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GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL ROUNDUP: Special Assembly committee votes to keep Common Core standards

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A special Wisconsin Assembly committee has voted to keep the state's Common Core standards for English-and-math education. Majority Republicans recommended yesterday that the Legislature review the standards on a regular basis -- and that schools be limited in obtaining fingerprints and using retinal scans on students. They also said Common Core should be tailored to Wisconsin. Kaukauna Republican Jim Steineke said the state should not quote, "take what's pushed down from the national level and swallow it whole." Democrats rejected many of the eight proposals endorsed by the G-O-P majority. Cross Plains Democrat Sondy Pope warned that limiting bio-metric data could hurt the ability of school nurses to take the temperature of a sick child, or monitor those with special needs. Republicans said limits need to be set before abuses can occur -- like government snooping through student video cameras on their computers. Forty-five states use the Common Core standards. Wisconsin was among the first to adopt them three years ago, and they're being revisited amid concerns that they'll result in a national takeover of education. A similar review panel in the state Senate has yet to announce its recommendations. 

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Madison Democrat Mark Pocan is the only Wisconsin U-S House member to vote against a federal budget agreement that overwhelmingly passed yesterday. The 332-to-94 vote was a huge victory for Janesville Republican Paul Ryan. The House budget chair and his Democratic Senate counterpart crafted the two-year package. It raises the federal deficit by smaller amounts than planned, and eases up on some of the 63-billion dollars in automatic federal spending cuts scheduled through 2015. Pocan said the sequestration relief does not go far enough -- the deal was paid for on the backs of military families and the middle class -- and it did not include an extension of federal jobless benefits which are due to expire this month. Senate leaders promised a vote early next year on extending unemployment benefits. Menomonee Falls Republican Jim Sensenbrenner said the agreement is not perfect, but both parties made sacrifices. Milwaukee Democrat Gwen Moore said the deal is a small but positive step toward breaking a pattern of going from crisis-to-crisis. Ryan said Republicans would have to win more elections to get all of what they want -- but for now, he urged them to make the divided government work. The package now goes to the Senate, where more opposition is expected from minority Republicans.

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Don't worry about shelling out eight-dollars for a gallon of milk -- not for a while, anyway. The U-S House agreed yesterday to extend the current package of federal farm programs for another month, until January 31st. On a voice vote, the House tried to ward off the possibility that farm policies would revert back to what we had in 1949. There was a "parity" policy at the time in which milk prices were based on a production cost index -- and today's milk prices would double if that formula is revived. Meanwhile, Senate leaders refused to consider an extension of the current Farm Bill, saying it's not needed. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says it would take at least a month for his agency to put the 1949 dairy policy into effect. Presumably, that would give Congress until the start of February to reach a compromise on the next Farm Bill. Earlier this week, 20 Wisconsin Assembly Democrats called on the state's congressional delegation to do what it could get a new Farm Bill passed by the end of the year. Milton Democrat Andy Jorgensen said the possible price spike for milk, butter, and cheese would squeeze the middle class at a time when the state is quote, "struggling to rebound from the recession."

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Governor Scott Walker now says his final decision on the proposed Kenosha casino will be months away. The Republican Walker said yesterday that it's worth taking quote, "many months into 2014" to review all the factors. They include the increase in jobs, and possible lost revenues by other casinos due to the presence of the proposed Hard Rock gaming house and hotel. The U-S Bureau of Indian Affairs endorsed the project earlier this year, thus giving the governor the final say. Walker said the B-I-A took nine years to act on the project, which would be owned by the Menominee tribe of northeast Wisconsin. The governor said the state's review would not be nearly that long. Walker acknowledged a growing interest in seeing the new Hard Rock become a reality. A U-W Milwaukee poll earlier this week showed that 53-percent of Wisconsin registered voters want Walker to approve the new casino, and 32-percent said he should block it. In September, the same poll revealed a much smaller margin of support, at 44-to-41 percent.

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Survivors of suspects killed by police officers asked state legislators yesterday to require outside agencies and a state review board to investigate those deaths. The Assembly's Criminal Justice Committee held a public hearing on the measures. Sister Bay Republican Garey Bies introduced the bill after seeing police agencies clear their own officers in several high-profile deaths in recent years. Ameila Royko Maurer said her trust in law enforcement was destroyed after seeing how Madison Police dealt with the death of her roommate Paul Heenan a year ago. Adam Gerol, who heads the Wisconsin District Attorneys Association, said there's already lots of oversight in police-involved deaths. Other authorities said they would support making outside agencies investigate the deaths -- but they pointed out problems with having a state review board recommend charges. Jim Palmer of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association said it creates a quote, "bureaucratic monster where one is unnecessary." Committee chair Joel Kleefisch said amendments might be considered to address concerns brought up during the hearing.  

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State officials say they're not surprised that Wisconsin led the nation in initial claims for unemployment benefits during the final week of November. The U-S Labor Department said yesterday that over 44-hundred people in Wisconsin filed their first requests for jobless benefits in late November. Ohio was a distant second with almost 26-hundred claims. State workforce development officials told the Madison Capital Times that Wisconsin normally sees an uptick in benefit requests around Thanksgiving, partially due to deer hunting. The agency said unemployment claims for the year were down by almost 17-and-a-half percent from this time in 2012, and they're the lowest since 2009. Meanwhile, an estimated 24-thousand Wisconsinites stand to lose their federally-funded unemployment benefits at the end of December. The U-S House left a proposed extension out of a federal budget compromise it passed yesterday. Senate leaders promised to tackle the issue next month when they return from their holiday recess.  

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