State Government and Polticial Roundup: Abortion bills to get Senate public hearings
MADISON - Three controversial abortion bills will get public hearings today by a Wisconsin State Senate committee.
One bill would require abortion candidates to get ultra-sounds, plus explanations about the existing features of the unborn babies they're about to give up. Senate Republican Mary Lazich of New Berlin says doctors would have to arrange for the ultrasounds. Twenty-one other states require abortion candidates to see ultrasounds, and a dozen states require counseling and materials to show women how they can get ultrasounds. The Senate's Health-and-Human Services will take testimony on the Lazich bill, plus two others that got Assembly hearings last week. One imposes penalties for doctors who perform abortions only because the mother didn't want the baby's gender. The other bill bans tax money to pay for abortions in public employee health insurance - and it exempts religious groups and employers from having to provide coverage for contraceptives. Today's hearing begins at 10 a.m. at the State Capitol. In last week's testimony, pro-choice groups said even Catholic women use birth control. The Assembly sponsor, De Pere's Andre Jacque, said that's okay - as long as women use their own money to pay for it. Jacque said taxpayers should not have to subsidize quote, "elective abortions, which I don't consider to be health care."
Wisconsin elections' officials are pleading with Republican legislators to slow down their rapid process of adopting a wide range of voting reforms. Dozens of people attended an state Assembly hearing yesterday on a bill announced late last month by Greendale Republican Jeff Stone. Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) says the package needs to be approved by the end of the Legislature's current floor period on June 30th so poll workers can be trained for next spring's elections. But Government Accountability Board elections' director Michael Haas asked lawmakers to quote, "please slow down." Haas says the bill has significant policy changes that would quote, "benefit from more vetting." Among other things, the bill brings back the photo ID requirement for voting. It seeks to address judicial concerns by letting poor people vote without ID's if they sign affidavits that they cannot afford the birth certificates required to get those cards. The League of Women Voters and others said it basically forces people to admit in public that they're poor. League director Andrea Kaminski called it "an oath in front of your neighbors about your financial status." Vos said those voters would only have to confirm that their affidavits are true. Milwaukee Democrat Fred Kessler said his colleagues would have plenty of time this fall to address that change and others. The GOP-controlled state Senate has no indicated if it will try to push for rapid approval this month.
Wisconsin's elected officials and congressional representatives could no longer be recalled just for doing their jobs, under a constitutional amendment that had a hearing yesterday. The state Assembly Elections Committee heard the pros-and-cons of allowing recalls only against officials who face criminal or ethical misconduct allegations. Fifteen recall elections have been held over the past two years against state officials, mostly over the 2011 public union bargaining limits. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) had vowed to limit recall attempts ever since Governor Scott Walker survived his a year ago today. A co-sponsor of the new amendment, Assembly Republican Jim Steineke of Kaukauna, says the recalls have left officials exhausted, and have cost taxpayers $16-million. He says his measure would prevent quote, "arbitrary recalls over disagreements on policy decisions." Senate Republican Sheila Harsdorf of River Falls, who survived a recall attempt in 2011, says the general elections are the time to judge officials on their job performance. Madison Assembly Democrat Terese Berceau pointed out that dissenters have a right to recourse. She pointed to the protestors and recall supporters upset about the union restrictions. In Berceau's words, "one million people being disturbed about a policy that had been implemented is not inconsequential." Steineke's amendment must pass in two straight legislative sessions, and then by the voters before it can take effect.
Democrats tried but failed today to expand Wisconsin's Badger-Care-Plus government health program for the working poor. The Joint Finance Committee voted 12-4, with all Republicans voting no. That set the stage for the panel's final verdict, supporting Governor Scott Walker's plan to let Badger-Care recipients over the poverty line go into the Obama health exchanges to buy their care starting in 2014. We also learned this afternoon how much it would cost to give state funds to Wisconsin hospitals, so they don't suffer financially with an increase in patients who don't have the means to pay for care. The state would set aside $73-and-a-half million over two years for that purpose - but according to a study by the Rand Corporation, the state would need an extra billion dollars to cover uncompensated care starting next year. The state would cover $30-million of the proposed hospital aid, with the federal government paying about $43-million.
A report from Legislative Audit Bureau shows signs that the Wisconsin State Fair Park is fiscally improving. According to the report, the park brought in more money that it spent for the sixth year in a row, including $918,000 more that it spent in the previous fiscal year. State Auditor Joe Chrisman says in the report that he anticipates positive operating results to continue in the current fiscal year.
Wisconsinites who lost their homes to wrongful foreclosures will each get almost $1,500 dollars for their trouble. The state Justice Department said today almost 14,725 residents who submitted claims after January first will get a piece of a $22-million National Mortgage Settlement. The payments will be mailed between June 10th and 17th. The borrowers had mortgages with J.P. Morgan, Bank of America, Ally-GMAC, Chase, Wells Fargo, and Citi Bank. The foreclosures happened between 2008 and 2011. The attorney general's office said Wisconsin will get a larger share of the national settlement than other states. That's because more eligible borrowers filed claims. About 66-percent of eligible homeowners filed claims in the Badger State, compared to 55-percent nationally. Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said the payments were negotiated with the banks to quote, "help remedy the widespread foreclosure abuses" during the Great Recession and a short period after that.