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February 12, 2016

Walker signs Wisconsin civil service changes into law

Gov. Scott Walker (Photo: WRN)

Gov. Scott Walker (Photo: WRN)

The state workforce could see a number of changes going forward, following the signing of a bill that overhauls Wisconsin’s civil service system.

Governor Scott Walker put his signature on the controversial legislation Friday afternoon, during a ceremony in Grand Chute. In a statement, Walker said the bill “implements common-sense reforms to our recruitment and retention processes to get the best and brightest in the door and keep them there.”

The bill eliminates the use of the civil service exam to screen potential employees, shifting Wisconsin instead to a resume-based hiring process. Advocates of the change say that will make it easier to identify possible hires, while also speeding up the hiring process…which critics have said can take several months under the use of the exam system.

It also creates discipline standards across state agencies, which backers have said are needed to provide more clarity in situations where problem employees have avoided being terminated because of unclear rules. Walker said the bill “provides state agencies with clear direction to create uniform disciplinary practices to address the few bad actors who abuse the system.”

The legislation has faced heavy criticism from Democrats and union groups, who argue it make a number of unnecessary changes in order to make it easier to fill vacant state jobs with political appointees.

Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) said the move eliminates a system that has protected the people of Wisconsin for over a century, just so the party in power can fill jobs with people there to serve the political class. “We had a system where we tried to get the best qualified, the best and the brightest into public service…now we’re going to get the best friends of the administration.”

AFSCME Council 32 executive director Rick Badger also raised doubts about whether the changes will help to improve the quality of applicants the state attracts, noting the reason many people have retired or avoided public sector jobs is because of the constant attacks and criticism that workforce faces. “The law signed does noting to make civil service employment more attractive,” he said.

Wisconsin Department of Corrections secretary resigns

Sec. Ed Wall

Sec. Ed Wall

The secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections has resigned, in the midst of a scandal surrounding a state facility for juvenile offenders.

Corrections Secretary Ed Wall will step down by the end of this month, with former DOC secretary Jon Litscher stepping in to the position. Wall has served as secretary of the agency overseeing Wisconsin’s prison and parole system since October of 2012.
Governor Scott Walker’s administration made the announcement Friday, seven days after Wall submitted his letter of resignation.

Wall’s resignation comes as his agency faces a firestorm of criticism over allegations that young offenders were abused at the state’s Lincoln Hills facility. The claims sparked a John Doe probe at the facility, and resulted in several staff members resigning or being placed on leave.

The announcement of his departure came shortly after a report by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the FBI is now taking a lead role in the probe. It also followed reports Thursday that Walker’s administration was made aware of safety concerns at the facility as early as 2012.

Wall did not address the issue in resignation letter, only saying that “I believe the time has come to turn the page for the Department of Corrections and step aside to allow a new person with fresh perspectives to lead the agency forward.”Litscher’s first day serving as Secretary will be February 29, 2016.

News of Wall’s resignation was met with praise from critics of the agency. Although, many noted that his departure does not resolve deeper problems at the agency. In a statement AFSCME Council 32 executive director Rick Badger said the organization has long pushed for Wall’s dismissal. “We believe Wall’s departure is long overdue. We’ve been calling for it for months. But it does not solve the problem because it’s a problem that starts at the very top.”

Racine County judge raised concerns about Lincoln Hills in 2012

Lincoln Hills School (Photo: WI DOC)

Lincoln Hills School (Photo: WI DOC)

A newly released memo shows concerns were raised about the treatment of juvenile offenders at the Lincoln Hills institution as early as 2012.

Racine County Circuit Judge Richard Kruel discussed the case of an offender who was sexually assaulted at the facility, in a letter sent to Governor Scott Walker. Kruel said he had numerous concerns about how the youth was was treated by staff at the facility and how it was not promptly reported to authorities. Kruel also questioned why it took facility staff three hours to take the victim to an area medical facility for treatment. The situtation eventually led Racine County to stop sending offenders there, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“The indifference in this sordid tale is absolutely inexcusable,” Kruel wrote to the governor.

Walker never saw the memo though. Instead, his office said the complaint was sent to the Department of Corrections, which then took action to address the concerns, such as implementing additional staff training and reviewing protocols at Lincoln Hills. “Many issues are raised to our office. Policy staff frequently work with agencies on these issues to help ensure they are addressed,” said Laurel Patrick, a spokeswoman for the governor.

The treatment of offenders at Lincoln Hills has been under intense scrutiny in recent months, following revelations of an ongoing John Doe investigation at the facility into reports of inmates being abused and assaulted. Several staff members have resigned or been placed on leave. The probe is ongoing.

DNC chair sees Wisconsin as a battleground state (AUDIO)

DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz

DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz

The chair of the Democratic National Committee expects Wisconsin to remain a battleground state in the presidential race, but it ultimately optimistic it will once again swing to their candidate.

DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz says the decision to hold Thursday night’s debate in Milwaukee was a deliberate one, intended to show its importance in the 2016 race. “Wisconsin voters share our party’s priorities, and we want them to know we are not taking them for granted.”

The last time Wisconsin voted for the Republican presidential nominee was in 1984. Wasserman Schultz believes the state has firmly backed Democratic candidates since then because they want a president whose priorities focus on helping people reach the middle class.

AUDIO: Debbie Wasserman Schultz on why Democrats will win Wisconsin (:34)

Wisconsin voters will not vote on who they think the Democratic nominee should be until April 5, and Wasserman Schultz says it’s “hard to say” what role their voices will have on the selection process. “I’m focused on making sure we can manage the primary nominating contest, and prepare our party, so that when we have a nominee we can launch them to the White House.”

Republicans are also confident about their chances in November. Speaking on the UW-Milwaukee campus ahead of Thursday’s debate, Wisconsin Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch says it doesn’t matter who the Democratic nominee will be, because “the Republican nominee is going to offer such a different vision that the American electorate will see a clear contrast.”

AUDIO: Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch on the difference between nominees (:19)

Kleefisch said that she believes Americans will resoundingly back the candidate in November who has their interests at heart. “

Democratic presidential candidates target differences in Milwaukee

(Photo: PBS News Hour)

(Photo: PBS NewsHour)

While the two candidates vying for the Democratic presidential nomination share many similar positions, both focused in on some of their key differences Thursday night during a debate hosted by the PBS News Hour on the UW-Milwaukee campus.

Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders hit each other on topics that included immigration reform, campaign finance, racial justice, and foreign policy. The two also clashed with each other over their support of President Barack Obama, and discussed the historical significance of either of them becoming his successor.

Backers of both candidates claimed victory following the debate. Sanders advisor Tad Devine argued that he “dominated the event, from the beginning to the end,” while U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) described Clinton’s performance as “explaining how to get the job done.”

Clinton mentioned Wisconsin several times in her remarks, highlighting issues with racial disparity and crime in Milwaukee. Mayor Tom Barrett admitted some of those issues can be challenging, but they are ones he has been talking about for years. “I couldn’t be happier to have that conversation. It’s a challenge, it’s a problem, but it’s something we can face.”

Sanders made no mention of issues facing Wisconsin, although campaign manager Jeff Weaver attributed that to the candidate looking at every state as playing a big role. He said they believe there will be a “key battle” in Wisconsin when the April 5 primary rolls around.

Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chairwoman Martha Laning praised the performance of both candidates. “It was just very exciting to have two Democratic candidates who want to improve the lives of Americans right here in Wisconsin sharing that story.”

In a statement, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said the Clinton fell short and Democrats now face an impossible choice between a “socialist” or a “serial flip-flopper.” Priebus said “instead of putting forth a new direction for the country that would restore prosperity and confront radical Islamic terror, the Democrat primary has devolved into a race to the extreme left. Only a Republican in the White House will provide the clear-eyed policies and strong leadership America needs.”

Both candidates head back out on the campaign trail, as they look ahead to the next key votes in South Carolina and Nevada.