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May 25, 2015

Governor signs bill raising Wisconsin speed limit

File photo

File photo

Wisconsin drivers will soon be able to drive 70 miles an hour on many highways across the state.

Governor Scott Walker on Wednesday signed legislation clearing the way for the Department of Transportation to raise the speed limit on many sections of the state’s highway and interstate systems. Walker’s office noted in a release that the higher speed limits will not take effect until highway signs are posted reflecting the change.

The bill was authored by state Representative Paul Tittl (R-Manitowoc), who says the idea came to him while driving from his district to Madison. The Manitowoc Republican says he tried once to make the entire trip sticking to the 65 mph speed limit that was posted, and quickly found himself being “scowled at by little old ladies” and being passed “hundreds of times.”

Tittl notes that Wisconsin is actually an island in a stretch of states from Pennsylvania to the Washington that all have a speed limit about 65.

Some transportation advocates have raised concerns that the higher limit will just encourage some people to drive even faster than they already are. Tittl says there will be some people always looking to push the limits, which is why the State Patrol is there to enforce the laws.

Affiliate WIBA contributed to this report.

Wisconsin budget panel approves drug testing requirement

Joint Finance Committee (File photo: WRN)

Joint Finance Committee (File photo: WRN)

A controversial drug testing proposal will remain in the state budget.

The legislature’s Joint Finance Committee on Tuesday approved requiring those receiving some categories of public benefits to submit to drug testing. Those who fail would get taxpayer funded treatment, which Joint Finance Committee co-chair John Nygren (R-Marinette) said will help them break the cycle of addiction and become employed. The Marinette Republican said “it’s a better alternative than our corrections department. It’s a better alternative than ending up on welfare for God knows how long.”

Democrats spent over an hour criticizing the proposal, noting that Wisconsin is unlikely to receive the waiver that would be needed to keep federal funding from being jeopardized. State Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) called it a “half-baked” idea, which does not have the support it needs in place to make it work. She also noted that the cost of the program remains unclear at this point.

Democrats said the requirement would also face an almost certain court challenge, as it has in other states, likely costing Wisconsin taxpayers even more money to defend it.

The budget provision was adopted on a party-line vote.

Special needs school vouchers being added to Wisconsin budget

Wisconsin Capitol Building (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Wisconsin Capitol Building (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Republicans leaders of the Wisconsin legislature’s budget writing committee say they plan to add language that would create a special needs private school voucher program.

The proposal, which the panel is expected to vote on late Tuesday night or by Wednesday, would give students with special needs the ability to attend private school using a taxpayer-funded voucher.

Several disability rights groups have opposed previous attempts to create a special needs voucher. They argue it would drain resources away from public schools, that many private schools lack the ability to properly handle special needs students, and that there would be fewer federal protections for those students outside of public schools. Nygren said people would still have the opportunity to say no to a voucher, and noted that there are plenty of parents who want to have the option available to them.

AUDIO: JFC co-chairs Alberta Darling and John Nygren (:17)

Efforts to create a special needs voucher program in previous sessions have been rejected by lawmakers.

Budget panel chairs reject Walker’s long-term care changes

Rep. Nygren, Sen. Darling

Rep. Nygren, Sen. Darling

Leaders of the state’s budget committee want a gradual approach to changing Wisconsin’s long-term care system.

Governor Scott Walker’s budget proposal would overhaul the system which provides long-term care to more than 50,000 state residents who are elderly or have long-term disabilities. The state spends some $2 billion annually on the Family Care and IRIS Medicaid programs.

“We’re going to be saying no to the governor’s proposals dealing with IRIS and Family Care, but we’re going to be giving specific instructions on how we can look at the sustainability of these programs moving forward,” Joint Finance Committee co-chair, Representative John Nygren (R-Marinette) said Thursday.

The Republican governor’s proposal would have the state contract with insurance companies to manage both long-term care and medical care.

“We’re for keeping the strengths of Family Care, we’re for reforming things that need to be reformed in terms of better integrated care and better health outcomes and better costs,” said JFC co-chair, Senator Alberta Darling (R-River Hills). “And sustainability,” Nygren added.

Darling and Nygren said they’ll request that the state Department of Health Services work with stakeholders on a more modest package of changes.

Lisa Pugh, who serves as Public Policy Director for Disability Rights Wisconsin and Coordinator for the Wisconsin Disability Policy Partnership, was pleased with the decision, but urged caution.

“This new proposal already presumes where we are going. Advocates want to take a step back,” Pugh said in a statement. “We think we need to better understand and target the cost drivers in Medicaid and long-term care. Taxpayers are depending on us to get this right for the future. Let’s not presume we have the right answer before sitting down to have our first discussions about the problem.”

Wisconsin Assembly to take up FoodShare junk food bill

Healthy foods (WRN photo)

Healthy foods (WRN photo)

Wisconsin residents who receive FoodShare benefits would have to limit purchases of junk food, under a bill up for a vote in the state Assembly today. The legislation from Republicans would require at least two-thirds of the taxpayer-funded food stamps benefits to be used on “healthy food.”

Backers of the bill say it will help encourage healthy eating habits, while also preventing those receiving the benefits from using that money on “higher end” items, such as lobster and crab legs. State Rep. Robert Brooks (R-Saukville), a sponsor of the bill, has said he’s heard numerous stories from clerks about people abusing the benefits.

Democrats have argued the measure amounts to Republicans acting like the “food police.” State Rep. Andy Jorgensen (D-Milton) said it fails to understand the different diets or access issues many of those on public assistance programs face.

A similar bill passed through the Assembly last session, but then died in the state Senate. Even if the legislature were to approve the bill and the governor signed it, Wisconsin would still need a federal waiver to put the requirements in place.

The Assembly is also expected to take up bills today that to require drug tests for some applicants for unemployment benefits and for certain job training programs.