State Government and Political News: State Assembly to vote on new state constitutional amendmentWisconsin News
-- The Wisconsin state Assembly is expected to give its final approval this afternoon to a constitutional amendment requiring that transportation fees be used for nothing else.
MADISON - The Wisconsin state Assembly is expected to give its final approval this afternoon to a constitutional amendment requiring that transportation fees be used for nothing else.
The measure would prohibit raids on the gas tax fund for things like public schools – something former Democratic Governor Jim Doyle did in the previous decade. Both houses approved the ban in the last session, after Republicans took control. If they do the same this session, the amendment would go to the voters for final approval. Doyle rankled GOP lawmakers when he diverted one-point-three million dollars from the transportation fund to prop up schools and a host of other items. The amendment would allow money from the gas tax, vehicle registration fees, driver licenses, and titles to be used only for programs run by the Transportation Department.
The Wisconsin state Assembly is scheduled to decide today whether veterinarians should be exempt from a state law to report prescriptions to a statewide database. Under a law passed in 2009, all 1,200 drug dispensers in the Badger State must report their transactions – so it’s easier for law enforcement to track painkillers like Oxycontin which are often stolen and abused by others. The state’s Veterinary Medical Association tried but failed in the last session to get an exemption from the reporting mandate. They say that very few people try to abuse drugs which are meant for animals – and the reporting would be expensive, because many vets don’t keep records electronically like most pharmacies do. Drug dispensers have been required since January first to collect the prescription data – but the state’s not ready to accept it yet. It was recently reported that the state’s still negotiating details with an Alabama firm that will provide the database – and the deal is expected to be finalized soon.
Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch is promoting the Wisconsin jobs’ Web site, by doing one of the jobs that the site advertises as being open. The Republican Kleefisch is spending the day at Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation of Appleton, which makes jet planes for businesses. The plans to work from time-to-time at a business which advertises its job openings on the state Web site. There are thousands of openings listed on the site, which can be found at JobCenterOfWisconsin.com.
Wisconsin officials say they might sue a cleaning company that’s blamed for damaging some of the marble floors in the State Capitol. The administration department said Peterson Cleaning of Rockford Illinois stained about 100 marble stones before the work was halted last August. Facilities’ management official Paula Veltum said the stones had milky white marks – and they indicated that one of Peterson’s cleaning machines had leaked battery acid. State workers began cleaning up the marble last week. Officials say it could take a couple of months to restore, at an extra cost to taxpayers of $16,000. Administration spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis says it’s considering legal action to make Peterson pay to repair the damages. She said the agency is also reviewing the original cleaning contract to challenge some invoices that remain outstanding. Tracy Fraser of Peterson Cleaning said her firm has not had any recent contacts with the state – and she’s not commenting on the possible lawsuit.
Governor Scott Walker and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) say they support a crackdown on drunk drivers. But they stopped short of endorsing the package of bills introduced yesterday by two of their fellow Republicans. Mequon Representative Jim Ott and Senate Finance Chair Alberta Darling of River Hills have pushed for a long time to pass tougher OWI laws. Their newest package would make third-time drunk driving a felony, which would send more of those offenders to prison. And there would be mandatory sentences for drunk drivers who injure or kill others – including a 10-year minimum sentence for drunken homicide. Even hardline Republicans have shot down those kinds of measures in the past, saying the state cannot afford the millions in extra court-and-prison costs. But Darling asked what it says about victims and the state’s intolerance for drunk drivers when quote, “not only do we give you a do-over, we give you three of them.” Speaker Vos says there needs to be an agreement on the how to best use state resources to fight drunk driving. Walker’s office would only say they’ll evaluate whatever gets to his desk. Ott and Darling also want to make all first-time OWI suspects at least appear before a judge. Wisconsin is the only state that does not criminalize first-time drunk driving except when kids are in the vehicle – and many who get cited pay their fines without going to court. They also want to make the first offense a crime if the blood alcohol level is point-15 or higher. And they would seize the vehicles used in third-and-subsequent offenses.
With a week to go until the primary, State Supreme Court Justice Pat Roggensack still has a big financial edge over her two challengers. New reports filed yesterday show that Roggensack raised over $200,000 since the start of the year – and she had $219,000 in her war-chest as of February fourth. Marquette University law professor Ed Fallone only had about a-third of that amount on hand, almost $64,000. And he raised $75,000 in the previous five weeks. Milwaukee lemon law attorney Vince Megna did not raise any money this year, and he has about $5,300 on hand. Roggensack’s money allowed her to run a campaign TV ad – and the conservative Club for Growth has also run an ad on her behalf. Roggensack is part of the Supreme Court’s four-member conservative majority, while Megna makes no bones about the fact that he’s trying to tilt the state’s highest court to the left. But the Democrats who’ve made endorsements are backing Fallone – including former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold and former House Democrat David Obey. Megna told the AP that he hates asking people for money, but he agrees it would be necessary once the primary’s over. He has the smallest number of endorsements, mostly from consumer groups. Megna has put $10,000 of his own money into the race.
The American Civil Liberties Union sued the Walker administration yesterday. The group wants the state to stop requiring permits to demonstrate at the Capitol – and to stop arresting protestors who don’t have those permits. Walker officials responded to the massive pro-union protests at the Capitol in 2011 by requiring permits for all Capitol citizen activities with four-or-more people, 72 hours in advance. The ACLU’s lawsuit mentions UW medical physics professor Michael Kissick, who said he stopped demonstrating in September for fear of arrest. In a statement, Kissick resented being quote, “treated as a criminal for speaking freely in a public forum.” But state officials say the protestors have harassed their political opponents. Stephanie Marquis of the Administration Department says Wisconsin’s policy is in line with those at other statehouses – and both state-and-federal courts have found those to be constitutional. She said Capitol Police have issued hundreds of activity permits each year regardless of the political leanings. The Solidarity Singers, which continue to protest Walker and his fellow Republicans in daily noon-time sing-alongs, refuse to obtain the permits. Some of their participants have been arrested. But a Dane County judge dropped a number of cases, saying the policy applies to organizers and not those who merely participate.
Only one of every five people who donated to Governor Scott Walker’s campaign after his recall election lives in Wisconsin. That’s what the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel found out, when it broke down the governor’s latest campaign finance report. Walker’s campaign cash flowed in from all 50 states – and more people from California and Texas donated to his campaign than did Wisconsinites. The Republican Walker is being mentioned in some circles as a candidate for either president or vice president in 2016 – although he insists he has no plans to run outside of Wisconsin. Much of Walker’s out-of-state travel last fall was in support of other G-O-P hopefuls in the November elections. The Journal Sentinel said most of the governor’s campaign donations were small, regardless of where they came from. Three of every four donations were for 50-dollars or less. There were 45-hundred total donors, and only three-percent gave 500-dollars or more. Thomas and Deanne Prochnow of Bloomington Illinois gave the most, at one-dollar below the $10,000 limit. Walker raised just over $375,000 in the last six months of 2012. He expects to run for re-election as governor next year.