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GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL ROUNDUP: Hudson man testifies about his heroin addiction to a Senate health panel

A former heroin addict from Hudson says at least two friends may still be alive, had a state law been in place to grant limited immunity to those reporting heroin overdoses. 23-year-old Phil Drewiske made the remark yesterday at a hearing by the state Senate's health panel on four bills aimed at fighting Wisconsin's growing heroin abuse problem. Drewiske said his own addiction started with pain pills at age 13, and heroin at 16. He said five of his Hudson area friends died from heroin in the past year -- and at least two were left to die because nobody wanted to call for help and risk getting in trouble themselves. He says the so-called "Good Samaritan" bill is the most significant of the four measures, which were passed by the Assembly earlier this month. The others would let trained emergency responders give out the heroin antidote Narcan, expanding prescription drug collection programs, and require I-D's when buying prescription narcotics. Assembly Republican John Nygren proposed the measures after his daughter almost died from a heroin overdose. He's also rounding up support for two new measures he has yet to introduce. One would create regional opiate treatment centers in under-served parts of the state. The other creates gradual sanctions for convicts for violate release terms, in the hopes that addicts would get faster treatment.


Governor Scott Walker and his main election challenger were both in contact with President Obama before his speech in Wisconsin today. Neither the Republican Walker nor Democrat Mary Burke was planning to be on hand when Obama speaks about job training and his economic agenda at a G-E plant in Waukesha. The governor said he had to chair a meeting of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation Board in Madison today. Burke had campaign stops scheduled in northwest Wisconsin. She spoke to Obama by phone yesterday on how the speed up the state's job creation rate. The Republican Walker was planning to greet the Democrat Obama upon his arrival in Milwaukee this morning. Walker said he wanted to reinforce points he made in a letter to the president yesterday, dealing with the acute shortage of propane fuel. The governor asked the president to waive limits on how many hours propane drivers can be on the road -- monitor for price-gouging -- and speed up releases of federal fuel assistance for the poor. Republicans tried to make political hay of Burke's situation, accusing her of hiding from a president with falling popularity. State Democratic Party chairman Mike Tate said he's certain that Burke will be happy to campaign with Obama before the November election.


The U-S Senate is expected to vote in the next week on the five-year Farm Bill that the House approved yesterday. Senate Agriculture Committee chairwoman Debbie Stabenow says her chamber has passed the legislation twice with "overwhelming" bi-partisan support -- and she expects the same again. The Wisconsin House delegation voted 4-to-4 on the five-year, 100-billion-dollar annual package of farm programs. The state's three Democrats and Menomonee Falls Republican Jim Sensenbrenner voted no -- in part because the level of food-stamp spending was not to their liking. Some Republicans said the one-percent cut in food aid was too little, while many Democrats said it was too much. Wisconsin dairy farmers are already trying to figure out how the new margin insurance program would work. It's expected to replace the current dairy price support system. Karen Gefvert of the state's Farm Bureau Federation calls it the biggest dairy policy reform in a generation -- and it will provide certainty to dairy producers in the way they'll run their business over the next year. Board member Mike North of the Wisconsin Dairy Business Association says the new system gives farmers the chance to decide for themselves how much they'll produce. Orders to limit milk production in times of over-supplies were scrapped from the Farm Bill.


Unemployment went down slightly in half of Wisconsin's 12 metro areas last month. State officials said yesterday that the actual, un-adjusted jobless figures ranged from seven-point-six percent in Racine to four-percent in Madison. Both those cities had a one-tenth-of-one-percent decline in unemployment from November. Decreases were also reported in Milwaukee, Wausau, Oshkosh-Neenah, and Sheboygan. Unemployment rose slightly in the La Crosse, Fond du Lac, and Eau Claire areas. Rates stayed the same in Appleton, Green Bay, and Janesville. Metro Milwaukee's new jobless rate is six-point-two percent, down three-tenths from the month before. Preliminary figures showed that the Milwaukee area added three-thousand jobs in December -- almost half the state's total of 62-hundred new jobs. Fifty of Wisconsin's 72 counties had increases in their unadjusted jobless rates in December. Iron County had the highest figure of 13-point-three percent.


Federal, state, and local investigators are still looking into a fire from Tuesday that destroyed an industrial warehouse in Madison. Damage is estimated at one-to-two million dollars from a blaze at Windsor Building Systems, which makes wood trusses and other building components. Officials said the fire appears to have started in a maintenance room -- and there's no evidence of foul play. The fire began around six on Tuesday morning, and fire-fighters spent all day putting it out. The State Justice Department and the U-S Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives are among the agencies helping with the investigation.


President Obama will talk about a less-polarizing subject when he visits Wisconsin today -- job training. The Democratic president will speak this morning at a General Electric plant in Waukesha where about 700 people make natural gas engines. Job training is a priority among both parties in state government. Last week, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett joined other big city leaders to discuss manufacturing partnerships with Vice President Joe Biden. A White House official says Obama will talk about the executive orders he plans to impose to reform federal job training programs. He's also expected to highlight other parts of his State-of-the-Union speech from Tuesday which caused friction between the parties -- especially his desire to boost the minimum wage, and to be more forceful about sidestepping Congress and use executive orders to boost his agenda when he believes it's necessary. Obama is visiting Wisconsin at a time when his approval ratings have slipped to their lowest levels in two years. A Marquette Law School poll this week said 44-percent of Wisconsin voters approved of the job the president's doing -- down from 49-percent last October.


Governor Scott Walker says Wisconsin lawmakers should make it a top priority this spring to make schools more accountable. But it won't happen today, after Senate Education Committee chairman Luther Olsen canceled a vote he had planned on a major reform package he unveiled this week. Olsen, a Republican from Ripon, said he didn't have the votes to approve the package -- and it might have to wait until next year's session. The bill would create more definitive letter grades for evaluating public schools, force failing schools to either close or become charter schools, and release test results for tax-funded private school students in the voucher program. Olsen said Democrats and Senate Republican Paul Farrow of Pewaukee opposed the plan. Farrow said he wants an "accountability council" to be formed in the Department of Public Instruction. He also wants all voucher schools to be judged by test data, not just the tax-funded students within those schools. The Republican governor re-iterated that he wants a school reform bill on his desk by early April, when the legislative session is due to end. Walker says he's talking to leaders of both houses about the matter. He said parents need to be able to compare schools, to decide which ones are best for their children.