State Government and Political News: Senate approves buildings on wetlandsWisconsin News
-- Wisconsin senators voted just after midnight to approve the bill which makes it easier to put buildings on the wetlands that provide habitat for birds and other wildlife.
MADISON - Wisconsin state senators voted just after midnight to approve the bill which makes it easier to put buildings on the wetlands that provide habitat for birds and other wildlife.
The bill passed on a 17-15 party line vote, with Democrats voting no. Those Democrats used a procedural move yesterday to block the Senate’s final passage until the next meeting. So Republican Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau kept lawmakers and staffers around on Valentine’s night until 12:01 a.m. the next day, when the debate could legally resume. A final vote came about 20 minutes later. A few dozen protestors screamed as the session began. When Senate President Mike Ellis (R-Neenah) said he couldn’t hear them, one shouted back, “Good!” And after the vote, the demonstrators yelled “Shame” as Republicans hurried out of the chamber.
Under the wetlands bill, developers can either apply for general state permits or individual ones for more specialized projects. And the specialized permits would require mitigation plans to either replace wetlands lost in construction, buy credits from groups that have restored wetlands, or pay the DNR to help its wetland protection efforts. Environmentalists feared that buy-outs would become the rule, possibly resulting in the losses of thousands of acres of wetlands. But Republicans said the measure is needed to boost the state’s economy and add jobs. The package now goes to the state Assembly, where a final vote is expected tomorrow. Governor Scott Walker supports the changes.
The state Senate voted yesterday to crack down on domestic abusers who contact their victims in violation of restraining orders. On a 31-2 vote, the Senate agreed to let judges require GPS monitors on offenders’ vehicles. State corrections’ officials would monitor the violators, and tell police if they drive into areas where they’re not allowed under the restraining orders. Those being monitored would have to pay 200-dollars to cover the costs of the tracking. The bill now goes to the Assembly. Also, senators gave final legislative approval to higher penalties for abusers who contact their victims. Instead of a civil forfeiture, violators could face criminal misdemeanor charges. And the maximum penalty would rise from a one-thousand-dollar fine to $10,000, plus nine months in jail. The state Assembly approved the measure earlier. It now goes to Governor Scott Walker for his signature.
Republican state senators have approved two more election-related bills – and both were passed yesterday with no support from Democrats. One measure would let communities employ poll workers from anywhere in their home counties. Right now, those poll workers must come from the same communities where they serve. Republicans say it would be easier to find and recruit poll workers. The state GOP has taken a greater role this year in using its long-time authority to name certain numbers of poll workers throughout Wisconsin. The other bill would end the practice of letting people vote absentee, and then again on Election Day with only one of the ballots to be counted. The bill also ends the returning of absentee ballots which are not properly filled out, so voters can correct them and have them counted.
Wisconsin state senators have voted unanimously to comply with a federal order, and remove last year’s enrollment cap for the Family-Care program. But state Assembly finance chair Rep. Robin Vos (R-Burlington) says his house might force the Walker administration to prove that it’s controlling costs, before it can expand Family-Care to 15 counties which currently don’t offer it. Stephanie Smiley says her Health Services Department has already found ways to make the program more efficient, while cutting costs. For one thing, she said $27-million could be saved just by creating a more regular dispensing of medicines to the recipients of Family Care – which helps keep lower-income seniors and disabled residents out of nursing homes. Enrollment was capped at 43,500 last year – and another 67-hundred people were put on waiting lists. Walker had said he hoped to either drop or modify the cap this year. But in December, the federal government – which pays for 60-percent of Family-Care – told the state to drop the cap, look for new enrollees, and sign them up. Vos said there’s a broad agreement by his fellow Assembly members to drop the enrollment limits in 57 counties where Family-Care is now offered. But he said it’s possible that the Assembly will want to make the Joint Finance Committee give its blessing before any of the other 15 counties are added.