February 9, 2016

Democrats propose student grant plan

Rep. Sargent

Rep. Sargent

At the Capitol, Democratic legislators are proposing a grant program for college students. This bill is out in the midst of a push to get a whole package of Republican proposals through the legislative process this spring.

“Ultimately, a lot of that is nibbling around the edges,” said state Representative Melissa Sargent (D-Madison). Her proposal would help cover living expenses, tuition, student fees and textbooks for students at UW campuses, tech schools and tribal colleges.

“If you are committed, if you roll up your sleeves, if you work hard, if you commit to the state of Wisconsin, we’re going to take care of you, because you’re taking care of us. You’re going to become part of our tax base. You’re going to be bringing money back into the state.”

Students would have to maintain a three-point-oh grade point average and work for three years in Wisconsin after graduating. If students leave the state prior to that or don’t graduate, the grant funds would roll into a regular student loan account. With Republicans in control both the Assembly and Senate, the bill from Sargent and Senator Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) is likely to go nowhere.

Bill provides ticket amnesty for UW System students who report sexual assault

WRN photo

WRN photo

Legislation being proposed at the Capitol provides “ticket amnesty” for underage drinkers who report sexual assaults on UW campuses. With sexual assault remaining the most under reported crime, Attorney General Brad Schimel backs the legislation.

“This crime goes under reported because there’s so many psychological and emotional dynamics that go into it,” Schimel said. “Removing this barrier is an important piece to giving victims confidence that they’ll find a system that’s ready to listen to them.”

Current campus policies are seen as a deterrent to reporting sexual assaults that involve underage drinking. The bill would put the current UW Madison policy in place across the UW System, where Chancellor Rebecca Blank says efforts to encourage reporting sexual assaults have been ongoing.

“We have been telling them that if you are drinking but helping a freind, we will focus on the sexual assault issue, and not on the drinking issue,” Blank said. “This (not issing tickets for underage drinking) is understood to be the process across most jurisdictions of Wisconsin,” said the bill’s author, state Representative Joan Balweg (R-Markesan). “But by doing this particular legislation, we’re making sure thart we have the force of law, to make sure that there will not be any citations in those kinds of situations.”

Balweg and Senator Fred Risser (D-Madison) offered more broadly written legislation in 2013, which would have taken tickets off the table for UW System students who sought help for dangerously intoxicated friends. That bill failed to advance. Schimel said this more narrowly focused legislation is is needed due the under reported nature of sexual assault.

Lawmaker wants WIAA under open records law

Rep. John Nygren

Rep. John Nygren

A Republican state lawmaker wants the organization overseeing Wisconsin school athletics to have to follow the state’s open records and meetings laws.

State Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) says he plans to reintroduce a bill that would apply the open records law to the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA), following the controversy surrounding a recent memo the organization sent out to school athletic directors about student sportsmanship. The request, which urged them to discourage certain chants during a game, drew national ridicule for the organization and prompted officials to apologize last week.

Nygren said creating more transparency at the WIAA would give the public more notice when those kinds of changes are being considered. “When decisions are made with taxpayer money, the public deserves to have a say, or at least a look into the decision room. Policies like these, which suggest a mere suppression of speech, deserve more oversight and scrutiny, and I aim to ensure that in the future,” he argued.

Contributed by Rick Schuh, WHBY

Lawmakers propose ‘Rural Wisconsin Initiative’

ruralwisconsininitiativeRural lawmakers in Madison have unveiled a package of bills to help their districts. State Representative Ed Brooks (R-Reedsville) said the challenges facing rural Wisconsin are clear. “Rural Wisconsin is losing population, rural counties in particular, but the towns and villages and their school systems are having trouble maintaining good programs for the future,” Brooks said. “The biggest part would be finding people for the right job, making sure they have the right training.”

The “Rural Wisconsin Initiative” includes seven separate bills on items ranging from STEM education for rural schools to teacher loan forgiveness to broadband expansion grants, a bill authored by Representative Travis Tranel (R-Cuba City). “The thought process behind allocating more money towards broadband is, obviously now education is more focused with on-line learning,” Tranel said.

Brooks said he thinks there’s an opportunity to get some of the measures passed this spring. “I’m a farmer by vocation, so I’m optimistic, but realistic” Brooks said, adding that Assembly Speaker Robin Vos is supportive.

Kermit the frog book to stay in Marshfield schools

Board members in the Marshfield school district have given a green thumbs up to a book featuring Kermit the Frog. The school board Board took no action Wednesday, on a request to remove the Jim Henson book “For Every Child, A Better World” from kindergarten classes.

A special review panel recommended last month that the book stay in the curriculum, and that decision will be allowed to stand.

Questions about the use of the book were raised last July by school board member Mary Carney, who worried that the book deals with issues that are best left addressed by parents of young children. The book, Carney said,  is “dark” and “depressing.” Her stance drew national attention.

After another board member chimed in on the subject Wednesday night, Board president Marlene Stueland promptly cut off debate on the issue, and moved on to other agenda items.