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Government and Political Roundup: Public school officials are begging for more state aid

Public school officials say they've squeezed out as much savings as they possibly can - and they need more state aid. Governor Scott Walker's decision to freeze public school aid, while spending more on private school vouchers, was a major topic yesterday at the Joint Finance Committee's first public hearing on the new state budget. Hundreds of people attended the all-day hearing, held in the Milwaukee suburb of Greendale. Kettle Moraine Superintendent Patricia Deklotz said her district took full advantage of the 2011 law that allowed schools to cut employee benefits. But now, she says Walker's plan to expand charter-and-voucher schools without local school board input would be damaging to districts like Kettle Moraine. Deklotz said quote, "The proposed budget feels like a sledge-hammer when what we need is a scalpel." She asked lawmakers to approve a G-O-P alternative for a small property tax increase to give an extra 150-dollars per student in state aid over the next two years. Officials of voucher schools praised the original Walker plan. Chuck Moore, a board member for the Choice Schools Association, said the state should invest in all children and quote, "not value some less than others, because parents have exercised their constitutional right to choose." The finance panel also heard criticisms of Walker's budget plans to reform Medicaid, and end local residency requirements for public employees. The finance committee will hold three more budget hearings on Monday in Green Bay, Wednesday in Lake Delton, and April 18th in Baldwin.


The U-W Board of Regents will vote today on hiring two new chancellors, including Rebecca Blank at the Madison campus. The Regents are meeting at U-W La Crosse. They'll also consider the hiring of James Schmidt as the new chancellor at Eau Claire. A search committee recommended Blank, who's been the acting secretary for the U-S Commerce Department. Among other things, Blank promises a strong emphasis on fund-raising for the state's flagship school. State Assembly Colleges Committee chairman Steve Nass (nahss) opposes the selection. Nass, a Republican from Whitewater, says Blank has impressive credentials. But he's worried that her policies would eventually make tuition unaffordable for many Wisconsin students. Blank would replace Biddy Martin, who left for a private college two years ago in part because she was tired of dealing with political pressure from Nass and other lawmakers. Former chancellor David Ward has filled in since then - and the tension between the campus and the Capitol has quieted down. At Eau Claire, Schmidt would replace Brian Levin-Stankevich, who left a year ago to become the president of a college in Salt Lake City. Schmidt is currently a vice president at Winona State University in Minnesota.


Governor Scott Walker has added a California event to his out-of-state speaking schedule. He'll appear at a fund-raiser for the Republican Jewish Coalition on June ninth in Beverly Hills. Walker is beefing up his travel schedule amid speculation that he could run for president in 2016. He's also speaking at a Reagan Day Dinner in Fayetteville Arkansas later this month. And on May 23rd, he'll headline a G-O-P fund-raising dinner in Iowa - joining a list of previous G-O-P White House hopefuls that include Newt Gingrich.


Trial lawyers say a new Wisconsin bill is designed to slow down lawsuits for asbestos exposure - hoping that more plaintiffs die during their cases so companies don't have to pay damages. But the bill's author, Assembly Republican Andre Jacque of De Pere, says plaintiffs sometimes hide the fact that they're trying to collect from bankrupt companies to maximize their awards. And Jacque says wants to expose all the defendants, to make sure they pay their fair share if they lose or settle their cases. Attorney Jill Rakauski told the Assembly Judiciary Committee yesterday that only nine new asbestos lawsuits were filed in Wisconsin last year. And Democrats then questioned the need for the legislation, which was approved in Ohio last year. Milwaukee attorney Trevor Will, who defends companies in asbestos cases, said attorneys for exposure victims try to collect first from companies that are still in business - and then they try to "double dip" by quietly going after firms that have filed for bankruptcy. Will also said most plaintiffs with mesothelioma already die before their cases end.


Governor Scott Walker will get a closer look today at the forest industry in northwest Wisconsin. The Republican Walker will visit a logging site near Springbrook and three plants in Hayward - the Futurewood Corporation, Louisiana-Pacific, and the wood-yard at Great Lakes Renewable Energy. Walker's office said forestry officials invited the governor to get a first-hand look at the issues the industry faces.


The Democratic leader of the state Senate has introduced a bill to let stores increase their deposits for car batteries. South Milwaukee Senator Chris Larson wants to remove a five-dollar limit on what retailers can charge to encourage motorists to turn in their old auto and lead-acid batteries when they buy new ones. Larson says the five-dollar deposit is enough to discourage folks from throwing their used batteries in the trash. And he says it hurts retailers, because they have to pay manufacturers more than 15-dollars in deposits for each battery they put on their shelves. A similar bill was defeated in the Assembly last year. The new measure has sponsors from both parties.