October 24, 2014

Wisconsin launches Ebola information line

(Image: CDC)

(Image: CDC)

State health officials are setting up a hotline to answer questions about the Ebola virus.

In addition to information already posted on the state Department of Health Service’s website, the agency has opened a toll free line for state residents who have questions about the Ebola virus.

State Health Officer Karen McKeown says the department is setting up the service because they recognize people are concerned and have questions about the virus. There have been no reported cases of the Ebola virus in Wisconsin and the risk to the public remains extremely low.

The hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by calling 1-844-684-1064.

State says most voucher recipients came from private schools

File photo

File photo

New numbers from the Department of Public Instruction show many students receiving taxpayer-funded vouchers were already enrolled in private schools.

Supporters of a statewide expansion of the private school voucher program have argued it will allow more children to escape troubled public schools. However, DPI figures show only about 19 percent of the 538 students receiving vouchers for the first time this fall attended a public school last year. The rest were already going to a private school.

School Choice Wisconsin, a supporter of the voucher program, accused the DPI of only telling part of the story to make the voucher program look bad. The group says the state’s data does not reflect that fact that many of the students receiving a voucher who attended a private school last year were there because of scholarships. They contend the voucher program is now allowing new students to take those scholarships and attend a school of their choice.

The tax-funded voucher program has been in place in Milwaukee for years, and was only recently expanded to Racine and then statewide on a limited basis. Opponents contend it takes state aid away from already underfunded public schools. Republicans have indicated further statewide expansion is one of their goals during the next Legislative session.

Bill Kramer pleads no contest to sexual assault charges

Bill Kramer

Bill Kramer

The former Assembly Republican leader accused of sexual assault has agreed to a plea deal with prosecutors.

State Representative Bill Kramer (R-Waukesha) entered a no contest plea this week in Waukesha County Circuit Court to two misdemeanor counts of fourth degree sexual assault. In exchange, prosecutors have dropped two felony sexual assault charges.

Kramer, a Waukesha Republican, was accused earlier this year of assaulting a woman outside of a GOP event in 2011. The accusations surfaced just days after he was accused of harassing two women during a conference in Washington DC. The revelations prompted Assembly Republicans to strip him of his leadership title, although lawmakers stopped short of removing him from office. Kramer is not seeking reelection.

A trial on the charges had been scheduled to begin next week. A sentencing hearing has been scheduled for November 25th.

DNR looks for feedback on conservation plans

Devil's Lake State Park (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Devil’s Lake State Park (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

The state Department of Natural Resources is asking members of the public to voice their thoughts on key conservation plans.

The agency is currently reviewing its Wildlife Action and Fish, Wildlife, and Habitat Management plans. DNR conservation biologist Tara Bergeson says, to continue receiving federal funding for a wide range of programs, they need public feedback. She says “we want to know what Wisconsin citizens think is important, in terms of fish and wildlife, their habitats, and outdoor recreation opportunities in Wisconsin.”

Bergeson says an online survey has been posted for the public to provide input about current policies, and to offer ideas for the future. She says “we’re asking kind of broad questions…What do you care about? What concerns do you have…both now and as you think about the future?”

The survey will be active through November 14.

Wisconsin Democrats file lawsuit over training videos

DPW Chairman Mike Tate (Photo: Andrew Beckett)

DPW Chairman Mike Tate (Photo: Andrew Beckett)

The head of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin says the public has the right to know what’s on training videos that feature Republican candidate for attorney general Brad Schimel.

Democrats are suing the state Department of Justice, after the agency refused to release the videos through an open records request. The agency cited concerns about victim privacy and argued that criminals could view them to learn tactics used by prosecutors. During a call with reporters Wednesday, DPW chairman Mike Tate questioned that reasoning, and voiced his belief that the objections are more about “J.B. Van Hollen and Brad Schimel trying to prevent the public from getting a full true picture of who Brad Schimel really is.” Tate believes the videos may contain something objectionable about Schimel that he says Republicans “don’t want the public to see.”

The videos in question come from training events for prosecutors organized by the state DOJ. Schimel, who serves as the Waukesha County District Attorney, participated in five such talks, although the DOJ says it only has videos from two of those events.

In a statement released Wednesday, Schimel offered his rationale for keeping the videos from being released to the public. “During many of my presentations I break down specific real-life cases and explain to my fellow prosecutors how we catch and prosecute those who try to prey on our children. I analyze known patterns of behavior and explain how my fellow prosecutors can exploit the common mistakes these men make. I help my peers become better prosecutors and keep more predators off the streets.”

Schimel also dismissed allegations that the videos show him doing anything improper, arguing that “I would not have been invited back again and again and again,” if that were the case. He also criticized Democrats for filing the lawsuit, accusing them of showing “callous disregard for the safety of Wisconsin’s children” by trying to make law enforcement’s playbook public.

A Dane County judge plans to review the tapes, before deciding whether Democrats should get to see them. A ruling on that could come at a hearing scheduled for next week, just days before an election where Schimel faces Democrat Susan Happ, the Jefferson County District Attorney.