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GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL ROUNDUP: State audit uncovers spending by agencies that place children in foster homes

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GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL ROUNDUP: State audit uncovers spending by agencies that place children in foster homes
Ellsworth Wisconsin 126 S. Chestnut St. 54011

The agencies that place children in Wisconsin foster homes had 130-thousand dollars of questionable expenses over the past two fiscal years. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau checked the ledgers of five of the state's 24 child-placement agencies. Over 78-percent of the questionable expenses came from Thrive Treatment Services of Watertown, which places children with emotional-and-behavior issues into foster homes. The audit said Thrive spent 55-hundred state tax dollars on four holiday parties -- 11-thousand-dollars for a house in Adams County where foster care was not properly documented -- and another five-thousand for a board meeting last year. Also, the audit showed that 200-thousand state dollars were loaned to businesses owned by the C-E-O's relatives. The group has not commented. Auditors recommended that the state Children-and-Family Services Department review Thrive's spending -- and that the 130-thousand be paid back unless the firm can justify those costs. Governor Scott Walker said yesterday he would work with the department on the audit's suggestions, and will work with lawmakers on any needed changes in state law.

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A City Council member in Ashland says she's seriously thinking about running against U-S House Republican Sean Duffy next year. Kelly Westlund has a consulting firm in Ashland. She's the first to publicly consider a run against Duffy, a Wausau area Republican who's in his second term. The Prairie Badger blog says Westlund may be the strongest candidate the Democrats could put up against Duffy. She's a graduate of "Emerge Wisconsin," which trains Democratic women to run for office. Westlund also spoke at this year's Democratic state convention. Duffy is currently being targeted by liberal groups who partially blame him for the federal government shutdown, with his vocal support of delaying key parts of Obama-care. The progressive MoveOn-Dot-Org recently commissioned polls in House districts where Democrats consider G-O-P incumbents vulnerable. They found that Duffy has a 40-percent approval rating in his north central Wisconsin district, and a 46-percent disapproval rating. The poll also found that Duffy would lose to a "generic Democrat" by 3-to-4 points. Duffy got 56-percent of the vote last November in winning his second term over former state Senate Democrat Pat Kreitlow.

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The Tax Foundation has admitted that it gave Wisconsin too low of a rating for its business tax climate. The group that brought you Tax Freedom Day reported yesterday morning that the Badger State ranked 43rd for its business tax friendliness -- down one place from a year ago. State Assembly Republican Dale Kooyenga of Brookfield said there was no way Wisconsin's tax climate got worse, considering all the changes made in the new state budget which took effect in July. Other Republicans and reporters raised questions as well. By the end of yesterday, the Tax Foundation issued a statement that it would make clarifications about this year's Wisconsin ranking. Foundation vice president Joseph Henchman confirmed that the state retroactively cut individual income tax rates by one-tenth of a percent, while reducing the numbers of tax brackets from five-to-four. He said the budget also included other reforms that were not taken into account in the Tax Foundation's ranking process. Henchman said they would be reflected in future rankings and quote, "back-casted" if necessary.

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Two Milwaukee officials say they have problems with a state bill that makes it a felony to kill or injure a baby when sleeping with the infant while intoxicated. Assembly Republican Samantha Kerkman of Powers Lake proposed the measure, saying it would adults accountable when putting babies at risk. She proposed the bill after Milwaukee recorded five unsafe sleeping deaths since the beginning of September. Mayor Tom Barrett said it would be better to educate residents about the problem -- and he kicked off a campaign yesterday to do just that. Fire-fighters will become involved in the effort for the first time. The Milwaukee County medical examiner's office has investigated 12 deaths this year involving unsafe sleeping conditions. Medical examiner Brian Peterson says that if parents face the prospect of criminal charges, they'll be likely to hide some of the details of how their babies died so they don't incriminate themselves.

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The Pentagon arranged yesterday to have a private foundation pay death benefits to the survivors of U-S troops killed during the federal government shutdown. Last Saturday's death of Milwaukee Marine Jeremiah Collins got tied up in the political finger-pointing in Congress over who's to blame for the shutdown. In the meantime, the private Fisher House Foundation has agreed to pay full benefits to military survivors, including a 100-thousand dollar payment to help families with their immediate expenses and funeral costs. The government will pay Fisher House back after the shutdown ends. The foundation offers a variety of services. They include short-term housing for families at military bases where their loved ones are treated for combat injuries. Collins, a 19-year-old Marine lance corporal, died at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan. The cause of his death is still being investigated. Collins' mother Shannon said on N-B-C's "Today Show" that the government was hurting the wrong people -- and she'll never understand why. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he warned Congress that death benefits would not be paid during a government shutdown. They were not included in the military pay package approved a day before the shutdown began last Tuesday.

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The Wisconsin Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments for November 11th on one of the few remaining legal challenges to the state's public union bargaining limits. The court will decide whether it was constitutional to force local governments and public schools to abide by the Act-10 restrictions adopted in 2011. Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colas ruled 13 months ago in favor of two plaintiffs, the Madison teachers and a Milwaukee city union. The state appealed. The Fourth District Appellate Court refused to rule on the matter and passed the case on the Supreme Court, saying it has sweeping effects on public workers throughout Wisconsin. Until recently, there were questions about whether Colas's ruling applied to local unions statewide -- or just the two plaintiffs. The judge said it applies statewide, but he rejected a request to prevent unions statewide from having to re-certify each year under the Act-10 law. State officials are proceeding with about 400 requests for re-certification votes. A half-dozen public employees have asked the courts to hold the state in contempt-of-court. A decision in that case is still pending.

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A tougher law against bullying school kids online will be discussed today at a public hearing at the State Capitol. The Senate Education Committee will take testimony on a bill making it illegal to make public posts on sites like Facebook, if the messages threaten to harm any person or property. The bill also requires the state's education agency to update its model school policy on bullying, to include electronic threats. School boards throughout the state use the model policy to help with their own anti-bullying policies have been required by law for some time. Senate Democrat Tim Cullen of Janesville proposed the new measure. It adds to a current law which bans e-mail and other electronic messages which intend to frighten, threaten, abuse, harass, or intimidate another person. 

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Jason Schulte
Jason Schulte is a reporter for the New Richmond News since February 2015. Prior to that he spent eight years at the Pierce County Herald in Ellsworth. His duties with the News will include covering news out of Hammond and Roberts along with action from St. Croix County court system. He lives in Roberts. 
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