December 18, 2014

Van Hollen reflects on 8 years as Attorney General

Attorney General JB Van Hollen (Photo: Andrew Beckett)

Attorney General JB Van Hollen (Photo: Andrew Beckett)

When he leaves office early next month, Wisconsin’s top cop says he’ll do so with no regrets.

Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen decided not to seek a third term this past November and will step down when Republican AG-elect Brad Schimel is sworn in next month. After eight years in office, the Republican says he’s proud of what he’s been able to accomplish. “I don’t leave with any regrets, other than leaving itself. I like public service. This will be the end of 22 years in public service, certainly a full career by anyone’s standards.”

In fact, Van Hollen says part of the reason he decided not to seek another term was that he has accomplished much of what he set out to do when he was first elected.

Among his achievements during two terms as Wisconsin’s attorney; reducing a DNA backlog at the state crime lab, expanding efforts to go after criminals who prey on children, and launching a campaign to combat a heroin epidemic that threatens many in the state.

There have been some criticism for Van Hollen, of course. Most recently, that focused on his continued defense of Wisconsin’s constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. The provision was struck down by a federal court earlier this year and the state Supreme Court rejected an appeal of that decision. Despite the loss in court, Van Hollen argues opponents of the ban should be pleased that the court battle took place, because it provided some degree of finality on the issue.

As for the future, Van Hollen says he’s not against the idea of running for another public office at some point in the future. At least for now, he has ruled out a run for the state Supreme Court in the spring. “I’m not opposed to it. I put a lot of thought into it and I’m not saying it won’t happen in the future.” However, he added that his focus for now is going to be on his family, which will be easier to do while working in the private sector. Where that job might be is something Van Hollen says is a decision he will focus on after his term ends.

Federal report shows Wisconsin continues to see slow job growth

A report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows job growth in Wisconsin continues to lag behind many other states.

The BLS report says Wisconsin’s private sector job growth during the year that ended in June was at 1.5 percent, making the Badger State 32nd in the nation and well behind the national rate of 2.3 percent during that time period. The numbers come from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, widely considered the most accurate indicator of job growth since it surveys 96 percent of employers.

The monthly unemployment updates are based on a survey of only about 3.5 percent of employers, which state officials have criticized in the past as being inaccurate indicators of growth. Still, they have showed continued improvement for the state over the past several months, with the latest report released Thursday showing Wisconsin’s unemployment rate fell to 5.2 percent in November, with the state adding about 16,500 private sector jobs last month. Those figures are subject to heavy revisions at a later date though.

Wisconsin unemployment rate fell to 5.2 percent in November

Wisconsin’s unemployment rate fell in November to its lowest level since the recession.

Preliminary figures released by the Department of Workforce Development show Wisconsin’s unemployment rate was at 5.2 percent in November, down from 5.4-percent in October and 6.4 percent in November of 2013. The rate is the lowest for the state since September of 2008 and well below the national rate of 5.8 percent.

The state added 16,500 private sector jobs in November, which DWD Secretary Reggie Newson says suggests the state has now recovered all that were lost during the Great Recession.

The numbers are based on a small sample of employers and are typically subject to heavy revisions.

Businesses join fight against Wisconsin right-to-work proposal

File photo

File photo

More than 300 private sector business interests are joining forces to fight an effort to make Wisconsin a right-to-work state. The Wisconsin Contractor Coalition includes a variety of private employers and skilled trade representatives. Spokesman Steve Lyons says members agree with Governor Walker that the state is facing more pressing issues and the debate would only be a distraction from those.

They also believe a right-to-work law amounts to government intrusion. Lyons says “this is a contract between a private sector trade association and the company they work with. For government to interfere in that we think is bad public policy.”

Right-to-work laws typically prohibit requiring union membership as a condition of employment. Lyons says studies from groups both for and against those laws have found they lowered wages and benefits in states that adopted the policy. He warns that many employers are already saying they can’t find enough skilled workers to fill nearly 70,000 vacant positions in the state, and the possibility of reduced wages and benefits could make that even harder.

Lyons also notes that many smaller businesses appreciate the services unions offer in terms of getting workers ready for jobs. He says they enjoy the benefit of private dollars helping to make sure workers show up already trained and ready for the job.

Republican lawmakers have indicated they plan to advance right-to-work legislation in the spring. Lyons says the coalition’s focus right now is on informing the public and lawmakers about why that’s the wrong move for the state. He expects more businesses to join the group in the coming weeks.

Walker urges Senate Republicans to drop right-to-work push

Gov. Scott Walker addresses Senate Republicans (Photo: WRN)

Gov. Scott Walker addresses Senate Republicans (Photo: WRN)

Governor Scott Walker is publicly urging state Senate Republicans to back-off from efforts to pass a right-to-work law.

Speaking to the GOP members on Wednesday, Walker restated previous comments that the measure would only be a distraction from more important issues. “We’ve got a lot of big reforms to act on…we’ve got a lot of issues with entitlement reform and tax reform and other reforms we’ve talked about…a lot of things to do in both the Legislative session and the budget…and I just have the concern that sorts of issues, particularly early on, might distract from that work,” Walker said.

The governor, who has supported right-to-work legislation in the past, did not say if he would veto or sign a bill if lawmakers do pass one.

Republican leaders in the Legislature have indicated they plan to take up right-to-work early next year. Those laws typically ban requiring union membership as a condition of employment. The governor said he would rather focus on improving the state’s workforce by helping employers reach workers with the skill-sets needed to fill in-demand jobs.