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GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL ROUNDUP: Two Senate Democrats are trying to approve marijuana for medicinal uses

Two Wisconsin Democrats are trying again to approve the use of marijuana to treat those with chronic pain. At a news conference yesterday, Madison Representative Chris Taylor said pain sufferers who turn to marijuana should be treated with compassion instead of as criminals. Middleton Senator Jon Erpenbach doesn't buy the so-called "slippery slope" argument which says the measure would open the door to letting those who have colds smoke pot. Erpenbach calls that disrespectful to those with cancer, glaucoma, and debilitating pain. The new bill is named for Jacki Rickert, who once rode a wheelchair from Mondovi to Madison to push for medical marijuana. That was 16 years ago. Since then, several efforts have been made for the narrow legalization -- and they've all failed under the leadership of both parties, in spite of polls showing public support. Rickert was there the whole time, and was at yesterday's news conference. Erpenbach says level heads will eventually prevail -- and if it doesn't happen this session, he'll be back next time. The State Medical Society has previously argued against the bill, saying there's not enough evidence that pot is really medicine -- and a synthetic form of the drug has long been available in nasal sprays and pills.

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University of Wisconsin students and researchers are the latest to be affected by the federal government shutdown. About 90 U-W Madison employees have been told to halt the studies they're doing for the National Institutes of Health and the National Park Service. They get paid by the federal government, so they're technically on a furlough -- but they're also U-W employees, and officials are trying to see if they can work elsewhere in the university for now. Medical research has also been thrown for a loop. A clinical trial for a new prostate cancer drug was ready to enroll patients until Washington cut that off. The U-W also says financial aid and V-A benefits to students will also be affected if the shutdown drags on much longer. Vice chancellor Kim Moreland says this week has been a "mess," and the U-W expects more confusion and delays in the weeks after the shutdown ends -- until things get caught up.

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State DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp is defending her agency's rejection of federal orders to close state parks where federal funds pay only part of the costs. She also says Washington is "over-reaching" by telling the DNR to close federal areas where the state has management authority. The federal government shutdown has left people confused about which sites are open. Deputy secretary Matt Moroney says the DNR has worked with its attorneys to make sure that lands with both state-and-federal responsibilities stay open. He says it's especially important now, as more people go duck hunting and view the fall colors. Stepp says hunting will be allowed at the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, but all campgrounds in the forest will be closed as of today. Federal officials have also closed wildlife refuges and boat launches on the Mississippi River. Stepp says people can still use state-owned landings. At the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, workers are staying on the job to keep an eye on four endangered whopping cranes that arrived last week. Those cranes will fly to Florida as part of a long-running migration project.

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Both sides debated Wisconsin's Common Core public school standards at a State Capitol hearing yesterday. Special Assembly and Senate committees are taking a second look at the three-year-old standards. That's after conservatives started a national movement to drop them, for fear that Washington could set a national curriculum and seize private student data. Dozens of people attended yesterday's hearing. State public school superintendent Tony Evers said the Common Core standards for math and English encourage complex thinking by students -- and it prepares them better for college and the workplace. Evers also said the federal government did not coerce him into adopting the voluntary standards, to which one person in the audience yelled "Ha!" Opponents shook their heads as Evers insisted that Common Core will not result in a loss of local control. Edward Perkins of the tea party's Fox Valley Initiative said Common Core may lead to the end of the nation's dominance in technology. Wisconsin was among the first states to adopt Common Core. Forty-four other states have done so. The state panels will three other hearings October 16th in Fond du Lac, the 23rd in Eau Claire, and October 30th in Wausau.

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Officials say former Assembly leader Scott Suder was not pushed out of a state administrator's job because of his involvement in a controversial grant. Suder resigned yesterday, four days before he was supposed to become the Public Service Commission's administrator for water conservation and consumer affairs. Instead, he'll start Monday as a vice president of government relations and lobbyist for the Wisconsin Paper Council. Suder's PSC job was given to Assembly Republican Jeff Stone of Greendale, who plans to leave the Assembly October 14th. Julie Lund of the governor's office said Suder mentioned in his initial discussions with the PSC that the Paper Council might have an opportunity for him. Lund said Governor Scott Walker wishes Suder well in his new post. Suder left a month ago as the Assembly's Republican Majority Leader, amid criticism for convincing lawmakers to budget a half-million dollars for a grant that critics say was targeted for the politically-connected United Sportsmen. A committee approved the grant in August, but Walker later rescinded it. Both the governor's office and the P-S-C deny forcing Suder to leave his new state job due to the controversy. This week, it was learned that Suder went on a free fishing trip offered by the group's lobbyist just days before the grant was approved. Suder insisted he paid his own way. The liberal One Wisconsin Now group has filed a complaint over the matter.

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Republican governors with presidential aspirations are using the federal government shutdown to highlight their state achievements. Wisconsin's Scott Walker is just one possible 2016 White House hopeful positioning himself as an outsider, as people's confidence in Washington is plummeting. This week, Walker blamed both parties on Capitol Hill for the shutdown that's now in its fourth day. He said Washington should be more like Wisconsin, where he led majority Republicans in eliminating a large budget deficit. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie took out a T-V ad to highlight his cooperation with Democrats on a new spending plan. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said G-O-P governors will no longer allow the Republican Party to quote, "be defined by the dysfunction in Washington." The governors are following a time-tested political playbook. Four of the last six presidents have been state governors -- all of whom portrayed themselves as effective alternatives to ineffective Washington politicians. A couple of those Washington leaders are also in the mix for the 2016 G-O-P White House nomination. Janesville House Budget chair Paul Ryan is laying low on the rhetoric, while working with G-O-P leadership on its next moves. A C-N-N poll late last month showed that only 10-percent of Americans approve of Congress in general. A Quinnipiac University poll last week showed that congressional Democrats are faring better, with 32-percent support to 17-percent for the Republicans.

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An emotional public hearing was held yesterday on a Republican bill to make it harder to force Wisconsin public schools to drop their Indian team names. An Assembly committee heard testimony on a bill that would basically un-do a 2009 law from Democrats. That law allows one-or-more people to complain about a school's Indian team name -- and then the school board must prove that it doesn't discriminate, or else they can be fined a-thousand dollars a day until they drop it. Mukwonago Superintendent Shawn McNulty, whose district ignored a state order to change its Indians' name, called it a guilty-before-proven-innocent policy that hasn't been used quote, "since the Salem witch trials." Jennifer Kammerud of the state Department of Public Instruction said the bill would create "an acceptable level of discrimination." Under the bill, complaints would not be considered unless petitions are filed with signatures equaling 10-percent of a school's student population. She said other anti-discrimination laws don't require that many people to complain. The bill would also force Indians to prove why school nicknames discriminate against them -- instead of schools having to prove that they don't. Oneida tribal council member Brandon Stevens said all 11 state tribes oppose the mascots. He disputes the idea that some monikers honor Indians. As Stevens put it -- "In no case will a mascot, logo, or team name ever honor the Oneida."

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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