GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL ROUNDUP: A full house on hand for hearing on frac-sand mining regulations
A State Capitol hearing room was not big enough for the dozens of people who had their say on a proposed state takeover of frac-sand mining regulations. Two overflow rooms were opened, as the Senate's mining committee heard hours of emotional testimony yesterday on a bill from its chairman, Hazelhurst Republican Tom Tiffany. He said local governments are taking away the miners' property rights with their restrictive local ordinances and quote, "If any government gets away from that, I come down for property rights." However, Democrats said the bill strips the ability of local leaders to protect their residents, thus putting their health at risk. Senate Democrat Kathleen Vinehout and Assembly Democrat Chris Danou said it would nullify a moratorium on new frac-sand mines in Trempealeau County -- ending a health study which is part of that moratorium. Dozens of mines are in Vinehout's district, and she says the people who live near them deserve a say in their regulations. The bill's future is uncertain. G-O-P Senate President Mike Ellis says it must be amended to address local residents' concerns. Richland Center Republican Dale Schultz wants a committee to study the impact. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has delayed a vote in his house until next spring to learn as much about the issue as possible.
Janesville House Republican Paul Ryan appears to have low expectations going into the first full round of talks on a federal budget agreement. Ryan is co-chairing a House-Senate negotiating panel formed as part of the agreement which ended the federal government shutdown. Ryan -- the House Budget chairman -- has been warning people not to expect a grand bargain to end the continuing resolutions which have replaced annual budgets since 2009. He hopes to cut federal spending on the margins, manage expectations, and search for quote, "common ground to see if we can make divided government work." Ryan said he's had productive talks with the panel's other co-chair, Democratic Senate Budget chair Patty Murray -- but he says neither party should expect the other to compromise their widely-different core principles. All 29 committee members will meet for the first time on Wednesday, including both of Wisconsin's U-S senators -- Republican Ron Johnson and Democrat Tammy Baldwin. They have until mid-December to reach an agreement.
State Senate Democrat Kathleen Vinehout says it's still "doable" to win the governor's race next year, even though she'd have to beat two very well-funded opponents. The lawmaker from Alma says she'll spend the next six weeks talking to people around the state about her possible chances -- and she'll make a decision by early next year. Some Democratic groups are not waiting. They're getting behind Mary Burke now, so she can have time to round up enough money to challenge the heavily-funded Republican incumbent Scott Walker. Burke got major endorsements this week from Russ Feingold's Progressives United, and Emily's List -- which spent five-million-dollars last year to help U-S Senate Democrat Tammy Baldwin get elected.
Governor Scott Walker will not announce today whether he'll say yes-or-no to the Menominee Indians' proposed new casino in Kenosha. Spokesman Tom Evenson says the Republican governor needs more time to review information the tribe submitted during a meeting with Walker on Wednesday. A new date for an announcement has not been set. The federal government gave its blessing to the proposed 800-million-dollar resort-and-gambling complex two months ago. That left it up to the governor to make the final call. Among other things, Walker demanded that all 11 Wisconsin Indian tribes support the new casino. The Potawatomi and Ho-Chunk tribes adamantly oppose it -- but Menominee leaders said the two tribes approved the new casino on a technicality, when they signed their own new gaming agreements with the state a decade ago. The Ho-Chunk says it doesn't know anything about that. The Menominee also offered to pay more of its gaming revenues to the state, so the Potawatomi and Ho-Chunk can pay less -- thus off-setting their revenue losses resulting from a Kenosha casino.
A Wisconsin House Democrat says you don't need a faulty Internet site to sign up for Obama-care. Milwaukee's Gwen Moore says people should seek out other ways to buy the insurance they're required to have by January first -- like using the toll-free phone number, or getting an application by mail. Yesterday, developers of the troubled Healthcare.gov Web site traded accusations with the federal government during a lengthy hearing on the site's technical problems. Some Democrats have joined Republicans in calling for a delay of the insurance purchasing requirement, due to the Web site's ongoing access problems. Moore, however, is moving full-speed ahead on Obama-care, calling it an unprecedented opportunity to get quality health care at affordable rates. She held a series of meetings last week in Milwaukee to show people how to sign up. Moore does say the Web site's hang-ups are unacceptable, and she's confident they'll be fixed soon. Janesville House Republican Paul Ryan says the federal government continues to have no answers for anyone about the Web site. Ryan said earlier this week that Health-and-Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius should resign -- and he still calls the problems a "fiasco." Ryan said the Obama White House has spent over three years and a half-billion-dollars on the new health reform and quote, "Look at what we have."
It will be almost another month before we know how Wisconsin's job situation is doing. The normal monthly unemployment report was not issued this month, because the U-S Bureau of Labor Statistics never produced the data, because of the federal government shutdown. Normally, we'd get estimates by now of how many jobs were created in the Badger State in September, along with both the state and local jobless rates. Officials say those reports are on the way -- but the first one won't be ready for release until November 21st.
Wausau is the latest Wisconsin community to consider banning cell phones while driving. Officials say there's a lot of public support for a ban. A committee asked the city attorney's office this week to draft an ordinance for the City Council to consider. The Public Safety panel plans to issue a recommendation next month. Wausau's suburbs would be asked to pass their own cell-phone bans. Police Chief Jeff Hardel says that's key, so drivers would not have to guess the boundaries of where cell phone usage could stay legal. Everest Metro Police Chief Wally Sparks says Schofield and the village-and-town of Weston should all endorse the ban. Sparks' department serves all three communities, and he tells the Wausau Daily Herald his officers should be able to enforce the law without worrying about what community they're in. Marshfield and Wisconsin Rapids are among the places with cell-phone bans, and they allow hands-free usage. Some local officials say it would be best if Wisconsin had a statewide ban, but it has never been seriously considered in the Legislature.
A state council that got into hot water for approving a politically-tainted sportsmen's grant has endorsed a new approach to achieve the grant's original goals. Yesterday, the Sporting Heritage Council asked the D-N-R to come up with a series of small grants to encourage more Wisconsinites to go hunting-and-fishing. The panel also told lawmakers to fix the state budget measure which barred some well-established sporting groups from applying for the original half-million dollar grant. Critics said majority Republicans tried targeting the grant to the politically-connected United Sportsmen, which had no experience in teaching people how to hunt-and-fish. The group's tax status was later questioned, and its leader left the group after it was learned that he was fined for a bear-hunting violation. Former Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder, who reportedly engineered the budget measure, left to take a state bureaucratic job -- but while the grant controversy kept brewing, he left state government altogether to take a lobbying post with the Wisconsin Paper Council. Assembly Democrat Nick Milroy of South Range urged the sporting council to re-work the law to remove any attempt at favoritism. Council chair Scott Gunderson said grants could be arranged outside the political process, and he saw no need to revisit the law.