GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL ROUNDUP: Bill to eliminate Common Core standards on hold
Dozens of Wisconsin school officials jammed a State Capitol hearing room yesterday to oppose a bill that could eventually eliminate the Common Core standards. Meanwhile, lawmakers debated whether the bill is dead -- as Senate Education Committee chair Luther Olsen indicated when he said five majority Republican senators opposed it. The bill creates a panel of politicians and educators to review public school academic standards. Its main sponsor, Senate Republican Leah Vukmir of Wauwatosa, said it would make Wisconsin schools exceptional instead of being common with other places where test scores are dropping. Vukmir also questioned whether five G-O-P senators opposed the measure, insisting she's never heard such a thing. Superintendents argued that the three-year-old math and reading standards work. Pewaukee Superintendent JoAnn Sternke said her districts' A-C-T test scores have never risen faster -- up by almost a point and a half in three years to 24-point-five. Other school leaders say they've spent too much on Common Core to scrap it. They asked where the money would come from to replace it. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald says the bill would most likely need changes in order for it to pass. There's not much time left, with the current session in its final month.
A last-minute effort is being made to address concerns over weight limits for farm equipment on Wisconsin roads. With time running out in the legislative session, five Republicans have introduced a temporary measure to raise weight limits for so-called "Implements of Husbandry." A larger bill on the subject is stalled in both houses. Five rural lawmakers hope to pass something now, and tackle the larger issues next session. According to the Brownfield Ag News Service, the temporary measure would run for only 18 months. It raises gross weight limits to 92-thousand pounds with no limits per-axle. It also re-defines the instruments to include self-propelled and towed vehicles that are made and designed exclusively for agricultural use. Ag commercial motor vehicles would also be included. They would not have height, length, or width limits -- and they would not have to be registered with the D-O-T. The issue arose after Marathon County officers ticketed manure haulers last year for being overweight on town and county roads. That prompted a government and industry task force which spurred the bills that later got stalled. Republicans Joan Ballweg, Gary Tauchen, Howard Marklein, Lee Nerison, and Travis Tranel submitted the new bill this week. It was referred to the Assembly's agriculture committee.
Governor Scott Walker has again urged the White House to approve the long-proposed Keystone X-L oil pipeline. The Republican Walker wrote Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday, saying the trans-continental pipeline would create up to nine-thousand jobs in Wisconsin over a 20-year period. The governor's letter is similar to one he wrote to Washington in April. It comes after the State Department found that the X-L line from Canada to the Gulf Coast would have very little impact on the environment. The Obama administration has long delayed a decision on whether to approve the project. Environmentalists and a number of landowners oppose it. The Canadian government and U-S oil companies favor it.
Another effort is reportedly underway to end the 30-year-old practice of letting Wisconsin voters register at the polls on Election Day. Wis-Politics-Dot-Com says Senate Republican Glenn Grothman is asking his colleagues to sponsor a bill that could speed through the Legislature in the final weeks of its two-year session. In a memo, the West Bend lawmaker said his constituents raised concerns about long lines at the polls due to same-day registration -- as well as the integrity of the voting process itself. Republicans have tried several times to end Election Day registration. They scrapped the idea in 2012 due to the costs of making such a change.
It would be harder for Wisconsinites to vote early, under a bill endorsed yesterday by the Senate Elections Committee. On a 3-to-2 party line vote, majority Republicans recommended no absentee voting on nights and weekends. Hours would be restricted to between 8 a-m and 7 p-m during the two weeks before an election. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett called the bill an attempt by Republicans to limit voting in bigger cities with the most Democrats. G-O-P committee chair Mary Lazich said the bill is meant to create uniform standards statewide. She noted that smaller places don't have the resources to hold night-and-weekend voting. Lazich also said her party worked with Democrats on the latest proposals. Also, the committee modified a bill to let incumbent state officials receive campaign checks from lobbyists any time during election years. They endorsed a ban on those checks from January through April 15th -- earlier than the previous ban which extended to June first. The panel did not act on a bill in which special interests would not have to say where they get the money to run "issue ads." Lazich said the bill did not have enough votes to pass in the Senate.
Governor Scott Walker says he'll focus on the propane fuel shortage in his new role as chairman of the Midwestern Governors Association. Fuel prices shot up in January as cold weather increased the demand. Supplies were already smaller, after farmers used more propane than usual to dry their crops last fall. The price hikes left a number of rural Wisconsin residents in the cold due to broken fuel contracts. The Republican Walker said it exposed a number of problems throughout the Midwest that he wants to start addressing immediately. Walker responded to the Wisconsin shortage by making more fuel aid available to low-income residents, and easing rules to make it easier for drivers to ship propane. The Midwest governors' group had earlier asked President Obama for federal help. Walker becomes the fourth Wisconsin governor to lead the Midwest association. Jim Doyle led the nine-member group seven years ago.