Government and Political Roundup: Mining legislation beginning to heat upWisconsin News
-- Wisconsin lawmakers are planning to take three key votes in the next 10 days on a bill which makes it easier for Gogebic Taconite to open an iron ore mine in the far north.
MADISON -- Wisconsin lawmakers are planning to take three key votes in the next 10 days on a bill which makes it easier for Gogebic Taconite to open an iron ore mine in the far north. The Joint Finance Committee is scheduled to vote today on a Republican incentive package. The full Senate expects to vote Wednesday. And Assembly leaders are planning final legislative approval for a week from Wednesday. So far, it appears that majority Republicans have enough votes to approve their bill with no help from Democrats. A year ago, the G-O-P kept sweeping aside Democratic amendments until Senate Republican Dale Schultz jumped ship, and derailed the Senate’s approval at the last minute. That was back when the Republicans only had a one-vote majority. It’s now three in the Senate, with a 20-vote G-O-P majority in the Assembly. Republicans talked a few weeks ago about possibly including some of the Democrats’ ideas in the final package. Assembly leaders did concede on a few environmental protections which the Democrats said were not enough.
Governor Scott Walker says his desire to improve education is partially why he wants to stop forcing teachers and other public employees to live in the communities where they work. Walker’s proposed state budget would end local residency rules for public workers in around 125 communities. The Republican Walker blames the Milwaukee Public Schools’ residency requirement for its lack of ability to fill all of its teacher vacancies. And Walker said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett makes a weak argument, when he claims that the city’s problem with vacant homes would get worse if city employees were allowed to flee to the suburbs. Walker says it’s like saying quote, “The only way we can keep people here is to build a wall.” The governor says he believes in local government control, but not when it violates personal freedoms. Barrett says nobody’s freedom is being compromised – because job applicants know when they apply that they’d have to live in Milwaukee if they get a city job. Walker made his first public comments on his residency proposal yesterday, when he was interviewed by the Journal Sentinel at the National Governors Association meeting in Washington.
Wisconsin Republicans say they’ll support a study on how mental health issues affect gun violence – but they’ll refuse to limit people’s access to the guns themselves. While Congress and other states consider gun control measures, there’s been very little talk among lawmakers in Madison to do something. Senate Republican Glenn Grothman of West Bend, a member of the N-R-A, said he’d be surprised if his G-O-P majority passes anything this session to restrict gun access. President Obama has cited last summer’s killings of six people at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek as a reason to ban assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, and make all gun buyers undergo standard background checks – private sales included. Senate Democrat Fred Risser of Madison says he’s working on a package similar to Obama’s, plus a ban on weapons in certain parts of the State Capitol. He expects to have the package ready in a few days. Risser said it might take several terms to get his proposals passed. He said a bill sometimes quote, “just has to be introduced over and over again before the timing is right.”
Cedarburg native Paul Clement will talk next week about his experience in trying to strike down the Obama health reform law in the U-S Supreme Court. Clement, a former U-S solicitor general, will speak next Monday at Marquette University in Milwaukee. He represented Wisconsin and 25 other states that were trying to kill the health act – but most of his arguments before the nation’s highest court fell in vain, as the justices upheld the Obama health law. Next Monday, Clement is expected to tell how the constitutional challenges presented issues that the Supreme Court had not seen in at least a generation – if ever. The event’s organizers say he’ll talk about the rare choices that lawyers had to make in presenting the case – and how they affected people’s perception of the health law.
Some of Wisconsin’s public records would be more expensive under a bill that’s up for a public hearing in Madison on Wednesday. The Republican measure would let state and local governments charge for the time they spend deleting confidential information from things like police and social service records. The bill would nullify a State Supreme Court ruling from last year, which prohibited the custodians of public records from charging extra for the time it takes to black out confidential items. The ruling was the result of a lawsuit from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which was billed thousands-of-dollars after it obtained heavily-redacted police records for a series of stories on crime. The bill’s main sponsor, Assembly Republican Garey Bies of Sister Bay, says taxpayers should not have to pay for somebody’s research project. But open records’ supporters say the bill would make it harder for people to see what’s going on in their government. The Assembly’s Government Operations Committee will hold Wednesday’s hearing.
The White House says 240 Wisconsin public school jobs would be at risk, if Congress does not prevent the federal government’s automatic spending cuts from taking effect on Friday. The Obama administration put out a report yesterday giving a general idea of how each state would be affected by the “sequestration” cuts. Republicans called them “scare tactics,” and they accused the White House of exaggerating their impact on everyday Americans. The report said Wisconsin schools would lose over 18-million dollars in federal aid for schools and special education. Obama says the Badger State would also lose four-million in environmental control funds, 12-million for the state’s civilian military employees, one-and-a-half million dollars for fish-and-wildlife protection, one-point-four million in federal substance abuse grants, and more. The White House also warned of major delays at airports as security screeners and air traffic controllers would have to be laid off – plus cuts in unemployment benefits, those with mental illnesses, and aid to the homeless. At the National Governors Association’s meeting in Washington, Wisconsin’s Scott Walker said he did not expect a big impact of the federal cuts on Wisconsin. The Republican Walker said he could not understand how the economy would be crippled, like other governors contend. But Walker says the cuts should not be across-the-board. And he said Republicans in Congress are correct in opposing the further tax increases that Obama and other Democrats are pushing for.
Don't be surprised if there's an effort to raise Wisconsin's ultra-low fine of 10-dollars for not wearing a seat belt. Assembly Democrat Penny Bernard Schaber of Appleton said she would look into the idea, after Gannett's Wisconsin daily newspapers found that the state's annual "Click It Or Ticket" campaign is not working. Last year, the D-O-T spent around 300-thousand-dollars to get Packers' star Donald Driver to encourage us to buckle up. But it didn't help, as officials said the compliance rate for Wisconsin seat-belt use held about steady at 79-percent. More folks did buckle up in 2010 than the year before. But that was because police starting using the so-called “primary enforcement,” in which officers no longer had to find another traffic violation to nab you for not buckling up. The 10-dollar tickets have not gone up ever since the state passed a seat-belt requirement 26 years ago. Washington State charges 124-dollars for seat belt fines, and a few other states also charge in the triple-digits. Erica Holmes of Washington's Traffic Safety Commission said she thought Wisconsin's 10-dollar fine was a "typo." Gannett said other states also started with low fines, but they've since gone up in many places. A federal study three years ago found that raising the seat-belt fine from 25-dollars to 100 raises the amount of folks buckling up by seven-percent.