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GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL ROUNDUP: Two major teachers' unions are thinking about merging

Wisconsin's two major teachers' unions are thinking about merging. The Wisconsin Education Association Council and the American Federation of Teachers have drafted initial governance documents for a group to be called "Wisconsin Together." It comes about two-and-a-half years after the state's Act-10 public union bargaining limits -- in which school unions lost their ability to bargain for working conditions and pay levels above inflation. Members of both state school unions will vote on a possible merger April 26th in Green Bay. Since Act-10 took effect, WEAC (wee-ack) has lost about a-third of its members, and A-F-T is down by more than half from its peak membership. Both have asked their national groups for the approval to merge. Unions in five other states have taken the same steps -- Minnesota, North Dakota, Florida, Montana, and New York. A-F-T-Wisconsin's new president, Kim Kohlhass, tells the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that a newly-merged union would provide professional development and other resources to its members -- while advocating to lawmakers and the state's education agency. Dues are reported to be a sticking point, but WEAC leaders say they won't change drastically under a merger. If it's approved, it would take effect in September with a two-year transition period.


Gogebic Taconite plans to meet with its northern Wisconsin neighbors today, to update them on its proposed iron ore mine. The firm has been taking appointments to meet with folks individually in Hurley, Saxon, Ashland, and Mellen. They say the personal meetings prevent residents from being intimidated at public hearings by politically-motivated opponents. The company held a similar round of personal meetings in November. The project is no less controversial than it was last spring, when the state Legislature agreed to speed up Gogebic's process for getting a state permit. Last month, the U-S Army Corps of Engineers said it would not work with the state on a joint environmental impact statement. Officials say the federal document could come about a year later than the state's review. Gogebic said it could apply for a formal state mining permit by the end of 2014 at the earliest. In the meantime, the company is answering dozens of D-N-R questions about its plans for testing rock and handling storm-water at the proposed mining site.


The amount of electricity generated by solar panels is not growing nearly as much in Wisconsin as it is elsewhere. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said solar generation was expected to rise nationally by 27-percent in 2013, to about 43-hundred megawatts. In Wisconsin, only two megawatts of solar power are being built -- and half that comes from the Jefferson Solar project in Jefferson County. The group Renew Wisconsin will hold a conference on the subject Friday in Madison. Those in attendance plan to discuss new policy ideas that could restore the state's renewable energy efforts. The group plans to use the language of the Walker administration -- creating jobs. Carl Siegrist, a former head of renewable energy projects at We Energies, says Wisconsin could have a lot of nice jobs in the field, but it doesn't. Utilities have developed fewer solar projects in the wake of government funding-and-incentive cuts. State officials and utility leaders have said they want to make sure solar energy does not add to the electric bills of those without panels.  


Lawmakers plan to wait a while before approving a fund-raising foundation for the state's job creation agency. The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation has asked the Joint Finance Committee to create a charitable foundation, and for approval to spend some the agency's current surplus of 34-million dollars. The panel meets today, and Republican co-chair Alberta Darling says it will act on the surplus but not the foundation request. Darling said quote, "We have to do it right." The proposed foundation would seek donations from private companies to expand economic efforts statewide. It would have policies to prevent conflicts-of-interest, and be subject to public scrutiny under the Open Records Law. However, other details have yet to be worked out -- including whether the foundation would have its own employees instead of W-E-D-C personnel. The agency has built up surpluses from the business taxes it receives -- as well as its cash reserves. Democrats on the finance panel say the agency needs to use its full available resources, so Wisconsin can stop lagging behind the national average in job growth.


Wisconsin dairy-goat farmers can learn more next month about improving the quality of their products. A conference on the subject will be held February 7th-and-8th at U-W Platteville. State agriculture officials say the meeting will let dairy-goat farmers share ideas about selecting goats -- as well as feeding and providing health care for the animals. Wisconsin had the nation's largest number of dairy goats in 2012, around 46-thousand. Over a dozen processors in the Badger State use goat-milk for making cheese.