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Conservatively Speaking

State Senator Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) represents parts of four counties: Milwaukee, Waukesha, Racine, and Walworth. Her Senate District 28 includes New Berlin, Franklin, Greendale, Hales Corners, Muskego, Waterford, Big Bend, the town of Vernon and parts of Greenfield, East Troy, and Mukwonago. Senator Lazich has been in the Legislature for more than a decade. She considers herself a tireless crusader for lower taxes, reduced spending and smaller government.

Easter traffic delays


I received the following information from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation:

Traffic Advisory   
                             
Wisconsin Department of Transportation

 

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Let Wisconsin speak about the federal health care mandate

Government health care, Legislation


I am renewing my request that the chairman of the state Senate Health Committee, state Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) hold a hearing on a proposed state constitutional amendment about the approved federal government health care mandate. Senate Joint Resolution 62 (SJR 62), upon approval of voters statewide “... provides that the people have the right to enter into private contracts with health care providers for health care services and to purchase private health care coverage, and prohibits enactment of any law that requires any person to obtain or maintain health insurance coverage or to participate in any health care system or plan."

This is the single most important bill during the remainder of the legislative session. As the ranking minority member of the state Senate Health Committee, I ask that Wisconsin citizens be given the opportunity to be heard. The thousands upon thousands of individuals in Wisconsin that strongly believe this mandate is wrong and unconstitutional cannot be ignored.

I have officially made my request in a letter to Senator Erpenbach. What could be more bipartisan than to conduct a public hearing on this resolution before the general legislative session ends April 22, 2010.  If people like the federal mandate, they can testify in support. If people do not like the unconstitutional mandate that imposes fines for failing to purchase health insurance, they can testify in opposition to the federal mandate and in support of SJR 62.

My fear is that the quality of health care will deteriorate in Wisconsin under the approved federal health care bill. Wisconsin has some of the best doctors, the best hospitals, the best clinics, and some of the best care in the nation. Our high quality medical care is now in jeopardy and concerned citizens should be given the opportunity to be heard about the future ramifications of the new federal legislation.

Strong signs indicate that the recent proliferation of government health care in Wisconsin causes a crisis. The recent expansion of state BadgerCare government insurance caused an abrupt stoppage of enrollment during October 2009. During January 2010 enrollment was 63,644. The projected enrollment was 24,900. How is Governor Doyle's Department of Health Services paying for health care for 63,644? The answer the legislature got was to create another version of BadgerCare for those that were cut off from enrolling.

In the very same budget that expanded BadgerCare to more population, the Doyle administration's Department of Health Services was directed to reduce medical assistance spending by $600 million. On top of that, the state has been late making Medicaid payments to hundreds of providers of care to the frail elderly and those with serious disabilities. 

The BadgerCare debacle, cutting $600 million in government health care expenditures, and the $955 million Family Care Program are three known medical assistance problems.  Yet, a state audit of Medical Assistance requested by Republican state Senator Rob Cowles and I is being stopped at every turn by Democrats. 

In addition, an audit just released by the Legislative Audit Bureau found a $109 million shortfall in the
Injured Patients and Families Compensation Fund, the state’s medical malpractice fund. To balance the 2007-09 state budget, $200 million was raided from the Injured Patients and Families Compensation Fund to balance the 2007-09 state budget.

We all read about the massive fraud in Wisconsin Shares, the childcare program.  There have been major problems with the state’s food stamp program. Where there is smoke, there is fire.  What's next?

I sincerely wish the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel or any other news outlet would duplicate the Journal Sentinel’s award-winning reporting on the Wisconsin Shares program that led to an audit of the state subsidized child care program. This time, the focus should be on the $6 billion state Medical Assistance program. Imagine the amount of fraud and waste that could be uncovered by investigative reporters.

The State Legislative Audit Bureau published a scope statement for an audit of Medical Assistance.  The co-chairs of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee scheduled two meetings to approve a Medical Assistance audit.  At both meetings Democrats obstructed the audit.  The Joint Legislative Audit Committee that I serve on should, as I have requested, schedule an audit of Medical Assistance to determine the scope of inefficiency in one of the state’s largest programs. A full-blown audit by our outstanding Legislative Audit Bureau would provide clear answers. Ongoing problems with unaffordable programs that the state continues to expand must stop.


Before the current general legislative session expires in late April, I would hope the citizens of Wisconsin would be given the courtesy of addressing the proposed state constitutional amendment, SJR 62. A constitutional amendment requires adoption by two successive legislatures, and approval from voters in a statewide referendum.  A public hearing on SJR 62 would provide some reassurance that Wisconsin state government is not ignorant to the concerns of the vast majority of Wisconsin residents.

I am on WVCY-TV

Mary in the media


I will be Jim Schneider’s guest tonight on In Focus on WVCY-TV from 7-8 p.m. We will discuss important legislative issues.

WVCY is Channel 30, Channel 23 on Time Warner Cable. There is a repeat broadcast tonight at midnight and at 5:00 a.m.Tuesday morning.

REMINDER: Fill out rail questionnaire

Today, April 6, 2010 is the deadline to submit a rail survey to the Department of Transportation.

Congratulations, Mark Gundrum!


I extend my deepest and heartfelt congratulations to my friend and colleague, state Representative Mark Gundrum (R-New Berlin) for being elected
Waukesha County Circuit Court Branch 2 judge. 

The same values and dedication that make Mark a great State Assembly Representative will make him an outstanding judge!

Mark will be missed at the State Capitol.  However, Mark's continued public service as an officer of the court will be of great benefit to the community, and state of Wisconsin. 

Once again, congratulations!

Can you make a legal U-turn at a controlled intersection?

News you can use


Each month, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) focuses on a specific traffic law. Recently there has been confusion about a U-turn issue in Wisconsin.  The DOT clarifies in
this news release.

New WI license plate features familiar image

News you can use


A new Wisconsin license plate to help fund help fund efforts to protect and save rare wildlife and plants is now on sale. The plate features a badger, the tiger swallowtail butterfly, the eastern Meadowlark and the prairie sunflower.


badger license plate design


Read more details from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Do you believe the IRS?

Taxes


Last week at a state Capitol news conference and during several media interviews about my request for a public hearing on Senate Joint Resolution 62,  I referred to penalties for Americans that don’t purchase health care under the approved federal health care legislation.  Citizens that fail to pay taxes go to jail. Is that, I asked, what will happen to those refusing to purchase mandated health insurance?

IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman spoke Monday before the National Press Club in Washington D.C, and attempted to minimize one of the key provisions of the legislation, fines for people shunning health care purchases.

"These are not the kinds of things we send agents out about," Shulman told the audience.  "These are things where you get a letter from us. Congress was very careful to make sure there was nothing too punitive in this bill."

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports, “The new health care fines, which go into full effect in 2016, are attracting quite a bit of attention as states and others challenge the constitutionality of a federal mandate requiring Americans to carry health insurance. Other detractors, however, criticize the penalties as too weak to be effective. The penalties for not carrying insurance could eventually amount to as much as $695 or 2.5% of a person's taxable income. That's far less than what annual insurance premiums could add up to.”

Do you buy IRS Commissioner Shulman’s explanation?
  

The Associated Press reported March 9, 2010, “President Barack Obama said he'll bring in high-tech bounty hunters to help root out health care fraud, grabbing a populist idea with bipartisan backing in his final push to overhaul the system. The bounty hunters in this case would be private auditors armed with sophisticated computer programs to scan Medicare and Medicaid billing data for patterns of bogus claims. The auditors would get to keep part of any funds they recover for the government.”

If the administration intends to “bring in”, i.e. hire additional bureaucrats to combat Medicare and Medicaid fraud, it stands to reason it will do the same to find, fine, and punish health insurance scofflaws.

I find it more than unusual that an IRS Commissioner would tell a national audience that his agency is not going to aggressively pursue violators of a specific provision, a statement I cannot recall a head of the IRS ever publically making about any other specific tax law.  Believable?

WI jobs lost to China

Economy


China
is killing the United States

A Washington, D.C. think tank, the Economic Policy Institute reports that since China became a member of the World Trade organization during 2001, at least 2.4 million American jobs have been lost as a result of increased U.S. trade with China. Contributing factors include our ever-growing debt, lost export capacity, and our trade deficit.
Manufacturers of computers, electronic equipment, and parts have been hit especially hard with 627,700 (26 percent) of all jobs lost between 2001 and 2008.

Also to blame  is competition with low-wage workers from less-developed countries that  has  driven down wages for other workers in manufacturing and reduced the wages and bargaining power of similar workers throughout the economy.  Virtually all production workers with less than a four-year college degree, approximately 70 percent of the private-sector workforce, or about 100 million workers have been affected. The Institute reports that for a typical full-time median-wage earner during 2006, these indirect losses totaled approximately $1,400 per worker.

Looking at net jobs lost between 2001 and 2008, Wisconsin ranks number 15 among the states with 52,300 jobs lost. Ranking the states based on net job loss by share of state employment, Wisconsin comes in at number 14 with 52,300 jobs lost representing 1.84 percent of total state employment of 2,849,100.

What can be done?

The Institute report concludes: “The U.S-China trade relationship needs a fundamental change. Addressing the exchange rate policies and labor standards issues in the Chinese economy are important first steps.”

You can read the Institute’s study here. 

Wisconsin taxpayers pay and pay and pay!

Taxes, Economy


You know how hard you work to manage your money, and you know that you turn a sizable chunk of it over to government.  How much do you turn over to the government? 

Numerous tax studies abound annually.   A simple and relatable report is the Tax Freedom Day report compiled by the nonprofit national Tax Foundation at Washington D.C.

Tax Freedom Day is the day Americans earned enough money to pay all federal, state, and local taxes for the year. This year, Tax Freedom Day arrives April 9, meaning average Americans will work over three months to fulfill their tax burden at all government levels.

Each state has its own Tax Freedom Day. National Tax Freedom Day is April 9, 2010; however, Wisconsin’s Tax Freedom Day is later, arriving April 12, 2010. That is over one-third of the calendar year. As Wisconsin residents read this, they have yet to work long enough to pay their tax debt to Uncle Sam, Madison, and the local municipality.

Wisconsin ranks #13 on the list comparing the states’ Tax Freedom Days. Alaska with a very low state-local tax burden and modest incomes has the earliest Tax Freedom Day March 26, 2010, ranking #50. Connecticut‘s Tax Freedom Day April 27, 2010, is the worst at #1.  


At the federal level there have been some tax reductions. President Bush enacted temporary income tax cuts during 2008. President Obama and Congress did the same during 2009 and 2010. The estate tax was repealed during 2010 as were the
Pease and PEP (personal exemption phase-out) provisions of the federal income tax. You probably did not notice. The tax Foundation reports, “Despite all these tax reductions, Americans will pay more taxes in 2010 than they will spend on food, clothing and shelter combined.”

To meet the obligation of meeting the burden of taxes at all government levels, the Tax Foundation calculates the average American will spend 32 days working to pay individual income taxes, 25 days to pay taxes dedicated to funding social programs like Social security and Medicare, 15 days to pay sales and excise taxes, 12 days to pay property taxes, 8 days to pay corporate income taxes, and 6 days to pay miscellaneous taxes like motor vehicle licensee taxes and severance taxes.

The easily-understood concept of Tax Freedom Day would be even worse with the deficit included. Like most tax studies, Tax Freedom Day does not calculate the impact of the deficit. The Tax Foundation emphasizes that due to the recession, government revenues continue to decline. However, government spending remains out of control witnessed by huge stimulus packages, and other new programs bringing the deficit price tag according to the Congressional Budget Office to over $1.3 trillion.

Importantly, if the federal government desired to collect enough revenue to finance all of its spending, the Tax Foundation writes, “It would have to collect about $1.3 trillion more, and Tax Freedom Day would arrive on May 17 instead of April 9 — adding an additional 38 days of work to the nation’s work for government.” For Wisconsinites keeping score, our Tax Freedom Day would then be May 20, 2010. Ouch!   

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State Senate calendar for Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Here is the calendar for the state Senate floor session scheduled for Tuesday, April 13, 2010 at 11:00 a.m.:

Read more

Easing up on marijuana is too risky

Legislation


The front page headline in USA TODAY was troubling:

Slowly, states are lessening limits on marijuana”

The newspaper reports that there is “a growing national movement to rethink pot laws. From California, where lawmakers may outright legalize marijuana, to New Jersey, which implemented a medical use law Jan. 19, states are taking unprecedented steps to loosen marijuana restrictions. At least 14 states this year will consider legalizing pot for medical purposes or lessening the penalties for possessing small amounts for personal use.”

As a member of the state Senate Committee on Health, I have serious concerns about this issue. The committee held a public hearing on bill considering legalizing medical marijuana. USA TODAY also reports, “The National Institute on Drug Abuse says marijuana can cause heart irregularities, lung problems and addiction.”  Dismissing the inherent health risks of loosening restrictions on marijuana is very difficult.

Dr. Robert Wallace is a member of the National Education Association and the National Association of High School Administrators and writes a medical column on Creators.com. Wallace recently wrote, “Don't kid yourself that smoking marijuana is harmless. It can cause severe physical ailments.”

Wallace then quotes from a magazine aimed at teen music fans:

“Smoking pot regularly breaks down the immune system, which means the user will be sick more often. Marijuana smoke also messes with the smoker's lungs big time, even worse than cigarettes……There is also medical proof that marijuana users develop what is called A-motivational syndrome which means they become apathetic.”

Read Wallace’s article here.

Too many questions remain making it too risky to ease up on marijuana restrictions.

More lessons from Spain about renewable energy

Legislation


During February 2010, I blogged that Wisconsin, that is considering radical global warming legislation, should learn from what has occurred in green-conscious Spain.


The March 2009 Spanish “Study of the effects on employments of public aid to renewable energy sources” said renewable energy policies implemented in Spain were “terribly economically counterproductive” and that the “green jobs” agenda “in fact kills jobs.” I wrote:

“Here is the most damning point of the study: Spain’s experience pinpointed as a model by President Obama can be expected to result in a loss of 2.2 jobs for every job created, or nearly nine jobs lost for every four created. Gabriel Calzada, an economics professor at the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos and author of the study reports the premiums paid for solar, biomass, wave and wind power that  are charged to consumers in their bills amounted to a $774,000 cost for each Spanish ‘green job’ created since 2000.

Here is my blog. 

Solar power was intended to be an economic boost for Spain. The New York Times reports, “Half the solar power installed globally in 2008 was installed in Spain.”

Then the bubble burst. The newspaper reports, “As low-quality, poorly designed solar plants sprang up on Spain’s plateaus, Spanish officials came to realize that they would have to subsidize many of them indefinitely, and that the industry they had created might never produce efficient green energy on its own.  In September the government abruptly changed course, cutting payments and capping solar construction. Puertollano’s brief boom turned bust. Factories and stores shut, thousands of workers lost jobs, foreign companies and banks abandoned contracts that had already been negotiated.”

Wisconsin would be wise not to travel the same path as Spain.

Proposed changes would harm Wisconsin election process

Legislation, Photo ID


I strongly oppose Senate Bill 640 (SB 640), legislation that dramatically changes the way elections are conducted in Wisconsin. Grounds for my opposition to the legislation are two-fold: 1) the process and 2) the substance.

First, the process. SB 640 (link to the bill) was introduced March 23, 2010 and is now being rammed through the Legislature in the final three weeks of the current legislative session. Following introduction, a joint public hearing was held eight days later with executive sessions in committee to vote on the bill the day after the public hearing. Serious, problematic changes in our voting system are being rushed.

Secondly, the substance. The bill would automatically
register voters during driver license renewal. No other state has such a law.

SB 640 also
allows municipalities to set up satellite absentee ballot stations for early voting,  changes the current practice of allowing any citizen to challenge individual ballots, grants permanent absentee ballot status to voters that historically do not vote in low-turnout elections,  allows university IDs to be used as proof of residence, and requires municipalities to hire speakers of a foreign language if at least five percent of  the adults in their district are not English proficient.

The stunning changes are an open invitation to voter fraud and erode confidence in our election system that has seen its integrity questioned amid reports of fraudulent voting.

Last week, the Joint Finance Committee approved the election reform package along party lines. Wispolitics.com reports:

“The committee also approved a substitute amendment that makes changes to how electors can be challenged under the bill. The original bill requires that challengers be from the ward of the elector. The sub says that challengers can be from the county of the elector. An amendment introduced in JFC by Sen. John Lehman removed a provision that would have required a challenger to come from the aldermanic ward of the elector in Milwaukee, putting the city under the same rule as the rest of the state. The sub also includes provisions to allay the fears of municipal clerks of the costs of the reforms, including allowing clerks to apply to the GAB for reimbursement for the cost of postage for absentee requirements. The substitute amendment also clears the way for online voter registration.”

If proponents of SB 640 are serious about making positive change to restore credibility in Wisconsin’s elections, they would support legislation I have co-sponsored to require a photo ID to vote.

Legislation with provisions that have serious consequences affecting our voting system should be addressed carefully. Instead, this bill is on the fast track. I can only suspect the intent of proponents is to continue to water down election oversight to build upon their voter base.

SB 640 is available to be scheduled by the Senate and Assembly. If SB 640 is scheduled for state Senate floor debate, I will be voting no.

Problematic bill to select legislative successors is back


The state Senate this legislative session is considering a bill to devise a system to replace state lawmakers killed or incapacitated due to a terrorist attack or pandemic. Last August I was pleased that Senate Bill 227 (SB 227) was temporarily referred by the state Senate back to committee. However, SB 227 is scheduled for state Senate floor action Tuesday, April 13, 2010.

SB 227 is extremely problematic. If disaster should strike the state Capitol and require replacements, I strongly believe voters should decide the successors. 

SB 227 as originally proposed required that a legislator, as soon as feasible after the Legislature reconvenes every two years, must file with the chief clerk for the legislator’s house a list of not less than three nor more than seven emergency interim successors. The list would be secret and not subject to inspection or copying under the open records law.

If more than nine vacancies in the state Senate or more than 25 vacancies in the state Assembly are created because of some disaster, interim successors chosen by legislators on their secret lists would be appointed by the presiding officer or his or her designee in the appropriate house of the Legislature to fill the vacancies. The emergency successor would exercise the powers and duties of the office until an election is held or the emergency is over. All votes taken by interim successors would be valid.

Such a system removes electoral power from voters and would place expansive taxing and spending powers in the hands of unelected, unaccountable individuals chosen secretly.


During the September 22, 2009 state Senate floor session, I was prepared to offer an amendment to SB 227 to address my chief concern that the right to vote was being stripped from the electorate. My amendment outlined specific guidelines for emergency elections to he held quickly in the event of a disaster so that seats could be filled as soon as possible and citizens would continue to have elected representation.

Under my amendment, the state would have used the procedures already in place for special elections and allow the current process to move forward during a terrorist attack or pandemic.   A special election takes place 62 to 77 days after the order is given by the governor. Primaries, if necessary, are held four weeks prior to the special election.   An emergency election would collapse the process down to a much shorter time line. 

My amendment likely had enough votes to be approved by the state Senate and that, along with a desire to reconsider the legislation, persuaded Senate Democrats to send SB 227 back to the Senate’s scheduling committee, putting the measure on hold temporarily.

SB 227 is back with two amendments.

Senate Amendment 3 deletes from the bill the provisions relating to emergency interim successors for legislators.

Assembly Amendment 1 provides a process for choosing interim successors for legislators if there are nine more vacancies in the Senate at the same time or if there are 25 or more vacancies in the Assembly at the same time. Here is the analysis of Assembly Amendment 3 by Wisconsin Legislative Council:

“Under the provision for interim successors for Senators, the Senate leader of each political party for each vacant Senate seat that was last held by a member of his or her own party must request the state chairperson of that party to solicit nominations for an interim successor from county chairpersons of the party in each county that is at least partially within the Senate district. The Senate leader must request that the state chairperson select three to five potential interim successors from the nominees submitted by the county chairpersons and request that the state chairperson submit the names to the Senate leader
of the party within seven days after the date on which the ninth Senate vacancy occurred. Within 14 days after the ninth vacancy occurred, the Senate leader of the political party must appoint an interim successor from the list of potential interim successors that is submitted by the state chairperson of the party. The bill lists the order in which persons are determined to be the Senate leader for the majority party and for the minority party. A similar procedure is specified in the amendment for situations in which there are 25 or more vacancies in the Assembly at the same time.”

T
he amendments still leave a process that calls for unelected representation, the major flaw in this legislation.  As I wrote last September:

“I question whether the state even needs to establish a system for interim successors as proposed by SB 227
.  The governor has emergency powers and Wisconsin has a Homeland Security Council with a specified Homeland Security strategy in place. Following a disaster, it seems a wiser approach would be to execute traditional special elections as quickly as possible instead of relying on an undemocratic process of picking names out of sealed envelopes.

Legislation to create a system of selecting an unelected successor from a handpicked list should simply be forgotten.  Recall the price tag on the Illinois replacement to former Senator Obama.  Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, now facing federal fraud and racketeering charges, made the controversial appointment of Roland Burris as the successor to then president-elect Barack Obama. Blagojevich was impeached by the Illinois House and removed from office by the Illinois Senate.

The state of Wisconsin should allow citizens to maintain their voting rights and choose their representatives.”

Congratulations Chris Hill of Franklin!

Good news from Senate District 28


The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that 30-year old Chris Hill of Franklin bowled a perfect 300 game in the Bluemound Bowl Bob Kodel Major League. For Hill, it was his sixth career perfect game.

Congratulations, Chris Hill!

Congratulations Sheri Nelson of East Troy!

Good news from Senate District 28


Sheri Nelson is one of six 2010 Alice in Dairyland finalists. Alice in Dairyland is a young woman that tours the state each year promoting agriculture.
|
The new Alice in Dairyland will be announced during a series of public events in Rock County, May 20-22, 2010. The public is invited to attend the Impromptu Question and Answer Session on Friday, May 21, 2010  at the Beloit Ironworks in Beloit, Wisconsin, and the Alice in Dairyland Finale Selection on Saturday evening, May 22, 2010 at the Pontiac Convention Center in Janesville, Wisconsin.

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) has more details.

Congratulations, Rob Van Willigen!

Good news from Senate District 28


Pest control expert Rob Van Willigen of Batzner Pest Management Co., New Berlin has received national honors, being named “Commercial Service Technician of the Year 2009” by Pest Control Technology (PCT). PCT is a national trade publication based in Cleveland, Ohio.

The award was presented during a special ceremony in Washington D.C. last month.

Golf Course Industry has an interesting profile of Rob Van Willigen.

Again, congratulations to Rob Van Willigen of Batzner Pest Management Co. of New Berlin!

Watch out for Census scams

News you can use

 

You should have already received your 2010 Census form in the mail. The Census form is clearly identifiable and simple to fill out with 10 questions.

The Census Bureau will not ask for Social Security numbers, bank account numbers, special PINs (personal identification number), or ask for such information via e-mail or telephone.

The only way to comply with the Census Bureau is to return the form you received in the mail in the supplied, postage-paid envelope.

Census workers will be coming door-to-door to residences that did not submit Census forms.

The Wisconsin Office of Privacy Protection offers tips to avoid potential Census scams.

State Senate approves school mascot legislation

Legislation


The state Senate has narrowly approved legislation about the use of race-based names, nicknames, logos, and mascots by school districts.

An analysis of the bill by the Legislative Reference Bureau says, "A school district resident may object to a school board’s use of a race-based name, nickname, logo, or mascot by filing a complaint with the state superintendent of public instruction. The state superintendent must schedule a hearing on the complaint. The school board has the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that the use of the race-based name nickname, logo, or mascot does not promote discrimination pupil harassment, or stereotyping. If the state superintendent finds in favor of the complainant, the state superintendent must order the school board to terminate its use of the race-based name, nickname, logo, or mascot within 12 months after issuance of the order. A school board is subject to a forfeiture of not less than $100 nor more than $1,000 for each day that it uses the race-based name, nickname, logo, or mascot in violation of the order."

I voted against the bill, Senate Bill 25, because the process created will cost financially-strapped school districts, and will purge Wisconsin school districts of their history.

Senate Bill 25 was approved 17-16 and now goes to the state Assembly for its consideration.

State Senate approves process to appoint legislative successors during emergencies

Legislation


The state Senate has approved Senate Bill 227 (SB 227) that establishes a process to replace multiple vacancies in each house of the Legislature if disaster should strike the state Capitol.

In the event replacements are required, I strongly believe that the voters should decide the successors. SB 227 as proposed creates a system that removes electoral power from voters and in turn would place expansive taxing and spending powers in the hands of unelected, unaccountable individuals.

Here is the analysis of the bill by the Legislative Council:

Under the provision for interim successors for Senators, the Senate leader of each political party for each vacant Senate seat that was last held by a member of his or her own party must request the state chairperson of that party to solicit nominations for an interim successor from county chairpersons of the party in each county that is at least partially within the Senate district. The Senate leader must request that the state chairperson select three to five potential interim successors from the nominees submitted by the county chairpersons and request that the state chairperson submit the names to the Senate leader of the party within seven days after the date on which the ninth Senate vacancy occurred.

Within 14 days after the ninth vacancy occurred, the Senate leader of the political party must appoint an interim successor from the list of potential interim successors that is submitted by the state chairperson of the party. The bill lists the order in which persons are determined to be the Senate leader for the majority party and for the minority party.

A similar procedure is specified in the amendment for situations in which there are 25 or more vacancies in the Assembly at the same time.”

The
process outlined in SB 227 is severely flawed because it calls for unelected representation.

I offered an amendment that would have voters select replacements when vacancies need to be filled. Under my amendment, after receiving notice of vacancies in either house of the Legislature by a presiding officer, the governor shall immediately call for a special election to fill each of the vacancies. The Government Accountability Board would then promulgate the rules that would be used to govern the special elections. The rules would include issues like notice requirements, places and deadlines for filing declarations, expedited printing and delivery of ballots, shortened periods for absentee voting, and setting the dates of special elections.

I worked closely with Government Accountability Board Director and General Counsel Kevin Kennedy on this amendment who informs the amendment is fair, reasonable, and workable.

My view is that the state of Wisconsin should and must allow citizens to maintain their voting rights and choose their representatives, and that includes during a time of vacancies caused by emergencies. My amendment insured that this basic principle in our governing process is upheld.

The amendment was defeated along party lines.

SB 227 now goes to Governor Doyle for his consideration.

Today's State Senate Scorecard

Legislation


# of bills on the calendar: 67

# of bills on the calendar authored by Republicans: 0

# of bills on the calendar that address the top concern of Wisconsin residents, namely, jobs and the economy: 0

New WI law applies to lawn treatments

News you can use


As of Thursday, April 1, 2010, you may not put turf fertilizer that contains phosphorus on your lawn. The same provision applies to professional landscapers. There are limited exceptions.

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) has more details.

Very popular, yet frustrating

News you can use


Wisconsinites love the No Call Law. Many Wisconsinites also continue to have frustrations with the law ever since it was enacted during 2003.

Creating the Wisconsin No Call List is one of the most popular decisions the state Legislature has ever made. Once a phone number is placed on the No-Call List, the number of annoying phone calls interrupting family dinner or other family functions is greatly reduced.

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) has released its annual list of the top ten consumer complaints for 2009. Remaining in the #1 spot is the No Call List that has been on top every year since 2003.

How can such a popular, free service cause so much outrage? Blood boils when the law is violated. During 2009, consumers filed 2,187 complaints about No –Call violators.

Some perspective is in order. The No Call List has more than two million phone numbers according to DATCP Secretary Rod Nilsestuen. That means 0.1 percent of the phone numbers registered were the subject of complaints demonstrating the effectiveness of the No-Call Law. However, it is easy to understand the anger of consumers dealing with pesky telemarketers that have shunned Wisconsin law.

If your phone number is not on the Wisconsin No Call List, you may want to consider registering. DATCP reports, “Adding your phone number to the List will help reduce (but not eliminate) telemarketing calls.”

Registering is simple and free. You can visit the No Call List website here 
or call toll-free at calling 1-866-9NO-CALL (1-866-966-2255). Registration could take 30-120 days.

Registering your cell phone is unnecessary and may be a very bad idea. Cell phone numbers are unpublished. If, for example, you provide your cell phone number to the national do not call list, suddenly, it becomes a published number. The lists of numbers must be purchased by telemarketers so they can comply with the do not call registry. It would be extremely easy for unscrupulous entities and foreign, international entities to get their hands on the numbers. Your best bet is to avoid registering your cell phone.

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Government the most unlikely authority about responsibility

Government health care, Legislation


Who would be the last person you would seek assistance from about handling your money wisely? If you replied Uncle Sam, you answered correctly.


Pairing the words federal government and financial responsibility in the same sentence is oxymoron-like. The mere suggestion that Americans turn to Washington for fiscal expertise is laughable. However, one of the serious ironies of the approved federal health care law is that the federal government will spend a great deal of taxpayer dollars to promote not only financial responsibility, but personal responsibility.

Tucked inside the massive health care law is a new $375 million Personal Responsibility Education program to instruct youngsters about various subjects. One of them is financial literacy.

Public sector lecturing on finances is a paradox, a terrible joke, or both. Spinning like a slot machine in New York’s Time Square, the National Debt Clock, like the Energizer Bunny keeps going and going and going on its non-stop march toward $13 trillion.

UW-Madison graduate Brian Riedl, now The Heritage Foundation's lead budget analyst calculates President Obama’s budget would borrow 42 cents for each dollar spent during 2010. That means Washington will borrow over $157 million to fund the program to educate about financial responsibility. The disconnect is as wide as the Grand Canyon.

Riedl writes in the April issue of Townhall magazine that as our debt climbs, “Fewer savings will be available to families and businesses for home loans, auto loans, student loans or business loans…The United States is about to dump the largest pile of debt in history onto the next generation.” With that dangerous backdrop in place, we are entrusting the feds to counsel youth about managing money?

While Washington creates new programs, others, like Medicare and Social security are on the brink of disappearing. According to the 2009 Annual Report of the Board of Trustees of the Federal Hospital Insurance and Federal Supplementary Medical Insurance Trust Funds, Medicare is expected to run out of money and become insolvent during 2017, and Social Security will run out of money during 2020 and will be unable to pay retirees full benefits by 2037.

What else is in the Personal Responsibility Education program? Adolescents will be taught about prevention of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV/AIDS. The problem is the government has been there, done that, and has failed miserably.

Here’s an example, according to STOP AIDS project of San Francisco, during August 2003, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) funded a class at STOP AIDS called “Flirt, Date, Score” and was advertised: “Want to flirt with greater finesse and date with more confidence? Who doesn't? Share your expertise and hear how others are successful in meeting guys and staying safe today.”

Another component of the new program would offer instruction about healthy relationships and relationship dynamics. Again, the feds have tried this before.

A June 2007 report by the Senate Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, and International Security Minority Office explains a program called “Men for Hire” taught by Joseph Itiel. Advertisements for the program said Itiel “presents practical tips and covers the seven guidelines for safe and friendly relations with escorts.”

Where have previous government programs taken us? According to the CDC, the number of new HIV infections occurring in the U.S. has not decreased in over 15 years despite government spending hundreds of billions of dollars every year on prevention programs. CDC estimates that there are approximately 19 million newly acquired STDs each year in the U.S. WebMD.com cites a Pediatrics journal study that one in four teenage girls is infected with a STD.

And yet, we expect the same government agency to somehow be successful with new, duplicative programs? Certainly, these are serious problems. However, history tells us the best solutions do not come from Washington.

U.S. Senator Tom Coburn (R-Ok) tried unsuccessfully to kill the Personal Responsibility Education program with an amendment that was rejected. Another Coburn amendment that would have denied Viagra and similar medications to sex offenders was also defeated.

Whether the issue is financial literacy, contraception, STD prevention, or dating relationships, the federal government, now over $12 trillion in debt and wasting billions of dollars via ineffective programs, has zero credibility about personal and fiscal responsibility.

Another long day in the state Senate


The state Senate ended its floor session at 7:15 tonight after a day interrupted by three Senate Democrat caucuses, one of them lasting over four hours. Unusual sequencing made for a less than smooth day on the Senate floor. Twice Democrats moved to leave the floor to meet in caucus after members of the majority party disagreed about amendments.

Proceedings were abruptly gaveled to a close after state Senate Democrat Tim Carpenter took issue that the chair, Senate President Fred Risser would not allow a vote on a prescription drug bill.

Like Tuesday’s session this week, today’s lengthy state Senate calendar did not include any bills authored by Republicans.

The state Senate has three possible floor sessions remaining in the current legislative session: April 20, 21, and 22.


Here was the calendar for today's floor session:


Read more

Election clerks blast Democrats' proposed voting changes

Legislation


Municipal election clerks from around Wisconsin voiced deep concerns about proposed legislation by state Democrats they say will harm the integrity of the state’s voting system. Clerks spoke at a state Capitol news conference Wednesday, the same day Wisconsin Attorney J.B. Van Hollen issued a news release criticizing the proposed election law changes. Van Hollen writes:

“The following changes increased the potential for or impaired the investigation of election fraud:

  • Populating the official statewide voter registration list with persons who are not registered to vote;
  • Not requiring signatures to confirm voter registration, whereas signatures are required for all registrations under current law;
  • Enabling citizens to obtain and submit an absentee ballot in-person, without needing to certify with a signature or have ballot witnessed, unlike current law.”

In a letter to state legislative leaders asking that the legislation be rejected, Van Hollen writes, “The changes proposed in this bill neither enhance the right to vote nor protect against fraud.  Instead, they make election fraud more likely, chill the lawful exercise of speech that is at the core of the First Amendment, and jeopardize the orderly administration of election laws."

There are 1,851 municipal clerks in Wisconsin. Becky Simpson, the clerk in the village of Dane told reporters at the Capitol news conference the legislation would be an unfunded mandate requiring additional staff and resources that would cost clerks statewide $3.2 million. Simpson says the number of absentee ballots cast will continue to increase, and if one percent of absentee ballots statewide are marked incorrectly, 34,000 votes would be tossed without the voters’ knowledge.

Diane Hermann-Brown, clerk for the city of Sun Prairie says the one resource absent from the legislation is the time necessary for clerks to handle the assured increase in absentee ballots.

“Clerks need time to protect the voter’s rights,” said Hermann-Brown. “We are only human and can do so much for so little for so long. When and how are we going to be able to process these additional absentee ballots?”

Hermann-Brown expressed concern about waiting lines at the polls that will only get longer and potentially dissuade voters. Hermann-Brown also worries about the potential of Saturday mail delivery being eliminated that would affect the absentee ballot process.


Diana Dykstra, clerk for the city of Lake Geneva lacks confidence in a provision that would automatically register an individual to vote when the individual registers an automobile.

“Register at DMV (Division of Motor Vehicles)? Are you kidding? The DMV is already the busiest and most under-staffed location,” said Dykstra. “The DMV does not have a GIS system to verify addresses.”

Dykstra has another concern. “On-line registration is not safe. With identity theft on the rise, you are not 100 percent sure your information is secure.”

Dykstra believes the increased cost of the proposed election law changes will be passed on to taxpayers. She questioned why the legislation is being rushed.

The proposed election changes are contained in Senate Bill 640 and Assembly Bill 895. My Republican colleagues and I have grave concerns that this last minute power grab in the final days of the legislative session will open the door to increased voter fraud.

State Senate calendar for Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Here is the calendar for the state Senate floor session scheduled for Tuesday, April 20, 2010 at 11:00 a.m.:
 

First Order.               Call of Roll.

Read more

Consumers now able to convert IRAs to Roth IRAs

Legislation, News you can use


Good news for Wisconsin consumers.

February 19, 2010, I urged the Assembly to quickly take action on Senate Bill 439 that would allow conversion of traditional IRAs to Roth IRAs. I wrote in a news release, “This bi-partisan bill needs to be on the Assembly’s agenda and fast. The sooner we allow Wisconsinites to take advantage of Roth conversions, the better.”

I am pleased the Assembly approved the legislation the following week and Governor Doyle signed the bill into law. 

Here are more details from the Wisconsin Department of Revenue.

Parents thought Gov. Doyle's WI Covenant was a free ride

Repeatedly in the past, I criticized grand spending programs the state promises that sound fantastic, but fail because they are unaffordable without specific details about paying the high cost. One such program is the Wisconsin Covenant

The Associated Press reports, “The director of the Wisconsin Covenant program says she's heard from ‘a lot of parents’ who mistakenly believed it would give their children a free ride to college.”

What did program officials think public reaction would be?

A public hearing was held about the Wisconsin Covenant program at the Department of Administration late last month.

Approved Senate bill will not fix MPS

Legislation


The state Senate has approved legislation that will not improve conditions at the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) system as proponents claim.  It is said Senate Bill 437 (SB 437) gives the state s
uperintendent of public instruction greater authority to intervene in failing schools within MPS and other school districts.  Like a previous proposal to give Milwaukee’s mayor the power to appoint the MPS superintendent, SB 437 fails to fix the many real problems associated with MPS.

SB 437 ends tenure for MPS principals. That is a good concept except that under the bill, teachers would continue to earn tenure. As I stated on the floor of the state Senate, you might as well not have principals if you are going to strip them of their ability to hold teachers accountable.

 

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I am sponsoring photo ID legislation

Photo ID



One of Senate District 28 state Assembly representatives, Jeff Stone (R-Greendale) introduced legislation requiring a photo ID to vote. I am pleased to be one of the lead sponsors of the legislation in the state Senate.

Here is analysis of the bill by the Legislative Reference Bureau:

“This proposed constitutional amendment, proposed to the 2009 legislature on first consideration, provides that a qualified elector may not vote, or register to vote,  at the polls on election day unless the elector presents a photographic identification issued by this state or by the federal government. After the date of ratification, the legislature, by law, with the concurrence of two−thirds of all the members present, may exempt any class of electors from these requirements. A proposed constitutional amendment requires adoption by two successive legislatures, and ratification by the people, before it can become effective.”

State Senator Joe Leibham has introduced similar legislation, Senate Bill 199.
I am pleased to be a lead sponsor of Senate Bill 199 in the state Senate.

Governor Doyle has vetoed photo ID legislation three times. Most Wisconsinites polled support a photo ID requirement to restore credibility and integrity to our sacred election system.

I have blogged extensively on this issue. You can read my previous photo ID entries here. 

Lions Clubs license plates

Legislation


Legislation I have authored to create special license plates supporting the Lions Clubs of Wisconsin has been approved unanimously by the state Senate. Senate Bill 307 (SB 307) allows special plates to be designed featuring a logo or image of the lion associated with the Lions Clubs International.


Lions Clubs International


Under SB 307, a $15 fee for issuance or reissuance of the special plates is charged along with a $25 annual fee that provides funds to the Wisconsin Lions Foundation, Inc.

If approved by the state Assembly and signed into law, Wisconsinites will have a wonderful opportunity to support an amazing organization with
a long history of providing great services to our state.

UPDATE:
The state Assembly has approved SB 307. The bill now goes to Governor Doyle for his consideration.

State Senate rejects vote about suing the federal government

Legislation, Government health care


The state Senate today failed to bring Senate Resolution 11 to the state Senate floor for consideration that calls for Wisconsin’s Attorney General to file or join a lawsuit against the federal government over the new health care law. Senate Resolution 11
authorizes the Attorney General to challenge the law’s constitutionality.

Wisconsin has some of the best health care in the country. The federal government should not mandate that citizens purchase a product, in this case, health insurance. Violators would be subject to penalties.

Over a dozen attorneys general around the country are suing the federal government on constitutional grounds. Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van H
ollen would need authorization from the governor or one house of the Legislature in order to file or join a lawsuit.

The vote to bring Senate Resolution 11 to the state Senate floor failed along party lines with all 5 Senate Republicans voting in favor of having a floor vote and all 18 Senate Democrats opposed.

Most hypocritical bill

Legislation


Senate Bill 600 (SB 600) is the most blatantly hypocritical bill that I have seen before the state Legislature this session.  There have been a lot of bills by Democrats that are supposed to do one thing, and pretty much do something else. But, SB 600 takes the cake. 

SB 600, before the state Senate Small Business Committee that I serve as a member, would impose penalties on businesses that hire illegal immigrants; however, the bill fails to address state government payment for services provided to illegal immigrants.  

The bill says companies may not employ illegal immigrants. Seemingly, that would be a dastardly thing. However, the bill says illegal immigrants are welcome to stay in Wisconsin without employment. Hello, what is it that people blackballed from Wisconsin employment, but invited to live in the state do for a living?

SB 600 penalizes companies that hire illegal immigrants. Under the bill, a company that hires an illegal immigrant would be ineligible to: 

  • receive income or franchise tax credits or property tax exemptions;
  • enter into contracts with the state or local governments for work on public works or building, or for providing supplies or services; and
  • receive any grants or loans from a local governmental unit. 

The ineligibility would last for seven years.

 It was coincident that there were news stories Wednesday’s, the same day as the SB 600 public hearing, about an Arizona Law clamping down on illegal immigrants. The Wall Street Journal 
reports:

Arizona lawmakers passed one of the toughest pieces of immigration-enforcement legislation in the country, which would make it a violation of state law to be in the U.S. without proper documentation. It would also grant police the power to stop and verify the immigration status of anyone they suspect of being illegal. Under the measure, passed by Arizona's lower house, after being passed earlier by the state Senate, foreign nationals are required to carry proof of legal residency.”  

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State Senate calendar for Thursday, April 22, 2010

News you can use


Here is the calendar for the state Senate floor session scheduled for Thursday, April 22, 2010 at 11:00 a.m.:


First Order.                Call of Roll.

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Victories for Wisconsin residents as state Senate adjourns


The state Senate adjourned the final floor day of the general legislative session just before 2:00 this afternoon. Though the 2009-10 session was generally disappointing for its lack of legislation to create jobs and rejuvenate the state economy, there is good news. Some controversial bills are dead including:

The global warming bill

Regional Transit Authority legislation

The election overhaul bills, SB 640 and AB 895 

The failure of these bills to survive the general session is very good news for Wisconsin residents.

State Senate bids farewell to outgoing members


Today’s state Senate floor session was the last for state Senator Alan Lasee (R-De Pere), state Senator Ted Kanavas (R-Brookfield), and state Senator Judy Robson (D-Beloit). The Senate honored the senators that are not running for re-election.

Senator Lasee has served in the Legislature for nearly 36 years, Senator Kanavas for nearly 10 years, and Senator Robson for 24 years. I congratulate and thank them for their public service and wish them the very best.

State Senate approves over 100 gubernatorial appointments


One of the first orders of business by the state Senate after it began its floor session shortly after 11:00 this morning was the confirmation of over 100 appointments to various boards and commissions by Governor Doyle. One of the appointments was Roger
Axtell of Janesville as a member of the UW Hospitals and Clinics Authority and Board, to serve for the term ending July 1, 2015.

During 2009,
the UW Hospitals and Clinics Authority Board voted to approve second trimester abortions at the Madison Surgery Center.  Board member Roger Axtell voted in favor of the second trimester abortions.

Roger Axtell’s confirmation today was approved by the state Senate along party lines, 18-15.

UPDATE: Most hypocritical bill



Senate Republicans killed Senate Bill 660 (SB 660) 
with a Senate floor objection to SB 660 getting a third reading. A two-thirds vote was required22 votes, to give SB 660 its third reading before it could be given an up or down vote. Only 18 senators voted to give SB 660 its third reading so the bill is dead.

Local sex offender ordinances survive

Legislation


Great news at the end of the general legislative session. Proceedings conclude without final action on legislation that would have repealed over 100 local ordinances around Wisconsin that restrict the residences and whereabouts of released sex offenders.

The legislation is dead and the local ordinances remain in effect.

I commend the many concerned officials and citizens that participated in the process to save these important local ordinances. If you drove to Madison to testify or register in opposition to the legislation, telephoned or e-mailed legislative offices, I thank you very much for your efforts to maintain local control and to protect families and children.

2009-10 legislative session mercifully ends

Legislation


Results of the 2009-10 session show Wisconsin taxed more, Wisconsin spent more, Wisconsin was more hostile to business, and Wisconsin did little to create jobs and revive its sputtering economy.

A review of the disappointing session must begin with the 2009-11 state budget that increased spending 9.4 percent during a recession. The budget eliminated the QEO, the Qualified Economic Offer causing school property tax levies for 2009-10 to increase six percent according to the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance that also reports the tax increases from the 2009 budget adjustment bill plus the tax increases in the 2009-11 state budget total $3.03 billion. Wisconsin’s current deficit according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau this biennium is $10 million. The next biennium, the structural deficit is $2.3 billion.

Jobs.  Getting the unemployed back to work should have been the top priority of the Legislature. According to the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, Wisconsin lost over 163,000 jobs since the start of the recession during 2007. Between January 2009 and January 2010, Wisconsin lost 113,600 jobs.  During the same period, the Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis area lost 39,800 jobs. The Legislature did nothing to spur job growth or jump start our sluggish economy.

Global warming legislation. A study of comprehensive green policies in Spain noted they are “terribly economically counterproductive” and that the “green jobs” agenda “in fact kills jobs.” Spain’s experience pinpointed as a model by President Obama can be expected to result in a loss of 2.2 jobs for every job created, or nearly 9 jobs lost for every four created. The massive global warming bill before the state Legislature contained dramatic provisions that would have had serious ramifications for our economy and business climate. The good news is that the bill died.

Election system overhaul.  Problematic legislation that would have allowed on-line voter registration and automatic voter registration at the time of driver license registration, an open invitation to voter fraud, also died.

Regional Transit Authorities (RTAs).
RTAs managed by members that are unelected and unaccountable to the taxpaying public enjoy wide powers. An RTA may operate a transportation system or provide for its operation by contracting with a public or private organization and impose a half percent sales tax. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau has reported that a half-cent sales tax increase to fund RTAs would cost about $172 per household a year.I oppose the creation of boards or authorities with appointed members having taxing power.  This is taxation without representation. I was pleased RTA legislation died.

High speed rail.  During February 2010, the Joint Finance Committee voted along party lines to approve spending over $800 million in federal stimulus money to construct a high-speed rail line between Madison and Milwaukee. The cost of the rail line is equivalent to two Miller Parks. You may recall the contentious debate about Miller Park took several months. Yet in less than one half-hour, the JFC debated and voted to approve a likely huge boondoggle. Because the federal allotment for the rail line is nearly $8-million short of expenses, there is a deficit to the project. Job creation claims made by proponents are dubious. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports, “Only 55 permanent jobs would be created to operate and maintain the trains, tracks and stations, starting in 2013, the application says.”

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Congratulations, Evan Rypel!

Eagle Scouts


Evan Rypel’s Eagle Scout ceremony was held on Sunday, April 25, 2010.

My office prepared a state citation that I presented to Evan Rypel at the special ceremony. It reads:

Whereas, Evan John Rypel is a member of Boy Scouts of America, and through dedication and commitment, attained the rank of Eagle Scout; and

 

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Congratulations, Nicholas Gardner!

Eagle Scouts


Nicholas Goldner’s Eagle Scout ceremony was held on Sunday, April 25, 2010.

My office prepared a state citation that I presented to Nicholas Goldner at the special ceremony. It reads:

Whereas, Nicholas Kevork Goldner is a member of Boy Scouts of America, and through dedication and commitment, attained the rank of Eagle Scout; and

Read more

Where does cigarette tax money go?

Taxes


Governor Doyle and legislative Democrats increased the state cigarette tax in the 2009-11 state budget by 75 cents. Wisconsin’s cigarette tax of $2.52 per pack is the sixth highest cigarette tax in the nation.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) surveyed data from the 15 states and the District of Columbia that increased their cigarette taxes during 2009, including Wisconsin. The CDC reports, “None of the 15 states dedicated any of the new excise tax revenue by statute to tobacco control.”

In fact, Wisconsin cut funding to its Quit Line by two-thirds. 


Bob Lang, director of Wisconsin’s Legislative Fiscal Bureau confirms the state’s cigarette tax revenue is deposited in the state's general fund. There is not an earmark for tobacco control; however, tobacco control does get some money from the general fund. 

Clearly, the intent of the 42.4 percent cigarette tax increase was not assisting smokers to quit or preventing individuals from starting. The intent was to balance the budget on the backs of smokers.

Read the CDC report here.

State Crime Labs wipe out DNA case backlog


Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen  via an April 21, 2010, letter informed Governor Doyle and legislative leaders the backlog of DNA cases at the Wisconsin State Crime Laboratories is eliminated.

Attorney General Van Hollen wrote:

“I am pleased to report that there is no longer a backlog of cases awaiting DNA forensic analysis. We have succeeded in eliminating the backlog and are now providing law enforcement and prosecutors the timely analysis needed to help identify offenders and hold them accountable.”

At the close of 2006, the State Crime Labs had a backlog of 1,785 DNA cases entitled to forensic analysis. DNA is critical in resolving crimes, obtaining criminal convictions, and freeing the innocent.

A news release and Attorney General Van Hollen’s letter can be viewed here.

Legislature approves Wisconsin Crime Alert Network

Legislation


During August 2008, I proposed that Wisconsin create a Silver Alert system to notify the public about an elderly person wandering or becoming lost. The state Legislature this session approved Senate Bill 533 (SB 533) that establishes the Wisconsin Crime Alert Network administered by the Department of Justice. The Crime Alert Network would provide, according to the Legislative Reference Bureau, “information regarding known or suspected criminal activity, crime prevention, and missing or endangered persons to state agencies, law enforcement officers, and members of the private sector.”

Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen gave written testimony in support of SB 533 during February 2010. Attorney General Van Hollen writes, in part:

“Here is how it will work. Law enforcement trained by the Department of Justice to use the Wisconsin Crime Alert Network would send out messages to participating businesses and members of the community about criminal activity, criminal trends, or missing persons. By using a drop down menu, those messages can be distributed to specific geographic regions—or even statewide—and specify the type of private entity to receive the message.

Participants and law enforcement would then receive an email or fax with the message. Alerted and armed with information, participants can be on the lookout for unusual behavior or identified suspects. This will help them protect themselves—and help them alert law enforcement.

Sometimes statewide distribution will be appropriate. Take for example an abducted child. An alert containing pictures of the child could be sent throughout the network, and those on the lookout can report sightings to law enforcement.

Senate Bill 533 authorizes the creation of the Wisconsin Crime Alert Network. Creation of the system will not require any general revenue. It authorizes the Department of Justice to charge a nominal fee to those private entities that choose to participate. In Minnesota, where a similar network has been in existence for over 15 years, the network has been used in the apprehension of suspects who have been responsible for more than $3 million worth of crimes including forgery, theft and burglary. It has also assisted in locating at least 10 missing people.”

Here is the Attorney General’s statement. 

SB 533 that I co-sponsored now goes to Governor Doyle for his consideration. In the interest of greater public safety, I urge the governor to sign this critical legislation into law.

Voter fraud legislation isn't dead yet

Legislation


One of the better moments in the just completed general legislative session was the failure of election overhaul legislation to move forward. Critics of the legislation including myself saw the dramatic changes for what they were: a blatant attempt to pave the way for voter fraud.

The effort to encourage cheating may have died in Wisconsin; however, the issue is alive in Washington D.C.

John Fund of the Wall Street Journal follows and covers election issues extensively and writes in an opinion piece, “
Congress may rush to pass ill-conceived legislation this year that would only sow confusion and increase the potential for chaos on a national level.”

Who is leading the charge in the nation’s capital?  Fund writes, “Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold, a Democrat, has introduced federal legislation to mandate same-day registration in every state, claiming the system has worked well in his state.”

Has same-day registration worked well here? Fund contends real evidence of voter fraud materialized in Wisconsin due to same-day registration:

“In 2004, John Kerry won Wisconsin over George W. Bush by 11,380 votes out of 2.5 million cast. After allegations of fraud surfaced, the Milwaukee police department's Special Investigative Unit conducted a probe. Its February 2008 report found that from 4,600 to 5,300 more votes were counted in Milwaukee than the number of voters recorded as having cast ballots. Absentee ballots were cast by people living elsewhere; ineligible felons not only voted but worked at the polls; transient college students cast improper votes; and homeless voters possibly voted more than once.

Much of the problem resulted from Wisconsin's same-day voter law, which allows anyone to show up at the polls, register and then cast a ballot. ID requirements are minimal. The report found that in 2004 a total of 1,305 ‘same day’ voters were invalid.”

Senator Feingold is not alone. Fund reports, “Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York is readying a bill to override the election laws of all 50 states and require universal voter registration—which would automatically register anyone on key government lists. This is a move guaranteed to create duplicate registrations, register some illegal aliens, and sow confusion.”

I concur with Fund that elections need to balance ease with integrity. You can read his opinion piece here.

The 2009-10 legislative session review: The budget

Legislation


The 2009-10 general legislative session began with the legislature addressing its single most important piece of business; the 2009-11 state budget.  The result was music to the ears of Democrats and a big disappointment to Republicans. 

You may recall that during the 2003 State of the State address, Governor Doyle said, “Going forward, my mind will be open to every solution -- except one. We should not -- we must not -- and I will not -- raise taxes. Wisconsin's problem is not that we tax too little. It is that we spend too much.”

Unfortunately, it amounted to empty rhetoric.

A Democrat governor and Democrat-controlled legislature put together the current state budget in secret rather than an open, transparent process. The final results explain the state fiscal mess. 

While most Wisconsin families tightened their belts, state government went on a spending spree. The Wisconsin taxpayers Alliance (WISTAX) reports the 2009-11 state budget increased spending 9.4 percent. Are you spending nearly 10 percent more these days? I don't think so.

Remember the QEO (Qualified Economic Offer)?  Taxpayers demanded and got the QEO during the early-1990’s after property taxes kept skyrocketing. The state budget eliminated the QEO. The result?  WISTAX reports, “School property tax levies for 2009-10 are up 6.0%.”

Spending was increased. Taxes were increased. The tax increases from the 2009 budget adjustment bill plus the tax increases in the 2009-11 state budget total, according to WISTAX, $3.03 billion.  Keep in mind this happened during a recession with unemployment skyrocketing to the highest levels since the Great Depression.

Out of all the tax increases in the budget, according to WISTAX, the largest is in individual income taxes totaling $529.8 million.  Increasing individual income taxes is foolish policy especially since Wisconsin’s growth in per capita income ranking is one of the lowest in the nation. 


A flood of federal stimulus dollars was merely a band-aid barely able to heal a budget process ailing from taxing and spending. The state still finds itself immersed in a structural deficit. The moment Governor Doyle signed the 2009-2011 state budget into law, it created a gigantic hole of $899 million going into 2010-11 and $1.15 billion the year after.

Our current budget deficit figures according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau: This biennium, the deficit is $10 million. The next biennium, the structural deficit is $2 billion, 329 million.

The next governor and legislature will have to grapple with extremely difficult budget decisions. Taxing and spending our way out of  the deficit are not the answers.

About those e-mails...


Last weekend, some constituents received outdated e-mails. Here is an explanation from Legislative Technology Services Bureau:


Between January 11th, 2010 and April 24th, 2010 some of the emails sent by legislative users appeared to have been delivered but were actually stuck on the email server. On Saturday night, April 24th, 2010, when the email service was restarted during routine maintenance, these messages were either delivered or rejected. Some of the messages were rejected for valid reasons; some of them were rejected because of the bug in the email system. Contrary to previous reports on this issue, we haven’t been able to confirm that any emails had been delivered more than once.

The cause of the issue was a bug in the Microsoft Exchange email system. After confirming the situation with Microsoft, we applied a Microsoft supplied fix on Tuesday night. We are confident this issue has been resolved but will continue to monitor the situation. According to Microsoft and our research, there is no pattern to describe which emails got stuck and which ones didn’t.

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The 2009-10 legislative session review: Jobs

Legislation


Jobs.  That is the #1 concern of Wisconsinites today. It should have been the #1 concern of the just-completed general legislative session. Sadly, job creation and improving our dismal business climate was not a high priority. The legislature did little, if anything to strengthen economy.


The Wisconsin Department of Revenue reports the state lost over 163,000 jobs since the beginning of the recession during 2007.  The Legislature has done nothing, or too little too late, to spur job growth or jump start our sluggish economy.  The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development reports between January 2009 and January 2010, Wisconsin lost 113, 600 jobs. During the same period, the Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis area lost 39,800 jobs. Wisconsin’s current seasonally adjusted unemployment rate is 8.8 percent.

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