State Government and Political Roundup: Ryan, Duffy, joined all Dems in voting for Violence Against Women ActWisconsin News
-- Wisconsin Republicans Paul Ryan and Sean Duffy joined all Democrats in voting yes, as the House approved an extension of the Violence Against Women Act.
WASHINGTON D.C. - Wisconsin Republicans Paul Ryan and Sean Duffy joined all Democrats in voting yes, as the House approved an extension of the Violence Against Women Act.
The package of federal protections and services for domestic violence victims was passed 286-138, and was sent to President Obama. The 19-year-old law used to get routine renewals every year – but the extensions have become fiercely partisan in recent years. When the measure passed the Senate, Wisconsin Republican Ron Johnson was among those saying that it violated the Constitution by letting tribal courts prosecute non-Indians accused of abusing women on reservations. But Milwaukee House Democrat Gwen Moore said it closes an important loophole – and she said quote, “You can’t beat a woman and rape her with impunity now.” Before the final vote, Republicans proposed an alternative package which addressed the Indian concern and others. Wisconsin Republicans Jim Sensenbrenner and Tom Petri rejected the alternative, as well as the final extension. The state’s fifth Republican, Reid Ribble, supported the GOP alternative but not the final measure.
It’s March first – and despite all the doomsday talk about “sequestration,” there’s a good chance that your favorite federal program hasn’t been slashed just yet. But a number of Wisconsin interests continue to brace for what might happen if Congress ends up doing nothing to stop 85-billion dollars in automatic spending cuts which were due to take effect at midnight. President Obama has summoned top congressional leaders from both parties to a White House meeting today. The Wisconsin Hospital Association warns that a two-percent cut in Medicare funding takes effect right away – and the group figures it will cost hospitals two-million-dollars a week, or a billion dollars over 10 years. Brian Potter of the hospital association says smaller hospitals will feel the pinch the most, because they serve larger proportions of Medicare patients. Military facilities will feel a big impact, of course. Wisconsin’s Fort McCoy says 15-hundred civilian workers are getting their pay cut 20-percent, by taking one unpaid furlough day per week. All reports from Washington indicate that it will be a long, slow process for Americans to feel the impact – but when they do, the White House reportedly figures that people will be ready to urge Congress to approve the tax increases President Obama wants. In the meantime, a larger six-month spending bill to fund the government expires March 27th. And if it’s not extended, a government shutdown is a possibility.
Governor Scott Walker says he enjoys being mentioned as a possible Republican candidate for the White House in 2016. He says it means that he’s not doing what he calls a “crappy” job for Wisconsin. But Walker refuses to say if he’s really interested in the presidency. He told state newspaper executives in Middleton yesterday that he ought to stay focused on being the governor, considering all the time and energy he spent running for that job since 2010. Walker said his name would not come up as a potential presidential candidate if he wasn’t doing a good job in Madison. He said people will talk if they see Wisconsin improving. Democrats take issue, as you might expect. State Democratic Party spokesman Graeme Zielinski calls Walker the “Tea Party belle” for 2016 – and he said Walker has quote, “utterly failed Wisconsin in jobs, education, and the economic security of our middle class.” Scot Ross of the liberal One Wisconsin Now group says Wisconsinites are outraged by quote, “the long-term damage he’s doing to us, to ensure his right wing bona-fides are in place to compete in the 2016 Republican presidential primary.”
Governor Scott Walker now says he might consider scaling back his proposed expansion of Wisconsin’s private school voucher program. Senators in his own Republican party have balked at the governor’s budget plan to let parents in up to nine more school districts decide whether to get tax-funded vouchers to send their kids to private schools. Yesterday, Walker told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s editorial board that he might consider narrowing down the choice option to only those in schools which are not meeting state performance standards. That way, better-performing schools would not risk losing students and state aid to private schools in their districts. Walker said he’s most concerned about giving parents in poor-performing schools an option to improve their children’s education. Also, Walker said he would consider requiring the private schools which get voucher tax money to be part of the state’s report card system. That system takes the place of the No Child Left Behind Act, and the new “A”-to-“F” grades will be used to reward the best schools and challenge the worst ones. The first report cards came out last year, and Senate Education Committee chair Luther Olsen says the bugs are still being worked out. Olsen believes it’s too early to link major state funds to those report cards.
A state lawmaker says people should no longer have to register every two years to stay on Wisconsin’s popular do-not-call list for telemarketers. Assembly Republican Andre Jacque of De Pere says he’s working on a bill to make registrations on the no-call list permanent. He says registrations on the federal no-call list are permanent – and the same is true in a dozen states. Wisconsin officials say they require people to re-register every two years to make sure the lists that telemarketers get are up-to-date. Public reminders come out every three months, and they almost always get widespread news coverage. Jacque also wants to add robo-calls to the sales pitches which are off-limits to those on the state’s no-call list. But political robo-calls would still be allowed. Candidates and their parties can still call everyone. Charities are also exempt from the no-call list, along calls to a business’s existing customers.
Wisconsin lawmakers have taken their first steps toward training workers for increasingly-complex jobs that are going unfilled. The Assembly voted 94-4 yesterday to pass a bill that gives $15-million in competitive matching grants to organizations which provide job training. It also sets up a new computer system to keep track of job data, and match job-seekers to professions with the highest demand. Racine Democrat Cory Mason said the effort should be run by technical colleges which train the workers, rather than the state’s workforce development agency. He claimed the bill would create duplicate programs, but his idea of switching the lead agency was voted down 58-40. Also, the Assembly voted 92-6 to have the state’s Economic Development Corporation conduct trade shows where manufacturers can work together to build their businesses. And the house voted 90-to-8 to award a million dollars to a trade group to set up a marketing assistance program for factories. Whitewater Republican Steve Nass said the idea has been bandied about for three years – and a manufacturer has never told him he supported it. As a result, Nass says the money will end up being a subsidy for a special interest trade group. All three bills that were passed yesterday now go to the Senate.
The state Assembly will act a week from today on the mining incentive bill that’s designed to let Gogebic Taconite open a new iron ore mine in Ashland and Iron counties. GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos of Burlington told reporters today he would expect a debate to begin next Thursday morning – and the house would spend most of the day on the package. It could be the biggest test yet of an agreement by both sides not to drag out the proceedings, so a final vote’s taken in the middle of the night. Yesterday, senators held a nine-hour debate before taking a final vote around the mid-evening. The bill sets time limits for state approval of mining permits, with the goal of creating hundreds of new jobs. Democrats said it would lead to heavy pollution while relaxing environmental protections and ending the public’s ability to object to the state’s mining decisions before permits are issued.
Wisconsin lawmakers are being asked to let foreigners own large amounts of land for the first time in 126 years. Governor Scott Walker’s proposed state budget would end a ban on foreign ownership of more than 640 acres. Some of Walker’s own Republicans don’t like the idea. That includes Westby Representative Lee Nerison. He said the issue should be debated on its own merits in a separate bill, and not be buried in the state budget. Governor’s spokesman Cullen Werwie says the current state law is in conflict with a treaty adopted by the World Trade Organization 18 years ago. The treaty was designed to stabilize international service trading. According to the U.S. Farm Service Agency, about 118,000 acres of private land in Wisconsin is already held by foreign owners.
Wisconsin’s GOP Senate president says public schools should get a little more state funding, without having to beg the voters for it. Sen. Mike Ellis (R-Neenah) said today he’ll propose a state budget amendment that would give schools 150-dollars more per student in each of the next two years. Governor Scott Walker proposed a slight increase in total state school aid – but he refused to increase the current school revenue limits. Walker said he wanted to guard against increases in the local property taxes which help pay for public schools. And if voters wanted to give the extra aid to the schools, they could approve referendums, just like they do now. Ellis’s plan would raise local taxes by an extra $153-million dollars over the two-year budget period – and by shifting budgeted funds, another $229-million could be generated for the schools. Walker’s office has not commented on the idea. Ellis told the AP that Senate Education Committee chair Luther Olsen supports the extra aid – and he’s asking other GOP lawmakers to endorse the change as well.