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GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL ROUNDUP: Assembly approves the banning of "revenge porn"

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GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL ROUNDUP: Assembly approves the banning of "revenge porn"
Ellsworth Wisconsin 126 S. Chestnut St. 54011

The state Assembly has voted to make Wisconsin the third state in the country to ban "revenge porn." The lower house approved the measure on a voice vote yesterday, despite a warning that it would never survive a court challenge. "Revenge porn" involves jilted lovers who post nude photos of their exes online either to embarrass them, or prevent them from getting jobs or other things to help them move ahead. California and New Jersey are the other states that ban it. The bill's main author, Marshfield Republican John Spiros, said he didn't know how widespread "revenge porn" is -- but he wants to head off as much of it as possible. G-O-P Speaker Robin Vos said the bill would encourage people to think twice about posting others' nude images. He said people should not continually become crime victims like this. Milwaukee Democrat Fred Kessler, a former circuit judge, said the measure would never stand up in court unless a prosecutor can prove that a Web post intended to cause harm or humiliation. Without that, Kessler says the courts would consider it free expression under the First Amendment. He proposed an amendment to demand intent, but lawmakers chose not to consider that. Spiros said his bill would pass constitutional muster. It now goes to the Senate early next year.

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Wisconsinites would find it much easier to obtain mental health services, under a package of 13 bills approved yesterday by the state Assembly. Speaker Robin Vos calls it the most comprehensive set of mental health reforms in a generation. The Republican Vos says the bills address a wide range of concerns, from access to mental health care, to improved coordination of emergency detentions. The package would spend an additional four-million dollars through the middle-of-2015. The measures were proposed by a task force earlier this year. Its chairwoman, Shorewood Assembly Democrat Sandy Pasch, called it an important first step to addressing shortfalls in Wisconsin's mental health system. Vos expects approvals from the Senate when it returns to session early next year. Among other things, it would be easier for mental health patients to seek treatments at home. Doctors would have a consultation line for advice on treatment choices. Law enforcement would get grants to improve their response to crisis situations involving mental illness. And incentives would encourage more doctors to practice in rural areas.

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State Veterans Affairs Secretary John Scocos has agreed to take 325-thousand dollars to settle lawsuits he filed against the state after he got fired in 2009. The Wisconsin State Journal said the settlement was reached last month. Scocos accused the Veterans Affairs Board of not letting him stay in his job soon after he returned from military duty in Iraq. The Board cited communication problems and other issues in the veterans' department, which Scocos had headed since 2003. In 2011, Republican lawmakers took away the board's power to hire the department secretary -- Governor Scott Walker acquired that power, and he used it to bring Scocos back. Scocos's lawyer, Don Daugherty, said the Veterans Board plainly violated the secretary's rights as a member of the military -- and when Walker returned him to his job, it vindicated him. Daugherty said the new settlement quote, "completes the vindication." The deal allows the state to legally deny wrongdoing.

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A bill passed by the Wisconsin Senate would give larger towns the same economic development tool that cities-and-villages have used for decades. On a voice vote yesterday, senators approved a measure to grant tax incremental financing authority to towns of over five-thousand residents. Many of those towns are next to larger cities. It would let them give incentives to attract new-and-larger businesses, by creating zones in which all of the property tax revenues from new projects would be used for things like streets and sewers nearby. Once the higher taxes pay for a project, only then would schools, counties, and tech colleges gain a share of those local taxes. Senate Republican Jerry Petrowski of Marathon sponsored the measure, saying there are businesses that want to locate in urbanized towns, but don’t because of the lack of T-I-F financing. He said it would benefit around 26 towns. An amendment was approved requiring a town's equalized value to be at least a half-billion-dollars. Special legislation recently gave the T-I-F powers to allow mail-order distributors to locate close to freeways south of Milwaukee. The bill now goes to the Assembly.

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The state Assembly might wait until next year to consider a second cutback of new rules that require survivors of elderly patients to repay more of their relatives' Medicaid costs. The Senate passed the measure 32-to-1 yesterday, with Janesville Democrat Tim Cullen casting the only no vote. The Assembly could take up the bill tomorrow. However, Majority Leader Bill Kramer said many of his fellow Republicans are raising concerns about it, so his leadership may hold the bill up until at least January. The state budget passed by Republicans in June expanded the state's powers to dig into a Medicaid recipient's estate to recover tax-funded services -- but not until after the surviving spouse dies. The Joint Finance Committee later scaled back the complicated rules, and the Senate okayed a second roll-back. That's after concerns were raised that middle-class Wisconsinites would not be able to pass down assets to their children and grand-children -- and elderly couples would consider divorcing in order to hang onto whatever assets they could. Under the current law, the state would save four-and-a-half million dollars by mid-2015. The new bill would forgo almost a-million-and-a-half of those savings.

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State and federal government biologists took water samples from Sturgeon Bay yesterday, to find out if the invasive Asian carp has indeed arrived in northeast Wisconsin. Earlier this month, a Notre Dame study turned up D-N-A evidence that the invasive carp showed up near Potawatomi State Park in Door County. That's where Sturgeon Bay empties into the Bay of Green Bay. Officials say yesterday's water samples will be analyzed to give officials a better idea of whether the silver or the big-head Asian carp have taken any kind of hold in the area. The samples will be processed in Green Bay, and will get D-N-A testing at a federal lab in La Crosse. The results are expected in January.

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Jason Schulte
Jason Schulte is a reporter for the New Richmond News since February 2015. Prior to that he spent eight years at the Pierce County Herald in Ellsworth. His duties with the News will include covering news out of Hammond and Roberts along with action from St. Croix County court system. He lives in Roberts. 
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