Government and Political Roundup: Local government in Madison urging lawmakers not to repeal residency requirements
Local government leaders showed up at the State Capitol today, to urge their lawmakers not to repeal municipal residency requirements. The Joint Finance Committee is scheduled to vote tomorrow on whether the new state budget should put an end to long-standing requirements that local public employees live in the communities they serve. Two Rivers City Manager Greg Buckley said small cities like his rely more heavily on off-duty police, fire-fighters, and public works employees when emergencies break out. He said it keeps staffing and spending as low as possible and quote, "It's how we've held our services together." Governor Scott Walker and other Republicans say local public workers should have the freedom to decide where they want to live. Milwaukee police and fire unions despise their residency law so much, they endorsed the Republican Walker for governor in his last two elections against Milwaukee's mayor, Democrat Tom Barrett. Opponents of the repeal say Walker is paying back the unions for their support. The governor has denied it, but Madison Mayor Paul Soglin said he wondered how sincere Walker is toward public employees after he virtually eliminated most of their collective bargaining privileges in 2011.
The state Assembly has voted to make Wisconsin the first state to force food stamp recipients to spend most of their benefits on healthy food. The lower house voted 68-to-26 yesterday in favor of a bill from Neenah Republican Dean Kaufert. It would make recipients in the Food-Share program spend at least two-thirds of their benefits of foods defined by the state as being healthy. The measure now goes to the Senate. All the no votes came from Democrats. Milwaukee Representative Evan Goyke says inner city families are often miles away from stores that sell fresh fruits-and-vegetables - and for them, the business model is the corner store with quote, "no access to healthy food." Also, critics say the state's list includes that are not healthy in moderation - like some types of cheeses. Kaufert said he'd be open to adding more foods to the approved list in the future. The federal government would have to approve the change, but those prospects are not good. It said no to similar restrictions in Minnesota, New York, and Mississippi over the past decade. Kaufert was undaunted, saying Wisconsin should lead the way and be a "test case." He admits that he has only anecdotal evidence that Food-Share recipients are spending a lot of their benefits on junk food. State officials say they don't have an exact breakdown.
A Wisconsin Senate committee endorsed a bill this morning to reduce the authority and salaries of Milwaukee County Board members. The Senate Urban Affairs Committee okayed the measure 3-to-2, with all Republicans voting yes and both Democrats no. The bill now goes to the full Senate, while an identical version gets taken up by the state Assembly this afternoon. The G-O-P is going to bat for one of its newest members, former Milwaukee County Supervisor Joe Sanfelippo. He says it would stop the board from micro-managing operations in the state's largest county. Democrats oppose the move, saying the same thing might spill over to other Wisconsin counties. The bill would reduce the Milwaukee County Board's resources and powers. It would also cut supervisors' salaries in half, if the voters approve in a binding referendum.
Wisconsin's federal lawmakers are being asked to investigate the E-P-A's actions involving the sewage plant at Odanah. The plant serves the Bad River Indian Reservation in Ashland County, one of the biggest opponents of a new iron ore mine that's planned upstream. State Senate Republican Tom Tiffany of Hazelhurst, who played one of the biggest roles in approving a new mining bill, asked the state's House and Senate members to look into the E-P-A's handling of the Odanah plant. He cited reports showing that e-coli bacteria exceeded allowable levels - and in some cases, no reports were filed. A federal comment period ended Monday for a proposed five-year permit extension for the Odanah treatment facility. Earlier this year, the conservative Media Trackers' group reported on excess e-coli and phosphorus in the Bad River's plant. The New York Times said the plant has had 241 water pollution violations from 2004-through-'08, the most in the country. Tribal leaders had blamed poor reporting and human error for the sewage violations, and chairman Mike Wiggins said they were in the process of being fixed. He also said the water downstream from the plant was deemed safe to drink.
Wisconsin doctors would not have to give patients as much information about alternative treatments, under a bill that's up for a vote today in the state Assembly. Mequon Republican Jim Ott proposed the measure. It would nullify a recent State Supreme Court ruling that expanded the legal definition of "informed consent." The justices said the law requires doctors to tell patients about available tests and treatments that might deal with their symptoms - even if involves diseases the patients don't have. Ott said he's trying to avoid rising medical costs as a result of the added consent duties. Democrats fear that patients would be hurt by getting less information. The court's action was in the case of a man with Bell's Palsy. His doctor ordered tests that ruled out one type of stroke - but another test was not ordered which would have alerted the patient to a second type of stroke that he suffered less than two weeks later.