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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUNDUP: Assembly committee debates having hospitals screen newborns for heart defects

A Wisconsin Assembly committee is scheduled to vote on making hospitals screen all newborns for congenital heart defects. The Senate's health committee endorsed the measure yesterday, and the Assembly Children-and-Families panel could do the same today. One of the bill's chief sponsors, Senate Republican Jerry Petrowski of Marathon, says the non-intrusive pulse-oximetry test can show doctors what they can't see about a baby's heart -- thus saving lives. The bill was introduced last April. At the time, various news media had differing estimates on how many Wisconsin hospitals already perform the pulse-ox test -- anywhere from 25-to-80 percent. Supporters say most hospitals have the proper screening equipment, and insurance normally covers the cost of the tests -- averaging around four-dollars per infant. The state received a federal grant last year to teach hospitals how to conduct the pulse-ox test properly.


Wisconsinites will have their say today on Governor Scott Walker's proposed half-billion-dollar tax cut. The Assembly's economic committee will hold a public hearing on the package -- that would cut average property-and-income taxes by 177-dollars over the coming year. The money would come from an expected state budget surplus of a billion-dollars -- and Walker and many of his fellow Republicans say the taxpayers should get most of the excess back. Democrats and others have proposed other uses for the money -- like bolstering state aid for public schools and job training programs, and covering the expected 825-million dollar structural deficit at the start of the next budget in mid-2015. Walker and Assembly leaders believe economic growth can wipe out the structural deficit, but some Senate Republicans don't agree.


A big Midwest snowstorm that's making national news veered to our south overnight, bringing mostly light snow to the southern third of Wisconsin. Platteville had about one-inch before the skies cleared. It was still snowing in south central and southeast areas at five a-m. Parts of Kenosha County had three-inches by then. Up to four-inches were predicted in the Milwaukee region, close to Lake Michigan -- and the rest of southern Wisconsin was expecting 1-to-3 inches. Once it all leaves, more arctic air is due in, and you know what that means -- temperatures down to 15-below by early tomorrow morning. Daytime highs tomorrow are projected to be in the single-digits above, before rising to the teens-and-20's on Friday and Saturday. For now, Wisconsin escaped the ravage of a massive storm that hit the eastern two-thirds of the country. Kansas appears to be getting the worst of it. Two people were killed in a car crash there, and Kansas schools and government offices were closed in a state-of-emergency. 


A public hearing is set for this morning on a Wisconsin bill to create much stiffer penalties for poaching trophy deer. Fines would not be increases -- but related surcharges could be hiked dramatically. Senate Republican Jerry Petrowski of Marathon and Assembly Republican Mary Williams of Taylor County are the bill's main sponsors. Lawmakers of both parties have signed onto it. Under the current law, a wild-animal protection surcharge of almost 44-dollars is imposed on top of poaching fines. The proposed surcharges would range from two-thousand to 10-thousand dollars, depending on a deer's antler spread. Also, the bill would apply the surcharges only to deer -- and not to elk and bear, as adopted earlier. Petrowski said the surcharges were only meant to keep trophy deer from being stolen -- and he's not sure how the elk-and-bear got included.


Gogebic Taconite will not need a state air pollution permit to dig out bulk mineral samples at its proposed iron ore mine in Ashland and Iron counties. The company asked the D-N-R in December for an exemption from the required permit, to excavate four-thousand tons of rock as part of the mine's feasibility studies. The D-N-R said it agreed that sampling activities do not require air-or-construction permits. Officials also said the air emissions from the rock sampling should be within the state's acceptable levels. The company will still need to document its air emissions, and keep those records on file for at least five years.   


U-S Senator Ron Johnson said he couldn't stomach all the spending for food stamps in the new Farm Bill -- and that's why he voted against it. President Obama is expected to sign the five-year package of farm programs and food aid that received final congressional approval yesterday with a 68-to-32 Senate vote. Wisconsin Democrat Tammy Baldwin approved the Farm Bill. Johnson, Wisconsin's other senator, was among 23 Republicans who voted no. Food stamps represent about 80-percent of the Farm Bill's 100-billion-dollar-a-year price-tag, and Johnson said they should have been considered separately. He also questioned what he called the program's "exponential growth" since the 1970's. Johnson said only five-percent of Americans received food stamps when the aid was first linked to the Farm Bill. Now, one-of-every-seven Americans get food stamps -- and Johnson says the cost to taxpayers has doubled twice since 2001. The compromise package cuts food stamps by one-percent -- a fifth of what the House originally wanted. Many direct payments were cut in the new package, including price supports for Wisconsin dairy farmers. Instead, they'll get a new margin insurance program. It grants payouts when margins fall below various levels in policies to be purchased by individual farmers.


For the 11th year in a row, telemarketers are Wisconsin's Number-One consumer complaint. Just over two-thousand people were mad enough about false-and-persistent phone pitches to call the state's consumer protection agency. That's twice as many complaints as the next's highest consumer beef, landlord-tenant disputes. Division administrator Sandy Chalmers said many of the telemarketer complaints involved automated robo-calls which got seniors to buy fraudulent medical alert devices -- along with other types of senior assistance. Last month, a federal judge put a halt to 10 Florida companies that allegedly tried tricking seniors into buy medical-alert devices. Chalmers said her agency helped the federal government with its enforcement effort. Tele-communications was the state's third-highest consumer complaint, followed by identity theft, home improvement issues, airline tie-ups, inaccurate gas pumps, motor vehicle sales and repairs, and contest promotions.