Government and Political Roundup: Tiffany sells cruise businessWisconsin News
-- A Wisconsin senator who took a lead role in passing the state’s mining incentive bill has sold a cruise business – because he no longer has time to run it.
A Wisconsin senator who took a lead role in passing the state’s mining incentive bill has sold a cruise business – because he no longer has time to run it. Tom Tiffany has sold Wisconsin River Cruises to Ben and Patti Zastrow of Rhinelander. Patti has worked for the business, and Tiffany says her experience will her succeed with it. His cruise boats have been in business for two decades. Tiffany owned the Wilderness Queen for many years from his resort on the Willow Flowage. He and business partner Wayne Kulhanek later moved the operation to Wisconsin River at Rhinelander. Tiffany cited his legislative duties in selling the business. The Hazelhurst Republican spent two years in the Assembly before being elected to the Senate last November. He quickly achieved statewide notoriety in chairing the Senate’s mining committee, which helped pass the new law aimed at helping Gogebic Taconite open a controversial iron ore mine in Ashland and Iron counties. Tiffany grew up on a dairy farm outside of Elmwood.
Republicans will try again to let doctors apologize for their medical mistakes without having it come back to bite them in court. Wauwatosa Senator Leah Vukmir and Representative Erik Severson of Star Prairie are asking colleagues to co-sponsor their measure. Severson’s a doctor and Vukmir is a nurse. And both say they want to give medical professionals the chance to express condolences to patients and families without fear of quote, “frivolous malpractice lawsuits.” Republicans in the Assembly passed the same bill two years ago, but it never passed the Senate. Former Democratic Governor Jim Doyle vetoed the same bill in 2006, in which critics at the time called a bias toward trial lawyers. The state’s Medical Society and Hospital Association both support the measure. They say it could reduce the need for patients’ relatives to file lawsuits in order to find out what happened to their loved ones. But the Wisconsin Association for Justice says the bill goes too far by not holding doctors accountable if they admit fault in their apologies. Thirty-five states have medical apology laws, but the Justice group says only a few are as strict as the Wisconsin bill.
The state Administration Department now says it will launch a Web site next week to give people a better idea of where their state tax dollars are going. Department Secretary Mike Huebsch says “Open Book-Wisconsin” has been two years in the making – and the first data will show what the state paid for goods-and-services from the 2008 fiscal year until the most current month. Users will be able to search for records by departments, expense categories, and vendors. Huebsch told Wisconsin Public Radio that state employee salaries and fringe benefits will be added to the “Open Book” site in the next few months. But some employees, like undercover agents, will not have their data posted. Huebsch said Governor Scott Walker has made transparency in government expenses a major priority – and there’s a lot of data to enter into the new Web site. The state created a Web site in 2006 which was supposed to list state government contracts. But Gannett newspapers said only 14-of-98 agencies posted the data. Yesterday, Gannett reported that compliance has improved, but it’s still not where it should be.
At least two Wisconsin counties want to see if the federal government would give them extra money to expand their Medicaid programs – even though the governor has rejected the funding statewide. Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson says he has written federal officials about the idea – and he’s working with U-S Senate Democrat Tammy Baldwin to see if it’s possible. A spokeswoman for Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said he’s also exploring it. Nelson said it would bring in an extra 30-million-dollars a year for his county. He says he has a responsibility to quote, “get our fair share of those resources.” Both Nelson and Parisi used to be in the state Assembly as Democrats – and their current party brethren have been extremely critical of G-O-P Governor Scott Walker for saying no to the increased federal aid. Stephanie Smiley of the State Health Services Department says there’s no way counties can break from the Walker edict. She said federal rules require Medicaid programs to be run by a single state agency – and their components must be available statewide unless there’s a local waiver for a pilot program. Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele said he, too, looked at his own Medicaid expansion. But after talking with federal officials, he agreed it wouldn’t work. Walker said he had no choice but to develop his own Medicaid plan, saying there’s no way Washington can guarantee paying what it promised.
Governor Scott Walker’s Medicaid plan under the Obama health law could cost Wisconsin employers a total of 24-to-36 million dollars a year. That’s according to a new national study by the Jackson-Hewitt Tax Service. The firm estimates that Wisconsin will have 12-thousand workers who get government subsidies while relying on the new federal exchanges for their insurance. And under the health law, their employers will be hit with additional taxes of two-to-three-thousand dollars each. Under Walker’s proposed state budget, those above the poverty line who now get Badger-Care-Plus would be moved to the exchanges – thus letting more adults in poverty get Badger-Care. Walker spokeswoman Jocelyn Webster defended the extra employer taxes by saying that the governor’s plan would cut the number of uninsured Wisconsinites in half. And she said it would reduce government dependence, and let more people make their own health care decisions. The federal government has offered to pay the added expenses of expanding state Medicaid programs at least through 2020. But Walker turned it down, saying that Washington might not be able to keep its end of the bargain.