GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL ROUNDUP: Assembly votes to legalize 'pedal pubs'
The state Assembly has voted to legalize "pedal pubs" -- vehicles that roll from tavern-to-tavern in places like downtown Milwaukee, where riders can drink while pedaling with their feet. Milwaukee officials say drinking on the pedal pubs violates a state law which bans the use of alcohol in vehicles. Assembly Republican Jeff Stone of Greendale responded with a bill to let Wisconsin communities allow drinking on pedal pubs. The Assembly Small Business Committee later took the decision out of the municipalities' hands by allowing pedal-pub drinking unless a local ordinance is passed to ban it. That's the measure now pedaling through the Legislature. Next stop is the Senate.
Wisconsin Senate Democrats say it's wrong for Republicans to assume that local polling place workers are tied to political parties -- or that their mistakes are evidence of corruption. Yesterday, Senate Republicans approved four bills to avoid a repeat of what the G-O-P called sloppy practices and irregularities in last year's Senate recall election in Racine County. Republican Van Wanggaard, who lost that election, blamed numerous irregularities at the polls. Racine County authorities investigated, but never charged anyone. Still, G-O-P Elections Committee chair Mary Lazich said there was a need for reform -- and it resulted in four bills passed yesterday with only a handful of Democratic yes votes. One bill would require poll workers of different parties to perform various tasks, but only where a party exercised its right to nominate a poll worker. Other bills require two poll workers of opposite parties to secure ballot containers -- mark ballots with damages and other problems uniformly -- and make poll workers record the documents voters present to show proof of residency. Middleton Democrat Jon Erpenbach said it could make personal data public, thus opening those people up to identity theft. Green Bay Democrat Dave Hansen says the measures are designed to make it harder to vote, and harder to be a clerk. The measures now go to the G-O-P-controlled Assembly.
The State Justice Department is fighting a request by Wisconsin funeral directors to reduce the amount of interest they promised to those who bought certain pre-paid funerals. A statewide fund that holds the families' payments for their future funerals went into receivership last year after investment issues caused a 24-and-a-half million dollar shortfall. Funeral homes have eating the shortfall, so families can still get the services they were promised. Now, the group has asked the Madison judge in the case to stop paying an interest premium for funerals ordered after last September first when the case went into receivership. Earlier funerals would get the promised interest. The court-appointed receiver in the case criticized the funeral directors' request, saying it would result in lower-quality funerals than what families had paid for. The funeral directors disagreed, saying their facilities should not have to meet an artificial investment goal. The Justice Department filed a brief yesterday calling the new stand by the funeral directors a "bait-and-switch."
A legislative committee is expected to endorse a bill today to make it harder to drop Indian team names for Wisconsin public schools. The Assembly's governmental affairs panel is scheduled to take up the proposal late this morning. If approved, it would then go to the full Assembly. The committee held an emotional public hearing on the measure last week, where the bill's supporters said schools were being judged guilty-before-proven-innocent -- and opponents said it would allow for more discrimination against Indians. The measure would basically un-do a 2009 law from Democrats. Indians would have to prove that school nicknames-and-logos are discriminatory, instead of making school boards prove that they're not. Instead of letting one person file a complaint with the state, the new bill requires petitions with signatures equaling at least 10-percent of an affected school's student population. The governor's administration would act on mascot complaints instead of the state Department of Public Instruction. And all of the state's previous orders to change Indian names under the 2009 law would be dropped.
The Wausau School Board will meet in a closed session tomorrow evening to decide how it would react to a possible lawsuit over limiting Christmas music by school choral groups. After that, the Board will meet in public to talk about an issue that's gotten national attention. It started last week, when the Wausau school administration issued new policies telling choral groups to keep religious music at a minimum during their holiday concerts -- or wait until after the holidays to perform. It threw School Board members off-guard -- and it caused the Wausau West High School Master Singers to temporarily disband. They were scheduled to sing Christmas carols at 15 events around the Wausau area close to the holidays. Superintendent Kathleen Williams told W-A-O-W T-V it might be a problem, because those performances could be interpreted as endorsing a religion. In a more general statement last night, Williams said it was not true that groups were told to have five non-religious songs for every religious song in a school program. She said the district's music committee never set an exact ratio. Williams told the T-V station the policy makes sure that students don't feel coerced into performing songs which make them uncomfortable. She also said the district wants to stay within the law by not endorsing any religion.
Problems are still being reported with the Internet site where those without health insurance are required to buy it under the Affordable Care Act. Healthcare-Dot-Gov crashed a number of times last Tuesday, the first day people could sign up for coverage under one of the new Obama-care purchasing exchanges. Since then, glitches have been fixed -- but apparently not all of them. The Milwaukee Health Department says it has tried for over a week to help hundreds of people with their online purchasing, and not one client could finish the process. Still, insurers are getting business from the online exchanges. Anthem Blue Cross says it has had unprecedented interest on its own Web site -- plus heavy volumes of phone callers from those wanting to sign up. Anthem, Molina Health-care, the Common Ground Cooperative, and the W-P-S Arise plan say they've had sales from the online marketplace. Up to 700-thousand Wisconsinites are signing up, including 92-thousand childless adults who will lose Badger-Care coverage after income limits were raised. The uninsured must buy coverage by December 15th. It would take effect on January first.
The Wisconsin Assembly has agreed to give businesses a new way to tap into investment funds. On a voice vote yesterday, the lower House decided to relax some state laws on stock sales, to let investors make donations that provide capital for companies that need it. It's called "crowd-funding." Companies could raise up to a million-dollars on Web sites like Kick-starter -- or two-million if they're willing to be audited and let investors see the results. Donors would not get direct returns, but could get things like free products that a funded company sells. The bill now goes to the Senate. Supporters say it would let new businesses get donated capital in place of more traditional financing like grants, loans, and venture capital -- all of which can still be hard to get in the aftermath of the Great Recession. One of the bill's main sponsors, Assembly Republican Dave Craig of West Bend, says Wisconsin would have the most comprehensive crowd-funding program in the nation. That's because it would allow face-to-face donations, as well as Internet sales. Only Kansas and Georgia allow crowd-funding.
The state Assembly has given its second approval to a Republican bill to give landlords more power over their tenants. The Assembly made some minor changes to the bill's language yesterday on a 57-37 party-line vote, with Democrats voting no. The Senate would have to approve the changes before the bill goes to Governor Scott Walker for his signature. The bill would let landlords dispose of property that evicted tenants leave behind. Building owners could immediately tow improperly-parked vehicles without having to call police. They could also evict tenants if crimes occur in their units, and the tenants are in a position to prevent those crimes. Republicans say the package would provide much-needed fairness to building owners. Opposing Democrats say it would force tenants to give up some of their rights, and reduce local control of rental housing. They say it would also result in more evictions and legal challenges. Just over 35-hundred eviction cases were filed in Wisconsin courts last year.
In Heaven, there is no beer -- and in Wisconsin, there could be less beer if the federal government shutdown keeps dragging on. That's because the Treasury Department's bureau for alcohol-and-tobacco trade has stopped considering applications from craft brewers. Mike Brenner tells the A-P he wants to open a new craft brewery in Milwaukee by December -- but his applications for a tasting room and four labels are on hold right. He said he would lose about eight-thousand dollars each month his plans are delayed. Also, Milwaukee's Lakefront Brewery is waiting on applications to package a dark ale, and create a sour cherry dark lager that an employee came up with. The brewery says it has not lost money over the matter just yet -- but it could happen if the shutdown doesn't end soon. Brenner says the Washington politicians don't seem to care how much damage they're causing.