July 25, 2014

Ryan offers plan to fight poverty

U.S Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI)

U.S Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI)

Despite spending $800 billion a year at the federal level to help the nation’s poor, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) says the U.S. faces the highest poverty rate in a generation. The House Budget Committee chairman outlined a series of proposals Thursday during a speech to the American Enterprise Institute in Washington he says are aimed at improving the situation.

Part of Ryan’s plan would consolidate 11 national programs into a single funding stream, allowing states to test different ways of providing aid to those in need. He says the opportunity grant pilot program would allow states to voluntarily try out new methods for delivering the social safety net, which could then be tested and evaluated for broader implementation. The move is designed to allow those in poverty to visit just a single office to receive multiple critical services, rather than having to visit multiple agencies and deal with layers of red tape.

The Congressman’s plan, titled “Expanding Opportunity in America,” also calls for federal lawmakers to adopt a series of proposals offered by members on both sides of the political spectrum. Those include doubling the size of the Earned Income Tax Credit for childless adults, along with implementing reforms to the education system and in how the nation sets guidelines for rehabilitating non-violent criminal offenders.

Ryan says he hopes the proposals, developed with the help of stakeholders across the country, will help spark a national discussion about poverty and the fact that the nation “can do better” to address the problem.

State criticized over decision on contraceptive mandate

Representative Chris Taylor (File photo: WRN)

Representative Chris Taylor (File photo: WRN)

Advocates for access to birth control say Governor Scott Walker’s administration is improperly using a U.S. Supreme Court ruling as an excuse to not enforce aspects of a state law.

The state Office of the Commissioner of Insurance said this week it would stop enforcing portions of a 2009 state law that requires prescription drug plans to cover contraceptives, in the event an employer raises a religious objection. OCI claims it has no choice in the decision because of the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in a case filed by Hobby Lobby, which argued the mandate to cover contraceptives included in the Affordable Care Act infringed on the company’s religious freedoms. The nation’s high court agreed that closely-held companies could not be forced to violate their religious beliefs by paying for the coverage.

State Representative Chris Taylor (D-Madison) argues the ruling in the Hobby Lobby case has no effect on Wisconsin’s law though. The Madison Democrat, a former official with Planned Parenthood, says “Hobby Lobby concerned the interpretation of federal law. It does not impact our state laws.” She says multiple legal experts have looked at the issue as well and have come to the same conclusion.

Taylor claims Governor Scott Walker is simply using the Hobby Lobby decision as an excuse to continue chipping away at the reproductive rights of women. “He had no authority to unilaterally decide that this administration is not going to enforce a law passed democratically through the Legislature.”

Taylor notes that the move comes after previous efforts by Walker to repeal the contraception requirement have failed in the Legislature.

UPDATE: This story was edited after publication to clarify the specific circumstances of OCI enforcement of the contraception mandate.

Walker claims Burke trying to ‘have it both ways’ (AUDIO)

Gov. Scott Walker speaks to supporters at a campaign event. (Photo: Andrew Beckett)

Gov. Scott Walker speaks to supporters at a campaign event. (Photo: Andrew Beckett)

Even though the general election in Wisconsin’s race for governor is still months away, the campaigns of both incumbent Republican Governor Scott Walker and likely Democratic challenger Mary Burke are already shifting into high gear. Both campaigns have been out with ads that spar over the issue of outsourcing jobs and Burke’s role at Trek Bicycle, the family-owned company started by her father.

Walker’s campaign has run two ads in the past week that argue Burke, who worked as an executive at Trek, has personally benefitted from the company’s decision to outsource jobs overseas. Burke and the head of Trek, her brother, have maintained she had no role in those decisions and have criticized Walker for attacking a company that employs a thousand workers in Wisconsin.

Speaking with reporters in Madison Wednesday, Walker stood by the decision to go after Burke on the outsourcing issue and her role at Trek. The governor says voters deserve to know both sides of the issue, since Burke has campaigned on her experience at Trek as a reason to support her candidacy. Walker said “you can’t have it both ways if you’re Mary Burke. You can’t say like me for the things you like about this company, but ignore the other things that are out there.”

AUDIO: Gov. Scott Walker (:45)

Walker also noted that Burke’s own campaign ads made outsourcing an issue before he brought it up, by trying to link him to state tax credits that were given by his administration to companies that outsourced job. “She started out with the argument. She made the case about this several weeks ago. We’re pointing out the hypocrisy out of that.”

Walker says he’s running on his record, but claims Burke is trying to run from hers.

Van Hollen argues no fundamental right to same sex marriage

Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen

Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen

Wisconsin’s attorney general claims there’s no fundamental right for the state to grant marriage licenses to same sex couples.

In a 188-page filing with the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen argues the due process clause of the U.S. Constitution does not require the state to give same sex couples the right to marriage. As a result, he says last month’s decision by U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb against Wisconsin’s ban on gay marriage should be overturned.

Van Hollen said Crabb’s decision amounts to the creation of a new right to gay marriage, and it wrongly extends federal authority into an area normally handled by the states. He compares the issue to how the courts have handled abortion restrictions, such as cases where judges have upheld restriction on using Medicaid dollars to pay for abortions. “Although the constitutional right of privacy protects a woman’s right to obtain an abortion and precludes government from prohibiting or punishing her exercise of that right, there is no corresponding obligation on government to affirmatively endorse or
support her exercise of the abortion right.”

The appeals court is considering the Wisconsin challenge in combination with a similar decision in Indiana, which also overturned that state’s gay marriage ban. Judges are expected to hear the cases next month.

Wisconsin seeks FEMA disaster declaration for 8 counties

Snow in Madison (File photo)

Snow in Madison (WRN file photo, Jackie Johnson)

Damage done by severe winter weather has the state seeking a federal disaster declaration for eight counties.

Governor Scott Walker has requested the declaration from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for Chippewa, Clark, Fond du Lac, Kenosha, Marathon, Milwaukee, Winnebago, and Wood counties. If approved, it would help those areas pay for an estimated $11.3 million in damage to public infrastructure caused by the extreme cold last winter. That includes the record number of water main breaks many communities were forced to deal with, as frost levels plunged deeper below the surface than normal and subzero temperatures hung around for days.

Walker says the devastating cold overwhelmed many communities, and a declaration would help them pay for those unexpected damages.

The request is the result of an extensive review done in those eight counties, based on extensive data about frost depths and documented damage. If a disaster declaration is approved, the governor says other affected counties will be checked to see if they are eligible to be included.

Initial reports by the state showed damage from the extreme cold totaled more than $25 million in 69 Wisconsin counties. While damage to public infrastructure was above the dollar threshold needed to request a FEMA disaster declaration, the governor’s office say homes and businesses affected by the extreme cold did not meet the requirements to request individual assistance.