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Government and Political Roundup: Debate on Abortion restrictions continue

Democrats in the Wisconsin Senate blocked approval yesterday of a Republican bill to require women to get ultrasounds before getting abortions. The hold-up won't be long, as G-O-P Senate leaders said the bill would come up again at eight this morning. New Berlin Republican Mary Lazich proposed the bill, saying it would reduce the numbers of abortions by letting women see photos of the unborn children they want to abort. She also said there's a lot of trauma with abortions, and many women later regret having them. Republicans stayed silent during yesterday's debate while Democrats condemned the legislation. Middleton Democrat Jon Erpenbach said it's designed to quote, "intimidate women, bully women, and tell women the Wisconsin Senate believes 'you're not able to make your own medical decisions.'" If the Senate approves it today, the Assembly could act on the measure tomorrow. In Milwaukee yesterday, Republican Governor Scott Walker said he would sign the bill if it gets to his desk. In his words, "I don't have any problem with ultrasounds ... I think most people think ultrasounds are just fine." The bill also requires abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of their clinics. Planned Parenthood has said the measure would force its Appleton clinic to close, because it has no doctors with such privileges.


Both of Wisconsin's U-S senators voted twice yesterday to proceed with a debate and amendments on the contentious immigration bill. The package cleared some major procedural hurdles, when requests to place it on the Senate floor and open it for amendments each got more than 80 votes. Wisconsin Democrat Tammy Baldwin and Republican Ron Johnson were among those paving the way for Senate consideration. In the end, Johnson said he would only support a package that includes stronger border security, and a plan to address the nation's 11-million undocumented immigrants that has both "humanity" and "common sense." The current version of the bill lays out a 13-year path to citizenship to those arriving illegally through 2011 or who over-stayed their visas. Four senators from each party drafted the package - which also includes tighter border security, a new program for low-skilled workers to enter the U-S, and more visas for workers who are in-demand at high-tech industries. Supporters are confident to get the required 60 votes for passage by July Fourth. G-O-P minority leader Mitch McConnell says the package has "serious flaws." He wants even tighter border security, as does Johnson - plus stronger terms on those seeking legal status.


The state Senate has voted to prohibit employees of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation from negotiating contracts which could benefit them. The upper house passed the measure on a voice vote yesterday, after the Assembly approved it earlier. It now goes to Governor Scott Walker, who says he supports the change. It would prohibit W-E-D-C employees and board members from negotiating or having discretion in any deal with a company or organization in which they have a monetary interest. The state's public-private job creation agency was created two years ago to replace the old Commerce Department. The W-E-D-C has come under fire after a critical state audit which showed that it never approved required policies, gave job creation grants and loans to companies that did not quality, and did not keep adequate track of those funds.


The Wisconsin Assembly is expected to vote on a bill today to increase weekly jobless benefits, while making it tougher to get them. The Senate passed the measure on a 17-to-15 party-line vote yesterday, with all Democrats voting no. It increases the weekly payments by one-to-seven-dollars, with a maximum weekly benefit of 370-dollars. The bill also toughens the standards for those applying for unemployment after they rejected job offers. It also repeals an extra 26-weeks of benefits to those who get job training. Federal stimulus funds started covering those in 2009, but they've been long gone. Senate Republican Frank Lasee of De Pere proposed the bill to prop up the state's unemployment benefit fund - and to ease the burden of businesses that pay into the fund. Green Bay Democrat Dave Hansen says it's the wrong time to cut benefits while jobless rates are still relatively high, and Wisconsin lags behind most other states in job growth. The bill also lets officials check private bank accounts to check whether benefit recipients were over-paid. Banks that do business with the state government would have to disclose information about the accounts held by those who owe money to the unemployment fund.


The state Assembly is scheduled to vote today on a compromise to take some of the tart out of Wisconsin's Lemon Law. Republican supporters want to eliminate the mandatory double-damages for making and selling defective new vehicles. The bill would also reduce the time limit for filing defective vehicle lawsuits from six years after a purchase to three years. Other provisions were dropped as the result of compromises between chief Assembly sponsor Bill Kramer of Waukesha and trial lawyers who spoke out against the original measure. Kramer and the bill's Senate sponsor, Marathon Republican Jerry Petrowski, say they're going after attorneys who win huge damage awards - and they believe automakers need a break from those payments. The lawmakers specifically cite Milwaukee Lemon Law attorney Vince Megna. He won a 618-thousand-dollar judgment last year against Mercedes-Benz in a long-running dispute.