September 4, 2015

Lawmakers offer amendment to fetal tissue bill

The sponsors of a bill that would ban the sale, transfer, or use of tissue from aborted fetuses have offered an amendment to the proposal. The change is aimed at addressing fears from the research community, which has argued that the restrictions in the legislation could have a devastating impact on life-saving work being done in the state. Some of the work uses fetal stem cell lines dating back decades.

The amendment offered Friday would allow work using tissue from fetuses aborted prior to January 1 of this year to continue. The sponsors of the bill, state Rep. André Jacque (R-De Pere) and Rep. Joel Kleefisch (R-Oconomowoc), said in a statement that the original proposal was never expected to end work using existing stem cell lines, and they hope the substitute amendment will provide clarification to make sure that remains the case. Kleefisch said “I think this is a fair approach; one, I think, we all can live with.”

Similar legislation has been introduced in previous sessions with little success. The current version was brought forward again earlier this year shortly after the release of undercover videos by an anti-abortion group, which claimed to show Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of tissue from aborted fetuses. Planned Parenthood has denied the videos are accurate, and have accused advocates of editing them to misrepresent the situation.

With the amendment, Jacque maintains the bill will help make sure the state is “setting a higher ethical standard for research in Wisconsin and putting an end to aborted tissue trafficking.”

UW-Madison Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education Marsha Mailick said in a statement that they appreciate lawmakers listening to their concerns, but maintained the restrictions of the bill would still put the campus and biomedical industry at a competitive disadvantage. Mailick said that’s because “all cell lines have unique properties and existing cell lines are not a substitute for new cell lines created in the future.”

She also noted that all tissue used by UW researchers is donated from legally performed abortions. “Researchers use tissue from abortions which would otherwise be discarded. It would be unethical not to use such tissue to save lives.”

Also in a statement, BioForward CEO Lisa Johnson said the organization would not support the amendment “because it does not address all the issues related to research in Wisconsin.”

BioForward is an association representing multiple biotechnology and medical companies.

Johnson acknowledged the research involving fetal tissue is challenging and requires high ethical standards, and urged lawmakers “to choose a legislative response that also preserves a path for life-saving research to continue in the State of Wisconsin.”

Dems want greater insurance rate oversight in Wisonsin


Rep. Deb Kolste

Rep. Deb Kolste

Democrats in the Wisconsin legislature want the state insurance commissioner to give greater scrutiny to health insurance rate increases. State Senator Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) said Wisconsin residents currently have no recourse to health insurance rate hikes.

“It comes down to cost, and that’s what we’re trying to focus on,” Larson said during a press conference at the Capitol on Thursday. “It is more expensive to make sure that you have insurance and to stay healthy in Wisconsin than in most other states in the nation.”

The bill would require the state Office of the Commissioner of Insurance to provide 60 days notice when insurers propose rate hikes, and public hearings on increases of 10 percent or more. “All this could be said in one simple word: transparency,” said Representative Deb Kolste (D-Janesville), the bill’s Assembly author.

Larson and Kolste said the Affordable Care Act enabled states to review insurance rate hikes, but Wisconsin’s OCI has not done so. “Everyone is concerned about the rate of insurance increases,” Kolste said. “We need to change that escalation curve.”

“We have an insurance commissioner’s office that has very passive, laissez faire approach to rates and premiums, and we need to change direction,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin.

Walker appoints new chief executive for WEDC

Mark Hogan

Mark Hogan

Governor Scott Walker has announced the appointment of a new CEO for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.

Walker named Mark Hogan to serve as the new head of the job creation agency. He’ll replace outgoing WEDC Secretary/CEO Reed Hall, who plans to retire near the end of the month.

Hogan spent almost four decades with M&I Bank, before he retired in 2010 from his role as the executive vice president and chief credit officer. He has served as a senior advisor to BMO Harris Bank since 2011, and has also been the chairman of the board for the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority since March of this year.

In a statement, Hogan said he is honored by the opportunity and pledged to continue working with Wisconsin business leaders to help them grow and create more jobs.

Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha), who sits on the WEDC board, said he was glad to see Hogan has experience in the private and financial sectors. However, he also voiced disappointment that the he was selected without any discussion by the board when it met last week.

Barca also called it “curious” that Walker selected a major campaign donor to fill the position. State campaign finance records show Hogan has donated over $24,000 to Walker’s campaigns since 2005, while he also donated $10,000 this year to a super PAC that has been supporting the governor’s presidential run.

Walker ties rise in anti-police rhetoric to President Obama

Gov. Scott Walker in Iowa. (Photo: Radio Iowa)

Gov. Scott Walker in Iowa. (Photo: Radio Iowa)

Governor Scott Walker is putting some of the blame on President Obama for a recent string of violent attacks on police officers.

In a column for the conservative Web site Hot Air, the GOP White House hopeful called Obama a “Divider-in-Chief,” and said we’ve seen a rise in “anti-police rhetoric” in his nearly seven years in office. In Walker’s words, “We’ve seen racial tensions worsen, and a tendency to use law enforcement as a scapegoat.”

Walker argued that shift in attitudes has “created a culture in which we all too often see demonstrations and chants where people describe police as “pigs” and call for them to be “fried like bacon.” This inflammatory and disgusting rhetoric has real consequences for the safety of officers who put their lives on the line for us and hampers their ability to serve the communities that need their help.”

Walker cited the ambush shooting of Texas Sheriff’s Deputy Darren Goforth last Friday, along with the death of Illinois police Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz, who was killed by three men this week who are still on the run.

An analysis by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel found gun-related deaths of police officers are actually down this year by 13-percent in the U.S., from the same time in 2014. Total police deaths are up 16 percent, possibly because traffic deaths of officers are up 36 percent. The figures come from the National Law Enforcement Officers’ Memorial Fund.

Walker reiterates tough stance on Iran nuke deal

Gov. Scott Walker in Iowa. (Photo: Radio Iowa)

Gov. Scott Walker in Iowa. (Photo: Radio Iowa)

Scott Walker continues his tough talk on the Iran nuclear deal. The Republican presidential candidate said on CNN Tuesday that he’s “talked to the experts,” who tell him the painstakingly negotiated pact is a bad deal. “I’m going to terminate on the very first day, reinstate those sanctions authorized by Congress, go to Congress to get even more crippling ones going forward,” Walker said.

Walker compared his tough stance to that of Jeb Bush, but said he wasn’t attacking the former Florida governor “I said the day I announced that I would do this on day one, and Governor Bush claimed that he would do something different,” Walker said. “He claimed that this was not a mature approach out there. That’s just a difference out there. That’s not an attack, that’s just a personal difference.”

If ratified by Congress, the accord would limit Iran’s nuclear ability in return for lifting international oil and financial sanctions.