State Government and Political Roundup: Democrats praise State of the Union; Republicans slam itWisconsin News
-- The early Wisconsin reaction to President Obama’s State-of-the-Union address fell along party lines, with Democrats praising the speech and Republicans slamming it.
WASHINGTON D.C. - The early Wisconsin reaction to President Obama’s State-of-the-Union address fell along party lines, with Democrats praising the speech and Republicans slamming it.
The Democrat Obama spelled out an agenda that includes various economic initiatives without expanding the federal deficit. He said cutting the federal deficit is not an economic plan – but Janesville House Republican Paul Ryan disagreed. The House budget chair said Obama quote, “doesn’t fully appreciate the challenge of our national debt and its threat to our economy.” Wisconsin’s newest senator, Democrat Tammy Baldwin, applauded Obama’s plan for investments in job training and advances in manufacturing. The president wants to create 15 manufacturing institutes to stir up new innovations. He also made pitches for new energy research, reducing our dependence on foreign oil – 50-billion dollars for infra-structure repairs – and raising the minimum wage to nine-dollars-an-hour by 2015, with automatic adjustments each year for inflation. Milwaukee House Democrat Gwen Moore supports those measures, plus Obama’s call to return the 34,000 U.S troops from Afghanistan within a year. Republican Governor Scott Walker said Obama quote, “glossed over the serious fiscal problems … and failed to deliver an honest plan for real reform.”
President Obama mentioned Oak Creek and its police hero Brian Murphy, as he pushed for gun control near the end of last night’s State-of-the-Union address. Lieutenant Murphy survived 15 gunshots in the killings of six worshippers last August at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin. Murphy sat in the First Lady’s box in the House chamber, as Obama said that Oak Creek and other communities hit by gun violence deserve a vote on his plan to ban assault weapons and expand background checks for gun buyers. The president said all Americans should follow Murphy’s example. Obama said the Oak Creek lieutenant did not consider his own safety at the Sikh Temple as he tried to fight off the gunman until help arrived – and after that, he ordered officers to protect the worshippers quote, “even as he lay bleeding from 12 bullet wounds.” When Obama asked Murphy how he did it, the officer replied, “That’s just the way we’re made.”
Wisconsin’s attorney general says he’s certain that the U.S. Supreme Court will find that it’s constitutional for police to take DNA samples from criminal suspects who are arrested but not convicted. J.B. Van Hollen and Governor Scott Walker flew around the state yesterday to promote their state budget plan to add 68,000 DNA samples to a database that helps police solve crimes. All felony suspects, plus some misdemeanor suspects, would have to give their DNA to the government just like those convicted of felonies and sexual assaults must do now. But Chris Ahmuty of the Wisconsin ACLU says it removes the constitutional presumption of innocence. And he said the nation’s highest court is considering a case that might have to force Wisconsin to throw out its plan for sampling those not convicted, depending on what the justices decide. Walker said he would add six-million dollars to the next state budget for the extra DNA sampling. Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie said convicts would end up paying for the tests with a $250 surcharge for felony convicts and 200 for other criminals. The state would budget four-million for the State Crime Lab to handle the new samples. Three-million would also be budgeted to expand GPS monitoring to high-risk offenders under restraining orders. An extra $900,000 would expand investigations of child sex trafficking. And another four-million would replace surcharges to be dropped to help victims of sexual assaults.
A Wisconsin state Senate committee is expected to receive a task force report today which recommends more flexibility for UW schools. But there’s a consensus that the university should first get its fiscal house in order – and stop overpaying wages and benefits to thousands of its employees. The university went to a centralized Human Resource System two years ago – and we recently learned that it overpaid 34-million dollars to some of the UW’s 79,000 employees. Excess health and retirement benefits were paid out, and some student employees did not have Social Security taxes withheld. UW President Kevin Reilly has warned that more embarrassing revelations will come out. About $20-million of the overpayments have been recovered. Today’s report is expected to recommend ways to make the UW’s 26 campuses more efficient by letting them manage their own purchasing and building projects – giving UW officials more control over setting tuition – and raising salaries to avoid more of the best-and-brightest professors and administrators from bolting to other states. The Senate Universities Committee is expected to consider autonomy legislation in the next few weeks. But panel chairman Sen. Sheila Harsdorf (R-River Falls) says the overpayments will be an issue. Regents’ vice-president Michael Falbo says the UW’s credibility has been damaged – and they need to everything they can do get the public’s confidence back. Falbo chaired the task force that will present its recommendations to the Senate panel.
Governor Scott Walker is expected to tell a Wisconsin business audience this afternoon that he’ll support a limited expansion of Badger-Care and other Medicaid health programs. And he’ll do it without taking the federal money that’s being offered. But liberals said the Republican Walker needs to either support a full expansion of Medicaid or nothing at all, as part of the Obama health reform package. Under a full expansion, 175,000 childless adults would become eligible for Medicaid in Wisconsin, making less than 138-percent of the federal poverty level. But after some sketchy information was leaked out yesterday, Jon Peacock of the Wisconsin Council of Children-and-Families said he feared that Walker would move current Badger-Care-Plus recipients above the poverty line into the federal health exchange plans – thus reducing the numbers of people gaining Medicaid.
The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel said Walker would do some of that – but his plan would still provide a net increase of about 35,000 people into the state’s health programs. Walker confirmed yesterday that he wants to seek a middle path that’s not quote, “a black-and-white issue.” But Robert Kraig of the group Citizen Action said he doesn’t know of such a middle path in the Obama health law. Assembly Democrat Sandy Pasch of Shorewood said Walker will either make a “bold investment” in Badger-Care or he won’t.
Democrats have urged Walker to take the federal Medicaid expansion and the millions-of-federal dollars that come with it. But Republicans fear that Washington will turn off the funding spigot someday, leaving states to either find the money or drop coverage. GOP state Assembly Speaker Robin Vos if Burlington says Wisconsin could expand Medicaid later, after seeing how other states are faring. Vos says he wants the most flexibility possible.
If you plan to vote next Tuesday, you probably won’t see exit pollsters or party poll watchers. And you might not even see your fellow voters. A statewide turnout of less than 10-percent is predicted for next week’s state-and-local spring primaries. There’s only one statewide primary on the ballot – the Supreme Court race in which incumbent Pat Roggensack is running against Ed Fallone and Vince Megna. Roggensack and Fallone are just now getting around to running TV ads. Megna has said he won’t run any. The top two vote-getters will move on to the finals in April. Except for hot local contests, Tuesday will be the quietest Election Day in the Badger State since last February. Since then, there have been five emotionally-charged statewide elections which included the Walker recall vote, and races for president and U.S. Senate. Government Accountability Board director Kevin Kennedy says turnouts for the past three State Supreme Court primaries have ranged from six-point-seven percent to nine-point-six. That latter figure was in 2011, when massive pro-union protests were going on, and protestors were urging people to vote for JoAnne Kloppenburg in order to defeat conservative Justice David Prosser. The race attracted a ton more publicity, but 90-percent of voters still stayed home. Prosser won after a statewide recount.
Wisconsin state senators will be the next to decide whether veterinarians should not have to report the prescriptions they issue to a statewide database. The state Assembly approved the exemption yesterday, and sent the bill to the Senate. A 2009 law requires all 12-hundred of the state’s drug dispensers to report their transactions, so it’s easier for police to arrest thieves who steal painkillers like Oxycontin. The state Veterinary Medical Association failed in the last session to get an exemption from the reporting requirement. They say very few people abuse drugs meant for animals. They also say the reporting would be expensive, because many veterinarians don’t keep the electronic records that most pharmacies do. State officials are behind on establishing the database, but they expect it to go online soon.