November 27, 2014

Assembly Speaker names Republican members of Wisconsin budget committee

The Legislature's Joint Finance Committee (File photo: WRN)

The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee (File photo: WRN)

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has named the six Republican who will serve on the Legislature’s powerful Joint Finance Committee next session. Among them will be three new faces and three who served on the panel last session.

Marinette Republican state Representative John Nygren (R-Marinette) will take on another session as co-chair of the panel charged with crafting the state budget lawmakers will vote on, while Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) will serve as the Assembly vice-chair. Rep. Dean Knudson (R-Hudson) was also reappointed to the committee.

New faces on the committee will include Republican Representatives Michael Schraa of Oshkosh, Amy Loudenbeck of Clinton, and Mary Czaja of Irma.

Speaker Vos is the first legislative leader to announce his choices to serve on JFC next session. Senate Republicans will share control of the panel and will name their own six members. Democrats will have four seats overall, with two coming from each chamber.

Many Wisconsin public school unions vote to recertify

WRN File photo

WRN File photo

State officials have released the unofficial results of recertification votes held by school district employee unions.

Votes were held statewide this month for 305 unions representing public school teachers, support staff, and custodial workers. According to results released Tuesday by the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission, all but about 20 of the units met the requirement for 51 percent of the eligible members to vote in favor of recertification. Unions that failed to recertify can continue to exist, but are no longer recognized by districts and can’t negotiate wage increases tied to inflation.

The state’s largest teacher’s union, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, says 97 percent of its member units seeking to recertify were successful in doing so. However, almost half of its groups decided to not even hold votes this year.

The annual votes are required under Act 10, Governor Scott Walker’s signature law that drastically change the collective bargaining powers of unions. The results will be sent to each unit, which will have about eight days to file any challenges.

Latest John Doe email release details coordination

Gov. Scott Walker (WRN file photo)

Gov. Scott Walker (WRN file photo)

Another round of documents from a now ended John Doe investigation in Milwaukee County continues to show how staff in the county executive’s office worked with Governor Scott Walker’s 2010 campaign.

The county on Tuesday released 70,000 pages of emails and other records seized during the probe, which looked into allegations of illegal campaign work being done on county time and embezzlement. The investigation resulted in six convictions.

The latest round shows a continued pattern of Walker’s office staff when he was Milwaukee County Executive working with his campaign to coordinate issues such as the release of information to the public and responses to media requests, including allegations of sexual abuse at a country-run mental health complex. Many of the conversations were conducted using private email accounts while workers were at their taxpayer-funded jobs.

Milwaukee County has been releasing the documents in chunks as they finish reviewing them and removing any sensitive personal information that might be included.

Wisconsin state Rep. Bill Kramer gets 5 months for sexual assault

Bill Kramer

Bill Kramer

An embattled state lawmaker has been sentenced to five months in jail on charges that he pushed and groped a woman outside of a Republican fundraiser.

State Representative Bill Kramer (R-Waukesha) pleaded no contest last month to two counts of fourth degree sexual assault, reducing the charges against him. Prosecutors had recommended up to nine months in jail, but a Waukesha County judge on Tuesday gave him five months behind bars and three years of probation. He will not have to register as a sex offender, but the judge did order sex offender and alcohol assessments.

Kramer, the former Republican Majority Leader in the state Assembly, was charged in March after he was accused of groping and pushing the woman outside of a GOP event in 2011. The victim in the case came forward following allegations that the lawmaker had harassed two other women during a GOP event in Washington D.C. earlier this year. Those accusations prompted Republicans to strip Kramer of his leadership position and he chose not to seek reelection this fall.

Kramer did address the court briefly, apologizing for his behavior and admitting that his problems with alcohol led to the incident. He said he’s been in recovery since then and has not had a drink since February. The judge said he believes Kramer can move forward, if he overcomes his problems with alcohol.

Officials aim for zero fatalities on Wisconsin roads this holiday weekend

Wisconsin traffic deaths

Wisconsin traffic deaths as of 11/25/14

Traffic safety and law enforcement officials aim for zero preventable deaths on Wisconsin roads through the Thanksgiving Day weekend.

Fewer hours of daylight, unpredictable deer crossings, and changing weather conditions can create driving challenges this time of year. Sgt. Dave Harvey with the State Patrol says drivers need to pay attention, slow down, buckle up, drive sober, and maintain a safe following distance.

“When roads get congested, when traffic increases, a lot of times that’s one of the things that may suffer,” he says. “People give up that normal following distance that they have and that’s problematic when there are problems as far as traffic slowdowns or traffic even coming to a stop.”

Too many fatalities on Wisconsin roadways do not have to happen. Harvey says it’s OK to enjoy an adult beverage over the holidays, but do not drink and drive. “Alcohol is a factor in about 50 percent of fatal crashes, and that’s something that’s really under people’s control.” Harvey says, “Planning ahead and just making sure people do have safe drivers behind the wheel is an easy way to address something like that and hopefully drive those numbers down.”

Last year, 11 people died in Wisconsin traffic crashes during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend from Wednesday evening through midnight the following Sunday.

Before your trip, Department of Transportation officials suggest drivers check the 511 Travel Information System for the latest on road conditions and possible delays.