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July 29, 2015

Wisconsin Assembly approves Bucks arena deal

Reps. Barca, Vos

Reps. Barca, Vos

The Wisconsin Assembly has approved a financing plan for the state’s share of a new Milwaukee Bucks arena. Tuesday’s 52-34 vote on the measure already passed by the Senate now sends the bill to Governor Scott Walker for his signature.

“While the taxpayers are still playing a role, they are not playing the most significant role for the state,” said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), who said the funding represents package represents a good deal for taxpayers by keeping the NBA team, and the revenues it generates, in Wisconsin.

The league has made it clear that failure to approve the arena project would clear the way for the team to move, with Seattle and Las Vegas as likely designations.

Minority Leader, Representative Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) said it was time to act. “Why wait? We were working aggressively to try to get to yes. I think most people agree it’s a good thing for the Bucks to stay here. Now the taxpayers are fully protected,” Barca said.

The deal has the roughly $500 million cost of the arena split three ways between the state, the city and Milwaukee County.

None of the plans opponents spoke during the brief floor debate. Representative Paul Tittl (R-Manitowoc) said he remained undecided as recently as Tuesday morning. “It actually comes down to very simple math,” Tittl said. “If we invest $3.5 million dollars a year, we’re going to get $6.5 million back,” Tittl said.

“LeBron James, in the three says that he works in Wisconsin, pays more income taxes than 95% of Wisconsin residents,” said Representative Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield), who also asked that the Bucks “create an organizatin that recruits players that are role models for our young people.”

Emails show contact between GAB head and IRS mostly personal in nature

Kevin Kennedy, Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Kevin Kennedy, Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

State officials have released dozens of emails sent between the head of Wisconsin’s elections agency and a former IRS official, following accusations of possible coordination between the two in efforts to go after conservative groups.

The 138 pages of emails were made public Monday morning because of an open records requests from Rep. David Craig (R-Big Bend), who asked for contacts between the Government Accountability Board and IRS earlier this month. The inquiry was sparked by an unsigned opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal, which called into question the relationship between GAB director Kevin Kennedy and former IRS Director of Exempt Organizations Lois Lerner.

Lerner came under fire after the IRS was accused of targeting conservative non-profit groups. Wisconsin Republicans have made similar claims about the GAB under Kennedy’s leadership, after the agency consulted with prosecutors in a John Doe investigation that was probing the operations of conservative groups.

Of the emails released Monday, a handful show Lerner inquiring about political situations in Wisconsin or Kennedy making brief mentions about state events, during a time period that covered efforts to recall Governor Scott Walker and several state senators from office. In one email, dated January 27 of 2013, Kennedy wrote “Things are unraveling at work. I may be over reacting but I think I will be able to retire. Much sooner than I thought.”

Most of the messages though discuss dinner and travel plans, or updates about family. A handful of messages include IRS policy updates or repost articles about campaign finance debates. Lerner also included Kennedy on several lengthy email forwards featuring humorous photo collections about friendship and other jokes.

Kennedy highlighted that content in his written response to Craig, noting that there was actually very little material to send along. He said “that is because there was very little contact with the IRS by agency staff. You will also note the vast majority of the documents reflect a professional friendship that goes back almost 25 years and does not relate to any regulatory activity.”

Republicans have stepped up calls for Kennedy to resign and to reform the GAB, in the wake of the WSJ article and a recent state Supreme Court decision that halted the John Doe investigation. Governor Scott Walker has called for replacing the agency entirely, with something that would be “more accountable” to the public.

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.

Report finds Trooper Casper justified in using deadly force

Trooper Trevor Casper

Trooper Trevor Casper

A new report shows a Wisconsin state trooper killed in the line of duty earlier this year was justified in using force against a bank robbery suspect.

Prosecutors and police reviewed the March 24th confrontation between Trooper Trevor Casper and suspect Steve Snyder in Fond du Lac, in which both were fatally shot. Fond du Lac County District Attorney Eric Toney said Casper was shot in the neck by Snyder while sitting his car and could have fled, but got out to protect the lives of others. “Trooper Casper exited his squad car and was shot two more times,” Toney said. “A mortally wounded Trooper Casper then shot and killed the suspect. There is absolutely no doubt that Trooper Casper’s use of deadly force was justified.”

AUDIO: DA Eric Toney on his review of the shootout (:09)

The report shows the 21-year-old Casper, who was working his first solo shift on the job, fired 12-shots during the shootout, hitting Snyder once with a bullet that passed through his back and into his heart. Snyder fired nine shots, hitting Casper three times. Toney said “Casper did more in 17 seconds than most will do in a lifetime, and is undeniably a hero.”

During a news conference in Fond du Lac Thursday evening, State Patrol Captain Tony Burrell read a statement from Casper’s family, which said “we are extremely proud of the dedication, compassion, and reliability that Trevor brought with him to the Wisconsin State Patrol.”

Affiliate KIFZ contributed to this report.

Walker wants to replace Wisconsin elections agency (AUDIO)

Gov. Scott Walker

Gov. Scott Walker

Governor Scott Walker on Monday joined a growing list of conservatives who are calling for an overhaul of the state Government Accountability Board, the agency that oversees Wisconsin’s elections and ethics laws. Speaking with reporters in Oshkosh, Walker said he thinks the Legislature should work to replace the GAB “with something completely new that is truly accountable to the people of the state of Wisconsin.”

Republicans renewed a push to make changes at the agency following a state Supreme Court ruling last week that ended a John Doe investigation, which had been looking into possible illegal coordination between Governor Scott Walker’s campaign and conservative groups during the recall elections. The high court ruled no campaign finance laws were violated.

The GAB had consulted with prosecutors handling the investigation though, which has also sparked calls for an investigation of agency director Kevin Kennedy, along with his removal. Walker said Monday that he thought an investigation into the actions of the GAB would be “appropriate,” and that an overall review would be warranted. “When you look at their actions on any number of issues, not just those that have come up in the last week, I think it raises some very serious questions,” Walker said.

AUDIO: Gov. Scott Walker (:21)

Kennedy came to the defense of the GAB Monday afternoon, releasing a statement that called the agency a “Wisconsin success story.”

Kennedy said the agency has achieved much of what the Legislature intended when it was formed in 2007. “At the time, the Legislature determined that Wisconsin needed an independent watchdog to ensure that elections, ethics, campaign finance and lobbying laws are administered and enforced in a transparent nonpartisan manner. Those goals remain central to our daily work,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy closed by noting “The Legislature and Governor are free to change those laws of course, but I am proud of what the agency has achieved since its inception. It would be shortsighted to simply disregard that success.”

Affiliate WHBY contributed to this report.