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August 30, 2015

Wisconsin lawmakers call for stricter reporting of travel costs

Gov. Scott Walker in Israel (Photo: @ScottWalker Twitter feed)

Gov. Scott Walker in Israel (Photo: @ScottWalker Twitter feed)

Any state elected official who runs for a federal office would have to file detailed travel reports with the state, under a bill being introduced at the Capitol.

The legislation, co-sponsored by state Sen. Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) and Rep. Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point) would require any state official who is running for or considering a run for federal office to submit a monthly report with state election officials detailing their expenses and who paid for them. Shankland said it’s “about accountability to taxpayers, it’s about being fully up front with the people of this state, and it’s about making sure that our precious tax dollars are not being used to bankroll a presidential campaign or anyone’s campaign.”

The legislation comes largely in response to trips Governor Scott Walker took earlier this year before launching his presidential run. Much of the travel, which included visits to the UK, Europe, Canada, and Israel, was billed as trade missions. However, the governor also met with several political officials and organizations in what many Democrats have argued was an effort to boost his foreign policy credentials ahead of announcing his candidacy for the Republican nomination.

Shankland argued the citizens of the state deserve to know if their hard-earned money was used to further someone’s goals of achieving higher office. Hansen noted that taxpayers spent more than $138,000 to send Walker to Great Britain earlier this year, while the costs are still unknown for the other trips.

Walker’s campaign has said it would reimburse the state for any campaign-related expenses while on those trips, while the Republican Jewish Coalition and Walker’s campaign group, Our American Revival, paid for the trip to Israel.

GOP moving ahead with FoodShare photo ID

Grocery items (WRN photo)

Grocery items (WRN photo)

GOP lawmakers in Madison are moving ahead with a plan for photo ID to be added to Wisconsin FoodShare Cards. Republican State Representative Jesse Kremer says adding a photo identification to Foodshare benefit cards will stop millions of dollars in fraud from occurring.

“So that we can proactively curb criminal activity, and ensure that the aid that we are providing for the needy is actually getting to the needy in our communities,” Kremer (R-Kewaskum) said.

But state Representative Lisa Subeck says adding a photo ID to benefit cards will only further burden Wisconsinites in need of FoodShare assistance. “There are folks on the right who want to score political points, quite frankly at the expense of those who are struggling in our communities,” said Subeck (D-Madison).

The Assembly Public Benefit Reform committee is debating the provision Tuesday. Stiffening penalties for unemployment insurance fraud is also on the agenda.

In order for a photo ID to be added to Wisconsin Foodshare cards, a waiver will need to be issued from the federal government. Kremer is concerned Wisconsin won’t receive that waiver but says the legislation is still worth pursuing.

“I don’t always agree with everything the federal government does, we as states don’t always agree,” Kremer said. “If we’re sharing the administration of this program, I think we have a right to look into and try and save money wherever possible, and stop fraud wherever we can.”

Kremer said FoodShare recipients should embrace adding photo IDs to ensure that their benefits are protected.

Dylan Brogan 

Lawmaker wants protections for hot car rescuers

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(File photo: Bob Hague)

Dozens of children and numerous pets die in the U.S. each year, after being left in parked cars that can quickly overheat in warmer weather. A state lawmaker believes some of those deaths could be prevented, if people had fewer fears about stepping in when they see a person or pet in a locked vehicle.

State Rep. Tod Ohnstad (D-Kenosha) has introduced a bill that would provide immunity from criminal prosecution and civil liability for anyone who forces their way into a vehicle in order to rescue a person or pet in danger of overheating. Those protections would only be in place if the would-be rescuer calls 911 and waits for emergency responders to arrive on the scene. “You can’t just break a window and go,” he said. “You have to stay there and wait.”

Ohnstad admits it’s unlikely a district attorney would prosecute someone who breaks into a vehicle, but he believes some people may avoid taking action because of the fear of civil penalties. Removing that concern, he argued, could help protect lives.

The Kenosha Democrat said the bill is largely an effort to raise awareness about the issue, which is seeing renewed interest following the death of a police K9 unit from Brown County last week. The dog perished after an air conditioner blower and heat alarm both failed.

The bill has not yet been scheduled for a hearing at the Capitol.

GOP lawmakers spar with UW over fetal parts bill

Kleefisch, Stroebel, Jacque WRN photo

Kleefisch, Stroebel, Jacque WRN photo

Republicans in the state legislature want to ban research in Wisconsin, using tissue from aborted fetuses, legislation which opponents fear could damage the biomedical industry in the state.

“As a society, it is bad enough that we allow millions of unborn lives to be ended. It is even worse that abortion providers profit off the sale of their body parts,” said state Senator Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville). The bill is a response to recent accusations that Planned Parenthood clinics have been selling tissue from aborted fetuses to researchers – although there’s no indication any such sales have occurred in Wisconsin.

State Representative Andre Jacque (R-DePere) insists his bill prohibiting that does not ban all fetal tissue research. “This bill does not ban donation of fetal tissue. It certainly is not going to stop any particular type of tissue from being used in experimentation, or any particular method of experimentation,” Jacque said.

While Republicans insist the bill would not harm the biomedical industry in Wisconsin, Dr. Robert Golden, Dean at UW School of Medicine and Public Health, said its passage would make Wisconsin’s law governing fetal tissue the most restrictive in the nation, and drive researchers out of the state.

“The word is already out on the street, that Wisconsin is not a place for science or biomedical research. We need to turn that reputation around,” Golden said.

The bill received a public hearing on Tuesday in the Assembly Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. Committee chair, Representative Joel Kleefisch (R-Oconomowoc), asked Golden what would happen to research if women stopped having abortions. “It would have a substantial negative impact on our capacity to do the lifesaving research that we are doing,” said Golden, who also told committee members that the polio vaccine would not have been developed had a similar law been in place.

“On our campus alone, cancers including lymphomas, stomach cancer, throat cancer and other diseases, have active, NIH supported labs working on promising new treatment approaches,” said Golden. “All of this will stop, if this bill is passed.”

Hearing set for bill banning fetal tissue research in Wisconsin

File Photo

File Photo

The state’s biomedical research community is speaking out against a bill that would ban labs across the state from using tissue that came from aborted fetuses.

The legislation from Republican state Rep. André Jacque (R-De Pere) comes in response to the recent wave of accusations that Planned Parenthood clinics have been selling tissue from aborted fetuses to researchers. It would ban the sale, transfer, or use of tissue from aborted human remains.

A hearing on the bill is scheduled to start later this morning at the Capitol.

UW-Madison chemistry professor Judith Burstyn, who is part of a coalition of UW faculty opposing the bill, argues it would have a chilling effect on a wide-range of work being done in the state, both on campus and at many biotech companies. She says the bill, as it is written, “would turn some of the world’s top researchers into criminals.”

Backers of the proposal claim that research could be done using non-fetal tissue, but Burstyn says it’s not a fair comparison. She says “you can do things with these types of cells that you cannot do with other types of cells…they are an extraordinarily valuable research resources because of their flexibility.

Planned Parenthood has denied it sells aborted fetal tissue, arguing videos from anti-abortion groups have been heavily edited to conceal the actual discussions were about reimbursement for lab costs in collecting donated samples. Burstyn says federal law already prohibits the sale of the tissue, and she believes anyone who breaks the law should be prosecuted.