Government and Political News: Mining takes center stage at the State CapitolWisconsin News
-- Mining will take center stage at the State Capitol today, when the Legislature’s Finance Committee holds a public hearing on a bill aimed at creating a new iron ore mine near Hurley.
Mining will take center stage at the State Capitol today, when the Legislature’s Finance Committee holds a public hearing on a bill aimed at creating a new iron ore mine near Hurley. A special Senate panel was planning to hear testimony in Platteville this morning on a more moderate package than the one passed by the Assembly last month. But the hearing was scrapped after Senate G-O-P leader Scott Fitzgerald disbanded the panel, threw out the committee’s bill, and said the Assembly package was the only one that could get approval before the Legislature adjourns for the year on March 15th. The Assembly bill sets a firm 360-day time limit for the state to act on permits for iron ore mines. It would relax a number of environmental protections, and take away the ability of mining opponents to delay projects by the D-N-R’s decisions about those projects in court. The bill has had two previous hearings in Hurley and Milwaukee. Supporters say it would create hundreds of jobs not only at the mine, but at mining equipment makers and suppliers throughout Wisconsin. Opponents fear environmental damage, and they say there wouldn’t be enough money set aside to fix it. For the first time, the state would get part of the tax revenues generated by sales of the minerals which are mined.
You’ll need a valid photo I-D to vote in Tuesday’s local primaries – and folks in Milwaukee will be reminded of that when they go to church on Sunday. Almost 30 pastors who are in the Milwaukee Inner-City Congregations Allied for Hope have agreed to make their parishioners aware of the new law so they can vote. Mandela Barnes said the group is putting out a “call to action” for all religious leaders to make sure people take their I-D’s to the polls on Tuesday. If they don’t, they can still cast provisional ballots – but they’ll only count if they show their I-D’s at a local clerk’s office by late Friday afternoon. Also, voters will have to sign in at the polls for the first time on Tuesday. Anita Johnson of Wisconsin Citizen Action has been telling people what the new law requires – and they take people to get photo I-D’s if necessary. State Republicans passed the voter I-D requirement last year, saying it would prevent fraud. But the A-C-L-U, League of Women Voters, and N-Double-A-C-P have all filed lawsuits which allege that some groups will be disenfranchised and not able to vote. All three groups say they’ll have monitors at the polls on Tuesday to watch for problems or concerns.
Democrats tried but failed yesterday to force the state Assembly to vote on restricting the expansion of Wisconsin’s private school voucher program. The tax-funded vouchers are given to low-income kids in Milwaukee County and Racine, so they can attend private schools. Concerns were raised last summer, after lawmakers approved a last-minute budget amendment that critics said could expand the voucher program statewide. Program supporters said that was not the intent – and they promised to pass a new bill that requires legislative approval before the voucher program can be expanded to places like Green Bay. The Senate passed the bill last fall, and Governor Scott Walker said he would sign it. But the measure’s locked up in the Assembly – and Oshkosh Democrat Gordon Hintz said he wanted to make sure Republicans don’t renege on their deal. The bill would die if it’s not passed in a month, when the Legislature is due to adjourn for the year. The Assembly voted 58-to-37 yesterday, with all Democrats voting no, to keep the bill locked up in a committee for now. Racine County Republican Robin Vos says he’s still trying to round up enough votes to pass the measure – and he expects that to happen before the session ends.
The average worker in Wisconsin would get to keep an extra 500-dollars from March through December under the continuation of the Social Security payroll tax cut. The congressional Joint Economic Committee put out that figure yesterday, after negotiators struck a deal on a 150-billion-dollar economic package. It would extend the current two-percent cut in the payroll tax through the end of the year, along with higher unemployment benefits and higher reimbursements to doctors for treating Medicare patients. Senate Republicans did not announce support for the package, and some Democrats attacked it as well. In the House, Republicans are said to be swallowing hard in supporting the deal – and Democrats generally back it. Northeast Wisconsin House Republican Reid Ribble of Sherwood said he’s happy the payroll tax holiday is being extended – and it should have happened long ago. The Joint Economic report said the average tax savings in Wisconsin range from 342-dollars in Menominee County to 652-dollars in Waukesha County.
Governor Scott Walker says he takes no responsibility for the actions of his former Milwaukee County aides who now face criminal charges in a John Doe probe. Walker told reporters yesterday that he responded any time he was alerted to a potential problem or an ethical violation involving his staff in the Milwaukee County executive’s office. The Republican Walker cited Darlene Wink as an example. Walker said his former chief-of-staff, Tom Nardelli, confronted Wink just hours after she admitted to the Journal Sentinel in 2010 that she was doing campaign work for Republicans on her county job. And Wink resigned later that day as Walker’s coordinator for constituent relations. Walker said he informed his staff about the law against doing campaign work on taxpayer time and quote, “When people violated that policy … we acted.” Reporters asked Walker if should have known more about what his aides were doing – but Walker said he couldn’t answer that now. He said he cannot disclose important information about the case yet, because he’s working with prosecutors as the John Doe probe continues. But the governor said quote, “When people look at the details, they’ll see.” He said they’ll know he acted with integrity. And Walker said he still believes he is not a target of the probe, that’s been going on for almost two years.
Victims of job discrimination could no longer try to make companies pay punitive damages under a bill that was given preliminary approval in the state Assembly yesterday. Minority Democrats blocked a final vote on the measure – but it will be up again at the Assembly’s next meeting on Tuesday. Democrats say the bill is a setback for women who don’t get paid as much as men for the same work. Milwaukee Democrat Christine Sinicki said the bill lets employers “off the hook” by eliminating penalties for discrimination. But the bill’s original author, Senate Republican Glenn Grothman of West Bend, says most discrimination claims are not justified – and he said other protections offer things like back pay to those who’ve been discriminated against. The bill would un-do changes made in 2009, when Democrats controlled both the Legislature and the governor’s office. The Senate passed Grothman’s bill 17-to-16 last November, with all Democrats voting no.
The Wisconsin Senate’s majority leader disagrees with a federal court panel which said Republican lawmakers were quote, “all but shameful” to hide their re-districting efforts from the public. The three-judge panel released 84 G-O-P documents yesterday which included political decisions. The judges said those matters should have been discussed in public, but Republicans called them privileged legal communications with their attorneys. Senate leader Scott Fitzgerald said his party was not overly secretive, as the court had mentioned several times in the past few weeks. He said lawmakers normally keep all proposed legislation under wraps until it’s formally introduced. Previously-released documents revealed that nearly all Republicans signed confidentiality agreements to keep quiet about the way the G-O-P was drawing up the new legislative and congressional districts – or face the risk of having to testify about it in court. Also, the documents showed that G-O-P finance chair Robin Vos was advised to tell his Republican colleagues to ignore public comments about the new maps. Yesterday’s release included a statement from an unidentified Republican who was opposed to the secret process used in drafting the new districts. The statement said one political party should not draw up the new boundaries – and an independent commission should do it. Many of the new e-mails discussed the drawing of Hispanic districts. A Hispanic group has filed suit over the re-districting, saying it under-represents them in the Legislature. A group of Democrats is also trying to strike down the new maps, and a federal court trial in their lawsuit is scheduled to begin on Tuesday in Milwaukee.