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State Government and Political Roundup: Penalties for drunk drivers likely to increase

MADISON -- A bill to make sure that Wisconsin's most chronic drunk drivers spend time in prison got very little opposition yesterday at a public hearing at the Capitol.

State Assembly Republican Jim Ott of Mequon said the bill was needed because a state appeals court last month gave judges the option of sending repeat offenders to prison. And that nullified the mandatory sentences which were on the books since 2009 for the worst offenders. Dave Callender of the Wisconsin Counties Association was the only one to testify against the bill yesterday. He said it would create more expenses for county jails, where a 30-day minimum sentence costs taxpayers $1,500. But Ott said that if judges follow the minimum sentences in his bill, there shouldn't be any major cost increases. Three-year prison terms would be required for seven, eight, and nine-time drunk driving convicts. Those with 10-or-more convictions would get mandatory four-year terms. And for the first time, drunk drivers who injure others in crashes would go to jail for at least 30 days. Democrats on the Assembly Criminal Justice committee wanted Ott to more clearly describe his definition of injuries. He agreed to do so, and the three Democrats on the panel said they would support the bill.


College students who face record-high student debt and uncertain job prospects need the federal government to get their fiscal house in order. And a former U.S. comptroller general says those young people need to band together and get their voices heard. David Walker spoke at a forum at UW-Madison last night about the nation's debt crisis. Walker, who served under three presidents, is now the head of the Comeback America Initiative which tries to find fiscal solutions. He said social media only goes so far in influencing public policy. And Walker told the audience quote, "My generation actually used to show up and march ... Your generation needs to do that more." He said they need to "disproportionately engaged" to make a difference. U.S. Senate Republican Ron Johnson of Oshkosh and Madison U.S. House Democrat Mark Pocan also spoke at the forum. Pocan said the tax code needs to be fairer. He said 18,000 U.S. companies have post office boxes in the Cayman Islands to avoid paying taxes, while virtually all small businesses in south central Wisconsin pay their fair share. Johnson said he'd scrap the entire tax code, and build a new one that raises revenues without social engineering or economic harm. Organizers urged UW students to sign an online petition to call for economic reforms. That site is at TheCanKicksBack-Dot-Org.


A Republican lawmaker says he'll try to remove funding in the new state budget for a single contractor to provide a statewide database of Wisconsin public school students. Assembly Republican Scott Krug of Wisconsin Rapids announced the effort yesterday, after the state's education department rejected an appeal from Skyward of Stevens Point. Skyward said it should have been awarded a contract to build the new database instead of the Minnesota firm of Infinite Campus, saying there were factors that the Department of Public Instruction did not consider. The DPI said Skyward's complaint lacked merit, and the state acted legally in awarding the contract to another firm. Assembly Democrat Katrina Shankland of Stevens Point says the DPI's rejection will be appealed to the state Administration Department. Skyward has said it would leave Wisconsin if it doesn't win the contract, and the state would lose hundreds of jobs. Both Skyward and Infinite Campus currently provide student databases to local districts, and Krug is among a group of central Wisconsin lawmakers proposing a bill to allow two vendors to provide the statewide system. Stevens Point Assembly Democrat Katrina Shankland said the bill was introduced almost two months ago, but the leadership has not scheduled a public hearing on it. Krug says he believes there's enough support among his Assembly colleagues for a two-vendor system.