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February 13, 2016

Bill cutting Planned Parenthood funding heads to Walker

Republicans in the state Assembly have advanced a bill requiring providers to bill Medicaid only for the actual acquisition costs and dispensing fees for birth control drugs. The measure, which passed Thursday on a 61-35 vote, is now ready for Governor Scott Walker’s signature.

GOP Representative Andre Jacque (R-DePere) insisted during Thursday’s floor debate that the legislation does not prohibit access to birth control. “But it is something that interfaces very well with the modus operandi of Planned Parenthood nationally, which is to bilk taxpayers out of more and more dollars, where they operate at tremendous profit,” Jacque said.

The change would cost Planned Parenthood an estimated $4.5 half million per year, and Democrats charge it will restrict access — in keeping with Republican goals. This is Madison Representative Chris Taylor

“This bill is a very targeted attempt to limit women’s access to birth control,” said Representative Chris Taylor (D-Madison), adding that Jacque has voiced opposition to birth control on numerous occasions. “Policy after policy that we see in this body is aimed at rolling back access to birth control. The result is increasing the unintended pregnancy rate, and increasing the abortion rate.”

Landlords could be the judges for criminal activity in their units, under another measure passed by the Assembly on Thursday. Supporters say landlords could remove tenants who pose dangers to other tenants. But opponents say the building owners would not have to prove such harm, and there’s no indication of how serious the offenses would have to be.

Representative Amanda Stuck (D-Appleton), cited the hypothetical where a domestic abuse victim could end up on the street because of actions by an abuser. “They don’t actually need to be convicted or charged with anything under this bill. A neighbor or a landlord could just say that they were engaged in this, and all of a sudden they have five days to be out of their home, with their children and their belongs.”

The bill, from Representative Robert Brooks (R-Saukville), passed on a 60-31 vote and now is ready for action by the state Senate.

UW Extension to cut staff from county programs

Job cuts are coming to the UW Extension Service. Some 80 positions will be eliminated, from the county offices for agriculture agents, 4-H and youth specialists, and family living advisers.

Staffing cuts in the Extension programs have been in the works since the Republican controlled legislature reduced annual funding last year by $3.6 million.

Extension chancellor Cathy Sandeen said Wednesday that each county would still have Extension offices and programs for 4-H and Master Gardeners — but in some cases, staffers would be shared among counties.

Sandeen said work groups and a steering committee will come up with a more exact restructuring over the next six months. Changes could begin in early July, but most layoffs would take place early next year.

Littoral combat ships face Congressional concerns

A Navy ship building program that supports thousands of Wisconsin jobs could be downsized, as the ships face continued criticism.

U-S Senators John McCain, the Arizona Republican who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Rhode Island Democrat Jack Reed said in a letter earlier this month that the Navy should delay deploying its littoral combat ships until more testing is done.

The Marinette Marine Corporation shipyard employs about two-thousand people building the ships, which are designed for operations in shallow, coastal waters.

Three have been delivered so far, and seven more, at around 479 million dollars each, are currently in various stages of construction in Marinette.

‘Double dipping’ bill gets public hearing (AUDIO)

Sens. Wirch, Fitzgerald

Sens. Wirch, Fitzgerald

A bill to prohibit “double dipping” in elected office is advancing at the Capitol. State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) wants to prohibit lawmakers from simultaneously serving as county executives. The measure received public hearings before Senate and Assembly committees on Wednesday.

The GOP leader acknowledged that he has Winnebago County Executive Mark Harris in mind. Harris, a Democrat, is running for a state Senate seat.

“The idea that his $100,000 job in Winnebago County is now going to be a part-time job for him, I think everybody in the legislature should be upset by that,” Fitzgerald said in the Senate hearing.

State Senator Bob Wirch (D-Kenosha) said the timing is suspicious. “In an election year, when a Democrat is running for state Senate, all the sudden we push through legislation, when we looked the other way when Ziegelbauer did it.” Manitowoc County Executive Bob Ziegelbauer served an overlapping term in the state Assembly, as a Democrat and an independent, for more than six years. As an independent, Ziegelbauer caucused with Assembly Republicans.

AUDIO: Sens. Wirch, Fitzgerald (6:00)

Fitzgerald said some lawmakers were concerned, during the period that Ziegelbauer held both offices.

“To me, the responsibilities associated with being somebody at the county level, who’s trying to deal with the scope of issues that we deal with, and that somehow that’s not going to conflict with public policy being in this Capitol, it’s just ridiculous,” Fitzgerald said. “It would happen every day of the of the week.”

Scot Ross with the liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now, said a search of the group’s media files failed to uncover “a word said from any current elected Republican, related to Bob Ziegelbauer serving as the county executive of Manitowoc County. Not one word.” Ross said the bill was “about so you can get a headline up the Fox Valley saying that Mark Harris is double dipping because he may continue to serve for a period of time as county executive, because he was elected to that position, while perhaps being elected to the 18th District.”

If Harris is elected to the state Senate, he would take office in January 2017, four months before his term as county executive ends in April 2017.

Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow, a Republican, briefly held onto his state Senate seat after being elected county executive in 2015. Farrow testified in support of the bill.

Online voter registration heads to Assembly

Wisconsin voters will be able to register online, under terms of a bill passed by the state Senate Tuesday night. The bill also ends the practice of allowing clerks to deputize people to run group registration drives. The Senate voted 19-to-13 to send the Republican-authored package of election law changes to the Assembly.

Opponents said elimination of the special registration deputies would limit voter access. But Senator Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald pointed out that groups can still hold drives where leaders can teach people to use electronic devices to register online.

The bill also allows federal veterans’ I-Ds for voting, and requires absentee ballots to be returned by the time the polls close on election nights.