Government and Political Roundup: All suspects to give DNA to police in first time offenses
All non-convicted felony suspects and those guilty of misdemeanors would have to give their D-N-A to police for the first time, under a Wisconsin budget measure endorsed last night. The Legislature's Joint Finance Committee voted 13-to-3 to obtain the genetic makeups of 68-thousand more criminal suspects and convicts. Right now, only sex offenders and those convicted of felonies must provide D-N-A for a state database that helps law enforcement solve past-and-present crimes. River Falls Senate Republican Sheila Harsdorf said it's all about "protecting our citizens" - but Kenosha County Senate Democrat Bob Wirch says lawmakers should wait for an upcoming U-S Supreme Court decision on the subject. The justices are expected to decide soon whether Maryland's law for taking D-N-A samples upon arrest violates suspects' expectations of privacy. Wirch said the proposal should be considered in a separate bill, instead of being in the budget. He said it's too important not to get its own public hearing. Harsdorf says it's too important to wait. She said it would help catch career criminals, save lives, and save tax money. Supporters of the measure call D-N-A a 21st century fingerprint. The American Civil Liberties Union and other critics say the genetic markers also contain crucial health information that can be used against people - even if laws are designed to protect against it.
Lawmakers have refused to adopt a statewide policy to let judges order GPS monitoring of domestic abuse suspects who are under restraining orders. Governor Scott Walker proposed the idea, along with three-million dollars in state funds for it. Supporters said it might have prevented the Brookfield spa shootings last October in which Radcliffe Haughton was under a restraining order when he killed his wife, two others, and then himself. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau said putting those not convicted under satellite monitoring could raise constitutional challenges for unreasonable searches. Lawmakers on the Joint Finance Committee said no other state has done it. Committee co-chair John Nygren proposed an alternative plan to let counties test the idea. He also proposed an extra one-and-a-half million for domestic abuse shelters. The panel inserted Nygren's plan into the budget on a 15-to-1 vote.
Some Milwaukee area freeway projects will be delayed, after state lawmakers worked to eliminate a 63-million dollar shortfall in the transportation fund. The Joint Finance Committee voted unanimously last night to delay reconstruction work on a part of Milwaukee's Zoo Freeway interchange. That alone saves 33-million dollars. Another interchange on Interstate-94 near the south edge of Milwaukee will be delayed until the 2015 state budget. Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb said the expected completion dates for the Milwaukee freeway projects would not change - but they would lose most of their cushions for dealing with unexpected problems. About 10-million was dropped from repairs on Milwaukee's Hoan Bridge, leaving 226-million for that project. Repaving and repairs on other state highways were cut by 12-million. Lawmakers preferred to cut or delay projects instead of raising gas taxes and fees. The committee also added several local transportation items at the request of individual lawmakers - including directional signs for a shrine in Brown County. Also, the panel endorsed the idea of allowing golf carts on roads with speed limits of 25-or-less. The measures now go to the full Legislature as part of the next state budget.
Wisconsin's rent-to-own businesses will have to keep following state consumer protection laws, after the Legislature's finance panel said no to looser regulations. The panel voted 10-to-6 last night to reject Governor Scott Walker's request to give the industry a break. The State Supreme Court ruled 20 years ago that rent-to-own contracts are credit transactions, and therefore they must follow state consumer protection disclosures. Republican committee co-chair John Nygren said most states treat rent-to-own contracts like leases. He favored the budget measure, which would have allowed stores to have customers sign contracts in which terms like interest rates and total charges are kept blank until they're filled in later. Also, enforcement would have been transferred to the state Financial Institutions' division, with no provision to shut down stores for intentionally violating disclosure laws. Republican senators joined Democrats in opposing the changes - which the rent-to-own industry has sought for years. West Bend Senate Republican Glenn Grothman was among those saying the businesses prey on the poor. Nygren says there's a legitimate use for the industry. He noted that Packer players often use rent-to-own contracts to equip their temporary homes in Green Bay during the football season. Nygren promised to bring back the measure as a separate bill later in the current legislative session.
On a 14-to-2 vote last night, the state Legislature's finance committee rejected a proposed funding increase and tuition hike for the University of Wisconsin System. Lawmakers took their anger out on the U-W, for imposing maximum tuition increases for six straight years while quietly sitting on 650-million dollars in cash reserves. The panel said no to Governor Scott Walker's original plan to increase state funds for the U-W by 181-million dollars over the next two years. It would have allowed a two-percent tuition hike, and the possibility of being more flexible with its finances. Instead, lawmakers said they would increase their scrutiny of the U-W - and students will get a two-year tuition freeze, the first in the System's 42-year history. About 90-million-dollars in planned expenses will have to come from the U-W's reserves. Only Democrats Jon Richards and Cory Mason voted against the committee's rebuke. The proposals now go to the full Legislature as part of the next state budget.
Republican co-chair Alberta Darling called for the removal of U-W System President Kevin Reilly, saying the cash reserves breached a trust with lawmakers. Ripon G-O-P Senator Luther Olsen said he believed the U-W didn't know how big the reserves got. And if the schools' leaders were in a private company, Olsen said quote, "The stockholders would fire all of you because you don't know your finances." U-W officials defended the surpluses, calling them a safety net amid volatile circumstances. The System says the panel's funding cuts will leave the university with a 61-million dollar shortfall in its budget for the next year.
Governor Scott Walker kept his 2016 presidential options open last night by telling Iowans he's really one of their own. The Wisconsin Republican spent seven of his childhood years at Plainfield in northwest Iowa - something he repeated several times during his 40-minute speech to about 600 people at a county G-O-P fund-raiser in Des Moines. Walker mentioned his accomplishments in getting rid of Wisconsin's budget deficit, and the need to push for entitlement reforms to reduce people's dependence on government. Iowa's caucuses are the first test in the parties' nominating process. Walker joined Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Michele Bachmann in using the Des Moines event to lay a possible groundwork for a White House bid. Walker called on Republicans to be more optimistic and courageous, and speak in terms that are more relevant. Long-time Iowa Republican insider Craig Robinson said the full house showed that there's a lot of interest in Walker as a presidential candidate. Robinson told Learfield's Radio Iowa quote, "He's gone through a political gauntlet that is very similar to a presidential campaign, and none of the other candidates of 2016 have any experience" in that. Robinson was referring to the contentious recall vote in Wisconsin that Walker survived a year ago. Before his speech, Walker attended a small fundraiser in Des Moines for his 2014 governor's re-election campaign.