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Conservatively Speaking

State Senator Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) represents parts of four counties: Milwaukee, Waukesha, Racine, and Walworth. Her Senate District 28 includes New Berlin, Franklin, Greendale, Hales Corners, Muskego, Waterford, Big Bend, the town of Vernon and parts of Greenfield, East Troy, and Mukwonago. Senator Lazich has been in the Legislature for more than a decade. She considers herself a tireless crusader for lower taxes, reduced spending and smaller government.

2007 Legislative Re-cap

It has been an interesting year in the state legislature.  The most important piece of business the legislature addresses is the biennial state budget. This year the state budget gained national attention as the highest budget increase in the history of the country. I voted against the budget because of the high level of taxing and spending. If we continue to approve fiscally irresponsible budgets, Wisconsin will never escape the rank as one of the highest taxed states in the nation.

After the legislature finished with the budget, Governor Doyle used his budget veto authority to eliminate the levy limit placed on technical colleges and to relax the limit placed on local governments, signaling increases in property taxes.  

We find that Tax Freedom Day in Wisconsin was May 2, 2007. That means Wisconsinites worked more than four months of the year before they earned enough money to pay this year's tax obligations at the federal, state and local levels.  

The spending in the budget, the vetoes, and the date of Wisconsin's Tax Freedom Day set the stage for further doom and gloom to Wisconsin's fiscal and economic plight.    

The 2007 Comprehensive Annual Fiscal Report (CAFR) about state government finances for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2007 shows a GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) deficit that has catapulted to $2.44 billion. The deficit has increased by over a billion dollars in the past five years. As Wisconsin continues to tax beyond its means, a financial crisis is likely to develop. If an economic decline takes place, the results could be very serious. Wisconsin tops the charts in taxation and is average to below average on the income charts, making for a disastrous combination.

My committee assignments this session are the Senate Committees on Education,  Senate Committee on Health, Human Services, Insurance, and Job Creation, and Senate Committee on Judiciary, Corrections, and Housing.  I  am mindful during my committee work that the state provide quality education at a cost the taxpayers can afford, work to keep Wisconsinites safe from violent offenders, and strive to find alternatives to a costly government health care that would dramatically increase taxes and create a government board that would determine your healthcare. 

In addition to the standing committee work, I served on a Great Lakes Compact special study committee.  The committee did not find consensus on the Great Lakes Compact and disbanded, even though I had hoped we would continue. The compact has extensive broad language inviting years of costly court litigation at our expense. The compact stacks the deck against us in terms of safe drinking water, economic development, does not guarantee sound environmental application, and allows the Great Lakes Governors to change the rules after approval by the states. The committee work was fascinating and the Compact will be discussed more in the future.  

From January through March of 2007, I held town hall meetings throughout the Senate district. It was a pleasure to meet and talk to many constituents. I will hold town halls again in the future and will post notices on my blog and website. 

For more details on these and other issues, please visit my blogs at: http://blogs.newberlinnow.com/conserv_speaking/ and http://www.biztimes.com/blogs/milwaukee-biz-blog/authors/senator-mary-lazich
and my website at: http://www.legis.state.wi.us/senate/sen28/news/.
  My blog is on all of the CNI newspaper websites in the communities that I represent.  I update my blog often.  You may look back at entries about various issues.  At the website is an invitation to be a Legislative Advisor.  Your advice, interest, and expertise are very helpful to me.

I have a limited number of 2007-2008 Wisconsin Blue Books available.  As you may know, the Blue Book is printed every two years, and it is a valuable source of information about Wisconsin and our state government. If you would like a Blue Book, please contact me. If you have e-mail, please send me your email address. I will be sending e-newsletter updates during 2008. It is an honor and a pleasure to serve as a Wisconsin State Senator.  If I can be of service to you at any time, you may reach me at (800) 334-1442, Sen.Lazich@legis.wisconsin.gov, Senator Mary Lazich, State Capitol, P.O. Box 7882 Madison, WI 53707, or at 414-425-9452.     

Happy New Year!

My prayers go out to Mark Gundrum

My friend and Assemblyman from my Senate district, state Representative Mark Gundrum (R-New Berlin) leaves today for a tour of duty in Iraq. 

Mark could be back home by Thanksgiving.I am very happy Mark was able to spend time during the holidays with his wife, Mary and their six children. Mary has started her own blog. 

My prayers and thoughts go out to Mark and his wonderful family, and I anxiously await his safe return home.

God bless you, Mark, and thank you for your service to our country!

State legislatures were active in 2007

Stateline.org reports statehouses around the country took on an air of activism in 2007. Here’s their round-up.

The website also has an analysis of legislative action in 2007 in Wisconsin. One analyst says Assembly Republicans handled the state budget perfectly.

Read more
.

$763 million

State budget

$763,272,000 to be exact.

That is the increase in taxes and fees in the 2007-09 state budget, according to a report issued by the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

This is why I voted against the state budget.

*BREAKING NEWS*

Former Wisconsin Governor Lee Dreyfus has died.

Wisconsin, other states have flawed voter databases

Audits, Photo ID

Last November, I blogged about the findings by the Legislative Audit Bureau that sent a clear message that Wisconsin needs to enact a photo ID requirement to vote. 

The audit I blogged about is mentioned in a USA TODAY article about problems with voting systems around the country. USA TODAY reports that under the 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA), states are required to have statewide voter databases completed by January 1, 2006. Nine states missed the deadline, including Wisconsin. The recent audit in Wisconsin, as USA TODAY points out, has numerous flaws.

To say the least, it is very disheartening that five years after passage of HAVA and with the Iowa caucuses unfolding, and Wisconsin’s Presidential primary right around the corner, our nation’s voting system is in disarray.

Here’s the USA TODAY article.

Be safe, snowmobilers

As I travel through the rural portions of our Senate district, I am seeing more and more snowmobilers taking advantage of the more than 25,000 miles of groomed trails in Wisconsin.

I urge all riders to exercise caution this winter season.

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) reminds snowmobilers that it is illegal to operate a snowmobile under the influence of alcohol or drugs while on any property that is held open to the public (trails, routes lakes/rivers or corridors).

Wisconsin’s maximum blood alcohol concentration limit is 0.08% and the limit is strictly enforced. A person can be under the influence of alcohol and in violation at lesser concentrations. The DNR advises avoiding alcohol altogether while riding.
If an officer has probable cause to believe you are operating a snowmobile under the influence, you are required to provide a sample of your breath or blood.  By operating a snowmobile on areas open to the public you have automatically consented to provide a sample of your breath, blood or urine to an officer who requests the test.  If you refuse to provide a breath, blood or urine sample, you will be charged with an additional violation.

Every year, injury accidents and fatal crashes are caused by riding a snowmobile and consuming alcoholic beverages.

The DNR offers these snowmobile safety tips:

Never consume alcohol or drugs before or during snowmobile operation. Drinking alcohol before or during snowmobiling can impair judgment and slow reaction time. Snowmobilers who have been drinking often drive too fast. Alcohol also causes body temperature to drop at an accelerated rate, which increases the likelihood of hypothermia. Alcohol has been shown to be a contributing factor in most fatal snowmobile accidents.

Slow down. Speed is a contributing factor in nearly all fatal snowmobiling accidents. Drivers should proceed at a pace that will allow ample reaction time for any situation. Drive at moderate speeds, and drive defensively, especially after sunset.

Carry a first-aid kit, flashlight, knife, compass, map, and waterproof matches.

Avoid traveling across bodies of water when uncertain of ice thickness or water currents. Rapidly changing weather and moving water in streams and lake inlets also affect the thickness and strength of ice on lakes and ponds. Snow cover can act as a blanket and prevents thick strong ice from forming.

Dress appropriately. Always wear a helmet with goggles or a face shield to prevent injuries from twigs and flying debris. Wear layers of water-repellent clothing and make sure you have no loose ends that might catch in the machine or tangle in equipment.

Stay on marked trails or, where allowed, on the right shoulder of the road. Be alert for fences, tree stumps and stretched wire that may be concealed by snow.

Never travel alone. Most snowmobile accidents result in personal injury. The most dangerous situations occur when a person is injured and alone. If you must travel alone, tell someone your destination, planned route, and when you will return.

The DNR has also produced a video reminding snowmobilers of the 55 mph speed limit.

Seizing guns during a crisis

After the devastating destruction of Hurricane Katrina, the National Rifle Association (NRA) says law enforcement officers in Louisiana seized guns from law-abiding citizens.

During May 2006, Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the NRA, told ABC News, "We can't allow these local tyrannies to exist after disaster hits where they throw the Constitution out the window. That's what the police chief in New Orleans did. The lesson of New Orleans is all the people that said the police, the government would protect you could not be trusted. Citizens were completely on their own against robbers, against looters, and if they didn't have a firearm they were completely defenseless against the bad guys."

In an effort to find gun owners for a federal lawsuit about the city's seizure of firearms after the hurricane, that the NRA filed against New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and Police Superintendent Warren Riley, the organization has hired private investigators.

The NRA says New Orleans confiscated more than 1,000 guns that were not part of any criminal investigation.  During April 2006, police made about 700 firearms available for owners to claim by presenting a bill of sale or an affidavit with the weapon's serial number. Attorneys for the NRA say investigators have found few of the guns' owners because the hurricane scattered so many people.

Closer to home, Wisconsin State Representative Scott Gunderson (R-Waterford), representing part of the 28th Senate District that I represent in the Wisconsin State Senate, authored legislation to prevent police from seizing guns in an emergency the way they were taken away in New Orleans.

Under current Wisconsin law, the governor, the adjutant general, and certain local officials may exercise emergency powers during an emergency resulting from enemy action or natural or man-made disaster.

Assembly Bill 581 (AB 581) prohibits those individuals from exercising emergency powers to restrict the possession, transfer, sale, transport, storage, display, or use of firearms or ammunition during an emergency. An amendment to the bill clarifies that those individuals are prohibited from restricting the lawful possession, transfer, sale, transport, storage, display, or use of firearms or ammunition during an emergency.

AB 581 was approved by the state Assembly last month, 84-13.

Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker says he wants the state Senate to take up AB 581 soon.

I support AB 581 and when it comes to the floor of the state Senate, I will vote in favor of the bill. The rights of law abiding gun owners should not be taken away by the government that swears to protect them.

The bad numbers just keep coming

The non-partisan Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance has more gloomy economic news for the state:

“The state’s general fund deficit for fiscal 2007 reached $2.44 billion (b), a 13.7% increase over last year’s $2.15b.”

Wisconsin’s economy is going in the wrong direction and the state needs to go on a fast and furious tax and spend diet.

Here’s the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance news release.

Assembly leader's remarks should be retracted

I agree with the sentiments of state Representative Steve Nass in his letter today to Assembly Minority Leader James Kreuser. Kreuser is trying to politicize the deployment of state Representatives Mark Gundrum and Roger Roth to Iraq.

Kreuser’s remarks to the Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel are deplorable and should be retracted.

Here is Representative Nass’ letter to Kreuser:
 



January 4, 2008



Representative James Kreuser
Assembly Minority Leader
Room 201 West
State Capitol

Dear Representative Kreuser:

Today, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel printed a story on the deployments of Representative Roger Roth and Representative Mark Gundrum, both Republicans.  These men have stepped forward to serve their country in a time of war.  As citizen soldiers, these men stand beside thousands of other brave men and women in our Armed Forces to voluntarily serve in the defense of the United States.

In the story, you are quoted as suggesting that this is an opportunity for Democrats to play procedural games since the partisan make-up of the Assembly will temporarily narrow to 50-47.  Setting aside our partisan differences, your statements are one of the most despicable actions I can recall in my 16 years of service in the State Assembly.

These men will be risking their lives by serving in the uniform of the United States in an area of conflict.  This isn’t a political opportunity for either party, it is a time for prayer and reflection for the safe return of our colleagues and that of all members of the Armed Forces.  I truly doubt that the families involved would share your perspective that their time of uncertainty should be seen by anyone as an opportunity to play partisan political games.

As the duly elected Minority Leader of the Wisconsin State Assembly, your words have tremendous impact on this institution and should be immediately retracted and apology offered to our colleagues, their families and all Wisconsin citizens currently serving their country.

Sincerely,



Steve Nass
State Representative
31st Assembly District


 

I'm on the Weather Channel

Mary in the media

Recently, a crew from the cable TV channel, The Weather Channel came to the state capitol to produce a segment on the Great Lakes. Because I served on the Legislative Council’s special study committee on the Great Lakes Compact, the crew interviewed me for the program, “Forecast Earth.”

The segment airs this Saturday at 4:00 p.m.

Entitled, "The Great Lakes Water Battle," the segment is being promoted on the Weather Channel website:

“Lake levels drop, revealing miles of rocky beaches, and cargo freighters begin to run aground. It's not the future, it's happening now to the world's largest freshwater lake system. We take you into the heart of the "Great Lakes Water Battle."

T
he segment airs this Saturday at 4:00 p.m. with a repeat at 4:00 p.m. Sunday afternoon.

No to a statewide smoking ban

As I told a reporter for the Waukesha Freeman in a story in Tuesday’s edition, I do not support a bill to ban smoking on private property. The state Senate Committee on Public Health, Senior Issues, Long-Term Care and Privacy Tuesday voted 3-2 in favor of the proposal to ban smoking.

A private property smoking ban would trample the property rights of individuals participating in a legal activity. Government should not dictate to a private property owner that the owner prohibit a legal activity in his/her establishment.

In a free economy, the fairest approach is to let the market decide whether a businesses should be smoke-free. If consumers truly want a completely smoke-free society, businesses that allow smoking would simply disappear.

As a state senator elected to represent my constituents in overseeing the operation of state government buildings, I vote and have voted to prohibit smoking in state government buildings.

My vote is no on a statewide smoking ban on private property.

The US Supreme Court takes up photo ID

Photo ID

With the Wisconsin Presidential primary just a month away and a recent audit showing terrible flaws in our voting system, I have renewed the call for a photo ID requirement in Wisconsin.

During June, 2006 a poll by Rasmussen Reports showed
77 percent of likely voters across the country agree that presenting a valid photo ID should be required to cast a vote. Democrats and liberals were a bit less likely to agree than members of other groups identified in the survey.On another question, 68 percent said that election ballots should be printed in English-only. Twenty-nine percent said ballots should be posted in both English and Spanish. About three quarters or more of Republicans, unaffiliated voters, conservatives and moderates agree with an English-only requirement; only 54 percent of Democrats and 55 percent of liberals also agree.

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case to determine if states can impose photo ID requirements.

One of the criticisms of photo ID is that such a requirement will prevent individuals voting.  Not so, according to a study by the Heritage Foundation. Here are the findings:
  • White survey respondents in photo identifica­tion states are 0.002 percent less likely to report voting than white respondents from states that only required voters to state their name.
  • African-American respondents in non-photo identification states are 0.012 percent less likely to report voting than African-American respon­dents from states that only required voters to state their name.
In other cases, no effect was found.
  • In general, respondents in photo identification and non-photo identification states are just as likely to report voting compared to respondents from states that only required voters to state their name.
  • African-American respondents in photo identi­fication states are just as likely to report voting compared to African-American respondents from states that only required voters to state their name.
  • Hispanic respondents in photo identification states are just as likely to report voting compared to Hispanic respondents from states that only required voters to state their name.

Here is the Heritage Foundation study.

This is a simple common sense case that needs to be addressed to protect the integrity of our elections. The Supreme Court, I trust, will render the appropriate ruling and allow states to enact photo ID laws.

Then Wisconsin needs to take the next step and put a photo ID law on our books
.

A blow for government health care

Government health care

The liberal city of San Francisco was ready this month to implement a groundbreaking health insurance law. The law would have required that employers cover their workers or pay a fee. The provision was considered critical to the city’s goal of providing coverage to all 82,000 uninsured adult residents.

The law would have been the first of its kind in the country.

A federal judge called the city ordinance, “laudable,” but said it was in conflict with a 1974 federal law that prohibits state and local governments from regulating the benefits of employees.
U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White’s ruling, if not overturned, will force the city of San Francisco to scale back its plans to give health coverage to all uninsured residents not already covered by the state of California’s Medi-Cal program for the poor or by Medicare for the elderly. A city official was quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle that if the employer fee was struck down, city officials would limit the expanded enrollment to residents who make no more than three times the federal poverty level, or about $32,000 a year for an individual.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “The ordinance, enacted last year, established a $200 million-a-year program to care for the uninsured. More than three-quarters of the money was to come from city tax dollars and patient premiums, and the rest from the employer fee that was the subject of White’s ruling. Private employers with at least 20 employees and nonprofits with at least 50 employees were to be given two choices: provide health coverage, at spending levels set by the ordinance, or pay a fee to support the city health program, which was budgeted at $200 million a year. White said the ordinance would regulate employer health plans by requiring businesses to spend certain amounts on each employee - changing their existing, federally governed plans - or pay a fee.”

The judge’s ruling could have an impact on other state and local plans to provide government health insurance. In Wisconsin, state Senate Democrats were unsuccessful last year in their attempt to implement a $15.2 billion government health care plan, but are promising to resurrect the plan this year.

More moving vans headed out

I have blogged that as taxes go up, people move out of Wisconsin. 

There is a lot of evidence to suggest we have an out-migration problem. 

Here’s more.

Thank you, Wisconsin hunters and fishers

Tourism

Wisconsin owes a tremendous gratitude to our sportsmen, the 1.2 million people who spend more than $3.1 billion a year on hunting and fishing. The impact from this one particular group is significant. Hunters and anglers pump an incredible $8.6 million a day into Wisconsin’s economy.

A new report, "Hunting and Fishing: Bright Stars of the American Economy ~ A force as big as all outdoors," was produced by the Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation with support from other hunting and fishing organizations. The findings demonstrate how valuable sportsmen are to Wisconsin:
  • Sportsmen support twice as many jobs in Wisconsin as Trane (56,600 jobs vs. 26,200).
  • Annual spending by Wisconsin sportsmen is equal to the revenues of the state's dairy industry ($3.1 billion).
  • Wisconsin sportsmen annually spend $220 million on outboard boats and engines to get out on the water and around the marshes for fishing and hunting.
  • As many people hunt and fish in Wisconsin as attend Milwaukee Bucks and Green Bay Packer games (1.2 million).
  • Wisconsin sportsmen outnumber the populations of Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, Kenosha, Racine and Appleton (1.2 million vs. 1.1 million).
  • The ripple effect from hunting and fishing in Wisconsin is $5 billion
Spending by hunters and fishers ($3.1 billion, 7th in the nation) supports 56,600 jobs (3rd in the nation). That amount of spending puts $1.4 billion worth of paychecks directly into the wallets of workers around the state and generates $400 million in state and local taxes. It is undeniable that this special group is a well-oiled, high powered, economic engine.

Nationally, the impact is even greater, with hunters and fishers, like lawyers and physicians, comprising one of the most prominent and influential groups in all of America.

Their voting potential amounted to 31 percent of all votes cast in the 2004 Presidential election. An impressive 80 percent of sportsmen are “likely” voters, a powerful voting bloc that cannot be ignored.

As mentioned, hunters and fishers spend, and they spend a lot, more than the revenues of Microsoft, Google eBay and Yahoo combined.

The $76 billion spent by sportsmen, if translated into the Gross Domestic Product of a country would rank sportsmen as number 57 out of 181 countries.

More people hunt and fish than watch the nightly news on ABC, CBS, and NBC.

The state and local tax contributions made by sportsmen would be enough to hire 527,900 police officers, 454,000 firefighters, or 476,870 teachers.

The conclusion is clear: hunters and fishers help drive the economy and create jobs. Hunting and fishing have been an integral part of Wisconsin’s fabric, culture and history. We must do all we can to support, promote and protect this wonderful pastime. We can start by saying to our sportsmen, for all you do, Thank You!

We need a Great Lakes Compact, but…

Great Lakes, Mary in the media

The Great Lakes Compact is headed to the state Legislature for consideration.

We need a Great Lakes Compact, but as I have stated so many times in the past, it has to be the right document, free of flaws and trap doors. Passing a Compact just to pass a Compact is the wrong approach.

I was interviewed by Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel reporter Stacy Forster for today’s article on the Compact.

REMINDER: I'm on the Weather Channel today

Recently, a crew from the cable TV channel, The Weather Channel came to the state capitol to produce a segment on the Great Lakes. Because I served on the Legislative Council’s special study committee on the Great Lakes Compact, the crew interviewed me for the program, “Forecast Earth.”

The segment airs TODAY, Saturday at 4:00 p.m.

Entitled, "The Great Lakes Water Battle," the segment is being promoted on the Weather Channel website:

“Lake levels drop, revealing miles of rocky beaches, and cargo freighters begin to run aground. It's not the future, it's happening now to the world's largest freshwater lake system. We take you into the heart of the "Great Lakes Water Battle."

The segment airs TODAY at 4:00 p.m. (Channel 64 on Time Warner Cable) with a repeat broadcast at 4:00 p.m. Sunday afternoon.

How can anyone object to asking for ID?

Audits, Photo ID

After the Legislative Audit Bureau released an audit last November that recommended, “the Elections Board and, after it is replaced, the Government Accountability Board request that municipal clerks obtain birth dates from voters during future elections and consider ways to more easily facilitate the collection of this information,” I said the following in a press release:

“What better way to obtain the birth dates of all voters than a driver’s license or state-issued photo ID?”   

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case involving Indiana’s strict photo ID law.

The court's swing vote, Justice Anthony Kennedy, in questioning the lawyer for the state Democratic Party and ACLU asked, "You want us to invalidate a statute on the ground that it's a minor inconvenience to a small percentage of voters?"

Now the Wall Street Journal in an opinion piece asks the following:

“How can anyone object to asking for ID?”

The U.S. Supreme Court is reviewing the photo Id law in Indiana, the strictest photo ID requirement in the nation.

John Fund writes in the Wall Street Journal that without photo ID, voter fraud is easy.

“Indiana officials make the obvious point that, without a photo ID requirement, in-person fraud is "nearly impossible to detect or investigate." A grand jury report prepared by then-Brooklyn District Attorney Elizabeth Holtzman in the 1980s revealed how difficult it is to catch perpetrators. It detailed a massive, 14-year conspiracy in which crews of individuals were recruited to go to polling places and vote in the names of fraudulently registered voters, dead voters, and voters who had moved. "The ease and boldness with which these fraudulent schemes were carried out shows the vulnerability of our entire electoral process to unscrupulous and fraudulent misrepresentation," the report concluded. No indictments were issued thanks to the statute of limitations, and because of grants of immunity in return for testimony.

Even modest in-person voter fraud creates trouble in close races. In Washington state's disputed 2004 governor's race, which was won by 129 votes, the election superintendent in Seattle testified in state court that ineligible felons had voted and votes had been cast in the name of the dead. In Milwaukee, Wis., investigators found that, in the state's close 2004 presidential election, more than 200 felons voted illegally and more than 100 people voted twice. In Florida, where the entire 2000 presidential election was decided by 547 votes, almost 65,000 dead people are still listed on the voter rolls--an engraved invitation to fraud. A New York Daily News investigation in 2006 found that between 400 and 1,000 voters registered in Florida and New York City had voted twice in at least one recent election.”

Here is John Fund’s entire opinion piece.

Food donations to charities are immune from litigation

At a time when Wisconsin’s economy is floundering, gas prices are high, and the needs of the poor are on the rise, it is important to note there is a Good Samaritan law in Wisconsin that allows food donations without risk of liability.

A constituent doing Christian charity work contacted me recently to voice concern about excess food. The food is available, but those involved in charity work are experiencing difficulty in getting the food from restaurants or food industry groups. The fear is that these entities might be worried about health and safety liabilities, especially in this litigious age.

My constituent was straightforward in submitting that pick-up loads of day-old bread are transported to pig farmers while the poor go hungry.

The fact is that donations can and should be made to churches, food pantries and any charitable organizations without fear of a lawsuit.

There is a Good Samaritan law that includes charitable donations of food to churches and food pantries, so food industry groups/restaurants can donate the surplus instead of giving it to pig farmers or the landfills without worrying that someone is going to sue them.

Wisconsin Statutes section 895.51(2) protects the donor of the food from civil liability.  When any group involved in charity work solicits new donors of food, it may want to remind them that Wisconsin law immunizes them from civil liability.

Wisconsin Statutes 895.51(3) protects the charitable organization or food distribution service from civil liability.

The law does not protect from civil liability if death or injury results from “willful or wanton acts or omissions” or if the food does not meet minimum standards under state and federal law.

Here is the statute:

895.51 Civil liability exemption: food donation, sale or distribution.
(1)
In this section:(b) “Charitable organization” means an organization the contributions to which are deductible by corporations in computing net income under s. 71.26 (2).
(c) “Food distribution service” means a program of a private nonprofit organization that provides food products directly to individuals with low incomes or that collects food products for and distributes food products to persons who provide the food products directly to individuals with low incomes.
(d) “Food products” has the meaning specified in s. 93.01 (6).
(e) “Qualified food” means food products that meet the standards
of quality established by state law or rule or federal law or regulations, including food products that are not readily marketable due to appearance, age, freshness, grade, size, surplusage or other condition, except that “qualified food” does not include canned food products that are leaking, swollen, dented on a seam or not airtight.

(2) Any person engaged in the processing, distribution or sale of food products, for profit or not for profit, who donates or sells, at a price not to exceed overhead and transportation costs, qualified
food to a charitable organization or food distribution service is immune from civil liability for the death of or injury to an individual caused by the qualified food donated or sold by the person.
(3) Any charitable organization or food distribution service which distributes free of charge qualified food to any person is immune from civil liability for the death of or injury to an individual
caused by the qualified food distributed by the charitable organization or food distribution service.
(4) This section does not apply if the death or injury was caused by willful or wanton acts or omissions.

All states watching California, Massachusetts on health care

Government health care

I’ve written extensively about my opposition to the state Senate Democrats’ $15.2 billion government health care plan that wisely was rejected last year.

Senate Democrats promise to bring the plan back this legislative session.

Wisconsin isn’t the only state toying with the idea of taxpayer-funded health care for all. Stateline.org has a comprehensive look at some of the key government health care efforts being closely watched in other states
.

State Senate agenda for Tuesday

Here is the state Senate calendar for the state Senate agenda for Tuesday, January 15, 2008:


First Order.                  Call of Roll.

Second Order.              Chief clerk's entries.

Third Order.                  Introduction, first reading and reference of proposals; reference of appointments.

Fourth Order.                Report of committees.

Fifth Order.                   Petitions and communications.

Sixth Order.                  Advice and consent of the Senate.


QUESTION:                  Shall the appointment be confirmed?


Armstrong, Stephanie, of De Forest, as a member of the Professional Standards Council for Teachers, to serve for the term ending June 30, 2009

Barnett, Jeffrey, of Whitewater, as a member of the Professional Standards Council for Teachers, to serve for the term ending June 30, 2010

Benz, Lisa, of River Falls, as a member of the Professional Standards Council for Teachers, to serve for the term ending June 30, 2010.

Bohon, Frances, of Marshfield, as a member of the Professional Standards Council for Teachers, to serve for the term ending June 30, 2010.

Brown, Jeanne, of Eau Claire, as a member of the Athletic Trainers Affiliated Credentialing Board, to serve for the term ending July 1, 2011.

Cattau, Ann, of Neenah, as a member of the Professional Standards Council for Teachers, to serve for the term ending June 30, 2007.

Cattau, Ann, of Neenah, as a member of the Professional Standards Council for Teachers, to serve for the term ending June 30, 2010

Champeau, Ryan, of Waukesha, as a member of the Professional Standards Council for Teachers, to serve for the term ending June 30, 2009.

Gaier, John, of Neillsville, as a member of the Professional Standards Council for Teachers, to serve for the term ending June 30, 2009.

Grignon, John, of New Berlin, as a member of the Dentistry Examining Board, to serve for the term ending July 1, 2009.

Hase, Paula, of Wausau, as a member of the Professional Standards Council for Teachers, to serve for the term ending June 30, 2009.

Kaeske, Russ, of Hales Corners, as a member of the Professional Standards Council for Teachers, to serve for the term ending June 30, 2009.

Lewno, Pat, of Racine, as a member of the Professional Standards Council for Teachers, to serve for the term ending June 30, 2008

Oliver, Jamie Lynn, of Ettrick, as a member of the Professional Standards Council for Teachers, to serve for the term ending June 30, 2008.

Pickett, Debra, of Darlington, as a member of the Prison Industries Board, to serve for the term ending May 1, 2011.

Schoessow, Terry, of Mequon, as a member of the Professional Standards Council for Teachers, to serve for the term ending June 30, 2010.

Serlin, Erica, of Madison, as a member of the Psychology Examining Board, to serve for the term ending July 1, 2011.



Seventh Order.         Referrals and receipt of committee reports concerning proposed administrative rules.

Eighth Order.            Messages from the Assembly.



QUESTION:             Shall the amendment be concurred in?

Senate Bill 1. Relating to: authorizing library boards to transfer a gift, bequest, or endowment to certain charitable organizations. 

Ninth Order.              Special Orders.

Tenth Order.              Consideration of motions, resolutions, and joint resolutions not requiring a third reading.



QUESTION:             Shall the joint resolution be adopted?

Senate Joint Resolution 72. Relating to: recognizing and encouraging international education as an essential component of the future of this state. 

Senate Joint Resolution 75. Relating to: commending the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater football team. 


QUESTION:           Shall the joint resolution be concurred in?

Assembly Joint Resolution 61. Relating to: Midwest Airlines

Eleventh Order.       Second reading and amendments of senate joint resolutions and senate bills.


QUESTION:            Shall the bill be ordered to a third reading?

Senate Bill 38. Relating to: possession of dogs by certain felony offenders and providing a penalty.
Senate Amendments 1 and 2 pending

Senate Bill 71. Relating to: substitutions by pharmacists dispensing epilepsy drugs. 

Senate Bill 98. Relating to: providing benefits to tribal schools and tribal school pupils similar to those provided to private schools and private school pupils and making an appropriation. 

Senate Bill 116. Relating to: repeat drunken driving offenders and providing a penalty.
Senate Amendments 1 and 3 pending

Senate Bill 128. Relating to: heated exterior pedestrian walkways. 

Senate Bill 130. Relating to: a state minimum wage and granting rule-making authority.

Senate Bill 156. Relating to: prohibiting certain persons from refusing to honor, or from attempting to avoid honoring, a document of gift for donation of an anatomical gift

Senate Bill 197. Relating to: restrictions on the use and sale of fertilizer containing phosphorus and other lawn fertilizer and providing a penalty
Senate Substitute Amendment 1 pending

Senate Bill 208. Relating to: the leasing of land in the Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest for the purpose of gravel extraction.

Senate Bill 211. Relating to: soliciting purchases of goods or services using unsolicited checks or money orders and providing a penalty
Senate Amendment 1 pending

Senate Bill 244. Relating to: prosecution decisions based on certain payments to organizations or agencies. Senate Amendment 1 pending

Senate Bill 260. Relating to: strangulation and suffocation, and providing a penalty.
Senate Amendment 1 pending

Senate Bill 264. Relating to: the reporting of child abuse or neglect exemption for privileged information Senate Amendment 1 pending

Senate Bill 280. Relating to: authorizing an elective member of a political subdivision's governing body to refuse his or her salary. Senate Substitute Amendment 1 pending

Senate Bill 281. Relating to: reporting requirements related to general transportation aids to local governments.
Senate Amendment 1 pending

Senate Bill 288. Relating to: regulation of and registration requirements for certain cemetery authorities, cemetery associations, and cemetery merchandise

Senate Bill 291. Relating to: University of Wisconsin System tuition gift certificate program. 

Senate Bill 300. Relating to: repealing, consolidating, renumbering, amending, and revising various provisions of the statutes for the purpose of correcting errors, supplying omissions, correcting and clarifying references, eliminating defects, anachronisms, conflicts, ambiguities, and obsolete provisions, reconciling conflicts, and repelling unintended repeals (Revisor's Correction Bill). 

Senate Bill 301. Relating to: repealing, consolidating, renumbering, amending, and revising various provisions of the statutes for the purpose of correcting errors, supplying omissions, correcting and clarifying references, eliminating defects, anachronisms, conflicts, ambiguities, and obsolete provisions, reconciling conflicts, and repelling unintended repeals (Revisor's Correction Bill).

Senate Bill 302. Relating to: amending and revising under section 10.53 of the statutes various provisions of sections 10.62 to 10.82 of the statutes for the purpose of correcting conflicts between the listings in sections 10.62 to 10.82 of the statutes and the substantive statutes to which those sections refer (Revisor's Correction Bill). 

Senate Bill 303. Relating to: amending and revising various provisions of the statutes for the purpose of correcting errors, supplying omissions, and correcting and clarifying references (Revisor's Correction Bill).  By Law Revision Committee.

Senate Bill 304. Relating to: renumbering, amending, and revising various provisions of the statutes for the purpose of correcting and clarifying references, reconciling conflicts, and repelling unintended repeals (Revisor's Correction Bill).  By Law Revision Committee.

Senate Bill 305. Relating to: renumbering and amending a provision of the statutes for the purpose of eliminating ambiguities (Revisor's Correction Bill).  By Law Revision Committee.

Senate Bill 310. Relating to: anatomical gifts, granting rule-making authority, and providing a penalty.
Senate Amendment 1 pending


Twelfth Order.           Second reading and amendments of assembly joint resolutions and assembly bills.

QUESTION:             Shall the bill be ordered to a third reading?

Assembly Bill 32. Relating to: prohibiting employment discrimination because an individual is or applies to be a member of, or performs, has performed, applies to perform, or has an obligation to perform active service in, the state defense force, the national guard of any state, or any reserve component of the military forces of the United States.

Assembly Bill 75. Relating to: assistance for veterans affected by depleted uranium.

Assembly Bill 80. Relating to: special distinguishing registration plates for persons who have had an immediate family member die while in military service

Assembly Bill 82. Relating to: recall of elective town sanitary district commissioners.

Assembly Bill 152. Relating to: the method of election of village officers

Assembly Bill 181. Relating to: continuing education for architects, landscape architects, professional engineers, designers of engineering systems, and land surveyors.

Assembly Bill 184. Relating to: the investment by certain local units of government of funds held in trust to provide post-employment benefits.

Assembly Bill 228. Relating to: the transfer of certain fish and game licenses and permits to minors.

Assembly Bill 239. Relating to: automated teller machine charges for international accounts. 

Assembly Bill 296. Relating to: issuing hunting and fishing approvals to members of the U.S. armed forces who are former residents of this state.

Assembly Bill 305. Relating to: control of final disposition of certain human remains and providing a penalty.

Assembly Bill 351. Relating to:  designating and marking a bridge in Columbia County as the Veterans of the American Revolution Memorial Bridge

Assembly Bill 359. Relating to: the preference systems for issuing Class A bear licenses, bobcat hunting and trapping permits, fisher trapping permits, and otter trapping permits.

Assembly Bill 370. Relating to: commercial driver license testing for military license holders

Assembly Bill 413. Relating to: temporary certificates to practice respiratory care.

Assembly Bill 454. Relating to: issuance by the Department of Natural Resources of federal hunting, fishing, and trapping approvals


Thirteenth Order.           Third reading of joint resolutions and bills.

Fourteenth Order.          Motions may be offered.

Fifteenth Order.             Announcements, adjournment honors, and remarks under special privilege.

Sixteenth Order.            Adjournment.

I voted no today on minimum wage indexing

I voted no on the Senate floor today on Senate Bill 130 (SB 130) that would increase the minimum wage and implement minimum wage indexing, a yearly increase based on the consumer price index.

Here is a copy of SB 130.

The minimum wage is a tired old policy often trotted out by supporters that would only hurt the individuals it intends to help.

The conventional wisdom among most economists is that the minimum wage costs thousands of jobs.

A low-paying job remains an entry point for those with few marketable skills. Because of the minimum wage, teenagers, workers in training, college students, interns, and part-time workers see fewer opportunities in the job market.

When the minimum wage increases, jobs disappear. The jobs that vanish are entry-level jobs, the jobs needed by the poor and those with minimal skills to gain experience and establish work history.
The non-profit Employment Polices Institute says:

 “Automatically increasing the minimum wage at the rate of inflation prevents lawmakers from making future adjustments in the entry-level wage in response to changes in the state’s economic climate.

Already, two-thirds of minimum wage earners receive a raise within their first year of employment. However, there are some people who lack the skills necessary to advance in the workplace. It is this vulnerable subsection of employees that will be the first to lose their jobs when the mandated wage exceeds their productivity level.

A recent University of California at Irvine study found that high school dropouts and African-American teens suffer four times more employment loss from minimum wage increases than their more educated counterparts. For these vulnerable individuals, a 10 percent increase in the minimum wage leads to an 8 percent decrease in employment.”

Proponents argue they want to increase the wage to help the poor. However, the effect is just the opposite. They will also say they want to provide a living wage.

The fact remains that a very small percentage of minimum wage workers are single parents or adult heads of households. The majority of minimum wage workers are single individuals, many of them living with their parents.

Minimum wage workers are not parents struggling to feed their families. They are high school or college students living at home.

Dr. Peter Brandon of the Institute for Research on Poverty studied the effects of   the minimum wage on the transition from welfare to work. He found that raising it keeps welfare mothers on welfare longer. Mothers on welfare in states that raised their minimum wage remained on welfare 44 percent longer than mothers on welfare in states the minimum wage was increased.

Another side effect of increasing the minimum wage according to a report by the Employment Policies Institute is that it increases the number of high-school drop-outs because higher mandatory minimum wages will entice some students into sacrificing school for work. At the same time many employers are compelled to forgo hiring low-skill teenagers in favor of older employees whose experience makes them worth hiring at higher wage rates.

The effort to raise the minimum wage is a campaign that panders using misleading arguments. Increasing the wage will only deprive low-skilled, poor workers of much-needed job experience and opportunities.

The Senate approved SB 130, 19-13.

The bill now goes to the state Assembly.

 

Saving virtual schools

One of the signs at a large rally at the state Capitol read, “Don’t kick me out of school, I didn’t do anything wrong.” In a demonstration of democracy at its finest, more than 1,100 students, parents, and teachers gathered at the Capitol in a crusade to save Wisconsin’s virtual schools.

Unlike the typical brick and mortar institution, in a virtual school, all student services and courses are taught through Internet technology.

An appellate court ruled during December 2007 that the Wisconsin Virtual Academy online school in Ozaukee County violates some state laws and should be denied millions of dollars in state aid. It is now up to the Legislature to develop a fix to preserve virtual schools and prevent up to 3,000 students from being tossed out of schools.

Virtual schools are positive alternatives to standard brick and mortar schools. Families of students enrolled in virtual schools find the online approach to instruction has enhanced educational opportunities.

One of the parents is Pat from Waukesha County. Pat wrote that herson was languishing for eight years in a traditional school setting because the work was too simple. Then Pat discovered the Wisconsin Virtual Academy (WIVA).

“What sparked my interest were the mastery-based curriculum provided and the guidance of a licensed teacher to provide accountability. The teacher would get concrete evidence of his mastery of subjects and guide us where to go next. My son wouldn't have to keep re-visiting the same concepts year after year after year thus exacerbating the boredom with which he was dealing. This looked like curricula that would feed his brain rather than dull it,” Pat wrote.

Wisconsin Virtual Academy worked, literally transforming Pat’s son and his educational experience.

”Where he used to come home shaking with frustration from the brick
and mortar school, he now ends his day talking about school in a positive way. My child is infinitely happier and emotionally healthier now that his academic needs are being met. Some days he does double lessons, some days triple, and some days none at all; but most importantly he's learning at his own pace in his own way with a joy that was absent in the brick and mortar school and WIVA has made this happen for him,” Pat wrote. Pat’s success story is one of thousands being played out in virtual schools in Wisconsin.

The Legislature is now considering two bills on virtual schools.

Assembly Bill 697 (AB 697), proposed by Republican state Representative Brett Davis stipulates that a person in the home, likely a parent assisting a virtual school student, is not required to hold a teaching license or permit. The bill also eliminates the requirement that a virtual school student must live in the school district that the virtual school is located.

Senate Bill 396 (SB 396), proposed by Democrat state Senator John Lehman would likely eliminate virtual schools in Wisconsin. Senator Lehman’s bill slashes state aid to virtual schools by 50 percent. Keep in mind virtual schools are already funded at a significant savings to the brick and mortar schools.

Senator Lehman’s bill also imposes restrictions and regulations that would impair the progress virtual schools have made. The bill creates physical residency requirements in a virtual school district, and mandates direct teacher-student contact daily.

AB 697 is the necessary legislative fix, a veritable life-saver for retaining quality education options. The reality is that SB 396 kills virtual schools.

The approach to education should not be one size fits all. Data reveals virtual school student success and test scores exceed brick and mortar schools. Virtual schools provide an innovative alternative. Shutting them down would be tragic for thousands of families and children benefiting from a virtual education. Wisconsin needs to nurture, explore, and expand quality education, rather than limit or eliminate education opportunities.

Thank you to Waukesha School District Superintendent David Schmidt testifying against Democratic Senator Lehman’s bill and in support of Republican Representative Brett Davis’ bill. Importantly, thank you to Superintendent Schmidt for his role in creating and promoting Waukesha School District IQ Academy. You may visit Waukesha IQ Academy here.

One, two, three Social Security nightmares

As Yogi Berra once said, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

December 29, 2006, the Wisconsin Department of Revenue discovered it made a big mistake. The Department mailed out about 170-thousand income tax forms to taxpayers with their Social Security numbers printed on the address labels for anyone to see. I know because I was one of those unfortunate 170-thousand taxpayers.

A Department official at the time told legislators steps would be taken to prevent a similar blunder from occurring.

Fast forward to one year later.

About 260,000 state residents who participate in Medicaid, BadgerCare or SeniorCare had their Social Security numbers printed on a mailing from the state Department of Health and Human Services.

The Department is pointing the finger at EDS Corporation. The Texas-based company processes claims for the state-run programs and sent out the mailing.

The error one year ago had a simple solution adopted by the state Department of Revenue:  refrain from using Social Security numbers to identify people. The Department of Revenue now uses separate, 15-digit numbers to identify taxpayers for greater safety.

One would assume other state agencies would follow suit, but that hasn’t happened. The department of Health and Human Services used Social Security numbers and the state has once again jeopardized the private data of thousands of taxpayers.

Adding insult to injury: Wisconsin is the only state in the Midwest to foolishly use Social Security numbers to identify recipients of program services.

EDS says it will pay the cost, estimated at more than $1 million, to have a credit-monitoring agency work with people for a year to ensure that their identity isn't stolen. The state must ensure that none of this cost is passed along to taxpayers.

A third breach of privacy in just over a year also occurred this month  with a portion of 5,000 taxpayers in northeastern Wisconsin having their Social Security numbers exposed in a state mailing. A folding error enabled some of the recipients' Social Security numbers to be seen in the windows of envelopes containing federal 1099-G tax forms.

Wisconsin taxpayers deserve to have faith and confidence in the administration of state programs. State agencies under the direction of Governor Jim Doyle must be prohibited from putting Wisconsin citizens at risk of Social Security number exposures.

The Packers are great for the economy

Do football stadiums have an impact on local economies?

If you ask
Robert Baade, Professor of Economics and Chair of the Department of Economics and Business at Lake Forest College, he will say no.

Baade has done extensive research in this area, and muninetguide.com reports that Baade believes that, in general, the research indicates little or no support for the contributions of stadiums or other sports venues to local economies.

An exception is tiny Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Baade says that because the city is so small relative to other cities with NFL teams, it finds itself in the rather unique position of enjoying economic benefits. A rabid statewide following doesn’t hurt, either.

The Green Bay Press Gazette reports that
the latest survey on the economic impact of a home Green Bay Packers game was done in 2000. The study was conducted for the Green Bay Area Chamber of Commerce by Pricewaterhouse Coopers and CFL International.

A green package game added $3.5 million to the local economy and a gold package game brought in $3.9 million. Green package ticket holders buy tickets for a preseason game and six regular season games. Former Milwaukee season-ticket holders get tickets for a preseason game and two regular season games as part of the gold package.

The Press Gazette asked Susan Farrell of Ashwaubenon-based Associated Bank to apply a three percent inflation rate to the 2000 figures. Farrell calculated that the green package games, adjusted for inflation, would have a local economic impact of $4,433,695, and the gold package games would go to $4,940,403.

Brad Toll, president and chief executive officer of Packer Country Visitor and Convention Bureau, believes that even those figures are conservative. Toll says a more updated economic impact study that is being considered would include data from hotels, restaurants, bars and other businesses that have opened since 2000.

The frozen tundra the Packers call home, Lambeau Field was recently named by Sports Illustrated the number 1 stadium in the NFL for the best fan value experience. The Packers’ opponent in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday, the New York Giants home stadium rates number 25.

The Green Bay Packers are a treasure to the state of Wisconsin.

We should all be proud. We’re lucky to have them.

I discuss abortion on Wisconsin Public Radio

Mary in the media

On Thursday, January 10, 2008, I appeared as a guest on Joy Cardin’s program on Wisconsin Public Radio to discuss Wisconsin’s ban on abortion. The state law is still on the books, but is overridden by Roe vs. Wade.

I oppose repealing the ban.

You can hear the entire program by clicking “Listen,” below.

Joy Cardin’s first guest is State Representative Therese Berceau (D-Madison) who supports a repeal of the ban on abortion. Listen to how Representative Berceau responds to her first male caller.

My interview follows Berceau’s.

 Listen

Simple ways to help prevent identity theft

News you can use

Wisconsin has had three separate incidents of a breach of privacy in the past 13 months.

December 29, 2006, the Wisconsin Department of Revenue mailed out about 170-thousand income tax forms to taxpayers with their Social Security numbers printed on the address labels for anyone to see.

This month, about 260,000 state residents who participate in Medicaid, BadgerCare or SeniorCare had their Social Security numbers printed on a mailing from the state Department of Health and Human Services.
Also this month, a portion of 5,000 taxpayers in northeastern Wisconsin had their Social Security numbers exposed in a state mailing. A folding error enabled some of the recipients' Social Security numbers to be seen in the windows of envelopes containing federal 1099-G tax forms.

These breaches of private information open the door to identity theft.

As identity theft skyrockets, with as many as 750,000 Americans victimized each year, experts unfortunately say there is not a surefire prevention plan. There are some simple methods that can be used for protection, according to small business and personal finance writer, author, and MSN.money contributor Jeff Wuorio:

“1. Tear up -- or, if you prefer, shred -- credit card statements, solicitations and other documents that contain private financial information.

2. Empty your mailbox quickly, lock it or get a P.O. box so criminals don’t have a chance to snatch credit card pitches. Never mail outgoing bill payments and checks from home. They can be stolen from your mailbox and the payee's name erased with solvents. Mail them from the post office or another secure location.

3. Never carry your Social Security card with you, or any other card that may have your number, like a health insurance card. And don’t put your number on your checks. It's the primary target for identity thieves because it gives them access to your credit report and bank accounts.

4. Don't leave a paper trail. Never leave ATM, credit card or gas station receipts behind.

5. Never let your credit card out of your sight. Worried about credit card skimming? Always keep an eye on your card or, when that's not possible, pay with cash.

6. Know who you're dealing with. Whenever anyone contacts you asking for private identity or financial information, make no response other than to find out who they are, what company they represent and the reason for the call. If you think the request is legitimate, contact the company yourself and confirm what you were told before revealing any of your personal data.

7. Take your name off marketers' hit lists. Sign up for the Wisconsin No Call List.

8. Be more defensive with personal information. Ask salespeople and others if information such as a Social Security or driver’s license number is absolutely necessary. Ask anyone who does require your Social Security number -- for instance, your insurance company -- what their privacy policy is and whether you can arrange for the organization not to share your information with anyone else.

9. Monitor your credit report. Obtain and thoroughly review your credit report at least once a year to look for suspicious activity. If you spot something, alert your card company or the creditor immediately.

10. Review your credit card statements carefully. Make sure you recognize the merchants, locations and purchases listed before paying the bill. “

Wuorio’s advice if something goes wrong:

“First, contact the fraud departments of each of the three major credit bureaus. Tell them that you're an identity theft victim. Request that a "fraud alert" be placed in your file, along with a victim's statement asking that creditors call you before opening any new accounts or changing your existing accounts.

Contact the creditors for any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently. Speak with someone in the security or fraud department of each creditor, and follow up with a letter.

File a report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place. Get a copy of the police report in case the bank, credit-card company or others need proof of the crime.

Keep records of everything involved in your efforts to clear up fraud, including copies of written correspondence and records of telephone calls.”

"What's so bad about abortion?"

Once again, women from the Silent No More Awareness campaign were in the state Capitol last week to spread their message of the impact abortion has on women and men.

The campaign has three stated goals:

1) Educate the public that abortion is harmful emo­tionally, physically and spiritually with lasting con­sequences.

2) Reach out to those hurting after their abortion and let them know help is available.

3) Invite those who are ready to share their stories to join us in being silent no more.

The women talk about this controversial subject because, as they put it, “Abortion is the most common medical procedure performed in America, but the experience is rarely discussed.”

The co-founder of the Silent No More Awareness campaign, Georgette Forney has written a piece entitled, “What’s so bad about abortion?”

Forney provides the answers.

Learn more about the campaign here. 

January 22, 2008 marks the 35th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion.

Kill the monster!

You get to vote on April 1, 2008 if you want to see an end to the Frankenstein veto.

I co-sponsored the constitutional amendment that will prohibit Wisconsin governors, Republican or Democrat, from using their expansive veto power to form new words, phrases or sentences to authorize spending the Legislature never approved.
 Here are more details.

Here’s a reminder of what prompted the constitutional amendment and why the Frankenstein veto must go.

Governor Doyle used his partial veto 139 times on the 2005-07 state budget. One of his Frankenstein vetoes increased a transfer from the transportation fund to the general fund from $268 million to $427 million.

Look at how Doyle did it. 

The vote on April 1 is to get rid of the Frankenstein veto.

State of the State tonight

Governor Doyle delivers the annual State of the State address tonight to the state Legislature.

Watch my blog tonight. I will post my reaction to the State of the State following the Governor’s speech.

My reaction to State of the State

Governor Doyle began his State of the State address by saying we must make cuts. He proceeded to recognize and validate a looming recession. He then proceeded to light up the Christmas tree and place many new gifts under it. He did not explain how he would pay for the gifts.

The condition of state finances is that the next budget deficit, according to government accounting, is $900 million.

Using real world accounting, Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, the state’s general fund deficit for fiscal year 2007 is $2.44 billion.

The recently approved 2007-09 state budget that I voted against increased taxes and fees by an incredible $763 million. Keep in mind there are millions of dollars at risk due to the Governor tampering with Indian gaming funds and the Patient’s Compensation Fund, not to mention the $427 million transportation raid. Tax collections are rapidly falling and expected to further decline during 2008.

The true state of the state economy is that every economic ranking shows Wisconsin in the top ten in taxes around the country. The Governor and the Legislature need to fully understand that the state cannot afford to continue its spiral of falling revenues and increased spending. That’s a recipe for economic disaster that will keep Wisconsin as one of the highest taxed states in the nation.

You can hear an audio clip of my reaction to the State of the State on badgerblogger.com.

 

Wisconsin is to blame for the state’s economic mess

During his annual State if the State address, Governor Doyle expressed some worry about Wisconsin’s economy. Pointing his finger squarely at the nation’s capital, the Governor said, “Many of the challenges we face today in Wisconsin can be traced to years of bad decision making in Washington.”

I believe the Governor is in denial. Wisconsin is to blame for the economic peril the state finds itself in, due to horrible budgeting and a failure to control spending. There is plenty of evidence to demonstrate how Wisconsin is responsible for digging a massive budget hole.

No matter the methodology used to examine our state finances, the final tally is alarming. The next state budget deficit, according to government accounting, is $900 million. Using real world accounting, Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, the state’s general fund deficit for fiscal year 2007 is $2.44 billion.

The 2007-09 budget the Governor signed and that I voted against increased taxes and fees by $763 million.  The Governor tampered with Indian gaming funds and the Patient’s Compensation Fund. Because of the Governor’s actions, millions of dollars budgeted on a hope and a prayer are now in jeopardy.

The current state budget assumes that a court will order the Ho-Chunk tribe to make payments to the state that the tribe says it does not owe. The state Department of Administration estimates the tribe will owe about $72 million in fees under its gambling compact by June 30, 2009. A lawsuit over the money is pending in federal court. There are no guarantees that the state will win the lawsuit, receive as much as it is seeking, or that payment will be received during the current budget cycle. 

The State Medical Society has filed a lawsuit in an attempt to prevent $200 million from being transferred from the Patient’s Compensation Fund to the Medical Assistance trust fund to pay for Medicaid costs. The budget raid by the Governor is not uncommon. Remember, in the 2005-07 state budget, the Governor used his veto pen to transfer $427 million from the transportation fund to the general fund.  

Wisconsin is suffering from a shortfall in tax collections. Collections are far below the three percent they were projected to be, coming in at only 0.8 percent. Blaming Washington is wrong. Wisconsin has taxed and spent itself into budget oblivion. If this trend continues, the state budget will be thrown into greater chaos. I fear the Governor will embrace tax increases and more funding raids. The Governor and the Legislature need to be more straightforward about the state of our state economy and the necessary solutions. With revenues down and a state in a huge deficit, we need to put the brakes on spending.

Is teacher compensation system really broken?

One of the elements of Governor Doyle’s annual State of the State address that has received little attention is his plan to, as he put it, “invest in a compensation system that rewards teachers who take on the hardest assignments, who advance their skills, and who help their students achieve success,” because “the system is broken.”

The Governor does not provide specific details about how he will pay for his plan.

He also claims that Wisconsin teachers are under-funded, saying in his speech, “Teachers in Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan, and Iowa all make more than Wisconsin teachers.” I am unsure where the Governor is getting his information to make that claim because he does not attribute a source.

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) released a state-by-state ranking of teacher salaries in 2005, and teachers in Minnesota, Illinois, and Michigan have a higher average salary than Wisconsin teachers, and Iowa teachers make less than Wisconsin teachers.

The Governor also said in his speech, “Starting teachers in 48 other states make more than Wisconsin teachers.” According to the AFT study, that is true. However, Wisconsin teachers quickly climb up the salary ladder. The average teacher salary in Wisconsin ranks number 26 among the states at $43,099.

A report by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute that examined school spending during the 2000-2001 school year notes that a significant area of K-12 spending was employee salaries and benefits. Wisconsin school districts paid benefits totaling 36.4 percent of salaries and wages, higher than the national average of 25.5 percent and regional average of 28 percent.

The report also revealed that the higher benefits could be compensating for lower pay. Average teacher pay and benefits during 1999-2000 in Wisconsin were 7.2 percent above the national average, however the average Wisconsin teacher salary was $41,153 or 1.4 percent below that national norm.

Overall average worker earnings in Wisconsin were 14.8 percent below the national average, revealing that teachers do considerably better than most Wisconsin workers.

Education is a priority for me and for the state legislature.  I care very much about student learning, and I, and other Republicans, voted for significant education funding over the years. Historically, Wisconsin’s education generosity has been consistent and growing.

The Wisconsin Policy Research Institute report reveals statewide K-12 spending averaged $9,228 per student during the 2000-2001 school year. That amount is above the national average of $7,985 per student and above the regional average of $8,602 per student. Wisconsin’s teacher pupil ratio is higher than in other states. According to the report, Wisconsin school districts employ 11.6 percent more teachers than the national average, and 13.9 percent more than the surrounding states. Wisconsin had 1.73 teachers for every 25 students compared to the national average of 1.55 during 2000. Wisconsin had more than twice the national average of instructional coordinators, 43 percent more school librarians, 40 percent more support staff and three percent more principals and assistant principals.

Wisconsin has a long-standing tradition of being very generous to education because education is the key to personal success, and individual personal success is the key to our country's success. I look forward to hearing the Governor give specific details about how he intends to fix what he perceives to be a broken teacher compensation system. 

What other governors are saying in their State of the State messages

Stateline.org is keeping track of State of the State speeches being given by the nation’s governors.

Even though many states are now seeing large deficits, governors are still proposing large spending projects.

Some governors are going the other route, calling for tax and spending cuts. As stateline.org puts it, “Governors are shying away from tax increases.”

Here’s the stateline.org report.

UPDATED JANUARY 28

More reaction to the State of the State

Following the Governor’s State of the State speech, I was one of several legislators to offer reaction on WisconsinEye.

Click Part Two under Reactions from Various State Legislators.

My remarks are 4:57 into the video.
 

Virtual schools could remain open

Here’s an update on my blog from last week on the shaky future of virtual schools.

Legislators have reached a compromise that would keep virtual schools in operation. The schools’ status was in jeopardy because of a lawsuit brought against the schools by the state teacher’s union.

If the Legislature can agree on a compromise before the current legislative session ends in March, virtual schools that I support will be saved.
 

Here are more details.

The Strangulation Prevention Enforcement Act

The state Senate last week approved the Strangulation Prevention Enforcement Act, legislation that I co-sponsored.

The bill, if signed into law, will provide law enforcement guidelines to address the severity of strangulation and prosecute as a felony.

Under this bill, Senate Bill 260 (SB 260)  anyone who intentionally impedes the normal breathing or blood circulation of another person by applying pressure on the throat or neck, or by blocking the nose or mouth, of the other person is guilty of a Class H felony. Violators could be fined up to $10,000, be imprisoned up to six years, or both.
SB 260 expands the definition of a “dangerous weapon” to include a ligature or any other instrument used on the throat, neck, nose, or mouth of another person to impede, partially or completely, breathing or circulation of blood, and includes strangulation and suffocation in the definition of a “violent crime.”

The Executive Director of the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Patti Seeger says in a news release, "All too often domestic abusers strangle their victims as they escalate the violence, but strangulation often leaves no visible injury and is not treated as the serious and dangerous crime that it truly is. This legislation will be a powerful tool for intervening in a potentially lethal form of domestic violence and prevent it from intensifying."

The Association of State Prosecutors, the Wisconsin Chapter of the International Association of Forensic Nurses, WCADV, the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault, the Wisconsin District Attorneys Association, the Wisconsin Sheriff's and Deputy Sheriffs Association, and the Wisconsin Victim/Witness Professionals have all publicly supported the Strangulation Prevention Enforcement Act. Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen has also expressed his support for the bill.
 

Massachusetts’ government health care gets worse and worse

Government health care

State Senate Democrats have pledged they will resurrect their $15.2 billion government health care plan in the current legislative session. The proposal was rejected, and wisely so, during last year’s state budget deliberations. Wisconsin should once again examine what is happening in the state of Massachusetts as a learning experience that government health care is a fiscal disaster.

The Boston Globe is reporting the cost of Massachusetts’ health care program has increased astronomically. Spending on the program will increase by more than $400 million next year. The Globe says it is “one of the largest increases in the $28.2 billion state budget the governor proposed.”

The reason for the large increase in the cost is simple and not surprising. The number of people registering for government health care is far greater than previous estimates. State and federal taxpayers are now responsible for practically all of the unexpected sticker shock.

The Globe reports, “The long-term cost of the insurance initiative continues to concern policy makers and analysts, who are worried that it may become unaffordable. This year the state is expected to exceed the initial budget for the health insurance initiative by about $245 million, and next year's budget would boost spending by another $400 million.”

There is a great deal of uncertainty swirling around the Massachusetts government health care debacle. The announcement of the plan resulted in far more people signing up that drove up the cost substantially that the state may be unable to pay. Wisconsin would be wise to learn a valuable lesson from Massachusetts and refuse to go down the same nightmarish path of government  health care.

Stop using SSN's now

The Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services (DHFS) says the Department is not going to use Social Security numbers to identify recipients of state healthcare programs. Department Secretary Kevin Hayden told the state Assembly Committee on Consumer Protection and Personal Privacy that DHFS is working with  Electronic Data Systems, the Texas-based company that erroneously printed the Social security numbers, to change identification numbers to a unique 10 digit number rather than using Social security numbers.

DHFS Secretary Hayden said the current 10-digit number system includes Social Security numbers. The system will be replaced with a fake identifying number that is not based on Social Security numbers.

The news is less reassuring from state Department of Revenue (DOR) Secretary Roger Ervin. Ervin told the same committee that, according to the Janesville Gazette, state agencies are moving away from using Social Security numbers as identifiers except when absolutely necessary.

After three breaches of privacy in the past 13 months, I am unable to fathom a situation where it is absolutely necessary to publish the Social Security number of any recipient of a state service.

The Social Security numbers of hundreds of thousands of state residents were exposed in recent mailings. The numbers were clearly visible, putting thousands of Wisconsin residents in jeopardy of identity theft. The Texas-based EDS is providing free credit monitoring to affected residents and will cover all expenses incurred because of the mistake.

This is interesting.

Secretary Hayden is asking Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen to think about legal action against EDS.

“Confidential information should never have been printed, and this failure has exposed our members (recipients of state services) to identity theft,” said Secretary Hayden

If confidential information should never have been printed, as Secretary Hayden suggests, then it stands to reason that all state agencies should refrain from using Social Security numbers for identification. Wisconsin is the only Midwest state that still uses Social Security numbers as identification numbers. It is time for that practice to end.

The ethanol issue is back

Ethanol

A bill mandating the sale of ethanol is back before the state legislature.

The state Senate Committee on Campaign Finance Reform, Rural Issues and Information Technology will hold an executive session Tuesday, January 29 at 10:00 a.m.
on Senate Bill 380 (SB 380).

SB 380 requires that gasoline sold in Wisconsin must contain the following percentages of ethanol:

(a) In 2009 to 2014, 10 percent.
(b) In 2015 to 2019, 15 percent.
(c) In 2020 to 2024, 20 percent.
(d) In 2025 and thereafter, 25 percent.

There are penalties for refiners who fail to comply.

A refiner may be required to forfeit not more than $10,000 for a first offense,
not less than $500 nor more than $50,000 for a second offense, and not less than $1,000 nor more than $100,000 for a third and subsequent offense.

Here is a copy of SB 380.  

I understand the importance farmers place on ethanol. The Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation says, “The use of grain for ethanol adds up to 10-15 cents for every bushel of corn for Wisconsin farmers.”

Certainly we all wish success for our hard-working farmers. However, the market should decide ethanol sales to consumers, not the government. The government should not interfere with the lives of consumers by determining the fuel they put in their gasoline tanks.

For that reason, I made the successful motion on the Senate floor in the previous legislative session to kill the bill that would have mandated gasoline sold in Wisconsin contain 10 percent ethanol.

As I have stated in the past, if ethanol is of great benefit, then the market should decide. At this time, I do not see a groundswell of support among consumers demanding this product.

It's tax filing season

The Wisconsin Department of Revenue (DOR) is urging income taxpayers to file electronically for quicker returns and fewer mistakes.

For those who file with a paper return, the DOR offers suggestions.

Here are more details, along with changes for this year’s forms
.

Helping a taxpayer pays off

Mary in the media, News you can use

Imagine getting a letter from the state Department of Revenue (DOR) declaring that you overpaid your taxes and you receive a check for $3,000.

Four months later, you get a letter from the Department of Revenue that you underpaid, and now owe the state thousands of dollars plus interest.

You pay the original refund, but not the interest because a Department employee tells you that you do not have to.

A few weeks later, another letter arrives, saying you owe interest and the state is going to charge a collection fee.

It happened to a Waukesha resident who contacted me and questioned why he had to pay for the Department erroneously mailing him a refund check.

The story has a happy ending. I looked into the matter and discovered the Department mailed incorrect tax refunds due to a computer problem. The Waukesha man and many other taxpayers with the same predicament, a total of 199, no longer have to pay interest because of the Department’s mistakes.

There are more details in today’s Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel. You can read the article here.

I have drafted legislation prohibiting the DOR from charging interest to taxpayers for DOR mistakes. The legislation will be introduced soon.

Vote on ethanol bill delayed while Senate Democrats meet behind closed doors

Ethanol

As I write this at 4:00 p.m., the state Senate is in recess while Senate Democrats huddle behind closed doors in a closed caucus.

The Senate has completed most of its calendar, but has not taken up Senate Bill 380, the ethanol mandate bill.

Rumors are circulating throughout the Capitol that Senate Democrats called for the closed caucus to discuss the ethanol bill because they don’t have the necessary votes for passage and are now engaged in some serious arm twisting.

Senate Democrats would not say how long this closed door session would last. At the moment, the ethanol bill hangs in the balance while Senate Democrats battle with one another.

If and when the Senate comes to the floor for a vote on Senate Bill 380, I will be voting no.

Senate does not take action on ethanol bill

Ethanol

The state Senate today referred Senate Bill 380 (SB 380), the ethanol mandate bill back to the Senate Committee on Organization. The bill could still be scheduled for state Senate floor debate before the current legislative session ends in mid-March.

SB 380 requires that gasoline sold in Wisconsin contain the following percentages of ethanol:

(a) In 2009 to 2014, 10 percent.
(b) In 2015 to 2019, 15 percent.
(c) In 2020 to 2024, 20 percent.
(d) In 2025 and thereafter, 25 percent.

There are penalties for refiners who fail to comply.

A refiner may be required to forfeit not more than $10,000 for a first offense, not less than $500 nor more than $50,000 for a second offense, and not less than $1,000 nor more than $100,000 for a third and subsequent offense.

This is bad legislation for many reasons.

The state Senate, without a reliable crystal ball, is legislating into the year 2025 and beyond. Applying these mandates without knowledge of what our energy capabilities or technology will look like decades from now is irresponsible.

The bill is a mandate. Government should refrain from mandating the kind of gasoline consumers put in their automobiles. The free market should make this decision instead of state government.

The jury is still out on the benefits of ethanol. There are too many unknowns. We are unsure ethanol will cost less, we are unsure ethanol will be more fuel-efficient, and we are unsure ethanol will be good for the environment.

I recognize there is not a groundswell of support from the general public for an ethanol mandate that is a perfect example of legislation driven by special interests.

For all of these reasons, I will vote no on SB 380 if it ever comes to the floor of the state Senate.

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