State Government and Political News: GOP bill to stress abstience in Sex education classes
MADISON - Wisconsin's Republican Senate majority is expected today to undo what the Democrats did a year ago - and again force sex education classes to stress abstinence.
For more than a year, schools that offer sex-ed have been ordered by Madison to spell out contraceptive alternatives as part of a comprehensive teaching of sexual health. Republicans say it only encourages teens to have sex - while Democrats say their approach seeks to prevent teen pregnancies and sexually-transmitted diseases. And Democrats say both will be on the rise under the new GOP bill. Like the Democrats law, the new GOP measure does not require public schools to offer sex education - but those that do must follow the state's guidelines. Under the Republican bill, they'd have to teach that abstinence is the only sure way to avoid pregnancy and disease. Schools would also have to teach the benefits of traditional marriage. Pro-life groups and the Wisconsin Catholic Conference have gotten behind the new bill. Today is the final scheduled meeting of the Senate this year. And Republicans have been trying to pass as much of its agenda as possible, since they might be tied up in recall campaigns against Governor Scott Walker and several senators at the start of 2012.
A bill to let public schools fire or not hire convicted felons is being held up in the state Assembly. Democrats used a procedural move to block a final vote on the measure last night. It's expected to come up again tomorrow. Right now, schools can only discriminate against convicted felons if the jobs they hold-or-seek are directly related to the types of crimes they committed. But the new measure would allow schools to discriminate against all felons for any reason - unless those criminals later get pardoned. The state Senate passed the bill last week on a voice vote.
The state Assembly did approve a bill to revoke the state teaching licenses of those caught viewing pornography on their work computers. The measure now goes to Governor Scott Walker. It's in response to the case of former New Holstein Superintendent Jeff Nelson. He was quietly allowed to leave a previous job in Madison for viewing porn at work - only to be convicted a few years later for having sex with a teen he met online.
Also yesterday, the Assembly approved a bill that requires future members of the UW Board of Regents to come from throughout the state. In recent years, the board was made up predominantly of members from Milwaukee and Madison. The new measure requires future Regents to come from each of the state's eight U.S. House districts. It now goes to the governor for his signature.
Wisconsin's attorney general was the first to receive a state permit to carry a concealed weapon - and by late yesterday afternoon, 85 others had received theirs. It was the first day that law-abiding residents could carry hidden weapons to protect themselves. Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said he deserved to get Permit Number-One, after all the work he put into the new law. Another reason he went first was quote, "If things went awry, who am I going to complain to?" Almost 150 applications had been received at the State Justice Department office by late in the afternoon - and almost 125 had been approved after the required background checks. By 9:00 a.m. yesterday, over 80-thousand people downloaded permit application forms from the Justice Department's Web site. And by noon, about 800-thousand people had logged onto the Web site - 10 times the activity of a normal day. Deputy law enforcement administrator Dave Zibolski expects up to $200,000 applicants in the first few months, based on activity in the 48 other states which allow concealed weapons. Permit applicants must be at least 21 and have four hours of approved training for their weapons. At the State Capitol, a few protestors carried signs yesterday against the new law. One read, "Don't shoot."
The Wisconsin State Assembly's session from yesterday was still going on at 5:30 a.m. this morning. That was after Milwaukee Democrat Peggy Krusick made a last-minute proposal to end preferential treatment for minorities who apply for college grants under a program to help needy students. Majority Republicans supported Krusick's measure - and it drove Democrats into a long private caucus overnight which held up the session. Lawmakers were on the floor debating the measure at last word. The bill involves a $4.4 million program which gives grants of up to $1,800 dollars to educationally-disadvantaged students to go to Wisconsin colleges. Just over four-thousand students qualify each year. The last-minute amendment would eliminate minorities as one of the automatic qualifiers for the grants. Racine County Republican Robin Vos says the grants are supposed to target poor students - and race shouldn't be a factor in deciding who gets the funding. But Milwaukee Democrat Tamara Grigsby called the proposal "racism at its highest institutional level." Madison Democrat Brett Hulsey said it would cause minorities to eventually lose access to jobs. And Appleton Democrat Penny Bernard Schaber said the Assembly looks bad by debating such a measure during the middle of the night.
Wisconsinites wouldn't have to worry about being sued or prosecuted for killing intruders who bust into their homes, under a bill passed by the state Assembly last night. The vote was 71-24. The self-defense bill presumes that the use of deadly force is justified against criminal intruders to homes, vehicles, and businesses. The main Assembly sponsor, Neenah Republican Dean Kaufert, said people need to be secure in their own homes, and protect themselves without a fear of being held liable to a burglar. But Milwaukee Democrat Leon Young called it the "shoot-first-and-ask-questions later bill." And Milwaukee Democrat Fred Kessler, a former judge, said the bill - combined with the concealed weapons law that took effect yesterday - puts "more and more people in jeopardy." Madison Democrat Chris Taylor said the bill just makes it easier for people to kill each other. She proposed an amendment giving judges more leeway when reviewing the deadly use of force. Republicans struck that down. The measure now goes to the Senate, which plans to hold its final session of the year today.
Wisconsin's fall partisan primaries would be moved from September to August, under a change approved by the state Assembly last night. The vote was 67-28, as Independent Bob Ziegelbauer joined about two-thirds of Democrats in voting no. The change would give officials more time to print November ballots to reflect the results of the fall primaries, so military troops and overseas voters could receive them earlier. A new federal law requires states to send those overseas ballots at least 45 days before the election. Some Democrats opposed the change, saying students who vote at college could not take part in the primaries, because classes would not have started yet. Also, Democrats took issue after Senate Republicans banned the idea of letting Wisconsin residents get absentee ballots by e-mail. Under the current version of the bill, only overseas voters could have their ballots e-mailed. The measure now goes back to the Senate, after the Assembly decided not to charge people for replacement ID's if they lose the ones they get for free under the new law that requires voters to show photo ID's at the polls. The Senate would have to ratify that change before the bill can go to the governor for his signature.
The Wisconsin State Assembly has voted to let doctors apologize for bad medical outcomes, without fearing that their words will be used against them in a malpractice suit. The measure now goes to the Senate after it passed 62-33 last night. Democrats who opposed the bill said it goes too far, by giving doctors legal immunity when they admit they were at fault for bad patient outcomes. But medical experts say patients and their families need words of comfort and support from their doctors in times of crisis - and they won't get them unless the law is changed.
A bill passed by the state Assembly would give Wisconsinites more incentives to turn off the video games and enjoy the great outdoors. The vote was 84-12 last night in favor of a plan to boost participation in hunting, fishing, and trapping - and to make sure future generations are interested in those sporting traditions. Among other things, first-time applicants for hunting licenses would get big discounts on fees. High schools could give credits to students who take hunter safety classes. And adults would also have their own safety courses. The proposal now goes to the Senate.