WISCONSIN NEWS ROUNDUP: A warm-up expected Wednesday
A new bill in the state Legislature would tighten the limits that medical personnel could get for treating worker's compensation patients. Business and labor groups supported the measure at a recent public hearing, while doctors and hospitals opposed it. Under the bill, the threshold would be lowered for treatment costs which are considered abnormally-high. In 2015, the state would determine maximum prices that health providers could receive for particular treatments. Medical officials said the bill would either result in less available care for injured workers, or it could hurt other parts of the health-care market. Business groups said they're paying too much compared to other states, and the new bill could save them a billion dollars over 10 years. James Buchen of the Wisconsin Manufacturers-and-Commerce said the bill brings "common sense reform" while still giving fair compensation to injured workers. Mark Grapentine of the State Medical Society said the costs for individual procedures may be higher in Wisconsin than elsewhere. But he says the superior quality of Wisconsin health providers reduces the need for services for the injured. Grapentine says the costs per exam are what "most other states can only envy." Senate Republican Glenn Grothman of West Bend, a major sponsor of the package, says over 40 other states use what he's proposing. The bill's prospects are not certain, with less than two months remaining in the current legislative session.
A judge in Milwaukee will be asked today to throw out a 39-million dollar damage award to survivors of a freak parking garage mishap in 2010. Fifteen-year-old Jared Kellner died and two others were hurt, when they were struck by a 13-ton decorative concrete panel which fell from the second floor of a county-owned parking garage. Last November, a jury awarded millions to the victims and their families. Circuit Judge Christopher Foley has been asked to toss out the damage award and hold a new trial. Foley must also decide whether to take testimony on the question of letting Advance Cast Stone's insurance company help pay for the damages. Advance Cast Stone is the Random Lake firm which made-and-installed the decorative panels at the O'Donnell parking garage where the incident occurred.
Snowmobile races were canceled over the weekend on a western Wisconsin lake where a bulldozer broke through the ice. Chippewa County authorities said Kirk Brown of Brown Excavation getting a race-track ready on Saturday when his 10-ton bulldozer busted through the ice into 40-feet of water, several hundred yards from the shoreline. Brown was okay. He jumped to safety just before his machine went underwater.
A bill that's up for a vote tomorrow would let minors take tours of Wisconsin wineries without their parents having to be with them. The state Senate will vote on an exemption to a current law that requires anyone under 21 from being with a parent, guardian, or spouse on premises with retail alcohol sales. Lawmakers of both parties sponsored a bill to let teens enter banquet-and-hospitality rooms at wineries alone, as long as they're part of tour groups. A Senate panel unanimously endorsed the bill in January.
The state Senate will act tomorrow on a bill to end six-person juries in misdemeanor criminal trials, unless a judge and both sides agree to it. The bill reflects a State Supreme Court decision from 1998, which said a law that provides six-person juries for misdemeanor cases goes against a constitutional requirement for 12-person juries. The state Assembly passed the measure last month.
Wisconsin would lose its state treasurer's office, under a constitutional amendment that's scheduled to get its first vote in the state Assembly tomorrow. Republicans have stripped all of the treasurer's former duties the past couple years, except to chair a public lands' board that meets for a half-hour each month. Now, Assembly Republican Michael Schraa of Oshkosh says there's no need for the Treasurer's Office and its half-million dollar budget. Even so, a bunch of people are interested in the post. Republican Kurt Schuller, who ran on a vow to eliminate the office, is seeking re-election this fall along with four challengers -- three of them Democrats. The A-P says all four are committed to restoring the treasurer's powers. There have also been efforts for several years to eliminate the Secretary-of-State's office. Schraa says he'll wait until next year to try that. Democrat Doug La Follette has held the office for over three decades -- and he'll run against five challengers this fall. A couple have joined La Follette in demanding that the secretary-of-state's former duties be returned, saying they've gone to un-elected and un-accountable state agencies. La Follette has steadily lost virtually all his duties over the years -- including the publishing of new laws and the running of elections.
Wisconsin has some award-winning brewpubs -- and it's about to get one more, thanks to a more restrictive law in neighboring Minnesota. Barley John's Brew Pub in New Brighton Minnesota expects to break ground this spring for a new 10-thousand-barrel brewery at New Richmond in Saint Croix County. Barley John's has won some awards during its 14 years of production. But owner John Moore tells the Saint Paul Pioneer Press that many craft beer lovers have never heard of the brand, because it cannot be sold in other bars or liquor stores. Wisconsin also has a number of limits on brewpubs -- but it does allow limited amounts of brewpub products to be sold in stores. Moore says he'll keep his New Brighton brewpub open, with plans for a tap-room in New Richmond -- but he's not sure when that will open.
Wisconsin residents are getting their chance to sound off on tax reform. Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch and state Revenue Secretary Rick Chandler has posted a Web site where folks can learn more about the issue, and give their ideas. Governor Scott Walker promised the Web site a few weeks ago, to help folks begin a conversation on what tax reform should look like in the next state budget for mid-2015. The Republican Walker promises a major tax change if he's re-elected this fall. The idea generating the most discussion -- and the most debate -- is the most radical one that Walker has listed. It would eliminate the nation's first state income tax, and boost sales taxes to run state government. Kleefisch says the new Web site will give everyday Wisconsinites a chance to complain about the taxes they dislike the most -- and give ideas of what they'd like to see changed. The site also has Power-Point presentations and past news stories that provide information. Kleefisch and Chandler have been getting ideas mainly from business people at round-tables throughout the state. Suggestions have included reductions in property, income, and estate taxes -- and ending the tax on retirement benefits. The address for the new Web site is TaxReform-Dot-Wi-Dot-Gov.