GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL ROUNDUP: Meeting Tuesday to determine Assembly majority leader's future
Wisconsin Assembly Republicans are planning to meet tomorrow to consider removing Bill Kramer as the majority leader of the lower house. Kramer's office confirmed to several media outlets during the weekend that the Waukesha lawmaker checked into a treatment facility. His staffers would not say why. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel first reported on Saturday that Kramer was accused of sexually harassing two women last week at a fund-raiser in Washington for state Assembly and Senate Republicans. A legislative staffer and a lobbyist were said to be the women making the allegations. Yesterday, the paper said Kramer was scheduled to meet with G-O-P Assembly Speaker Robin Vos about his possible future in the leadership position -- but that meeting never took place. Vos issued a statement indicating that Assembly leaders planned to strip Kramer of the leadership post he assumed just last fall after Scott Suder resigned. Considering that there's only a month left in the current session, the Journal Sentinel says the majority leader's post may stay vacant for now. The 49-year-old Kramer has been in the Assembly for just over seven years.
Wisconsin schools are facing unintended consequences with a two-year-old federal law aimed at getting kids to eat healthier at lunch. They include more fruits-and-vegetables being thrown away instead of eaten -- more parents packing bag-lunches as school lunch prices go up -- and the prospect of school fund-raisers being eliminated, because the food that's sold does not meet federal guidelines. The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act continues to be phased in, and schools are working with food service providers to find things kids will eat. Under one new requirement, youngsters must pick up a fruit-or-vegetable in the lunch-line. Lynette Zalec of the company that provides food for the Manitowoc district says more of that food is going in the garbage now. School official Ken Mischler tells the Manitowoc Herald Times Reporter that a Valentine's Day fund drive which sells popular heart-shaped suckers might go out the window. That's because the new food standards will also apply to school fund-raisers. He said more kids are bringing bag lunches, or not eating at all, because they've had to raise the cafeteria prices. Zalec says the government wants to stop the practice of schools charging less than what Washington reimburses to give free lunches to low-income students. Mischler says many schools use some of the government to cover losses for the paid lunches, so those close to the poverty line can eat at a reasonable price.
State lawmakers will hear what people think today about a compromise bill to scale back strong local regulations on frac-sand mines. The Assembly and Senate mining panels will hold a joint public hearing at noon at the State Capitol on a revised measure proposed last week by Senate Republican Tom Tiffany of Hazelhurst. It would prohibit existing mines from facing new regulations. And it would not prohibit local governments from slapping a number of regulations on new silica-sand facilities -- including local air-and-water quality standards, banning sand blasts, making frac-sand shippers pay advance fees to cover road damage. Wisconsin towns and counties said Tiffany's original bill would have stomped on local control. Tiffany says those groups don't object to his compromise. He says he's trying to make sure local governments don't legislate frac-sand mines into disappearing. The Sierra Club environmental group still accuses Tiffany of selling out to the frac-sand industry.
A Wisconsin Assembly Republican is trying to get his colleagues to look past the medical marijuana debate, and approve the use of a marijuana extract for treating seizures. First-term representative John Spiros of Marshfield says he's not sure if the Assembly will act on his bill as the current session begins its final month. Spiros says the extract can help kids who have up to 100 seizures a day live normal lives. The Assembly Children-and-Families Committee passed his measure 8-to-1 in February -- but Spiros fears that many colleagues will confuse his proposal with the arguments over allowing marijuana for general medicinal purposes. Legislative majorities of both parties have rejected that idea for years, fearing that legal pot would get into the wrong hands. Spiros said he, too, was skeptical at first -- but after hearing the pros-and-cons, he's certain there's no potential to abuse the anti-seizure extract for recreational purposes.
Governor Scott Walker's office denies telling the state Parole Commission to reduce the number of prisoners being released early. The Wisconsin State Journal said only six-percent of parole requests were approved last year. That's down dramatically from the 13-percent of parole requests approved in 2010, the year before the Republican Walker replaced Democratic Governor Jim Doyle. The state ended parole for new inmates in 2000, after the truth-in-sentencing law took effect. But almost 29-hundred people who were sent to prison before then remain eligible for early releases. Many were given long sentences with a chance for parole, in some cases after only a quarter of their terms. Madison priest Jerry Hancock of the Prison Ministry Project says the Parole Commission has essentially ended parole -- and it was not the intent of the judges who sent the affected inmates behind bars. The governor appoints the Parole Commissioners, but Walker spokesman Tom Evenson said his office never gave a directive to reduce the early releases. The Parole Commission has not commented. The corrections department has previously said 95-percent of those eligible for parole had committed violent crimes like murder and sexual assault.