candidates get ultrasounds so they could see what they were giving up.
The bill passed on a 17-15 party line vote with all Democrats voting no and all the Republicans present voting yes. After the measure was debated yesterday, Democrats blocked the final vote until today. Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said the opponents had plenty of time to debate the measure - and the Senate needed to vote quickly this morning, so members could go to committee meetings. Minority Leader Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) didn't buy that claim. With his microphone turned off he yelled, "I understand you're afraid of this debate." Senate President Mike Ellis (R-Neenah) broke the base where he pounded his gavel and he yelled to Larson, "You're interrupting a roll call, and that will not be tolerated - sit down!"
The bill's sponsor, New Berlin Republican Mary Lazich, said any family would want the most information possible before losing a relative to an abortion - and an ultrasound would provide it. Critics said it would force Planned Parenthood in Appleton to close, because it does not have doctors with hospital privileges. The bill requires abortion doctors to have hospital admitting privileges within 30 miles of their clinics. Alma Democrat Kathleen Vinehout said the true intent of the bill was to close as many abortion facilities as possible. The tense Senate vote was reminiscent of the 2011 debate on virtually ending collective bargaining for most public employee unions. Afterward, Democrats held a news conference that was longer than the floor debate. The bill now goes to the state Assembly tomorrow and then to Governor Scott Walker, who says he'll sign it.
The president of the Wisconsin State Senate says it's okay that the next state budget will create a half-billion dollar deficit in the following budget in 2015. Republican Mike Ellis of Neenah has expressed concerns in the past about a budget that pushes millions-of-dollars in state spending obligations more than two years down the road. Today, though, Ellis said he can live with the $505-million shortfall that was projected by the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau for the 2015-through-'17 budget. The figure did not include any changes in state revenues due to economic activity - and Ellis says that even meager economic growth will make up for the shortfall. Milwaukee Assembly Democrat Jon Richards used the shortfall projection to again chide Republicans on their budget priorities. He again condemned the massive income tax cuts in the GOP's two-year package. Richards said quote, "Only in Republican Fantasy-land is it a good idea to turn a into a deficit by blowing it on tax cuts for the rich." The Fiscal Bureau also says the budget endorsed last week by the Joint Finance Committee would raise the average homeowner's property taxes by $29 a year.
The current version of the new state budget would raise local property taxes by one-percent in each of the next two years for the average Wisconsin homeowner. The non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau said Governor Scott Walker's original budget would have raised local taxes by 19-dollars over the next two years. That's now $58, after the Joint Finance Committee increased the proposed level of spending. The fiscal bureau also said the current budget pushes $505-million of state spending into the next budget period starting in 2015. And if nothing's done before then, the governor and lawmakers would be left to fix that shortfall two years from now. The Fiscal Bureau's projections do not include possible gains-or-losses in tax revenues due to economic trends - and it does not reflect such extra expenses as pay raises for state workers. The numbers do include the changes to the budget made by the Joint Finance Committee. Among other things, the panel doubled Governor Scott Walker's proposed income tax cut, created a tax deduction for private school parents, added spending for school vouchers, and increased state aid for public schools.
The Wisconsin State Assembly had a full agenda this afternoon. Among the most notable measures up for approval is a compromise bill to reform state-and-local elections and let state candidates get double the current campaign donations from individuals. The looser campaign spending limits were part of a compromise reached late last week. Majority Republicans reached out to Democrats by endorsing one of their measures to let people register to vote online. Some controversial elements of the package were dropped for now - including changes in the photo ID law, and limits on early voting hours. GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos of Burlington says things like that could come back this fall in another bill. Also up for an Assembly vote today is a bill to increase the maximum weekly unemployment benefit by seven-dollars, to $370, with new limits on who can qualify, and new ways to take back benefits that are overpaid. The lower house also has a vote planned on a bill that expands the allowable evidence in prosecuting domestic violence cases. District attorneys could tell juries about a defendant's relevant misconduct going back 10 years.
A four-year-old construction project on the Highway 41 expressway at Oshkosh is almost finished. The state DOT held a ceremony to mark the opening of the bridge over Lake Butte des Morts. It's part of a half-billion-dollar project to widen 17 miles of Highway 41 between Neenah and Oshkosh. All eight lanes of the bridge will open next month, and the remainder of the Oshkosh project will be finished next year. Work continues on Highway 41 in the Green Bay area. Once the entire expansion is completed, the road will be up to Interstate standards. Officials have asked that the road be called "Interstate-41." The familiar red-white-and-blue signs are expected to go up sometime next year.
The state Justice Department is investigating the shooting death of a 23-year-old man by Beloit police officers. Police captain Vince Sciame said officers had the man under surveillance -- and after he left a residence, officers tried stopping his car. Two unmarked police officers tried boxing the suspect in, and a third squad car arrived to help. An officer told the suspect to put his car in "park" - but instead, the vehicle rammed into a police car to the front. The man apparently drove at one of the other officers when two others fired shots. The suspect then drove into a building and died at the scene. The two shooters were put on administrative leave, pending investigations by both the state and Beloit Police. The man had been wanted for violating a previous probation - but it was not disclosed what type of crime the probation was connected with.
A judge has dismissed federal charges against Marshfield anti-abortion activist Ralph Lang. That's because he's already been convicted in state court - and the U.S. Attorney says a defendant cannot generally be found guilty on both state-and-federal charges for the same offense. The 65-year-old Lang was convicted May 30th by a Dane County Circuit Court jury, for plotting to kill an abortion doctor in Madison. He was found guilty of attempted first-degree intentional homicide. Lang is scheduled to be sentenced August second. U.S. Attorney John Vaudreuil said he would ask Justice Department officials in Washington to bring back the federal case if he does not believe the state's sentence is adequate enough. He said there would have to be significant federal interest in reviving the federal charges and quote, "We think there is." The U.S. Attorney's complaint said Lang intimidated others from using a federally-funded program. He was arrested in May of 2011, after telling a motel clerk that he accidentally shot a bullet through the door of his room. At his state trial, Lang said he planned to shoot an abortion doctor the next day at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Madison - and he wished he had a machine gun so he could quote, "mow down" the entire staff. Vaudreuil said he did not see a need to drop his federal case until now - because he had assumed that Lang would be tried by the feds before state got to him.
Marquette University officials say they will provide counselling to students, friends and family of a 21-year-old student who died in Rome on Monday. Senior Director of University Communications Brian Dorrington says it was a "tremendously sad day" for the school and their focus is to console those affected by the tragedy. Andrew Carr, a junior at Marquette, was overseas studying in Italy. The U-S Embassy is working with local police to investigate the incident, but witnesses say Carr was pretending to be a tightrope walker on a 65-foot high wall when he fell into a river.
Almost 150 Wisconsin lakes, rivers, and streams are about to be added to a statewide list of impaired waterways. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel said most of the new waters fail to meet the state's relatively-recent standards for phosphorus pollution. The DNR's Aaron Larson conducted a review of the waterways. Last month, the DNR proposed adding just 21 new waters to the impaired list. About 100 lakes were added to that group, after the federal EPA noted that Wisconsin was not following its own standards to prevent high phosphorus levels. The federal government requires states to keep an ongoing list of waters that don't meet state environmental limits for various chemicals. The Clean Water Act requires states to set priority lists for waters that need to be cleaned up - and then develop action plans to get the waters into compliance. Wisconsin has over 700 waters on its impaired list. The EPA will make final decisions on the newest entries by the end of the year.
A Wisconsin appeals court said a man violated probation for a sexual assault case, just by visiting a tavern while his previous victim was working there. Mark Peterson of Rockford, Illinois was originally given three years of probation for a theft conviction in 2006. A judge later revoked the probation and sent Peterson back to jail, after he walked into a tavern in 2010 - and a woman was working there who was sexually assaulted by Peterson in 1995. Peterson said his visit to the bar had nothing to do with the woman. But a circuit judge said a registered sex offender violates a probation when being in the same place as his victim - and the Second District Appellate Court in Waukesha agreed with that ruling today.
Powerful thunderstorms are making its way to the southern part of the state from Iowa. The National Weather Service says most of the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic states are at risk of severe storms, including tornadoes and the possibility of a rare derecho. State Climatologist Ed Hopkins says tornadoes are unlikely because of the straight-line winds lacking rotation, but dangerously strong winds are likely with this particular storm.