WISCONSIN NEWS ROUNDUP: Federal official promise to upgrade computer system for those shopping for health insurance
Federal officials say they're upgrading a computer system that has prevented millions of people from shopping for health insurance in the Obama-care exchanges. Healthcare-Dot-Gov has been jammed ever since people were allowed to start enrolling on Tuesday for the coverage they'll be required to have in January. The Milwaukee Health Department has tried to help people enroll online -- but they did not get a single application through the system. The Centers for Medicare-and-Medicaid Services blame high user volumes for the hold-ups. They said over four-point-seven million people visited the main exchange Web site on Tuesday. The agency said a quote, "overwhelming interest" is causing the computer crashes and long waits -- and they're promising improvements in the coming hours-and-days. Up to 700-thousand Wisconsinites without employer health coverage are required to use the federal government's purchasing exchange to get insurance lined up by December 15th. A supporter of the Obama law, Robert Kraig of Wisconsin Citizen Action, finds a silver lining in the situation. He says it's good that so many people were interested that it crashed the site. If the bugs cannot be fixed quickly, Kraig says the government should consider delaying the enrollment deadline.
Governor Scott Walker says he's quote, "still committed" to helping create a quarter-million jobs in Wisconsin. The Republican Walker urged about 500 business people at a state chamber meeting in Madison yesterday to spread the message of what's happening here. The governor's preferred labor report recently showed that the state created 24-thousand private sector jobs during the year ending in March -- but on a percentage basis, it was the 34th-slowest growth rate in the country. With the economic recovery still sputtering at times, Walker has tried to downplay the campaign promise that helped get him elected in 2010. Lately, he has called the quarter-million job promise a "goal" instead. But in his speech to the Wisconsin Manufacturers-and-Commerce forum, Walker said he wants to make sure everyone in the state who wants a job can get one. The governor also touted some recent positive economic reports -- one of which shows that Wisconsin created 11-thousand-590 new businesses since his term began in 2011. That's more than 10-thousand new companies he promised when he ran.
Wisconsin officials are refusing to follow a federal order to close popular state park areas which get part of their funding from Washington. As part of the federal government shutdown, the National Park Service told the state D-N-R to close Devil's Lake and Interstate state parks -- the northern unit of the Kettle Moraine State forest -- and the state's portion of the Horicon Marsh. The state rejected the order, since most of the funding for those facilities comes from state dollars, not federal. The D-N-R then issued a statement yesterday afternoon declaring all state parks, trails, and recreational facilities open. Also, the D-N-R re-opened a boat launching area at Wyalusing State Park near Prairie du Chien on the Mississippi River. The U-S Fish-and-Wildlife Service closed the launch Tuesday, since it's located on federal property. But state officials said they had the authority to operate the launch under a joint state-and-federal agreement signed 53 years ago. The D-N-R said the federal government provided 700-thousand dollars for state park facilities in the last fiscal year. The funding was cut off Tuesday, as a congressional disagreement over Obama-care triggered the partial federal shutdown.
U-W Madison has its biggest freshman class ever, with the largest number of Wisconsin residents since 2001. According to new figures from the U-W System, the flagship Madison campus has a record 63-hundred-39 freshmen this fall. Just over 38-hundred of those come from Wisconsin -- nine-and-a-half percent more than the numbers accepted a year ago. U-W Milwaukee chancellor Mike Lowell says the increase at Madison is one reason U-W-M has 13-hundred fewer total students than last fall. Lowell also blames a smaller number of high school graduates available to enroll. Those declines are projected to continue through 2018. Madison also has more out-of-state students who pay higher tuition. Almost 27-percent of this year's undergrads at Madison are non-residents. That was after the Board of Regents raised the percentage limit for out-of-state students from 25-percent to 27-and-a-half. Meanwhile, Platteville is the fastest-growing U-W campus, with a record enrollment of over 86-hundred -- 40-percent more than in 2005. La Crosse also has a record number of students, at almost 10-thousand-500. The freshman class at La Crosse is the largest in 27 years.
Democrats cried foul yesterday, after Governor Scott Walker said the federal government should be more like Wisconsin. The Republican Walker said both parties are to blame for the federal government shutdown, with gridlock between a Republican House and a Democratic Senate and White House. The governor cited the end of budget deficits during his term -- in which Republicans have had total control of the executive and legislative branches. Democrats have been virtually ignored on major issues, just like minority parties have been for years. Senate Democratic Minority Leader Chris Larson said Walker is a polarizing figure who practices "my way or the highway" politics. Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca called Wisconsin the most "divided state in the country," and the G-O-P's job creation policies are not working. Melissa Baldauff of the State Democratic Party said it's quote, "beyond laughable" that anyone should look to him as an example. Walker touted his cooperation with legislative leaders by meeting with them weekly -- but the Democrats say they're left out of those sessions. Two years ago, 14 Senate Democrats left the state for three weeks in a failed effort to block Walker's signature measure -- the virtual end of most public union bargaining.
Federal workplace safety officials have cited a Milwaukee pizza-maker, after an accident in May in which a worker from Burma lost three fingers. Palermo's Pizza was given three citations by the Occupational Safety-and-Health Administration for what's being termed as serious violations. The proposed fines total 13-thousand-500 dollars. The injured employee had his hand in a pizza dough mixer at the time of the mishap. OSHA said Palermo's gave inadequate safety instructions, and had inadequate electrical and equipment safeguards. Palermo's spokesman Evan Zeppos said the firm is discussing the matter with OSHA officials. Final penalties are pending, along with penalties from citations issued in May for eight other violations against Palermo's and its frozen pizza company. That case dealt with the handling of an ammonia refrigeration system.
Former Wisconsin Governor Patrick Lucey now has a highway named after him. The 95-year-old Lucey looked on yesterday, as a marker was unveiled during a ceremony at a scenic overlook in his home town of Ferryville in the southwest part of the state. Twenty-two miles of Highway 35 will have Lucey's name on it between Ferryville and Prairie du Chien. His son David said it's where Lucey learned some of his most important lessons in life -- and where he drew a lot of his strength. Lucey, a Democrat, was the state's governor from 1971-through-'77. The U-W and Wisconsin State University systems were merged under his watch. Lucey also signed the "Age of Majority" bill in 1972 in which Wisconsinites officially became legal adults at age 18 instead of 21. He resigned as governor in 1977 to become the U-S Ambassador to Mexico. He ran for vice-president in 1980 as an independent.