State Government and Political Roundup: Chippewa leader takes issue with mining and hunting with legislators
MADISON - A Chippewa tribal leader urged Wisconsin lawmakers yesterday to solve what he called a "breakdown in communication" between Indians and state leaders.
In the annual State-of-the-Tribes address to the Legislature, Lac Courte Oreilles chairman Gordon Thayer laid out the tribes' differences with the state over mining, hunting, and spear-fishing. That prompted state Assembly Republican Pro Tem Bill Kramer of Waukesha to walk out, saying he was not being any more disrespectful to Thayer than the speech was to him. Kramer said Thayer called for collaboration while quote, "continually telling us everything we did wrong." Indians and the state have clashed the past couple years over the proposed Lake Superior mine, wolf hunting, night hunting for Chippewa, and tribal spear-fishing. Thayer took the DNR, lawmakers, and Governor Scott Walker to task, saying, quote, "We can't be dismissed as a sub-group of people in Wisconsin." He said the DNR made it sound like the Chippewas' spear-fishing goals would make walleye extinct. DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp later denied that the spearing would endanger the walleye population. But she said lower quotas for sport anglers would hurt tourism - and she hoped to discuss the state's goals with the tribes. Thayer also said Wisconsin's 11 tribes stand behind the Bad River band's effort to kill the proposed mine upstream from its reservation. Thayer said quote, "The beauty of our state isn't just about job creation."
If two Republican state lawmakers have their way, all babies born in Wisconsin would have a test aimed at finding congenital heart defects. Oconomowoc Representative Joel Kleefisch and Marathon Senator Jerry Petrowski have introduced bills requiring hospitals to administer the Pulse Oximetry test to newborns. Only about a quarter of Wisconsin hospitals offer the test now - and Gretchen Whitehurst of Reedsburg said it saved the life of her son Cooper. He's almost five - and his mother said he wouldn't be alive today, had he not been given a "pulse-ox" test that showed he was born with a congenital heart defect. Those defects are said to be the most common fatal diseases in newborns. Although Republicans introduced the measure, Whitehurst said Democrats are getting behind it, too. She also testified in Washington recently, pushing for a national requirement for the "pulse-ox" test.
Two U.S. senators are expected to announce a bi-partisan deal today to expand background checks for gun buyers. And it could snuff out a filibuster planned by gun control opponents that include Wisconsin Republican Ron Johnson. The AP said West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin and Pennsylvania Republican Patrick Toomey will announce details of their agreement today. But it remains uncertain how it might impact a Senate vote that's planned for tomorrow on a package that seeks to curb the use of firearms. If all Democrats vote in unison, they would only need five Republican votes to cut off a filibuster. And some Republicans said they would be willing to let a vote proceed - especially if they can have a debate on amendments. Johnson was among 13 Senate Republicans pushing for the delaying tactic, saying he's fully in favor of blocking legislation that would quote, "infringe on our Second Amendment rights." Johnson says he's especially against the expanded background checks - which for the moment, would require checks for private gun transactions and purchases at gun shows.
Another public hearing is scheduled for today on the proposed Wisconsin state budget for the next two years. The Legislature's Joint Finance Committee will hear a full day of testimony at the Kalahari Resort near Wisconsin Dells. It's the third of four official hearings on the $68-billion package. At the first two proceedings, lawmakers got an earful about Governor Scott Walker's plans to expand private school vouchers while freezing state aid for public schools - and his decision to reject federal money to expand Medicaid. Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) calls the budget quote, "extreme and damaging to our middle-class neighbors." And his fellow Democrats have started to hold 10 additional hearings to give their input. The first Democratic hearing took place Monday in La Crosse. The others will take place between next Monday and April 29th in Racine, Milwaukee, Wausau, Viroqua, Madison, Wisconsin Rapids, Appleton, Barron, and Eau Claire. The final Finance Committee hearing is set for a week from tomorrow in Baldwin.
Governor Scott Walker will soon decide whether to let the American Transmission Company build new power lines outside of Wisconsin. The State Senate voted 31-1 yesterday in favor of the measure, after the Assembly okayed it on a voice vote. The Senate's only opponent, Middleton Democrat Jon Erpenbach, said it would not be a good deal for Wisconsin utility customers. Walker's office says the governor will review the bill before deciding whether to approve it. The state's largest utilities own ATC. The Legislature created the firm 10 years ago to come up with a big picture for meeting the state's future electric transmission needs. At a recent hearing, one of the company's vice presidents said ATC has come of age over the last decade, expanding its employment from 50 people to over 600. And by allowing out-of-state investments, the firm said it could add even more jobs. ATC is planning to be part of a joint venture to take over the ownership of a line that links the electrical grids in northern and southern California. That same group is also considering a new 850-mile transmission line across four western states.
The Wisconsin State Senate has voted to let entire groups of workers collect unemployment benefits if their hours get reduced. That way, companies would not have to lay off just a few of the employees. The state Assembly approved the same measure last month, so it now goes to Governor Scott Walker for his signature. All Democrats voted no when the bill passed 18-15 yesterday. They agreed with the concept, but they said the bill should have language that protects workers covered under union contracts. Otherwise, Stevens Point Democrat Julie Lassa said it would just create more uncertainty for businesses, and more stress when there doesn't need to be any. But Republicans said the written protections would be redundant, because union workers are already protected by law. The state could get federal money both to implement the change, and provide jobless benefits to those whose hours are cut. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald says two dozen other states already have such a system - and he says it would help people keep their jobs and businesses keep skilled employees during hard times.