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Government and Political Roundup: Sen. Baldwin gives her first floor speech today

Wisconsin's newest U-S senator said today that her state's businesses and middle class residents are "stuck in neutral" while the national economy recovers. Democrat Tammy Baldwin followed a Senate tradition, and waited a few months before giving her first floor speech to her colleagues. Baldwin - who spent 14 years in the House before moving to the Senate in January - said there's a disconnect between the concerns of Wisconsinites and the rhetoric of Washington. She said Capitol Hill bounces from quote, "one manufactured crisis to the next, never addressing the real and ongoing crisis of our disappearing middle class." Baldwin said her goal was to create a quote, "Made in Wisconsin" economy that revitalizes the state's manufacturing sector and rebuilds prosperity. She said labor must be respected, and there needs to be regional research-and-development hubs plus more support for technical colleges. Baldwin was among 12 senators who were newly-elected last fall. Because of her time in the House, she has the highest rank among the new members.


The committee that's revamping the proposed state budget did not consider a request yesterday that's aimed at helping Skyward of Stevens Point. The measure is expected to come up next week. Assembly Republican Scott Krug of Wisconsin Rapids wants the Joint Finance panel to drop funding to have a single company provide a new statewide student database for Wisconsin's public-and-charter schools. Both Skyward and Infinite Campus of Minnesota current provide databases for local schools - and the budget measure could pave the way for both firms to have a slice of the statewide system. Infinite Campus beat out Skyward for the state contract, but Skyward said the process was flawed and it's asking the Walker administration to drop the award. Krug believes there's enough support among lawmakers to de-fund the single vendor contract, and let more than one firm have it. Separate bills have also been proposed to help Skyward - which says it would have to leave Wisconsin if it doesn't win at least a share of a state contract.


About 63-thousand Wisconsinites would have to get work or job training to keep their food stamp benefits under a state budget measure endorsed yesterday. The Legislature's Joint Finance Committee voted 12-to-4, with all Democrats voting no, to make childless adults either work 20 hours a week or get job training, in order to keep their Food-Share assistance. Assembly Democrat Cory Mason of Racine called it a "mean-spirited" attack on the poor. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimates that about 31-thousand recipients would drop out of the Food-Share program. Mason says the state is "taking away (their) food." Other Democrats said it would cost the state about 72-million dollars in lost federal Food-Share aid - and the state would spend 36-million more during the next two years to monitor recipients and start job-training programs. G-O-P finance co-chair John Nygren says the extra costs are worth it to encourage recipients to find work. Other Republicans said it would bring Wisconsin in line with federal work requirements for food programs.


As frac-sand mining grew in Wisconsin, so did the money the industry gave to state political candidates. The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign found that the sand mining and natural gas industries gave 758-thousand-dollars to since 2007. That's way up from just 19-thousand dollars in 2007 when only a handful of frac-sand mines were operating in the Badger State. Republican Governor Scott Walker got the most, with 520-thousand dollars. Last year, about 100 mines were operating - and the frac-sand and natural gas industries donated 413-thousand dollars to state candidates. The D-N-R has struggled to keep up with the growth in frac-sand mines, which provide ultra-smooth sand used in drilling equipment for oil-and-gas. Governor Scott Walker proposed two additional frac-sand mining inspectors in the new state budget. The Legislature's Joint Finance Committee endorsed that request yesterday.


Deadbeat parents in Wisconsin could soon be under more pressure to pay what they owe for child support. The state Legislature's finance panel has rejected Governor Scott Walker's budget proposal to cut funds to collect past-due support - and they voted to reverse cuts made in the same program in 2011. Yesterday's committee vote was unanimous. It came after lawmakers were told that counties were 17-percent less effective last year in identifying parents who owed child support, and orders to secure medical support for children dropped by 22-percent. Officials said the cuts in state funds also reduced federal enforcement funds by even more. The total statewide allocation was 38-million dollars in 2010 - but this year, it's down to 17-million. The Wisconsin Child Support Enforcement Association said families that get less support from their absent parents are more likely to need public assistance - thus costing more for taxpayers and society. Lawmakers on the finance panel agreed to restore the total child support enforcement package to almost 38-million for next year. The change must still be approved by the full Legislature and the governor as part of the new state budget that takes effect July first.


A public hearing will be held today on a bill to prohibit Wisconsin police officers from using drones to spy on you without good cause. Lawmakers from both parties have supported a bill authored by Assembly Republican Tyler August of Lake Geneva. It would require law enforcement to get warrants before using unmanned aircraft with video-and-audio equipment to gather evidence in criminal investigations. Drones could be used for other legitimate purposes, like rescue operations and manhunts. They could also be used in public areas, where people don't expect to have much privacy. A number of communities and states have either passed limits on drones - or they're in the process of doing so.


Wisconsin lawmakers would have to approve any sale of state-owned property, under a budget measure endorsed yesterday by the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee. On a 12-to-4 vote, Republicans modified Governor Scott Walker's proposal to let him sell state buildings, heating plants, and highway property to help reduce the state's debt. The panel agreed to prohibit selling any state facility in which at least half the cost was donated or federally-funded. That was meant to address concerns from the U-W System, which feared that donors for future buildings would disappear because there's a chance their gifts could be sold off someday. U-W Madison Foundation leader Michael Knetter said the new measure would create an uncertainty that's quote, "the enemy of investment." The U-W says only four buildings at Madison would be banned from a future sale - the Health Sciences Learning Center, the schools of nursing and pharmacy, and a bio-tech addition. Competitive bids would not have to be sought. Some Democrats said that even the State Capitol could be peddled, to which G-O-P co-chair Alberta Darling replied, "Let's get real." Officials say their first sales will be for highway right-of-way land that the state doesn't need anymore.


Despite the uproar over massive spending cuts, Wisconsin public schools still received more money per student in 2011 than the previous year - and the Badger State was still in the top-third of all states in per-pupil spending. The U-S Census Bureau said yesterday that Wisconsin taxpayers spent 11-thousand-774 dollars per student in 2011. That's three-point-six percent more than the previous year, while school spending nationally dropped a half-percent to 10-thousand-560-dollars per student. Wisconsin had the 16th highest school spending among the 50 states and Washington D-C. Wisconsin's increase came in spite of Governor Scott Walker's first budget, which cut 834-million dollars in state school aid while putting new limits on what schools could get from property taxes. Dale Knapp of the state's Taxpayers Alliance said the numbers show that other states had already cut school spending, and Wisconsin was quote, "a bit late to the party." Milwaukee school officials say the Census numbers are artificially high. They believe the figures include tax money for low-income kids in private schools under the state's voucher program.