Weather Forecast


GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL ROUNDUP: Both sides of the E-cigarette debate have their say in public hearing

Both sides made strong arguments yesterday on whether smokers should be allowed to puff electronic cigarettes in the public areas of Wisconsin buildings. A Senate committee held a public hearing on a bill to exempt e-cigarettes from the state's public indoor smoking ban adopted in 2010. The bill's supporters said the vapors from e-cigarettes are a lot less harmful than second-hand tobacco smoke. Doctors said the vapors spew heavy metals and other toxins into the air. Madison radio talk show host Vicki McKenna said she got healthier after she substituted e-cigarettes for one-to-two packs of Camel Lights she smoked each day for 23 years. Madison pediatrician Murray Katcher said e-cigarettes should be evaluated on the air they pollute -- and not whether they're safer than tobacco. Doctor Michael Fiore of the U-W Madison Center for Tobacco Research said allowing e-cigarettes would put children who sensitive to nicotine at risk. He asked quote, "Why would we do that?" The bill's chief sponsor, Senate Republican Glenn Grothman of West Bend, said it's sad that he had to write a bill which clarifies that the state's smoking ban does not apply to electronics. Several places, including Los Angeles, include e-cigarettes in their smoking bans.


Wisconsin school superintendents plan to converge on Madison today, to oppose a bill that could have lawmakers setting academic standards. The Senate Education Committee will hold a public hearing at 10 a-m on the proposed creation of a state board to set new standards -- and possibly replace the three-year-old Common Core standards for math and reading. Republican Governor Scott Walker says Wisconsin needs its own academic requirements. He believes they can be more rigorous than the more stringent Common Core standards adopted three years ago. Wisconsin was among the first of 45 states to adopt them. Tea party conservatives fear it would lead to a national education system. School administrators and others say it would politicize the process of determining what kids should learn. The G-O-P bill would create a board of both politicians and educators to write model standards for public schools. The superintendent would then have a say -- and if they disagree, lawmakers would make the final decisions.


Some of what you see on Wisconsin's online court records would be deleted under a bill to be voted on today by the state Senate's judiciary panel. Defendants who have civil cases dropped or dismissed would see them disappear from the popular Internet files within 90 days of those actions. Criminal convictions would be deleted within 120 days if they result in dismissals or acquittals -- or if they're overturned on appeals. The bill's supporters say the innocent face job and housing discrimination for the rest of their lives, as employers and landlords ignore the Web site's warning that it's illegal to discriminate that way. The bill's opponents say lawmakers don't trust landlords and employers to be fair -- the deleted court files will pop up elsewhere for profit -- and the state's Internet database would mistakenly show that prosecutors win all the time. News media have opposed this and other efforts to restrict online files. They say it interferes with coverage of local court cases, and deletions would prevent people from seeing larger trends and problems in the justice system. Charges dropped in plea bargains would stay on the Web site. Files on all cases would remain available at state and county court offices.


Supporters of a higher minimum wage question a recent survey showing that Wisconsin would lose 27-thousand jobs if the wage is raised to 10.10-an-hour. Four business groups in the Badger State unveiled results yesterday of a survey from Washington's Employment Policies Institute. It agreed that just over half of state residents support hiking the minimum wage by almost three-dollars from the current 7.25. But once people realize the jobs that could be lost, the support drops to 39 percent. Leaders of the Wisconsin Manufacturers-and-Commerce, the grocers' and restaurant associations, and the National Federation of Independent Business say small businesses don't have the money to cover the higher labor costs. They said it would jack up consumer prices, force layoffs, and provide incentives for people not to fight for fewer jobs. Democrats call those false claims, saying bigger paychecks would put more money into the economy. They also raise a new argument not brought out in past debates -- that taxpayers are picking up health care and other benefits for low-wage workers who can't get them from the boss. Also, Scot Ross of the liberal group One Wisconsin Now questioned the questioners' objectivity. He called the survey a "corporate P-R stunt."