July 28, 2015

Assembly set for Bucks arena vote

An artist's concept of the new Milwaukee Bucks arena.

An artist’s concept of the new Milwaukee Bucks arena.

The state Assembly is scheduled to vote Tuesday on funding a new Milwaukee Bucks arena. Majority Leader Jim Steineke (R-Vandenbroek) said Monday that not all Republican members are on board, so they’ll need Democrats as well. “We’ve said all along that their target should be 15 votes and we’re hoping that they can get there, because I think that’s about what’s going to be needed to get it passed,” Steineke said.

The funding plan, already approved by the state Senate, uses tax money to help cover about half the cost of the $500 million arena. “If we don’t get this done, the state loses money,” said Steineke. “I think the vast majority of our caucus understands that doing this saves the state money in the long run. That being said, there are still some whose constituents are opposed to it, and they’re reflecting the views of their voters back home.”

“There are a number of things that we vote on that make certain appropriations in different parts of the state all the time,” said Representative Mandela Barnes (D-Milwaukee). “We’re here as state legislators. The overall financial strength of the state is important, and that starts with the city of Milwaukee, in my humble opinion.”

The NBA has made it clear that the team will leave Wisconsin if a new arena is not built to replace the Bradley Center, the Bucks’ home since 1988.

Republicans take aim at Wisconsin Planned Parenthood funding

Rep. Andre Jacque (R-De Pere)

Rep. Andre Jacque (R-De Pere)

Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin could face funding cuts, under legislation being circulated for co-sponsors at the Capitol. The bills seek to reduce federal funding to the health care provider, which offers abortions at a some of its Wisconsin facilities, by $7.5 million.

The bills, co-sponsored by Rep. Andre Jacque (R-De Pere), would redirect federal grants that currently go to Planned Parenthood to other programs, while also capping the reimbursement fees the provider is able to charge under the Medicaid 340B program.

Jacque says one of the bills would “reprioritize” about $3 million in federal grant money that Planned Parenthood received by having the state Department of Health Services apply for the funding. He argues “there are any number of better public health opportunities that we have, than Planned Parenthood,” such as Wisconsin’s Well Woman Program or local public health agencies.

PPWI government relations director Nicole Safar says Republicans are going to “any extent possible…to try to limit access to our funding.” She notes the state can already apply for the grants targeted in the bill, but Republicans have so far refused to provide the comprehensive pregnancy counseling that is required under the program.

The other funding measure involves provider reimbursement rates for drugs purchased through a Medicaid program. Providers get the drugs at a discount, then charge a dispensing fee, which Jacque claims is sometimes “eight times” the actual cost. The bill would limit providers to a “reasonable” dispensing fee, which Jacque estimates would reduce funding by about $4.5 million.

Safar denies that they overcharge for the medications and notes that what they are reimbursed has been negotiated with the federal government. She says the bills could cut off funding that currently helps provide about 50,000 women a year access to affordable reproductive health care, and really show that “Representative Jacque is hyper-focused at limiting access to women’s health care services, like birth control and cancer screenings, that he actually will never need.”

Jacque is also co-sponsoring a bill that would ban the transfer of remains from aborted fetuses. While similar legislation has been brought up in the past, he is hopeful there will be renewed interest in the legislation following a series of recently-released secretly-recorded videos from an anti-abortion group, which claim to show top Planned Parenthood officials talking about selling fetal remains to researchers.

Planned Parenthood argues the videos are heavily edited, and that officials were actually talking about reimbursement costs for transporting samples. Safar notes that none of their Wisconsin facilities collect tissue donations, and called the bill just another “political attack” on their operations.

Assembly to take up Bucks bill next week

An artist's concept of the new Milwaukee Bucks arena.

An artist’s concept of the new Milwaukee Bucks arena.

A top Republican in the state Assembly says his chamber will likely take up a financing plan for a new Milwaukee Bucks arena next week.

Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna) says lawmakers will be on July 28th to open debate on the bill, which passed the Senate last week on a bipartisan 21-10 vote. The plan calls for the public providing about half of the $500 million cost of the downtown Milwaukee arena, with the owners of the Bucks covering the rest.

Backers of the plan say it will protect an important part of Milwaukee’s economy, after the NBA threatened to move the Bucks if a new arena is not built. However, several lawmakers have criticized using taxpayer funding to build the arena.

The Assembly will likely need several Democrats to support the bill, in order for it to pass.

Governor Walker signs Wisconsin 20 week abortion ban

Governor Scott Walker on Monday morning signed controversial legislation into law that would ban abortions past the 20 week mark in a pregnancy.

The governor signed the bill during a ceremony in Oshkosh, a week after launching his bid for the Republican presidential nomination. Walker said the bill is needed to protect children from feeling the pain of an abortion, which he and backers argue is possible at 20 weeks gestation. Walker said “when an unborn child can feel pain, most people think it’s important to protect that child.”

AUDIO: Gov. Scott Walker (:44)

The claim on fetal pain has been widely disputed by the medical community, with most experts arguing it’s not possible for a fetus to feel pain until much later in a pregnancy. During the legislative debate, multiple medical groups pushed back against the proposal.

The law would only allow abortions to be performed past the 20 week mark if the life of the mother is in danger. Otherwise it would be a felony for doctors, with up to 3 1/2 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

A federal court challenge is likely, due to the law not including exceptions for rape, incest, or the health of the mother. However, groups on both sides of the debate are unsure when or where it may come from. Only a single provider in the state offers abortions after the 20 week mark, and the procedure is really performed.


Assembly will spend time going over Bucks arena plan

Rep. Jim Steineke

Rep. Jim Steineke

A financing plan for a new Milwaukee Bucks arena is now in the hands of the Assembly, and lawmakers there plan to spend some time going over it before deciding what to do with the package.

Assembly Republican Leader Jim Steineke (R-Vandenbroek) said Thursday that leadership plans to sit down with Democrats next week to go over the proposal, which passed in the Senate Wednesday on a bipartisan 21-10 vote, and they hope to carry over that strong support in his chamber. “I think it definitely helps that it was a good bipartisan vote,” Steineke said. “I think people understand that if the arena doesn’t go forward the state loses money. It’s just as simple as that.”

Still, Steineke said there are lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who have philosophical issues with the proposal, which uses taxpayer funding to help cover about half the cost of the $500 million dollar arena. Despite those concerns, he believes the chamber will eventually pass a financing plan.