WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: State Assembly wraps-up fall session this morning
MADISON - The Wisconsin State Assembly sent two major bills to Governor Scott Walker during a 12-hour session that ended at 2:10 this morning that included a number of partisan squabbles.
The lower house gave final legislative approval to a compromise that limits public access to some, but not all of the recreational land where Gogebic Taconite is conducting tests for its proposed iron ore mine. Republicans pushed the bill through on a 54-39 party line vote. Democrats say it's still too restrictive. The state Assembly also sent Walker a new requirement that high school students take three credits each of math-and-science instead of the present two, with more flexibility for students in career and technical education programs.
The big squabble was over a bill to create a specialized pro-life license plate. Democrats accused majority Republicans of flinching on a deal from earlier last evening, in which the DOT instead of the Legislature would have decided which groups are qualified to benefit from specialized license plates. Majority Leader Bill Kramer (R-Waukesha) blamed a tweet from Madison Democrat Chris Taylor for the breakdown. The Republican majority then approved the "Choose Life" license plate on a party-line vote. Proceeds would go to Wisconsin Family Action and Pro-Life Wisconsin for adoption programs at crisis pregnancy centers. Democrats also wanted a vote on a resolution to honor the 26 people who died at last year's Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Connecticut, but GOP leaders failed to put it up. The Senate unanimously passed it last fall. The Assembly meeting was the last of the year, except for a special session called yesterday to adjust the state's involvement in Obamacare.
Majority Republicans alo rammed through a series of new voting restrictions. On mostly party-line votes, the Assembly moved to adjust the voter ID law that's now tied up in the courts -- limit early absentee voting by banning it on nights and weekends -- and allow state-and-local elected officials to be recalled only if they're suspected of crimes or ethical violations. All those measures face uncertain futures in the Senate, where GOP leader Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau has already said he won't take up the voter ID reinstatement until the courts act on the original 2011 law. Assembly Republicans said they needed to press forward to make sure voters show ID's in next year's elections. The new measure allows those who cannot afford ID's to vote by signing affidavits. Milwaukee Democrat JoCasta Zamarippa said it requires poor people to show a "Scarlet Letter" by declaring that they're indigent. Beaver Dam Republican Mark Born says it's necessary to preserve the public's faith in elections. The GOP said the early voting limits were needed to create uniform hours around the state. Democrats said it would suppress the vote. Kaukauna Republican Jim Steineke spoke up for the recall limits, saying quote, "It's time we return predictability to the electoral process." Milwaukee Democrat Fred Kessler said called the moves an affront to democracy. Also, the Assembly voted along party lines in favor of a constitutional amendment to have the Supreme Court elect its chief justice every two years. It must pass again next session before going to a statewide referendum. Democrats called it an effort to remove liberal chief justice Shirley Abrahamson.
A wanted man who was shot by police inside Children's Hospital near Milwaukee yesterday was still hospitalized at last word. Milwaukee Police said they were told that 22-year-old Ashanti Hendricks was armed -- and he has a long criminal history, which spurred officers to go to the hospital to arrest him. Officials said Hendricks was holding his baby in the Newborn Progressive Care Unit on the seventh floor when officers came in. He reportedly put the baby down, ran down a hallway, showed a 40-caliber locked semi-automatic pistol to the officers, and was shot by them in one of his arms. Children's Hospital was on lockdown for two hours. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel said a woman burst from the seventh floor elevator screaming, "He's going to shoot my baby!" Officers converged on the elevator, pushed the woman back in, and sent her back downstairs. Officials said no hospital staffers, patients, visitors, or others were hurt beside Hendricks. Children's Hospital officials said they had a good response to their master plan for dealing with such emergencies.
Governor Scott Walker says he will keep saying no to taking more federal Medicaid dollars to cover any added costs of changing his Obamacare strategy. Yesterday, the Republican Walker asked state lawmakers for a three-month delay in dropping 77,000 Badger-Care recipients with incomes above the poverty line. Those people are supposed to enter the government's health exchange by December 15th -- but Walker says they might not be able to, due to the glitches in exchange's Web site. Walker says he'll off-set the added costs of the delay by waiting three months to add over 80,000 adults in poverty to Badger-Care. U.S. Senate Democrat Tammy Baldwin of Madison urged Walker to take a temporary increase in Medicaid to cover the costs of the delay. The governor said the failure of the Obama-care rollout is exactly why he rejected the Medicaid funds in the first place. He said states which are taking the money are counting on the federal government to live up to its commitment, but Washington quote, "can't even get a Web site up and going." Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says his house will most likely approve Walker's extension -- as long as it doesn't run past March 31st. Senate GOP leader Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau told the AP he opposes a three-month extension, saying it puts Democrats off the hook. He says he'd rather see month-to-month extensions.
Over 400 people showed up at a Walmart near Wausau last evening where Sarah Palin signed copies of her new book "Good Tidings and Great Joy." The former Alaska governor and Republican vice-presidential candidate is on a national tour to promote the book, which encourages people not to shy away from celebrating and discussing the religious nature of the holiday. Palin recently criticized the short-lived limits on Christmas music by Wausau school choral groups -- and she said she had to visit the area. It was the fourth stop on her book tour, and the first in Wisconsin. To meet Palin, folks had to spend $16 to buy her book -- and they could not get pictures with her, since they were asked to leave their cameras and cellphones at the door. Several media reporters and photographers were kept at bay in a guarded room. They could not interview her -- and after a short photo opportunity, they were escorted out. Palin did stay an hour longer than the two hours she planned -- and she could have stayed longer had she not run out of books.
Obamacare will again take center stage in Wisconsin this afternoon. U.S. Health-and-Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will visit a clinic in Milwaukee where folks get help in signing up for the federal government's purchasing exchange. Sebelius will meet with people who are planning to enroll in the exchanges. Folks have had lots of trouble signing up for the online exchanges. Only 877 Wisconsinites managed to buy health coverage online between October first and November second. Sebelius says she's taking full responsibility for the glitches, and she promises they'll be fixed soon. Up to 700,000 Wisconsinites are expected to get insurance from the exchanges. Those without coverage are required to have it by Jan. 1
U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R-Oshkosh) said President Obama's latest delay in the Affordable Care Act is too little, too late. Yesterday, the president announced a one-year delay in adopting more comprehensive coverage standards for policies sold under Obamacare. That was after hundreds-of-thousands of people had their insurance canceled because it didn't meet the new requirements. Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, said it was too late to help those who've been cut off -- and he again called for the repeal of the entire health law. Obama recently apologized for the cancellations, after promising many times that if people liked their present insurance, they could keep it. Johnson sponsored a bill to convert that promise into a federal requirement. Yesterday, Johnson said quote -- "Dumping this top-down, Washington-style monstrosity is the only way to save our health care system from permanent damage." Meanwhile, officials said the latest turn-about would not have a major impact in Wisconsin. Deputy insurance commissioner Dan Schwartzer said the state allowed customers to renew their existing policies for one more year -- and many of the largest insurers offered that.
Almost 28,000 Wisconsin youngsters are getting tax-funded educations at private schools this fall. That's according to the state Department of Public Instruction, which released figures on the total numbers of kids in the private school choice program. Milwaukee has had the program for 20 years. This year, almost 26-thousand low-income kids are in it. That's a three-point-six percent increase from last year. Racine had its voucher enrollment double to almost 1,250 youngsters. Racine has been in the program for a couple years -- and this is the first time the community does not have an enrollment cap for its voucher program. In addition, 512 other youngsters have private school vouchers statewide, under a limited expansion of the choice program approved by the governor and Legislature in the new state budget.
A peace activist murdered in his home near Milwaukee was identified yesterday as 65-year-old Peter Holzberger. Glendale Police said he was killed by two Milwaukee men whom he knew. Both men, ages 25-and-28, have been arrested. Police say they'll seek homicide charges against both. A friend reported Holzberger missing last Saturday. Police are not saying when or how the victim was murdered. Friends said he was a part of several peace-and-environmental groups, including Peace Action Wisconsin and the Sierra Club. Holzberger also ran unsuccessfully for the Glendale Common Council several times.
Perjury charges have been dropped against a former central Wisconsin girls' basketball coach and his wife, in connection with a sex-related court case. Rory and Constance McKellips, both 57, were supposed to stand trial for allegedly lying on the witness stand at another trial earlier this year, in which Rory was accused of sexting and molesting a girls' player at Athens in 2011. However, Marathon County prosecutors said they could no longer go forward with the perjury case. Constance has been cleared. Rory is also having a bail jumping charge dropped, but both counts will considered when he's sentenced in the sexting case on Dec. 6. A jury found him innocent of molesting the victim, but he was convicted on two other counts of using a computer to facilitate a sex crime and obstructing police. Rory McKellips won a state title during a 16-year tenure at Mosinee High School before going to Wisconsin Valley Lutheran for a year, and then to Athens.
A UW-La Crosse history instructor has been honored as Wisconsin's Professor-of-the-Year. Victor Macias-Gonzalez received his award yesterday in Washington D.C. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching sponsors the award, which recognizes the nation's best undergraduate professors. Macias-Gonzalez has been at La Crosse since 2000. His emphasis is 19th century Latin American history. Among other things, Macias-Gonzalez teamed up with La Crosse associate dean Barbara Stewart to start the school's Eagle Mentoring Program five years ago. Its goal is to retain under-privileged and under-represented second-year students.