State Government and Political Roundup: Federal government helping states who want collect DNA upon arrestWisconsin News
-- Wisconsin Republicans who want to make criminal suspects give their DNA to the police when they’re arrested might get some help from the federal government.
MADISON - Wisconsin Republicans who want to make criminal suspects give their DNA to the police when they’re arrested might get some help from the federal government.
President Obama signed a bill last week that gives $10-million federal dollars to states that begin collecting DNA upon arrest. Police could add those samples to a database which helps investigators track down criminal suspects. It’s not known when states can apply – or how much a state like Wisconsin could get. But Governor Scott Walker and Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen say any federal money could help the state off-set the price-tag for the measure. Right now, the state collects DNA from convicted felons and sex offenders – and the new proposal would collect an extra 68,000 DNA samples each year at a cost of $7.2-million for the first two years. Van Hollen has made waves by proposing that the new samples be funded by taking Justice Assistance grants away from things like gang-prevention efforts, school programs, and public defenders. The ACLU – which opposes collecting DNA samples from anyone who’s not convicted – says the new federal grants would only cover a little of the state’s expenses.
The head of the Republican National Committee says his group will not try to make Wisconsin and other battleground states change their electoral systems for choosing the president. But Reince Priebus says he personally would like to see Wisconsin do it – as well as other states whose legislatures are run by Republicans but whose presidential votes to go Democrats. Last month, the National Journal said senior Republicans in Washington were pressing to get Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan to drop their winner-take-all systems, and approve something which would give the GOP more electoral votes and a better chance to win the presidency. No Wisconsin lawmaker has proposed this in the new session, but GOP Governor Scott Walker says he’s intrigued by the idea. All states but Nebraska and Maine currently give all their electoral votes to the winner of the statewide popular vote. Instead, Republicans are pushing to have the winner in each congressional district would get an electoral vote, and the statewide winner to get two. Had it been in effect last year, both President Obama and Republican Mitt Romney each would have gotten five electoral votes in Wisconsin – even though the Democrat Obama won the statewide popular vote by seven-percent. State Assembly Democrat Jon Richards of Milwaukee says Republicans are only trying to change the rules because they lost. And Assembly Democrat Fred Kessler of Milwaukee says Wisconsin would no longer be a competitive state, except in a couple of House districts. And Kessler says White House candidates would make fewer appearances here and run fewer ads.
A Wisconsin state senator wants to let public schools exceed their state-mandated taxing limits to improve their safety. But the head of the Assembly says he won’t go along with the idea. Democrats agreed in 2009 to let schools exceed their revenue limits by a total of $86-million to pay for safety measures. But Republican Governor Scott Walker dropped the exemption in the current state budget. And Senate Democrat John Lehman of Racine wants to bring it back in the wake of the Connecticut school massacre. Senate Education Committee chairman Luther Olson, a Republican from Ripon, said he would consider bringing the revenue exemption back. He said people are interested in making their own schools safer, in the wake of what happened in Newtown. But Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos of Burlington says schools already have enough money to improve their safety without sacrificing the quality of their education – and he says the tax increases caused by the cap exemptions are not necessary. Dan Rossmiller of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards said he was not aware of any schools scrapping plans to add safety measures after the revenue exemption was cut out. He said the group would discuss the matter when it meets later this month.
A health care advocate says Wisconsin businesses would pay $120-million-dollars more in federal taxes if Governor Scott Walker says no to taking federal funds to expand Badger-Care. Robert Kraig of Citizen Action says Wisconsin businesses would get a large tax hike if the state turns down federal money to expand Medicaid – which Badger-Care falls under. The Obama health reform law requires companies with more than 50 employees to pay a tax penalty for every worker who gets care under an insurance exchange. But advocates say the penalty would not apply to employees who end up in Badger-Care, a state Medicaid program for the working poor. Walker is expected to announce next month whether the state should accept 12-billion-dollars over the next decade to help expand Medicaid. The decision is expected to be included in the massive state budget that the Republican Walker will submit to the Legislature. State Health Services Secretary Dennis Smith recently told Congress that Medicaid needs major reforms to stay viable. Without them, Smith says states cannot expand their programs – and they’d pay more than what the Obama package would save.