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Wisconsin in focus: Wisconsin Republicans to buck Walker and save DNR magazine

Thu, 06/01/2017 - 06:47

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin Republicans will buck Walker and save DNR’s popular outdoors magazine

Top Republican lawmakers said Wednesday they would reject Gov. Scott Walker’s plans to eliminate the state’s outdoors magazine, but would cut it back from six issues a year to four.

The budget-writing Joint Finance Committee will also allow the governor’s natural resources secretary to set higher fees at Wisconsin’s most popular state parks, said the leaders of the committee, Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette).

Darling and Nygren announced they would go along with a Walker proposal to cut property taxes by $180 million over two years, but they put off a vote on the issue.

Walker wanted to stop publishing the state Department of Natural Resources’ magazine, which saw a surge in subscriptions after plans to fold it were announced.

The Capital Times: Wisconsin budget committee votes to preserve, shrink independent Parole Commission

Wisconsin’s Parole Commission would remain intact with reduced staffing levels under a change to Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed budget approved by the Republican-led Joint Finance Committee on Wednesday.

Walker’s budget would have eliminated the commission and moved its functions to the oversight of the state Department of Corrections, a move the governor said would save the state $1.8 million over the 2017-19 budget period.

Under current law, the eight-member commission is responsible for reviewing prison release decisions for inmates who were convicted before the state’s truth-in-sentencing law was enacted in 2000. Four positions on the commission are currently vacant, including two that have been open since 2013.

The plan approved by the budget-writing committee on a party-line vote would cut the number of commissioners from eight to four. It would also eliminate three administrative staffing positions.

FOX News: Wisconsin bill that would expel or suspend students who disrupt speakers moves forward

Assembly Republicans moved closer to creating tougher penalties for University of Wisconsin student protesters Tuesday, advancing a bill that would suspend or expel students who disrupt speakers.

The Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities approved the bill on an 8-6 vote. This sends the bill to the Assembly floor, which hopes to take it up in June, said Kit Beyer, a spokeswoman for Speaker Robin Vos, who is also one of the measure’s co-sponsors.

All six Democrats on the committee voted against the bill, warning it would chill free speech on campus and infringe on regents’ authority to govern their institutions themselves.

“The very bones of this legislation are diseased,” said Democratic Rep. Jimmy Anderson.

The proposal’s chief author, Rep. Jesse Kremer, said the measure is designed to safeguard democracy.

Wisconsin State Journal: Fiscal bureau: Self-insurance savings $13 million less than projected

Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to self-insure state employees would save $13 million less than previously thought, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau reported Wednesday.

The nonpartisan agency’s report, which said the move would save $47 million over two years, not $60 million, dealt another blow to the proposal, which legislative Republicans have already rejected. Walker tried to revive the plan last week, saying workers would face 10 percent premium increases next year under the current group health insurance plan system.

The fiscal bureau also said the state’s health insurance reserves last year were $18.4 million to $68.8 million more than allowed under a 2011 policy. The $144.4 million in reserves equaled 28.6 percent of claims, above the thresholds of 15 percent to 25 percent.

The Republican leaders of the Joint Finance Committee highlighted the findings Wednesday as reasons for why they are rejecting the governor’s self-insurance plan. They called for a legislative audit of the state worker health insurance program.

Fed report: Obamacare exchange insurance costs double in past four years

Thu, 06/01/2017 - 06:44

The latest look at Obamacare prices show insurance through the marketplace costs more than twice as much now as it did in 2013.

New numbers from the the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services show health insurance in Illinois that cost $248 a month in 2013, now costs $517 dollars. That’s a 108 percent increase.

Trouble is, State Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, said, most insurance through the Obamacare exchange costs a lot more than $517.

“We warned that this was going to happen,” Syverson said. “When you have a small pool of people, you’re going to have adverse selections and you’re going to have losses that are far worse than Washington projected.”

A number of health insurance companies have said they’ve lost millions of dollars on the plans offered on the exchange. Blue Cross Blue Shield Of Kansas City left Missouri’s Obamacare exchange last week after company executives said they lost $100 million.

Syverson said it will be a bit before Illinois insurers make the same kind of choices. When they do, thousand of people could lose access to care.

But Syverson said many Illinoisans who have Obamacare insurance already have lost access.

“In DeKalb County, there is not one provider that is in the Obamacare network. No one,” Syverson said. “In Rockford, third largest city in Illinois, one hospital and only about 10 percent of providers are willing to see Obamacare patients.”

The HHS numbers put Illinois in the middle of the rate hike pack. New Jersey saw a 12 percent price spike over the last four years, while Alabama saw a 222 percent increase.

Wisconsin in focus: $149M increase in spending to send parolees back to jail after new charge

Mon, 05/29/2017 - 08:53

Wisconsin State Journal: $149M increase in spending to send parolees back to jail after new charge

State Corrections spending would increase by $149 million annually under a bill that would revoke probation, parole or extended supervision for anyone charged with a new crime while under state supervision.

The bill is part of a package aimed at reducing violent crime proposed by Rep. Joe Sanfelippo, R-New Berlin, and Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Brookfield.

Lawmakers on the Assembly Corrections Committee will decide Tuesday whether to send two other bills in that package, aimed at imposing tougher penalties on young offenders, to the full Legislature for approval.

Committee chairman Rep. Michael Schraa, R-Oshkosh, said the bill related to revoking probation, parole or extended supervision needs more review before the committee votes on it, given its estimated cost increase for the Department of Corrections.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin GOP activist to be Trump’s pick as ambassador to Czech Republic

While the Trump White House has been slow to fill its political jobs, the presidential appointments from Wisconsin are piling up. The latest?

Steve King, a 75-year-old Janesville businessman with a long history of activism in the Republican Party, is on tap for U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic, according to reports in the Czech media.

King declined to comment, and no nomination has been announced yet.

King is a longtime member of the Republican National Committee and a close confidant to two fellow Wisconsinites at the center of power in Washington: White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and House Speaker Paul Ryan.

The King pick would come on top of several others involving political figures from Wisconsin.

ABC: Despite dismal 2016 election, Wisconsin Democrats say they can beat GOP Gov. Walker next year

Wisconsin Democrats say they are increasingly optimistic about their chances of knocking off Republican Gov. Scott Walker next year, even though a top-tier candidate has yet to emerge and they’re still recovering from a devastating 2016 election.

Democrats gathering this weekend for their state convention say liberals are energized in opposition both to President Donald Trump and to Republicans like Walker closely tied to him. Walker’s approval rating has been below 50 percent since early 2014.

“I think there’s a ton of opportunity for Democrats,” said Democratic state Rep. Chris Taylor. “What we need to do is have a bold, inspiring agenda.”

Trump became the first Republican presidential candidate to win Wisconsin since 1984, with a narrow 23,000-vote victory that was the third-closest of any state he won. In that same election, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson outperformed Trump on his way to a surprising re-election win against former Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold.

Green Bay Press-Gazette: Wisconsin sex trafficking bills target repeat patrons of prostitutes

A pair of bills proposed by state lawmakers would target the demand for sex trafficking by cracking down on those who repeatedly patronize prostitutes.

One of the bills, a bipartisan effort to toughen criminal penalties for frequent offenders, would make the third conviction a felony. Its lead sponsors are state Reps. Joel Kleefisch (R-Oconomowoc) and Amanda Stuck (D-Appleton) and Sen. Dan Feyen (R-Fond du Lac).

“Gone are the days where prostitution is viewed as a victimless crime,” Kleefisch said. “When it comes to human trafficking, we need to attack on all fronts.”

He said part of the drive for pimps to push prostitution is the demand, so reducing that demand will help combat trafficking. Adding that many trafficking victims are “forced, coerced or violently pushed into prostitution,” Kleefisch said those who hire prostitutes — especially repeatedly — are “enablers at the very least.”

Wisconsin in focus: Wisconsin GOP advances measure that would make state first to drug test for health benefit

Fri, 05/26/2017 - 07:23
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin GOP advances measure that would make state first to drug test for health benefit

Wisconsin could become the first state in the nation to require needy but able-bodied adults to work and submit to drug tests to qualify for public health coverage, under a proposal advanced by lawmakers Thursday.Republicans on the Legislature’s budget committee outvoted Democrats 12-4 to approve these provisions in Gov. Scott Walker’s budget along with the bill’s requirement that some parents on food stamps work in order to receive benefits.

But GOP lawmakers also required the Walker administration to get further sign-off from the budget panel once the plans have been fleshed out.

“The governor’s initiatives have been to help people move from dependence to independence. We’re going to support that initiative and that concept, except we do believe some of the ideas need further vetting,” said Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette), co-chairman of the Joint Finance Committee.

Green Bay Press-Gazette: Wisconsin prisons spend $10M treating hepatitis C

While behind bars more than two decades ago, Jerome Dillard agreed to try an experimental treatment for a virus that could destroy his liver. For months, he took a shot in his abdomen every morning and night, and gulped a pill every eight hours.

It didn’t work.

“It just drained me. I had no energy,” recalled Dillard, who completed his prison sentence in 1996 and now advocates on behalf of ex-convicts. “I was not cured in prison, although I do know maybe two people who were cured.”

Modern inmates are more fortunate. Because of advances in medicine and quiet initiatives by state prison officials to expand treatment, scores of inmates are now being cured of hepatitis C every year.

The effort hasn’t been cheap. Wisconsin taxpayers since July have spent $10.4 million on hepatitis C drugs for more than 200 inmates, according to Department of Corrections figures. Just four years ago, the state spent less than $2 million.

WISC TV 3: More than 2,000 patients’ info hacked, UW Health says

More than 2,000 UW Health patients had some of their personal information compromised by an email hacking incident, the health care facility said Thursday.

UW Health said 2,036 patients were involved. The information was taken when a UW Health employee’s email account was hacked on March 16. UW Health discovered the incident on March 28, according to a news release.

An unauthorized individual gained access to the employee’s credentials and email account.

“We have no indication that the information in the emails has been used in any way,” UW Health said in a statement on its website. It said it’s notifying the patients involved as a precaution.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin lawmakers to freeze, not cut, UW System tuition

The Legislature’s budget committee on Thursday approved freezing resident tuition at University of Wisconsin schools for two more years, discarding Gov. Scott Walker’s plans to cut it.

The legislative package also would base funding for campuses in part on performance and establish a center named after former Gov. Tommy Thompson that could bring conservative speakers to campuses.

The Joint Finance Committee approved the plan 12-4, with all Republicans for it and all Democrats against it. The move would extend the freeze that began in 2013.

“Holding it to a freeze is huge for our students,” said Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), co-chair of the committee.

McCaleb: Public pensions in some ways mirror Madoff’s Ponzi scheme

Thu, 05/25/2017 - 12:05

“In a world full of lies, the most dangerous ones are those we tell ourselves.” 

― Diana B. Henriques

HBO debuted its original movie on Ponzi-schemer Bernie Madoff over the weekend. Based on Henriques’ book “The Wizard of Lies,” the film (and book) tells the chilling tale of Madoff’s fraudulent investment scheme in which more than 2,200 people lost almost $20 billion in retirement savings.

That is a lot of victims losing a lot of money.

But it’s peanuts compared to what public pensioners – in Illinois, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and elsewhere – stand to lose if drastic reform measures aren’t taken soon. More on this in a moment.

A Ponzi scheme is a form of fraud in which early investors see quality returns, not because their money was invested wisely as the investors are led to believe, but because new investors fund the payouts. The cycle perpetuates itself – more and more new investors are needed to continue to fund previous investors’ returns at an unbeknownst higher risk to themselves – until it inevitably collapses.

In Madoff’s case, the collapse occurred in 2008, after almost 30 years, when the housing bubble burst and the economy was sent into the Great Recession. Simplistically, far fewer new investors could be found, and prior investors, many hurting because of the turn in the economy, asked for their full investments back.

Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison after pleading guilty to multiple counts of fraud. His victims suffered untold losses.

What’s the point of my Madoff history lesson?

A strong case can be made that public pensions are eerily similar to a Ponzi scheme, and that a similar collapse in some of the most underfunded systems in the country might be inevitable. That would mean an untold number of new victims that would make the Madoff case seem relatively minor by comparison.

The difference between a Madoff-like Ponzi scheme and the public pension crisis is that government is complicit in the latter, and that dedicated public servants, state retirees and taxpayers are the ones at risk.

I think we all can agree that taxpayers and state workers who have spent their careers serving residents, teachers included, don’t deserve that.

Doubt that will happen? Let’s start with Puerto Rico.

The U.S. territory in the eastern Caribbean declared a form of bankruptcy (after Congressional approval) earlier this month because of massive debt that included $50 billion in underfunded pensions. In a story headlined “In Puerto Rico, pension fund works like a Ponzi scheme,” the New York Times reported the following:

“Puerto Rico, where the money to pay teachers’ pensions is expected to run out next year, has become a particularly extreme example of a problem facing states including Illinois, New Jersey and Pennsylvania: As teachers’ pension costs keep rising, young teachers are being squeezed — sometimes hard. One study found that more than three-fourths of all American teachers hired at age 25 will end up paying more into pension plans than they ever get back.”

For pensioners in Puerto Rico, where a recovery plan is still being devised, it could mean pennies of the dollar of what they were promised.

For current and future public pensioners, a similar fate awaits if drastic reforms don’t happen.

Take Illinois, whose five state pension funds are now underfunded by more than $130 billion, worst in the nation. At that deficit, the pension funds have in hand just about 37 cents of every dollar they will owe to current and future pensioners.

But it actually could be much worse than that.

Money set aside to fund pensions – from taxpayers and public employees – is invested to grow the dollar pool. But most pension systems have over-estimated the rate of returns on these investments. As recently as 2014, Illinois’ Teachers Retirement System projected an inflated 8 percent annual return rate. That projection was dropped to 7.5 percent three years ago. Just last year, Illinois’ State Employees Retirement System downgraded its rate of return estimate to 7 percent. Each of these downgrades cost Illinois taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars annually because the taxpayers are legally required to make up the difference.

What’s worse is that many investment professionals and ratings agencies say a more realistic rate of return is in the 3 to 4 percent range. If that’s the case, Illinois’ already staggering pension debt would balloon by tens of billions of dollars more. That could be devastating to younger state employees who still have decades to go before they retire. A younger teacher who is funding current retirees’ bloated pensions faces a potential collapse in the system, risking much or all of her retirement nest egg.

And as return estimates continue to drop, taxpayers are forced to pick up the ever-growing tab.

There is a partial solution.

Illinois state Sen. Dale Righter has filed legislation that would place all new state employees, including teachers, in a 401(k)-style defined contribution plan. State employees would contribute 8 percent of their salaries into the private investment account, and the state (taxpayers) would contribute an additional 7 percent.

While Righter’s plan wouldn’t solve Illinois’ $130 billion (likely more because of the overstated return on investments) pension deficit, it would relieve new hires of any concerns of a pension collapse and it would drastically slow Illinois’ ever-growing pension obligations. More action, particularly other structural reforms that will improve Illinois’ overall economy and increase its tax base, are needed to chip away at the deficit.

States that have adopted similar plans to Righter’s already are seeing fiscal improvements.

Unfortunately, many in the Illinois General Assembly continue to think that higher taxes are a major part of the solution. But we’ve been there and done that, and it hasn’t worked. It’s led to a stagnant economy and a mass exodus of Illinoisans to other states.

States such as Illinois and and their employees need drastic pension reform measures if they are to stave off a Madoff-like collapse.

It’s time we stop telling ourselves dangerous lies and get these reforms done.

Wisconsin in focus: Milwaukee’s population declines while Madison and surrounding areas continue to grow

Thu, 05/25/2017 - 07:08
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Milwaukee’s population declines while Madison and surrounding areas continue to grow

The City of Milwaukee’s population declined by 4,366 people from 2015 to 2016, erasing much of the slow but steady gains the city experienced since 2010, according to figures released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

For the first part of the decade, the city saw slight annual population increases, growing from 595,188 in 2010 to 600,178 in 2014. Starting with the 2015 population estimates, Milwaukee’s numbers started declining, falling by about 1% to 595,047 in 2016.

“I will review Milwaukee’s population estimates and those of other large cities, including Midwestern cities, keeping in mind these estimates are sometimes unreliable,” Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett wrote in a statement, saying also that the 2016 estimate is still higher than the 2010 April census count of 594,833.

“Keep in mind that the 2020 decennial count is what matters the most and not the 2016 estimate. I’m confident Milwaukee will fare well in 2020,” he wrote. “Bottom line, Milwaukee is not a city in rapid decline because its population is leaving. I’m confident that the 2020 final count will prove it.”

Green Bay Press-Gazette: Paper towels or blow dryers? Wisconsin is all in with paper

It’s a consumer test lab, of sorts, where the fate of thousands of Wisconsin workers is determined.

It’s the front line in a battle that mixes commerce and science.

OK, OK, it’s actually the restroom at Georgia-Pacific Corp. in Green Bay.

But in the sometimes dirty fight over which is better for drying your hands — paper towels or blown air — it’s a pretty important spot.

There’s regularly something new in the restrooms for the 1,500 employees to try out. It could be a towel dispenser that’s faster and quieter than other machines on the market, or a new dispenser of toilet paper, soap or fragrances.

“The employees here get a chance to test these out,” company spokesman Michael Kawleski said.

The paper industry is one of Wisconsin’s oldest and largest industries, employing more than 30,000 people.

Wisconsin State Journal: Economic confidence suggests Memorial Day holiday travelers in mood to spend

Higher prices for plane tickets, hotels and rental cars aren’t deterring millions of Americans from taking a trip this Memorial Day holiday weekend.

About 39.3 million people will be traveling 50 miles or farther during the traditional kickoff of summer, which is about 1 million more than last year and the highest figure in a decade, according to AAA’s annual holiday weekend forecast. Travelers will be catching a break as they gas up, with fuel prices averaging around $2.35 nationally and around Wisconsin, which is about what gasoline cost this time last year but down sharply from the previous three years.

What has changed from last year is the cost of other travel expenses. AAA’s Leisure Travel Index shows the cost of a room in the middle tier of its hotel ratings averages $215 per night, up 18 percent from $183 a year ago. This weekend’s average daily rate for rental cars is $66, up 7 percent from last year’s price of $62, the auto club reported.

Channel 3000: 7 Wisconsin cities among the nation’s 10 drunkest

Seven Wisconsin cities are within the top ten of a list of the drunkest cities in America. Ten Wisconsin cities are on the top 20 list.24/7 Wall St.’s Drunkest Cities in America list puts Green Bay at the top, followed by Eau Claire at No. 2, Appleton at No. 3, Madison at No. 4, Oshkosh at No. 6, Wausau at No. 9, La Crosse at No. 10, Fond du Lac at No. 12, Sheboygan at No. 15 and Milwaukee at No. 20.

According to the survey, 25.9 percent of Madison area adults report drinking excessively or binge drinking on a regular basis, well above the 18 percent share of American adults.

Wisconsin in focus: Gov. Scott Walker tweets he’ll veto state budget if it raises property taxes

Tue, 05/23/2017 - 07:16

Wisconsin State Journal: Scott Walker tweets he’ll veto state budget, if it raised property taxes

Gov. Scott Walker, in another sign of escalating tension with fellow Republicans who control the Legislature, vowed Monday to take the unprecedented step of vetoing the entire $76 billion state budget if it raises property taxes on homeowners.

Walker issued the unusual warning publicly on Twitter first on Thursday, via his @GovWalker account, and then again on Mondayin a series of messages defending his budget priorities via his @ScottWalker account. Republicans are considering breaking with Walker in several key areas of the budget, including property taxes, as they continue to debate changes to his two-year spending plan.

Republican Assembly Spea-ker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said he was taken aback by the threat, which he said Walker has never made directly to lawmakers and that Vos only learned of by seeing the tweet.

“I don’t know why he wouldn’t call us instead of acting like Donald Trump and tweeting at us,” Vos said in an interview.

WISC-TV: What Wisconsin’s roads shortfall could mean for taxpayers

The biggest question in the Statehouse is how Gov. Scott Walker and fellow Republicans will resolve a dispute over how to pay for roads.

But often lost in the debate is what the final answer will mean for the pocketbooks of drivers and taxpayers.

Walker wants to borrow more and avoid tax increases. Assembly Republicans wants to increase the price at the pump and borrow less. Senate Republicans are looking at borrowing along with instituting toll roads.

Here is a closer look at where things stand on plugging the projected $1 billion transportation budget hole.

What’s the problem?

The state doesn’t have enough money in its transportation fund to pay for needed road work — it needs about $1 billion more. The fund is built largely on revenue from gas tax and vehicle registration fees, which have dwindled as people drive less and use more fuel efficient vehicles.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: DNR approves sand mining project with large wetlands loss

A timber company’s plans to develop a $65 million sand processing facility between Tomah and Black River Falls that would destroy a large swath of wetlands were approved by the Department of Natural Resources on Friday.

Meteor Timber is proposing to construct a plant and rail transfer site in Monroe County where sand from a nearby mine it owns would be shipped to drillers in Texas and North Dakota, where production is ramping up.

Sand is a key ingredient in fracking and is used under pressure with water to prop open pockets of oil and gas.

Meteor, a large private landowner with extensive forest holdings in the Wisconsin, has touted the economics of the project and its willingness to take extra steps to make up for the loss of wetlands.

Green Bay Press-Gazette: What Brown County expo center debate taught us

Last week’s vote on Brown County Executive Troy Streckenbach’s proposal to improve facilities and reduce debt was more than a test of whether supervisors agreed that the county needs to raise and spend $225 million in the coming years.

It provided some clear answers about where the priorities of the county’s elected officials stand midway through Streckenbach’s second term and less than a year before all 26 supervisors’ seats are up for election.

The executive’s plan enables the county to collect $225 million in taxes intended to fund a new expo center near Lambeau Field, upgrade four libraries, expand the jail and pay for millions in road and other projects. To fund that, the county will commit millions of dollars from a tax on hotel and motel guests, while residents will pay an additional 0.5 percent sales tax for six years.

Colorado in focus: In Colorado, gas line damage from digging happens as often as four times a day. Getting punished for it is much more rare.

Tue, 05/23/2017 - 07:06

The Denver Post: In Colorado, gas line damage from digging happens as often as four times a day. Getting punished for it is much more rare.

Nearly four times a day in Colorado, developers, homeowners or builders hit gas pipelines while excavating or digging into the ground, sometimes with deadly consequences such as the fatal explosion in Firestone that was caused by a severed line near a home.

But Colorado officials have an inadequate system for preventing pipeline excavation damages, which are responsible for about a third of the state’s gas pipeline leaks, federal regulators have warned. Deaths in the state from excavation damage range from a contractor who was preparing a lot for construction to a person who hit a gas gathering line while digging a fence.

Records show that in 2015, nearly 1,300 gas pipelines in Colorado were damaged during excavation. The state that year issued no civil penalties or sanctions for any pipeline excavation violations, officials with the U.S. Department of Transportation noted in a September 2016 letter to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, a copy of which also was sent to Gov. John Hickenlooper.

The lack of state penalties prompted federal officials to find Colorado’s enforcement of its excavation damage prevention laws inadequate last year. Colorado is one of 26 states to receive such a rating from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

ABC-7: Colorado to start fining people caught ‘rolling coal’: what you need to know
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is set this week to sign a bill that will up the fines for so-called “coal rollers” who use modified diesel trucks to smoke out unwitting bystanders.

But what exactly is “rolling coal,” and why did Colorado’s Legislature spend time on two separate bills this session to punish those who do it?

What is coal rolling?

“Coal rolling” has roots in diesel truck pulls, competitions in which drivers modify their diesel engines to pull sleds or other trailers loaded with weight.

But in recent years, people have started to modify their trucks with switches or other fuel or computer modifications that allow more fuel into the engine, creating more diesel exhaust.

FOX-31: Drivers may be penalized on insurance rates for using smaller carriers

Colorado’s increasing popularity definitely comes with a price.

All of us are paying more for car insurance in part to subsidize higher risk drivers. And according to a new study, some of us are being unfairly penalized.

About seven percent of Colorado drivers have to buy insurance from smaller, non-standard carriers versus the preferred big name standard carriers.

“A lot of folks that end up with a non-standard carrier have never had previous insurance,” said Colorado insurance industry spokeswoman Carole Walker, “They may be much higher risk and may not be able to get insurance with that preferred company because they have a DUI, because they have a lot of speeding tickets or at fault accidents.”

Those companies charge higher rates. But the Consumer Federation of America study found even drivers with good records had to pay more to switch to a standard carrier.

Wisconsin in focus: Lawmaker upset possible bailout of UW-Oshkosh Foundation could cost taxpayers

Fri, 05/19/2017 - 08:02

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Lawmaker upset possible bailout of UW-Oshkosh Foundation could cost taxpayers

Worried that student scholarships and other support for the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh could be at risk, a settlement that could cost state taxpayers millions of dollars is being discussed to protect assets in the university’s beleaguered private foundation.

A state senator warned Thursday such a “bailout” could have implications for UW System’s entire biennial budget, which is in the early stages of being decided by state lawmakers. He made it clear in a letter to UW System President Ray Cross that any attempt to use state money to bail out a private fundraising foundation would set back efforts to rebuild trust between the UW and state lawmakers.

Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) on Thursday released a letter he wrote to Cross that states he’s aware of efforts to reach a deal that potentially would use public funds “to assist in what would be a bailout” of debts of the UW-Oshkosh Foundation.

Wisconsin State-Journal: Budget committee keeps labor commission, dumps tech college tuition freeze

The Legislature’s Republican-controlled budget committee ditched Gov. Scott Walker’s proposals to cut a century-old labor review commission and freeze technical college tuition.

They also altered Walker’s proposed changes to a tax credit meant to encourage home ownership and his proposal to eliminate a board that oversees for-profit colleges.

Walker proposed eliminating the Labor and Industry Review Commission and move its functions to other departments. His proposal would have cut 26.5 positions and saved $5.2 million.

The budget committee voted 12-4 to keep the commission but reduce about eight vacant positions, which Democrats opposed. Under the proposal, the chief justice of the Supreme Court would review commission decisions to see if they comply with state law and submit findings to the governor and Joint Finance Committee by July 1, 2018.

WISC-TV 3: Large dairy farm developers turn to State Supreme Court

The owners of a proposed large-scale dairy farm in Wood County have asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to overturn a ruling that blocked the project.Golden Sands Dairy maintains it has rights to use most of its 6,400 acres for growing crops and manure spreading because the land was zoned unrestricted when the dairy filed for building permits in 2012 and the applications referenced the land.

The Town of Saratoga argues the dairy can’t use the land that way because it was re-zoned for preservation four months after the applications were filed.

NBC 15: Wisconsin lawmakers at odds on special counsel for Russia investigation

Wisconsin lawmakers are reacting to the latest bombshell in the Russian hacking investigation on Capitol Hill.

“I didn’t think we needed a special counsel,” Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI-7 said.

The Justice Department appointing former FBI Director Robert Mueller to lead a special counsel.

While Wisconsin Congressman Sean Duffy agrees Mueller is a good choice, he remains confident President Trump didn’t do anything wrong.

“There is no evidence that anyone is putting out in regard to collusion. That we’re going through this charade with no evidence is concerning and frankly it’s a joke,” Duffy said.

Hearing aid legislation would raise cost of personal sound amplification products

Thu, 05/18/2017 - 08:19

With a committee vote pending on the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017, critics of the legislation warn the bill would increase government regulations and raise the cost of personal sound amplification products (PSAPs).

A gun-owner group warned in a letter on Tuesday that language in the act could even tread into Second Amendment rights.

The legislation, led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), would create a new category of hearing aids that would be available over the counter. They’re expected to be cheaper than current hearing aids. This sounds good on its face, but the concerns about the act are two-fold: it’s likely to draw people away from proper screenings with health professionals, resulting in poorer health outcomes, and it would create more regulations for PSAPs while preempting state laws.

All devices now sold as hearing aids in the United States are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and require a doctor’s prescription. Just a few companies sell them and they often cost thousands of dollars, uncovered by insurance. The barrier to entry for consumers led to the growth of PSAPs, which can’t be marketed as hearing aids but are often just as effective for those who don’t suffer severe hearing loss.

Warren’s act tasks the Department of Health and Human Services secretary with redefining PSAPs, likely shifting many of them into the newly created and more heavily regulated over-the-counter hearing aid category.

A letter from a coalition of free-market oriented groups to U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which signed off on the legislation last week, called the act “a solution in search of a problem that does not exist.”

The House Energy and Commerce Committee is expected to take up the issue Thursday. “It is unfortunate that government regulators and big, rent-seeking corporations are the real beneficiaries of the bill. Consumers are the losers,” the coalition wrote.

Springfield, Virginia-based Gun Owners of America sent a letter to members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, warning the act could impact a variety of PSAPs that are marketed as hunting aids and intended to help hunters detect the presence of game.

“There’s a pretty good chance that these hunting devices would fall within Warren’s definition of ‘over-the-counter hearing aid,’” wrote Erich Pratt, executive director of the group, “which would mean that a new federal bureaucracy would be in charge of regulating hunting. Were Warren less of an enemy of the Second Amendment, we might give more credibility to the argument that we were protected by the ‘perceived … hearing impairment’ language of the Warren bill. But she isn’t. So we don’t.”

The group asked the committee to remove the language from the bill or put the legislation on hold.

Previously, the free-market coalition said some of the larger companies that produce PSAPs believe they could make more money by selling them as a product on a level with hearing aids, marketing them as such and raising prices. The coalition noted that speaker-maker Bose sells a high-end PSAP called HearPhones, which retails for $500, and is headquartered in Warren’s home state of Massachusetts.

Reason pointed out last week that Bose has spent about $50,000 to lobby for Warren’s act this year, and an additional $100,000 lobbying on “issues related to the FDA” in 2016.

Noah Kraft, CEO and co-founder of Doppler Labs, told TechCrunch his company was working with members of Congress on the legislation. Doppler Labs also makes a high-end PSAP called Here One, which costs $300. The company admitted the legislation would help open up new markets for it.

But even taking the non-cynical view that PSAP manufacturers simply seek the new regulations to put their products on a level playing field with traditional hearing aids creates another concern—taking doctors out of the auditory health equation. Opponents of the bill warn that would leave patients uninformed and undertreated.

The AARP cited a study that found that hearing aids and current over-the-counter options were equally effective for those with mild-to moderate-hearing loss. The biggest difference in user satisfaction was the help of a trained audiologist, who would assist with a proper fitting. But the new legislation would push more people away from, rather than toward, using audiologists.

Many experts within the hearing industry warn that the creation of a category of over-the-counter hearing aids could lead to poorer health outcomes. They warn that consumers who pass on a hearing assessment from an expert could run the risk of not discovering underlying medical conditions.

The Hearing Industries Association released a report on the issue stating that “failure to adequately address hearing loss can have profound negative consequences including an increase in dementia risk.”

Even groups that support the measure, such as the Hearing Loss Association of America, hint at the drawbacks of the regulation by warning people not to forgo doctor visits. “Access to technology or hearing aids by consumers is not a substitute for following good health care practices,” the HLAA said in a press release.

Hearing Tracker conducted a survey on the issue and found that nearly 87 percent of audiologists or hearing instrument specialists oppose the concept. One wrote: “I have seen patients come into my clinic with hearing tests provided by retailers at ‘big box stores’ who should have referred for ENT management and did not. These patients were misdiagnosed (hearing loss was exaggerated to make them hearing aid candidates) and red-flags for medical management were ignored. In one case, patient had a tumor on his auditory nerve. Had these patients not come into my clinic for a second opinion, this dangerous management of their care could have escalated into serious health problems.”

The language of the bill also explicitly removes states’ authority to enforce their own laws regulating over-the-counter hearing aids, although the current approach to auditory health varies state-by-state. Some states allow audiologists to dispense hearing aids, while others do not. Some have continuing education requirements for audiologists.

The coalition argues the act would “empower federal bureaucrats.”

“A new layer of regulation is not a stimulator of innovation – it squashes innovation,” they wrote.

Johnny Kampis is investigative reporter for the Taxpayers Protection Alliance Foundation. Kampis formerly served a similar role at Watchdog.org. Over the course of his nearly 20 years in journalism, he has been published in such outlets as the New York Times, Time, Fox News and The Daily Caller. The story initially published at theamericanconservative.com.

Wisconsin in focus: Wisconsin once again ranks last in Kauffman startup activity index

Thu, 05/18/2017 - 07:22

The Capital Times: Wisconsin once again ranks last in Kauffman startup activity index

Once again, the Kauffman Foundation has pegged Wisconsin as the worst state in the nation for startup activity.

And it’s not even close.

The state has received the worst scores in the U.S. for new business creation from the foundation since 2015. The last-place rankings have been a source of hand-wringing for policymakers and other figures in the state’s entrepreneurial economy, and have spurred forums and panels about what the state can do differently.

In the latest report released Thursday, Wisconsin’s score is even lower than last year’s. The state immediately ahead in the rankings, Alabama, outpaces the Badger State by a considerable margin.

Wisconsin State Journal: WEDC audit finds improvements in handling of state funds, but problems persist

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. still doesn’t do a good job of tracking how many jobs it creates and the agency struggles in other areas — even as it has improved how it hands out state taxpayer dollars — according to a new legislative audit.

The Legislative Audit Bureau reported Wednesday:

The six-year-old job-creation agency “cannot be certain about the number of jobs it has created or retained” and must improve the accuracy of the numbers reported in its online database.

The agency’s uncollectable loan balance has grown from $1.3 million in December 2014 to $11 million as of December 2016, a sign of the agency’s early problems not properly vetting companies to which it awarded taxpayer loans and the tab that is now coming due.

The agency failed to comply with state law by not independently verifying jobs-related information submitted by tax credit recipients.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: House Speaker Paul Ryan voices confidence in Trump, vows to ‘follow the facts’

Amid an explosion of questions about President Donald Trump’s handling of Russia and the FBI, House Speaker Paul Ryan signaled his ongoing support for Trump Wednesday while pledging to “follow the facts wherever they may lead.”Ryan’s remarks were another illustration of the fierce cross-pressures felt by Republicans in Congress as the White House has endured a cascade of escalating crises and controversies.

Ryan tried to assure fellow Republicans that the House is going to keep legislating amid the uproar and that GOP leadership is still behind the president.

WKOW-27: Lawmakers say audit report shows WEDC budget request should be reexamined

On May 9, Republican leaders of the state legislature’s budget committee voted to restore a previously troubled loan program at the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation and defended their decision to proceed despite knowing a new audit report on WEDC would be released this week.

Now lawmakers from both parties say those audit findings show it might have been wise to wait.

The Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) report released Wednesday shows WEDC’s business loan program has more revolving unpaid debt now than ever before.

“The potentially uncollectable balance of loans with repayments 90 days or more past due increased from $1.3 million on December 31, 2014, to $11 million on December 31, 2016,” the LAB states in its report.

Wisconsin in focus: Republican lawmakers seek to ease phosphorus regulations

Wed, 05/17/2017 - 07:57

Wisconsin State Journal: Republican lawmakers seek to ease phosphorus regulations

A group of 31 Republican state lawmakers are calling for the federal government to help ease regulations of phosphorus discharge into lakes and streams, saying complying with the standards is too expensive for small municipalities.

The standards for phosphorus discharge, which can cause unnatural weed and algae growth in public waterways, were adopted in 2010 by the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board after eight years of scientific review and input from environmental, agricultural and municipal groups.

The state was among the first in the nation to adopt specific, measurable standards for how much phosphorus could be released into state waters.

The Capital Times: Wisconsin budget committee approves changes to release of sexually violent offenders

Violent sex offenders being released back into the community could no longer be sent to another county under a provision added to the state budget by the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee on Tuesday.

Counties would have more flexibility to determine where an offender would be placed under the motion, authored by Reps. Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, and Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point.

The other Democrats on the Republican-led committee objected to the proposal’s inclusion in the budget, arguing it was a policy change that should go through the legislative hearing process. Shankland joined Republicans in voting 13-3 to approve the measure.

WKOW-27: Cookie factory producing again in Ripon

Cookies are coming back to Ripon.

The town west of Oshkosh was known as the Cookie Capital back in the day, when ‘Rippon Good’ cookies were made there.

The factory closed less than a year ago, just about the time that Signature Wafers of Long Island, New York was looking to expand.

About 30 people are back on the  job as the new company starts production.

CBS-58: Lack of volunteer firefighters is putting major stress on Wisconsin’s fire departments

The best fire department response times happen when fire and EMS are sitting in the fire department waiting for a call. Germantown recently cut response in half by hiring more full-time staff to make sure someone is always around.

That is not an option for most departments in our state. Most are strictly volunteer and those volunteer departments are desperate for help.

“Back in, we’ll say, the Andy Griffith Days, Floyd the barber locked the barbershop and everyone ran to the fire station and they went to the fire.” Said Germantown Fire Chief Gary Weiss.

Haupt: Politics a grandiose sales pitch

Tue, 05/16/2017 - 05:47

“Politics is the gentle art of getting votes from the poor and campaign funds from the rich, by promising to protect each from the other.”

– Oscar Ameringer

According to a recent Gallup report, Americans regard the clergy as the most honest and honorable of all professions. And this same survey lists the bottom three professions they deem least tolerant: Car salesman 9 percent, politicians 8 percent and lobbyists 7 percent. Can anyone believe that a car salesman is considered as honest and trustworthy as those running our governments?

“Could it be because you can now merchandise candidates for high office like breakfast cereal? As Adlai Stevenson said, “We gather votes like box tops?” Yes, we are now indeed selling out votes to the highest bidder like used car salesmen hock their 10 year old, high mileage junkers on the late, late show. And,

“This has become the ultimate indignity to the democratic process.”

– Adlai Stevenson

The public’s distrust for car salesmen is universal. As we hear the words “car salesman,” we think of that cigar smoking, tire kicking, slick haired, unfashionably dressed shyster that tried to sell you a car driven by the little old lady from Pasadena. Although this is a far-reaching stereotype, behind every prototype lurks some truth. And,

“What people believe prevails over the truth.”

– Sophocles

Of course, we all understand why lobbyists rate last. They have always been the most questionable ingredient in the political equation. This is political fact without a hint of invented fiction.

“Too often government responds to the whispers of lobbyists before the cries of the people.”

– Andrew Cuomo

But, the dismal rating that they gave to politicians is abhorrently disturbing. Many blame this current intolerance for politicians on the extreme political divide in our country. But that theory is nebulous. In 1513, Machiavelli, considered the king-philosopher of political manipulation, wrote “The Prince.” In that thesis, he profoundly and insightfully described the behavioral patterns of politicians whom he had witnessed and studied for years. Yes even in the 1500s, politicians received a very low rating in the Renaissance public opinion polls.

“Politics have no relation to morals.”

“The promise given was a necessity of the past: the word broken is a necessity of the present.”

– Nicolo Machiavelli

Forbs told us, “Let’s face it, life is a sales game.” It is called marketing. Businesses, car salesmen, telemarketers and politicians have been touting the merits of their goods for centuries. The inimical political position society has taken today is, politicians are so desperate for a piece of the action; voters expect grandiose returns each election! Just like those ludicrous claims car hawkers make, voters are actually buying into these charismatic “pitches” for “add-ons.” They are willing to give up liberty, freely trading it for their votes! They somehow convince themselves those things are “easily financed.” Yet James Madison said, “Charity is no part of the legislative duty of the government.”

When these promises are broken, voters go after politicians the same way they denigrate that sales guy who sold them a “barbecue machine.” The one that burnt up three days after their “too good to be true” deal was made. Instead of a wake-up call to the real world, they “bellyache” until the next election and they vote for them again. The U.S. Constitution doesn’t guarantee our happiness, only the ability to pursue it. And when it’s time to buy another car, most avoid the last salesmen who pulled the bait and switch, but they buy from the same type of slick talking shyster who makes them the same enigmatic “pitch.”

“It is easier to prevent bad habits than to break them.”

– Ben Franklin

Politicians use everything to buy votes. And the car salesman does the same to make a sale. Both buyers and voters act on emotion instead of common sense because it’s human nature. Although politicians would have a better reputation if they toned down their rhetoric, the stakes are too high if they “lose the sale.” Both politicians and car salesmen are not pathological liars. But, if a salesman claims his Ford sedan includes far more equipment for the same price as the guy’s down the road, you’ll never know unless you price them both. If a politician claims he’ll bestow lavish entitlements upon you that won’t cost a dime, you should check with his “competitor” to see if he is offering a better deal. Politicians and car salesmen work alike. They both make dubitable promises and we believe them.

“Only God never made a promise that was too good to be true.”

– Dwight Moody

Once you have the keys and drive your car off the lot, there’s no turning back. Before we give the politicians keys to our government’s doors, it might behoove us to study the fine print before we close the deal. We all know states have “Lemon Laws” to protect buyers if they buy a car that’s a pile of junk! They cover expressed and written warranties and buyers have recourse if contracts are breached. You rid yourself of the bad vehicle if it is “does not perform well.” The voters have the same type of law to get rid of an incompetent politician. That law is Election Day! We can trade in the “lemons” when they prove they are “souring” instead of trying to “refurbish” them!

“In Europe, politicians resign when they’ve lost public face. But in America, we must impeach ’em.”

– Bill Rogers

Competition is effective motivation. When healthy competition prevails, you have an opportunity to win. It brings out the best in products and the worst in people. Both customers and voters alike can make or break ones career. Realizing the urgency to “out-pitch” the competitors, politicians and car salesmen do anything to “close the deal” before that prospective buyer flees the lot or voting booth. They will tell them anything they want to hear. It’s hard to get valued answers and it takes common sense to depict the truth. Car buyers go to Consumers Digest and read the reviews before they venture to that antipathetic sales lot! But, we do not research our politicians as fervently. We’re baptized with campaign ads and vote party regardless of their Machiavellian declarations.

“There are many men of principle in both parties in America, but there is no party of principle.”

– Alexis de Tocqueville

Politicians and salesmen work for corporate machines. If they don’t close the deal, they are out of work. For the first time in decades, we elected a “Mr. Smith patriot” for president instead of a slick politician and professional salesman. He did not make elusive campaign sales pitches much like those “tire kickers” who try to “up-sell” us on unrealistic “extras” or “package deals.” Mr. Trump was elected because he made realistic, constitutionally correct promises appealing to a broad base of American voters. But after years of deception and misguided half truths, some voters are getting restless since their Mr. Smith has been waylaid by professional politicians in Congress peddling a bill of goods. President Trump is not a salesman or a politician. And like any consumer and voter, he is trying to survive an onslaught of deceptive rhetoric.

“Any politician who claims to solely vote the way their constituents want them to is either a schizophrenic or “B&% S#% you.”

– Ray Osland

Next time you vote for an incumbent, remember that shady car sales guy: Did he honor his word? How many pledges made were left unfulfilled? Buyer’s remorse is hard to swallow. But voters have the power to bring more Mr. Smiths into our governments. When you vote for a candidate, you are investing in America. You need to do your shopping before you close the deal. If the deal is too good to be true, it is. Do we need to elect more seasoned pros or patriotic real Americans and be patient that this is on-the-job training for him? Did that last candidate deliver “change you believed in?”

“In the face of impossible odds, people who love this country can change it.”

– Barack Obama

Wisconsin in focus: DNR ended social dinners after legal snarls, but they’re back

Mon, 05/15/2017 - 08:18

Wisconsin State Journal: DNR ended social dinners after legal snarls, but they’re back — with public notice

The Department of Natural Resources policy board will gather for a social hour followed by an informal dinner meeting in a Downtown Madison pub this month despite promising in October to end the practice amid complaints such meetings were shutting the public out of decision-making.

A DNR spokesman noted that this month’s meeting is different from previous ones that are now the subject of a lawsuit because it has been announced publicly.

“They are expected to avoid DNR or NRB (Natural Resources Board) business discussions during any purely social gathering,” spokesman Jim Dick said Friday.

In contrast, there was no public notice before a Jan. 26, 2016, “social dinner” that drew a lawsuit and forced the board to vote a second time to approve controversial plans for snowmobiles in Blue Mound State Park, which had been known for silent sports like cross-country skiing.

WISN TV: Gov. Scott Walker: I am ready to do more to help move Wisconsin forward

Gov. Scott Walker told a crowd of Wisconsin Republicans Saturday that he’s ready to run for re-election next year.

“I’m ready, but I need your help,” Walker said. “There is still more work to be done.”

In his speech, Walker said he’s ready to the lower the tax burden, improve student success for every child, build a strong workforce, support strong families and help people transition from government dependence to true independence through the dignity of work.

He finished his speech saying, “I’m ready. I’m ready to do more. I’m ready to do more to help move Wisconsin forward! Are you?”

WISC TV: State Republicans propose selling historic Allouez prison

Republican legislators have developed a plan to sell a landmark prison in northeastern Wisconsin and open a new facility they say will save money, improve safety and open up land for redevelopment.

Rep. Dave Steffen and Sen. Frank Lasee have introduced a bill that calls for selling the 120-year-old Green Bay Correctional Institution and building a new facility in Brown County or an adjacent county.

A private entity would build and own the new prison, allowing the home county and other jurisdictions to collect property taxes on it. The Department of Corrections would operate it through a lease agreement with an option to purchase. The Assembly’s prison committee will hold a public hearing on the measure Tuesday.

Steffen, of Green Bay, and Lasee, of De Pere, wrote in a memo seeking co-sponsors that Green Bay Correctional is over capacity and needs extensive repairs and updates, leading to safety concerns. Decommissioning the prison also would free up the land it stands on for redevelopment.

Wisconsin Medicaid panel decides to keep Suboxone on its preferred list

Fri, 05/12/2017 - 11:02

WISCONSIN – Suboxone, a medication that aids in the recovery of opiate addiction, will remain a preferred Medicaid-covered drug in Wisconsin despite complaints from state jail officials that it’s too easy to smuggle into prisons because of its film form.

A state Medicaid pharmacy committee decided this week to add a pill form of the drug to its preferred medications list but also to keep the film form on the list.

Suboxone is a brand name drug made of buprenorphine, which is an opiate, and naloxone, an opiate blocker, that helps in the recovery from opiate use disorder. The drug comes in a film form that dissolves under the tongue.

“Suboxone is used as part of an overall treatment plan,” Carolyn Baxter MD, Psychiatrist at Prevea Behavioral Care in Sheboygan, told Watchdog.org. “It is given as a daily dose so that people can stop engaging in drug-seeking behavior.”

Because of Suboxone’s effectiveness in treating opiate addiction, Medicaid has designated it as a preferred drug.

But the Badger State Sheriffs Association and Wisconsin Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs Organization asked the state Medicaid program to stop covering the film version of the drug.

“Our issue, I guess, is not necessarily with the drug in and of itself, it’s with the administration of it, the smuggling in of the strips is what it is because it provides a very unique opportunity for the criminals and the addicts, if you will, to hide the strip, if you will, of Suboxone, buprenorphine into the jails and correctional facilities, therefore causing issues within the walls itself,” Sheriff Kim Gaffney, president of Badger State Sheriff’s Association, said.

Many local authorities are looking at better ways to prevent easy access of the drug to inmates.

“Certainly our officers and our correctional facility staff must be more diligent, better trained and more aware of these type of issues because once the drug does get in, it can be used for its non-prescribed purpose, if you will, as well as to be abused within the facilities,” Gaffney said.

Gaffney, Baxter and others agree that the drug itself is not the issue.

“Suboxone is not evil in and of itself,” Devorah Goldman, Health Policy Consultant for Capital Policy Analytics, said. “Obviously it helps a lot of people and particularly naloxone, which basically blocks the effects of opiates, can be very valuable.”

Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel has filed a lawsuit against the drugs’ manufacturers. According to the lawsuit, the drug manufacturer, Reckitt Benckiser Pharmaceutical, introduced the drug in tablet form in 2002. Before their exclusivity period ran out, they worked with MonoSol Rx to create the film version of the drug and then pulled the tablet form off the market, the lawsuit alleges. Thirty-five other states have joined the lawsuit.

In a statement made after Wisconsin’s lawsuit was filed, MonoSol Rx CEO Keith Kendall said it was frivolous.

“We believe that the allegations in the complaint are wholly without merit and the suit is both factually and legally deficient,” Kendall said in the statement.

Despite issues with the drug in its current form, Baxter said it’s too effective to take off the market.

“There are a lot of people who benefit from this drug who are on Medicaid,” Baxter said. “The public and personal health risk is significant, the money being spent on Suboxone through Medicaid and Medicare is worth it.”

Wisconsin in focus: Wisconsin taxpayers would save $2.7 billion under GOP plan

Fri, 05/12/2017 - 07:44

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin taxpayers would save $2.7 billion under GOP plan

Most taxpayers in Wisconsin would see some savings under an Assembly GOP tax cut package and upper-income earners — those who currently pay the most income taxes — would eventually save $1 billion, a new analysis has found.

The report from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau found that along with other policy changes, the flat income tax proposed in the Republican plan would cut taxes by a net amount of $2.7 billion by 2029 — the year it would be fully phased in.

More than one-third of those tax cuts — or just over $1 billion — would go to taxpayers earning $300,000 or more a year.

WMTV-15: Lawmakers push for college free speech bill

Just this past fall, protests erupted on campus as Ben Shapiro, a conservative columnist, gave a lecture at the UW-Madison.

A bill being proposed in the state legislature would include a range of punishments for students or faculty members who disrupt any type of speech from happening.

“Somebody has to start the discussion and say reasonable and respectful should be for everyone, and if it can’t be on a college campus I don’t know where else it can be,” said Robin Vos, Wisconsin Assembly Speaker.

Vos is one of the bill’s chief sponsors. Speaker Vos and Representative Jesse Kramer want to make sure everyone on University of Wisconsin campuses have a right to hear opinions from all sides.

Wisconsin Journal: Lawmakers seek oversight of veterans trust fund

The Legislature’s budget committee called Thursday for more legislative oversight of the Wisconsin veterans trust fund after an audit showed $55 million was transferred to the fund from the veterans home at King while $20 million worth of maintenance needs were delayed.

The Joint Finance Committee unanimously supported the move, which would require the department to notify the committee of a fund transfer and allow members to object within 14 days, prompting a vote by the full committee.

Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, committee co-chairwoman, said she supported the additional oversight because “it’s important to our vets to make sure that the transfers are valid and are transparent.”

WKOW-27: Fitzgerald opposes separate road bills

Republican state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald says he opposes separating road funding from the state budget because it will be more difficult to reach a deal and only “muddy the funding picture.”

Fitzgerald on Thursday came out against the idea after the Republican co-chairs of the budget committee said they were considering it.

Fitzgerald says it is “challenging enough to gather member support for one budget bill.

 

Wisconsin wineries say state law limiting hours limits business

Thu, 05/11/2017 - 07:21

The growing throngs of Wisconsin wineries are pressing state lawmakers to grant them extended operating hours, but tavern owners in the state hope to put a cork on those efforts.

Current regulations that force many wineries to shut their doors at 9 p.m. limits the wineries’ ability to hold events such as weddings, wedding receptions and business meetings on their grounds, according to Alwyn Fitzgerald, president of the Wisconsin Winery Association. Fitzgerald and other winery owners would like to see their businesses allowed to stay open until midnight for special events.

“We’re hopeful that this year it will pass,” he told Watchdog.org, noting that the winery association has hired a lobbyist this year and is trying to regroup after the defeat of similar legislation last year.

But the Wisconsin wineries’ increasing numbers and clout – they’ve grown from about 13 in the year 2000 to about 130 in 2016 – worry the Tavern League of Wisconsin. Executive Director Pete Madland said giving the expanded hours to wineries, along with other potential changes to state law, could give the wineries a competitive edge over taverns.

“Our biggest argument is that we are not going to change the rules,” Madland said. “The rules have been in place for many years.”

The current three-tiered regulatory system puts alcohol producers, alcohol distributors and alcohol retailers in separate categories to avoid business entities from getting a monopoly in the industry. Wineries are allowed to produce and sell their wines under the current permitting system, but some fear that the playing field could become uneven as some wineries have sought beer and liquor licenses and hold an array of entertainment events.

“Pretty soon they’ll want to be open for Packers and Badgers games,” Madland said.

A big part of some taverns’ business involves serving as host to weddings and anniversaries, so granting too many concessions to wineries could hurt the bottom line for taverns, he said.

“It’s been humongous,” Madland said of the growth in the number of wineries in the state in recent years. “These wineries are not mom-and-pop establishments” that need additional financial incentives from the state, he said.

But others see the current limitations on winery hours as a free market issue. Rep Shannon Zimmerman (R-River Falls) sees the 9 p.m. cutoff time for wineries as an unfair limitation on a business.

“Demand for the unique experience a winery can offer is rising rapidly,” Zimmerman said in an email to Watchdog.org. “Customer experience is harmed by limited hours because they cannot hold events like weddings.”

Zimmerman, whose family owns the Belle Vinez Winery in River Falls, said energy and support for an extension of the hours are building, and he expects the legislature to take some action on it this year.

The lawmaker also doesn’t see the issue as one that truly pits wineries against taverns. Out-of-state guests at winery special events such as weddings would be likely to visit a local tavern after the event is over, Zimmerman said, making winery events something taverns could benefit from.

“They are different businesses and offer different customer experiences,” he said.

Zimmerman emphasizes the overall economic value of wineries to the state as well.  A 2015 Michigan State University study that focused on Wisconsin found that revenues from wineries in the state have surpassed $150 million, he said.

“Wineries … tie historical Wisconsin roots in agriculture with an emerging new category of tourism,” Zimmerman said.

Fitzgerald, who operates the Fisher King Winery in Verona, echoed some of those sentiments. About 40 percent of the 40,000 people who visited his winery in 2016, when it was located in Mount Horeb, came to the region simply because the winery was there, he said.

“When people spend $1 at a winery, $2.46 gets spent in the local economy,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s typical.”

The popularity of wineries can be seen in the desire of people to know where the food and beverages they consume come from, he said, and wineries grow their own grapes and manufacture their wines.

“That’s about as local as you can get,” Fitzgerald said.

And in the upper Midwest, new types of cold-hardy hybrid grapes are continuing to be developed, giving the Wisconsin wineries a greater range of grape varieties to grow, he said.

Fitzgerald also denied that winery owners are trying to move in on activities that are traditionally associated with taverns.

“We don’t want to be kicking the drunks out at 2 a.m.,” he said.

Zimmerman described the current liquor rules and regulations in Wisconsin as an archaic mishmash, some of which date back to the Prohibition Era.

“The three-tiered system is not sacrosanct,” he said.

 

 

Wisconsin in focus: State Senate OKs ending work permits for 16- and 17-year-olds

Thu, 05/11/2017 - 07:15

Wisconsin State Journal: State Senate OKs ending work permits for 16- and 17-year-olds

The state Senate has sent Gov. Scott Walker a bill removing the requirement for 16- and 17-year-olds to obtain permits signed by their parent or guardian in order to work.

The bill passed the Senate on a 20-12 party-line vote. It passed the state Assembly last week.

Walker’s office did not immediately respond Wednesday to an inquiry about whether he will sign it.

Tourism and business groups support the bill, while labor groups such as the state AFL-CIO oppose it.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Senate leader Scott Fitzgerald offers tolls, more borrowing for Wisconsin roads

The state would consider tolling to pay for roads in the long term while taking out loans in the short term and then paying them off with money now used for schools and health care, under a plan laid out by the Senate’s top leader Wednesday.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said that he saw little support for an Assembly Republican plan to increase taxes on gasoline to help lower state borrowing and a shortfall in road funding, citing Gov. Scott Walker’s firm opposition to a tax increase.

Instead, the state should borrow an undisclosed sum of money and then pay it off using sales and income taxes — dollar streams that typically go for education and health programs — rather than the gasoline tax, which is the state’s largest source of road funding, Fitzgerald said.

WISN 12: New sales tax proposed to fund more Milwaukee police officers

It could cost people a little more money to make purchases in the city of Milwaukee if one alderman has his way.

Alderman Bob Donovan, of the city’s 8th district, is proposing a new half-cent sales tax to fund additional police officers, firefighters and other public safety resources.

Donovan believes $40 million could be raised from the new tax.

“That would go a long way in insuring much higher level of safety (and) pay for the officers that we’ve cut over the years. It would also help the fire department,” Donovan said.

WKOW 27: Verona road businesses, commuters caught up in ongoing GOP transportation stalemate

Republicans seem no closer to an agreement on transportation funding, leaving local business owners holding their breath as they hope money to complete the Verona Road construction project is part of the final 2017-19 state budget.

If the money winds up being there – as Governor Scott Walker proposed in his original transportation budget – the third and final phase of the project will be completed by 2020.

“I think most of the businesses will tell you, if they know and if there’s some certainty about that finish line they can plan accordingly,” said Cynthia Jagge, project manager for the Verona Road Business Coalition. “They can make adjustments and things and they can navigate through it.”

 

Overhaul of Dodd-Frank headed to U.S. House

Wed, 05/10/2017 - 14:25

A financial reform bill is heading for a vote in the U.S. House after clearing the Financial Services Committee.

The CHOICE Act is an overhaul of the Dodd-Frank legislation signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2010. Illinois Congressman Randy Hultgren, R-Plano, supports the measure. He pointed out a key provision would prohibit taxpayer bailouts of banks of any size.

“A lot of promises were made when Dodd-Frank passed that it would do away with ‘too big to fail,’” Hultgren said. “It really hasn’t done what it said it was going to do. So that’s really a big part of this … making sure that it’s very clear that we’re not going to be bailing out these entities. They’re going to have to deal with it themselves.”

In 2008, Congress approved the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), which helped bail out banks in the wake of the subprime mortgage crisis. Hultgren doesn’t want a repeat of that scenario.

“They can’t get the private benefit and then, if they make bad decisions or huge risks, put that back on the taxpayers,” Hultgren said.

The CHOICE Act also repeals the so-called Durbin Amendment in Dodd-Frank, which caps fees that banks can charge on debit card transactions.

“This is price fixing,” Hultgren said. “It’s government coming in and saying what has to happen in the marketplace.”

Some said the Durbin Amendment would be a win for consumers, as merchants passed along savings from the lowered swipe fees. However, a 2013 report by the University of Chicago Coase-Sandor Institute for Law & Economics found that consumers lost more on the banking side than they gained on the merchant side.

“[We’ve seen] a loss of services that banks were able to provide before, like free checking and no-cost accounts,” Hultgren said. “Many of these things have gone away.”

Hultgren said the Choice Act would provide relief for smaller banks and credit unions in Illinois by rolling back many of Dodd-Frank’s 23,000 pages of regulations. The 14th District Republican argued many institutions are being micromanaged by the federal government, leading to banking closures across the state and nation.

“If it’s something local that was never part of the problem, we need to recognize that they need some different ways that they can function,” Hultgren said.

A vote on the CHOICE Act in the U.S. House is expected by early June.

Haupt: Identity politics handcuffs democracy

Wed, 05/10/2017 - 10:17

“I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

– Martin Luther King, Jr.

During the height of the Cold War, everyone was seeking refuge from the Communist “curtain of fear.” The principal at our parochial school demanded our parents vote for John Kennedy because he was a Catholic. Mother Jude, with holy authority, told us if we did not insist our parents support candidate JFK, it would be sinful.

This reverently stoic nun claimed since JFK was a Catholic, he emboldened the spirituality to protect us from the dreaded USSR. When I told my father what she had commanded, I soon learned my first lesson in identity politics. He told me blatantly: “We never vote because of religion! If we vote for Kennedy it’s because of his capability to govern our nation.”

During a campaign speech, JFK reiterated that: “I am not a Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for president, who happens also to be a Catholic.”

Throughout his campaign, JFK’s spiritual beliefs were the subject of controversy. Many who disliked him claimed they did not want the Pope running the White House. Although he had a conservative record with 14 years in Congress, and often disagreed with the ambassador to the Vatican, this was ignored. He led the coalition to stop unconstitutional aid to parochial schools, yet few of his critics could see beyond his Catholicism. They continually referenced the articles with scrupulously selected quotations taken out of context from statements, made by church leaders.

Although the Counsel of Bishops strongly endorsed church-state separation, which reflected the views of almost every American Catholic at the time, he was chastened unmercifully for his religion by his foe.

“For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew or a Quaker or a Unitarian or a Baptist.”

– JFK

Identity politics is voting or supporting an individual because of their pigmentation, number of x and y chromosomes, their religion or ethnicity. Identity politics is nothing new. It has been around since the Dark Ages. Although America has led other societies to declare all people equal before the law, this falls on deaf ears each election. In the last decade, American liberals have pandered to their dependent special identity groups to win elections because it works.

During the 2004 Democratic Convention, Barack Obama told reporters not to look at America as Red States or Blue States but as The United States. Academia and the media were mesmerized by this young unifier and his post-racial post-partisan consonance. He became their poster child for the entire election. Yet after two terms in office, we not only have a Red and Blue America we have a battered and worn “black-and-blue” America.

“The legacy of discrimination is part of our DNA that is passed on.”

– Obama

Jesse Jackson, the linchpin of race baiting, at the Democratic Convention in 1984, defined his base as a “rainbow coalition.” This consisted of racial, ethnic and religious minorities as well as women. But few took notice that this colorful and diverse collage included everybody in America except for those of European ancestry, who founded our Republic. He accepted most women, except those who were independent, successful and would not separate themselves politically from their fathers and husbands.

At that time Jackson lacked the political force to generate much enthusiasm from his lackluster montage of mercenaries. But three decades later, American politics has taken a far left turn in the wrong direction. We are beleaguered by a host of social, cultural and political trends that are transforming the country more rapidly than a con man can steal your money in a New York City “street corner shell game!” And this is influencing the governing of our Republic in ways that were never anticipated by our noble founders at the Convention. George Washington told the other delegates, we must “Guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism.”

The identity politics of special interests are a danger to America’s tradition of limited government and our ability to maintain law and order. This political philosophy is a by-product of our new age progressive politicians. Their fundamental philosophy is underpinning our Constitution to pander to their base and keep them corralled in a pen of dependence. During the debates in Philadelphia our framers verified they were obsessed with the challenge of keeping our republican government in check. They feared it would aggrandize its power whenever possible. Not only has identity politics diminished the power of lawmakers to govern, it has created animosity across the U.S. Liberally disproportionately redistributing wealth, taxpayers are questioning what they are receiving for their investment? The liberal use of their dollars to buy votes is not a fair return for the amount they invested.

“Today in America we have the best politicians in office money can buy.”

– Stan Gelds

If anyone in the U.S . doubts the power of special interest politics, they need not look any further than the Trump administration. We have a commander in chief who is trying to return America back to its constitutional traditions. Yet each time he proposes legislation, special interest groups inundate representatives with calls and emails excoriating his efforts. As much as America despises Obama-Scare, both Republican houses refuse to put it out of its misery. Nearly 2,000 appointed positions in the Trump administration remain vacant! This leaves many agencies without competent leaders or staffing. Trump is noticeably behind all recent presidents in securing the confirmation of Cabinet appointees and other top positions that require Senate approval. Just recently a progressive lynch mob publicly belittled and scourged a proven patriot war hero for his private religious beliefs! He finally withdrew to protect his family and state.

“Liberalism itself has failed, and for a pretty good reason. It has been too often compromised by the people who represented it.”

– Hunter Thompson

There is no separating special interest from politics. Special interest identity groups, big and small, have a corrupting influence at the very heart of our political system. Each election candidates vow to reform a system that has been broken by the prejudice and influence of special interest groups. Yet many of them feed from its tempting trough. Identify politics not only influences elections but it now convolutes presidential appointments and legislation brought to the floor.

Although Democratic nominees should be judgmentally decided on character and qualifications, progressives piece half-verbiage phrases together to destroy the character of anyone who does not buy into their brand of “control-politics.” The media feeds off of half-truths and misinformation to nurture its hungry cabal of throngs.

“In the political world we live in today, mis-quotations are a national vice.”

– Ellen Sutter

Exploiting politically correct but factually inaccurate racial motifs and gender politics is dividing our nation and threatens our critical place in the world. All patriotic Americans know the world needs a strong and free America. An un-united America at home cannot lead a chaotically divergent globe.

America has entered its darkest period because progressives have ganged up with academia and the left media to use race, sex and “feel-good” identity politics for their political success. President Ronald Reagan told us, “I believe now, as I always have, America’s strength is in We the People.’’

When will we start fighting back for America?

“We must never remain silent in the face of bigotry. We must condemn those who seek to divide us. In all quarters and all times, we must teach tolerance and denounce racism, anti-Semitism and all ethnic or religious bigotry wherever they exist as unacceptable evils. We have no place for haters in America, none, whatsoever.”

– Reagan

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