WISCONSIN NEWS ROUNDUP: Senate approves property tax cuts over the next two years
Five Democrats voted no yesterday, when the Wisconsin Senate voted to cut local property taxes by 100-million dollars over the next two years. Tim Cullen of Janesville, Bob Jauch of Poplar, Mark Miller of Monona, John Lehman of Racine, and Fred Risser of Madison were the dissenters. Ten other Democrats voted for the tax relief, though some called it fiscally irresponsible. Cullen said the average homeowner would only get about a-dollar a month. He accused Republicans of hyping the statewide total of 100-million to assure Governor Scott Walker's re-election next year. The tax relief would come from a 760-million dollar surplus in the last budget, although it would add to an expected deficit in the next state budget in 2015. Cullen said it would be better to put the surplus into the state's Rainy Day Fund for emergencies. Risser said the state should reduce its 14-billion dollars of debt, or cut the state's two-billion-dollars of new borrowing in the current budget. G-O-P Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald credited his party for improving the state's finances, and said Wisconsinites would welcome the tax relief. West Bend Republican Glenn Grothman scoffed at the idea that it's a political gimmick. Quote, "We're Republicans, that's what we do." After the vote, Walker praised lawmakers of both parties for getting behind his proposal. Nobody objected to the tax cut at a public hearing earlier in the day, when the Joint Finance Committee unanimously endorsed it. It goes to the Assembly tomorrow.
Don't get that lead-foot in shape just yet. We're still waiting to find out if the Wisconsin Senate will consider raising the speed limit from 65-to-70 on rural Interstates. At last word, majority Senate Republicans had no plans to take it up -- but Assembly Speaker Robin Vos is confident that they will, after his house approved the higher speed yesterday on a vote of 63-to-32. Supporters said it would put the Badger State in line with three dozen other states that allow 70 on some of its four-lane roads -- including all of Wisconsin's neighbors. They also said it would save time for tourists and commuters. The bill's chief sponsor, Manitowoc Republican Paul Tittl, said many drivers already speeding at 70. Tittl believes his bill would make freeways safer, since more vehicles would be going at the same speed. Opponents disagreed, pointing to studies that higher speeds cause more accidents and more deaths. Schneider National trucking of Green Bay made that argument in a memo to lawmakers just before yesterday's vote. The firm also said it would reduce fuel efficiency by nine-percent. The bill also calls for a study of raising the 65-speed on non-Interstate four-lane roads. Most Democrats voted no to 70, but Minority Leader Peter Barca was among eight Democrats voting yes. All Republicans voted yes except for Garey Bies of Sister Bay and John Spiros of Marshfield.
Wisconsin senators have voted unanimously to eliminate the state's do-not-call list for telemarketers, and put those who've signed up onto a national list run by the Federal Trade Commission. Supporters say it would save money, and give state consumer protection workers more time to go after those who violate the no-call list. The proposal now goes to the Assembly.
Also yesterday, the Senate gave final legislative approval to a Republican bill that gives landlords more power over their tenants. Landlords could dispose of property which tenants leave behind, tow vehicles from their parking lots without notifying police, and evict tenants for crimes in their units if the tenants could have stopped them. The package now goes to Governor Scott Walker.
Senators also okayed a bill to let bars and liquor stores sue underage customers who use fake I-D's. The upper house also unanimously agreed to allow crowd-funding, which lets companies seek capital by letting donors make smaller investments on-line. That bill also goes to Walker.
The state Senate has voted to let doctors give less information to patients about alternative treatments. The bill nullifies a 2012 Supreme Court decision that required doctors to tell patients about all possible alternative treatments -- even those not related to their main illnesses. The Senate made slight changes yesterday, and sent them to the Assembly to be ratified.
The upper house also voted to give veterans priority over other students when they register for U-W and technical college classes. The bill is aimed at saving money, by helping veterans graduate before their federal G-I benefits expire -- and before their state benefits would then kick in. The measure passed on a voice vote. It now goes to the governor for his signature.
A state lawmaker has become the first Democrat to run for the open attorney general's position in next fall's elections. Milwaukee Representative Jon Richards says he has filed the necessary paperwork to run for the post that's being given up by Republican J-B Van Hollen. Richards' announcement is no surprise. He said a week ago he was seriously considering a bid. Richards is a private attorney who's been in the Assembly since 1999. Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel is the only Republican running for A-G so far. Both say they would continue Van Hollen's recent campaign to fight the growing amount of heroin abuse statewide.
Democrats said Wisconsin took a step backward in race relations yesterday, when the Assembly voted to make it harder to force schools to drop their Indian team names. The Republican-controlled house passed the measure 52-to-41. All Democrats voted no along with three Republicans -- Scott Krug of Nekoosa, Jeff Mursau of Crivitz, and Ed Brooks of Reedsburg. Democrats spent two-and-a-half hours decrying the bill. South Range Democrat Nick Milroy said Indians are real people, not mascots. He urged his colleagues to quote, "Stand up for human rights and human dignity." Whitewater Republican Steve Nass authored the bill, after he failed to scrap the 2009 complaint system for dropping Indian mascots. Nass went to bat for the Mukwonago School District, which is fighting a state order to change its long-standing nickname the "Indians." He said the current law is too biased toward those who complain about those names -- and it does not give schools enough of a chance to defend themselves. The new bill requires Indians to prove they've been hurt by school mascots, instead of school boards proving it doesn't happen. Complaints would only be considered if petitions are filed with signatures equal to 10-percent of a school's enrollment. The state Senate is expected to take up the bill in November. Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald wanted a vote today, but Democrats wouldn't give him the two-thirds majority needed for that.