GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL ROUNDUP: Assembly says no to officers carrying concealed weapons on school grounds
It appears that Wisconsinites will not have police, teachers, or anyone else carrying guns at school. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos' office said yesterday that the lower house would not vote on a bill to let retired, off-duty, and out-of-state police officers carry concealed weapons in Wisconsin public school grounds. Vos spokeswoman Kit Beyer did not say why the Assembly won't vote on it. The announcement came after Oconomowoc Republican Joel Kleefisch said he would trigger a debate on guns-in-schools. He proposed an amendment to let any of the state's 203-thousand concealed weapon permit-holders carry hidden heat on school grounds. Kleefisch chairs the Assembly Criminal Justice Committee. He was planning to have the panel vote today on the original bill and his amendment. Kleefisch said he did not have the votes to let adults carry concealed guns at school, but he said the issue deserved a debate. Groups that represent Wisconsin school boards and administrators registered against the amendment, as did the city of Milwaukee. John Forester of the School Administrators' Alliance said he doesn't hear a lot of parents clamoring for guns in schools. The state Justice Department and a half-dozen law enforcement groups came out in support of letting certain officers carry hidden guns in schools. The Justice Department did not respond to letting others do the same.
A recent audit says Wisconsin might have to give back up to 67-million dollars in federal funding, for excessive billings to Medicaid for a youth psychiatric program. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said the state hired the consulting firm of Maximus in 2004, to make sure it was getting the maximum federal Medicaid reimbursements to help run the Health Check psychiatric program. Instead of giving Maximus a flat fee, it paid the firm according to the amount of federal dollars the state was able to lure. Taxpayers shelled out almost three-and-a-half million dollars for those fees from 2004-to-'09. Now, a federal audit questions a 67-million-dollar increase in what Wisconsin got from Washington. State Health Services Secretary Kitty Rhoades said the state shouldn't have to pay anything back, because it acted properly in receiving the money. The department says it's still waiting for a federal order on a payback. Legislative audit committee co-chair Rob Cowles expects an order to pay at least something back. The Green Bay Republican said he hoped the state could somehow recoup whatever it has to pay back, and avoid such incentive arrangements in the future. As Cowles put it -- "When I hear stuff like this, I do a slow burn."
An effort to keep non-violent 17-year-olds out of prison could take another step forward today. The Wisconsin Assembly Corrections Committee is scheduled to vote at mid-morning on a bill to treat those teens as juveniles instead of adults. The Senate's public safety committee is taking testimony on the same measure late this morning. It would only affect 17-year-olds charged with their first non-violent offenses. Repeat offenders and those accused of the most serious crimes like homicide and sexual assault would still be tried as adults. The State Bar, the public defender's office, and the Wisconsin Catholic Conference are among those supporting the bill. Advocacy groups have tried in the past to treat all 17-year-olds as juveniles -- but that effort has gone nowhere, so a compromise was crafted this time around. State Attorney General J-B Van Hollen is still against it. He says the current system works well. Wisconsin started treating 17-year-old criminal suspects like adults in 1996, when former G-O-P Governor Tommy Thompson approved it. Today, Wisconsin is among just 11 states where all minors are treated as adults in the court system.
A group of local officials, construction workers, and business leaders are making a trip to Madison today to urge Governor Scott Walker to say yes to a Kenosha casino. The coalition plans a news conference at the State Capitol, to emphasize the estimated 35-hundred dollars to be created by the Menominee tribe's proposed off-reservation casino and resort. They also plan to point out the tax benefits that state-and-local governments would get. The Menominee has offered to increase what it pays to the state in gambling winnings, so two other tribes that fear revenue losses from their own casinos would not have to pay as much. The Republican Walker delayed a decision scheduled last Friday on the Kenosha casino, so he could study the ramifications further. He's been issuing daily updates on the subject, clarifying the conditions he set for approving it. One of those is community support, and Walker mentions a mixed record on that. He said Kenosha voters approved a referendum for the project in 1998, and Kenosha County residents did the same six years later. The governor also the Milwaukee City Council and County Board opposed the project, supporting the Potawatomi which fears a loss of gaming revenue if the Kenosha casino is built.
Federal workplace safety officials are recommending 140-thousand-dollars in fines for an ethanol plant in southern Wisconsin where a worker died in April. The U-S Occupational Safety-and-Health Administration has issued 15 citations to United Ethanol for health-and-safety violations at its plant in Milton. OSHA said the company exposed 27-year-old Jerad Guell of Janesville to a safety hazard which led to his death. Guell entered a grain bin to unclog a floor chute, and thousands of bushels of corn began flowing down on him. United Ethanol is based in Beaver Dam. The firm has not said how it will respond to the OSHA citations. It can either pay or challenge the fines, or seek a settlement conference with the agency.