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GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL ROUNDUP: Assembly passes bill lifting the 180-day restriction for public schools

MADISON -- Wisconsin public schools would no longer have to open their classrooms for 180 days a year, under a bill passed by the state Assembly. The measure was sent to Governor Scott Walker yesterday on a voice vote, after the Senate approved it earlier. Schools would still have minimum classroom hours that vary according to grade levels. Mother Nature was the biggest lobbyist for this bill, as most Wisconsin schools were closed for at least four days due to the bitter cold temperatures in January and February. Under the new measure, schools could have the option of having longer and fewer days. Rural school officials say it would help them cut down on busing costs throughout their large districts.

It's still far from certain whether cancer patients will be able to get insurance coverage for expensive chemotherapy pills. Yesterday, Wisconsin senators unblocked a bill held up by their majority leader. They voted 30-to-2 yesterday to require health insurers to cover the chemo pills, and make it easier for patients who must now go to hospitals to get I-V's for their therapy. The Assembly will consider the bill tomorrow, in their final scheduled meeting of the two-year session. Speaker Robin Vos said he would consider amendments to make the bill more effective -- however, it might not give the Senate enough time to ratify Assembly changes before the session ends April first. Assembly G-O-P Finance chairman John Nygren said his party would consider caps on what insurers could charge patients for chemo pills. California limits out-of-pocket expenses to 200-dollars a month for chemo pills. Missouri has a 75-dollar cap on pills from companies that also offer I-V treatments. Senate G-O-P leader Scott Fitzgerald said his house would consider whatever the Assembly does. But Democratic house minority leader Peter Barca believes G-O-P leaders will make it impossible for a final bill to pass before the sessnon ends. Barca's Democrats tried to force a vote in the Assembly yesterday, but they were turned back 58-to-38.


A bill passed by the state Senate would make it a crime for Wisconsin parents to turn over their children to non-residents without government approval. The upper house sent the measure to Governor Scott Walker on a voice vote. The bill is meant to prevent parents from advertising online and give away adopted youngsters. Last year, the Reuters News Service told how Todd and Melissa Puchalla of Kiel adopted a teenage girl from Liberia. They then turned her over to an Illinois couple without knowing that the girl's new mother had children taken away from her in the past due to the couple's violent tendencies. Assembly Republican Joel Kleefisch of Oconomowoc drafted the bill, saying quote, "God only knows what is happening to these children in our country." Also yesterday, the Senate gave final legislative approval to ending the long-time practice of letting family members harbor relatives wanted for felonies. Senators also endorsed a new set of required court hearings to make sure that adults under restraining orders give up their firearms, as required by federal law. That bill is also on its way to the governor.

__________________ House Democrat Ron Kind of La Crosse says it is not in America's best interest to send U-S troops to help defend against Russian aggression in Crimea and the Ukraine. But Janesville House budget chair Paul Ryan says the conflict is exactly why U-S military spending should not be scaled down, as President Obama proposes in his next budget. Both Kind and Ryan made their cases to voters attending town hall meetings in Wisconsin yesterday. Kind told about 65 people in Stevens Point that he supports political and economic sanctions that Obama has laid out to try and convince Russian president Vladimir Putin to back down. Kind also said the president would need the support of America's allies in Europe. Ryan, a potential Republican White House candidate in 2016, told 100 people in North Prairie that Obama's defense cuts send the wrong message to the rest of the world. Ryan said it would send a signal to China that the U-S military is shrinking and therefore quote, "They have an incentive to catch up to us." Ryan said U-S defense policy cannot be blamed for Russia's aggression -- but it doesn't help if America looks weak.


Compensation for a wrongfully-convicted murder suspect has been thrown into doubt in the Wisconsin Legislature. The Assembly did not go along yesterday with the Senate's earlier approval of 136-thousand dollars for Robert Stinson, a Milwaukee man who spent 23 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit. The State Claims Board can only approve 25-thousand-dollars in compensation, which it did -- and it asked the Legislature to give Stinson another 90-thousand. The Senate recently approved 21-thousand more than that, but the Assembly did not approve the higher figure yesterday. It voted 96-to-3 in favor of the original total of 115-thousand, leaving the Senate to decide whether to go along with that during its only remaining meeting in the current session. Stinson was convicted of raping and killing a 62-year-old woman in Milwaukee in 1984. He was freed several years ago with the help of the Wisconsin Innocence Project at U-W Madison, which obtained D-N-A evidence and a signed confession from another man.


The Wisconsin Assembly has voted to stop letting suspects get away with murder, by claiming they were too drunk to know what they were doing. On a voice vote yesterday, the lower house agreed to remove "voluntary intoxication" as an allowable defense in homicide cases. The bill was sent to the Senate. It's not certain whether the upper house will take up the measure with only one meeting left in its session. Assembly sponsor Steve Nass notes that a Senate committee has endorsed an identical version of the measure -- so there's still a chance it could pass. If it does, the Whitewater Republican said it would be one of the proudest moments of his career. The bill is in response to the case of Brian Cooper, who allegedly raped and strangled a pregnant Alisha Bromfield in Door County. His jury could not agree on a homicide verdict, after he claimed he was too drunk to have intended to kill Bromfield and her unborn child. Cooper is scheduled to be retried in May on two counts of first-degree intentional homicide.


Children with dozens of seizures a day could take a marijuana extract to get relief, under a bill passed on a voice vote by the state Assembly yesterday. But with the session winding down, it's not certain whether the Senate will give the measure its needed approval. Monona Democrat Rob Kahl is the chief sponsor of allowing youngsters with seizures to take Cannabidiol. He said if lawmakers don't give their blessing now, the affected children would have to wait until 2015 -- and he's not sure if some of the kids who attended a recent public hearing on the measure could wait that long. Nekoosa Republican Scott Krug was among those who were skeptical at first. But yesterday he said quote, "We can change our minds once in a while." Marshfield Republican John Spiros also had a recent change of heart, saying there's no potential to abuse the extract for recreational purposes. The use of Cannabidiol as a medical treatment received a major boost last year, when Doctor Sanjay Gupta reversed his position on medical marijuana and explained the benefits in his documentary "Weed."