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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUNDUP: Gov. Walker signs bill changing the process for asbestos exposure lawsuits

MILWAUKEE -- Gov. Scott Walker quietly signed a bill opposed by numerous veterans groups and Democrats that changes the process for bringing asbestos exposure lawsuits. The bill was among 29 that Walker signed privately on Thursday morning in Milwaukee. Veterans had been lobbying strongly against the bill, which they say will delay and deny justice to those who have gotten sick due to asbestos exposure. 

Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) released a statement Thursday criticizing Gov. Walker for privately signing a bill into law that he says will seriously undermine the legal rights of veterans who have been victims of asbestos poisoning. 

“I am extremely disappointed that Gov. Walker sided with corporate special interests over veterans and other workers who, through no fault of their own, have been harmed by exposure to asbestos – and it speaks volumes that the governor chose to sign this bill quickly and away from public scrutiny.


Gov. Scott Walker has quietly signed into law a measure that limits in-person absentee voting to no later than 7 p.m. during the week and no weekend hours. Walker vetoed a portion of the bill to nix language restricting early voting hours in Milwaukee and other cities to 45 hours a week while leaving in place a provision to prohibit early voting on weekends. Democrats strongly opposed the measure, saying it was targeted at tamping down turnout in heavily Democratic cities of Milwaukee and Madison which held extended hours during the 2012 presidential election.

Scot Ross, director of liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now, says the law is unconstitutional and likely will be challenged in court. Walker's spokeswoman Laurel Patrick says the bill is about ensuring uniform voting hours.


Wisconsin Public Service said Wednesday that as of February 2014, nearly 26,000 of its customers were four months or more behind on their utility bills. Customers could face disconnection of their utility service after April 15, 2014 unless they make prior payments or arrangements. State law bars utilities from disconnecting residential service from November 1 to April 15 annually. WPS reports that the number of customers past due is slightly higher than last year but the amount they owe is substantially higher because of the colder winter. Residential customers who have not qualified as low income and have not paid during the winter also face paying a security deposit equal to their highest four consecutive bills WPS currently holds security deposits of more than $2.6 million from more than 3,000 customers.


About 160 members of the Wisconsin National Guard are preparing to leave for a deployment in Afghanistan. The members of the 829th Engineer Company will be sent off with a ceremony this (Friday) morning at Fort McCoy. The unit's mission will be to help break down American military bases. It's all part of U.S. efforts to reduce troop presence in Afghanistan. This will be the company's third deployment. The previous two sent them to Iraq in 2003 and 2009. However, this will be the first deployment for about half the troops in the company. The unit will head to Texas for some specific training before heading to Afghanistan. The troops are expected to return in the spring of 2015.


The state's unemployment rate took a slight dip in February to 6.1 percent. The state Department of Workforce Development released the latest figures Thursday. They show the state's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in February dropped from 6.2 percent the month before to 6.1 percent. The report shows a net decrease of 1,600 private sector jobs between January and February. The national unemployment rate in February was 6.7 percent. The monthly unemployment figures are based on a survey of just 3.5 percent of Wisconsin employers and subject to revision.


The last of a once-larger group of Native American burial mounds, protected by state law since 1990, could be destroyed for the valuable rock beneath them, if a court allows a local stone manufacturer to have them removed from state protection. The Wisconsin State Journal reports the issue, according to Wingra Redi-Mix, is whether the effigy mounds that are part of the Ward Mound Group, located within its quarry in the town of Blooming Grove, actually contain any human remains, making them eligible for protection under state law. But the court case is not the only legal avenue Wingra is taking to try to mine the site. It is also pursuing a state permit to excavate the site, which is being heard by a state administrative law judge, said Chip Brown of the Wisconsin Historical Society.


The harsh winter has taken a toll on wildlife, especially the deer herd in Wisconsin. The DNR says the herd suffered through a hard winter with deep snow that made finding food difficult. DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp says the DNR does not yet have a deer count but expects this year's herd to be lower than years past. She says it is too soon to say how that will affect deer hunters.The DNR says tips from the public are one way it learns about potential problems within deer herds and also where they are located. 


State lawmakers are expected to take a vote on a measure next Tuesday that would make available a cancer treatment drug at a lower price. The state Senate plans to vote on a bill designed to make chemotherapy drugs that can be taken at home in pill form more affordable. A spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said the bill will be up for a vote April 1st. That is the Senate's last day in session for the year. The bill's sponsor, Sen. Alberta Darling, called on the Senate to pass the bill as soon as possible. The Assembly passed the bill after including a 100-dollar copayment cap. That was not a part of the bill when the Senate approved it last week. so the senate must approve the change.