GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL ROUNDUP: Assembly has a long agenda for its final day
A long and contentious agenda awaits the Wisconsin Assembly in its final meeting of 2013. Majority Republicans are expected to approve bills to re-instate the photo I-D law for voting -- ban early absentee voting on nights and weekends -- allow recalls of state officials only if they're suspected of criminal or ethics violations -- and let pro-lifers show off their support with a new "Choose Life" license plate. Those measures would go to the state Senate early next year. The Assembly also plans its first vote on a constitutional amendment which makes it easier to have a chief justice with the same philosophy as the majority of the Supreme Court. Final legislative action is also expected on a compromise to keep people off public recreational land close to where Gogebic Taconite is doing exploratory work for its proposed iron ore mine. The Assembly is also expected to act on less controversial legislation to require three credits of math-and-science for Wisconsin high school grads, instead of the current two. The Senate approved that measure on Tuesday.
Observers say today's session could run into early tomorrow. Speaker Robin Vos has said he wants to act on much of the G-O-P's agenda now, to avoid a logjam at the end of the two-year session next spring. Democrats plan to stretch out today's proceedings by demanding action on their bill to set up a non-partisan panel to set up new congressional-and-legislative districts -- something the party in power now does every 10 years, often to their favor.
Democrats in Congress are trying to stop the wave of Republican anti-abortion bills passed in states like Wisconsin. Senate Democrat Tammy Baldwin from Madison spoke at a news conference yesterday, on the introduction of a bill prohibiting states from limiting abortions and abortion providers. The bill's lead author, Connecticut Democrat Richard Blumenthal, admits it might not have the votes to pass this session -- but he says it will force those running for office next year to say where they stand on the issue. Baldwin said state politicians have been quote, "standing between women and their doctors, restricting the choices women can make regarding their own reproductive health." Baldwin added quote, "It's not the job of a politician to play doctor." She specifically mentioned the state law that requires abortion doctors to have hospital admitting privileges -- a measure that two abortion agencies say would close some of their Wisconsin clinics. The bill is tied up in the courts for now. Blumental said that if states won't protect women's reproductive rights, Washington will. He said he was confident the measure would survive all possible legal challenges.
The Wisconsin Assembly has a marathon session set for today -- but one bill that won't be considered is a state review of deaths in police custody. It was introduced a few weeks ago, but it has not been scheduled for a public hearing. Michael Bell of Kenosha, who lost his son in a police shooting nine years ago, has tried in vain to make police more accountable for their shooting incidents. Now, Bell is advertising on U-S-A Today to urge lawmakers to take up the new measure -- and he plans an online petition next week on Change-Dot-Org. The bill would set standards for outside agencies to review deaths of those in custody. A state panel study all incidents and make decisions on whether they were justified. Local prosecutors would also get those reports to consider whether-or-not to file charges. Right now, Assembly G-O-P Criminal Justice chairman Garey Bies says larger police agencies investigate their own officers, while the state Justice Department or neighboring agencies fill the role in smaller places. State Attorney General J-B Van Hollen has opposed the bill. He says it's quote, "unnecessary, unworkable, and an expansion of government's already too-burdensome bureaucracy."
Federal health officials now say that 877 Wisconsinites managed to buy insurance on the troubled Healthcare-Dot-Gov site last month. Up to 700-thousand state residents are supposed to buy coverage from the federal government's purchasing exchange by December 15th. Thousands ran into technical glitches -- and some could not even register on the site. Yesterday, the U-S Department of Health-and-Human Services issued a state-by-state breakdown of the numbers of people managing to buy insurance on the Web site from October first through November second. Wisconsin's total was about one-sixth of the 55-hundred people projected to sign up for Obama-care in the first month of purchasing. The government said just over 19-thousand Wisconsinites got far enough to submit applications online -- although just 877 got through. The report did not have a breakdown on the types of coverage purchased. Federal officials hope to get Healthcare-Dot-Gov working smoothly by the end of this month. Earlier this week, state officials began mailing paper applications to the 77-thousand Badger Care recipients who will lose their coverage at the end of the year.