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Government and Polticial Roundup: Taxpayers to invest $25 million to help new businesses get started

Wisconsin taxpayers would invest 25-million-dollars to help new businesses get started, under a bill passed 91-to-2 yesterday by the state Assembly. Milwaukee Democrat Dan Riemer and Delafield Republican Chris Kapenga were the only ones to vote no, despite concerns from Democrats that none of the funds would go to medical bio-tech firms. The bill provides 75-million dollars in venture capital, with two-thirds coming from private sources. The money would help new firms create jobs in agriculture, information technology, advanced manufacturing, and engineering. Companies that make medical devices could also get start-up funds. However, majority Republicans left out bio-tech firms. That would include the type of embryonic stem cell studies at U-W Madison that many in the G-O-P have long opposed. An effort by Democrats to allow all types of firms to get venture capital failed on a 57-to-37 vote. New Berlin Republican Mike Kuglitsch said the state's venture capital will focus on areas with the most job growth, the most business start-ups, and the fastest-and-best return on investment. He said bio-tech firms require more money, and take longer to develop the types of treatment research that add jobs. The bill now goes to the Senate.


A bill that gives landlords more power over their tenants was approved yesterday in the Wisconsin Assembly. Majority Republicans sent the measure to the Senate on a 57-37 party-line vote, as all Democrats who were present voted no. The bill's main sponsor, Saukville Republican Duey Strobel, said it would ease burdensome requirements for landlords - and it would hold tenants more responsible for damages. Landlords could dispose of almost anything tenants leave behind without advance notice. Building owners could also evict tenants if crimes occur in their units, regardless of whether the tenants could have prevented them. Victims of sexual assault, stalking, and domestic abuse could not be evicted. Democrats said the bill tramples on consumer rights. Other critics, including some in law enforcement, fear violent confrontations between tenants and the landlords who try to toss them out.


Wisconsin House Republican Jim Sensenbrenner - who wrote the U-S-A Patriot Act soon after 9-11 - said the secret surveillance of Americans' phone records goes way beyond what the law intended. A British newspaper uncovered a court order this week that requires Verizon to turn over records of all landline and mobile calls made by its U-S customers on a daily basis. Investigators can look for calling patterns that hint of terrorism, and then seek court approval to wire-tap those numbers. House Intelligence Committee leaders say the effort helped thwart at least one terrorism attempt in the U-S, saving American lives. Despite that, Sensenbrenner - of Menomonee Falls - says there's a consensus from both parties that the surveillance program is a serious over-reach of the Patriot Act, and a violation of privacy. Former U-S Senate Democrat Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, who cast the only vote against the Patriot Act in 2001, said the new revelations are "deeply troubling." He hopes they trigger a new debate on protecting the country while protecting Americans' rights. Also, the Washington Post says there's another program which lets the F-B-I and National Security Administration intercept computer photos, audio, video, e-mails, and other things that can track a person's movements and contacts. Internet companies like Yahoo and Facebook insisted yesterday that it does directly provide the government with direct access to their records.


The U-W System - stung by recent cutbacks in state funding - could ask state officials to at least give university employees the same pay raises that other state workers get. The Board of Regents will consider making the request today, when it continues its two-day meeting in Milwaukee. The measure also seeks permission to let the U-W have the flexibility to grant further pay hikes using its own resources. The Regents' finance committee endorsed the proposal yesterday. It was pointed out that U-W employees have not had across-the-board pay hikes since 2008, due to furloughs during the Doyle years and the Walker union law that forced all state workers to pay more for their health insurance and retirement. U-W officials say faculty salaries are now 18-percent less than those at other similar schools - thus raising new concerns that Wisconsin's best-and-brightest professors will leave for more money. Yesterday, the Regents were told the U-W will lose a net of 202-million dollars from the cutbacks ordered by lawmakers after they discovered that the university was sitting on millions in reserves. Some Regents said the university's finances should be more transparent. But Regent Jose Vasquez accused the Legislature of micro-managing the university, and said the Regents were becoming merely ambassadors instead of a policy-setting body.


The Wisconsin Assembly voted yesterday to keep state laws in place while they're challenged in the courts. Majority Republicans sent the measure to the Senate on a 57-to-39 vote. The bill's fate in the upper house is uncertain. Leaders say they won't take it up at least until this fall. G-O-P lawmakers pushed for the change, after seeing some of their major legislation halted by Dane County circuit judges who struck them down in lawsuits. The 2011 photo I-D law for voting was only used once before two judges threw it out - and an appeals court refused to put it back in effect while the state appeals the circuit court rulings. Republicans say it's wrong for a judge in one county to stifle a law meant to be applied throughout Wisconsin. Democrats say the proposal violates the constitutional separation-of-powers between the legislative and judicial branches. A non-partisan legislative bureau says the change might be found unconstitutional if somebody challenges it. Madison lawyer Lester Pines said he would challenge the measure in court if it becomes law.