Budget Approved by Assembly, Heads to Senate
6/16/11 – The Wisconsin Assembly approved the new state budget just after three o’clock this morning. The vote was 60-to-38, with Independent Bob Ziegelbauer joining all Republicans in voting yes. All Democrats voted no, after they offered numerous amendments that the G-O-P rejected. One of them would have wiped out a cut in the Earned Income Tax credit for the working poor. Majority Republicans added numerous changes to the budget late last night, rejecting several last-minute items from the Joint Finance Committee. The Senate will take up the two-year, 66-billion-dollar budget today. The Assembly decided not to make it harder for landowners to challenge government land seizures for new roads and utilities. They also dropped the idea of making private contractors build most smaller road projects. Transit workers would keep their bargaining rights, so the state doesn’t lose millions in federal aid. And people can still get ethics statements of public officials by e-mail, instead of having to drive to Madison to see them. Republicans also agreed not to touch Wisc-Net, which provides high-speed Web service to schools and public libraries. Republican Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald said the budget still includes the sacrifices needed to get the state’s fiscal house in order. But Democratic leader Peter Barca said it comes at the expense of the poor and the middle class.
Lawsuits Filed to Challenge Collective Bargaining Restrictions
6/16/11 – Governor Scott Walker says most Wisconsinites want the lawsuits to go away, and to move forward with ending most collective bargaining by public employee unions. The Republican governor made his remark yesterday, after seven unions filed a lawsuit in federal court to strike down parts of the law which was reinstated by the State Supreme Court on Tuesday. The state A-F-L C-I-O says they’re only challenging those parts of the law that restrict public workers from collective bargaining and free association. They’re not challenging the part that makes state employees pay more toward their pensions and health insurance. State A-F-L C-I-O president Phil Neuenfeldt said the union law violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U-S Constitution, by eliminating basic rights to organize and bargain. He also said Walker is illegally creating two classes of public sector employees by exempting police-and-fire unions from most of the bill’s provisions. The new state budget passed by the Assembly early this morning also exempts transit workers. That’s because the state would lose 47-million-dollars in federal aid for busses if the bargaining status of transit workers is changed during the funding period. The new law is scheduled to take effect June 29th.
BDUSD Expected To Vote On Union Contracts Monday
6/16/11 – The Beaver Dam School Board is expected to decide on Monday whether to ratify two-year contracts for the teachers and support staff unions. And its possible Tuesday’s action by the Supreme Court to reinstate the collective bargaining restrictions could play a role in their decision. During his radio program last week Superintendent Steve Vessey said the district was facing a 2.8-million-dollar deficit for the 2011-2012 school year. He said through staffing and efficiency adjustments they were able to fill half of the deficit. The other half was going to be filled in one of two ways. Either the district would reach a contract agreement with the unions that would have them paying 5.8-percent more into their retirement accounts. Or the budget repair bill would pass, which would force teachers and staff to pay the 5.8-percent contribution. With the collective bargaining restrictions apparently not going into effect until June 29 any contract approved prior to that would have to be honored. No contract details have been released. The board meets at 6:30pm Monday night at the Educational Service Center.
BD Officials Mulling Change To Liquor Ordinance Wording
6/16/11 – City officials in Beaver Dam may change the wording of the city’s liquor licensing ordinance to address problems that have arisen since the state smoking ban was put into effect last July. At issue are the tavern patrons who step outside to have a cigarette and bring their drink with them. Bar owners are prohibiting those patrons from carrying a drink out the front door
to smoke on city sidewalks. They are instead encouraging them to smoke on a deck or patio with their drinks. City liquor licenses permit alcohol on those outside decks and patio’s if they are listed on the license application. The problem is that city ordinance requires those areas to be (quote) “controlled” and no one in city government seems to be able to explain exactly what “controlled” means. Bar owners say they could not afford to keep their doors open if they had to staff someone outside full-time to monitor smokers. The city identified seven establishments as “uncontrolled” based on site descriptions outlined in their liquor license applications. John Hammen with Johnny’s Lounge says the smoking ban is hurting business enough as it is, without having to tell patrons to leave their drinks unattended at the bar. Administration Committee Chair Don Neuert says the ordinance language needs to be “tightened-up” in such a way that it remains strong enough to prevent underage access to alcohol. The wording of the ordinance is expected to be addressed this month, as new licenses are being issued as of July 1. In the meantime, the affected bar owners have been asked to control outside drinking or risk violating city ordinance.
Waupun Expands Liquor License Ordinance
6/16/11 – Waupun has adopted an ordinance change that will add grocery stores to the list of businesses that can get a Class A liquor license. Currently the city has only two liquor stores that have the ability to sell hard alcohol but City Administrator Kyle Clark says the change will expand that to include grocery stores. He says the idea behind the change was, in part, to lure another grocery store to town after the SuperValu store on the west side of town closed. Clark says they’ve been in discussions with a potential buyer with one of the contingencies being the ordinance change.
Dems Go to Court Over Recalls
6/16/11 – Democrats are trying to again to drop recall elections against three of their state senators. The State Democratic Party asked a judge yesterday to nullify the Government Accountability Board’s decision last week to schedule votes against Dave Hansen, Jim Holperin, and Bob Wirch. The party said it found that numerous people were misled when they signed the petitions, claiming they told it would support schools or preserve Indian tribal rights. The board rejected thousands of petition signatures due to fraud – but it certified enough valid signatures to hold the elections. State Democratic chairman Mike Tate said a higher authority should review what he called a “stunning conspiracy to defraud the voters.” Six Republican senators who face recalls have also asked the courts to cancel their elections. They said petition organizers filed improper paperwork when they started their drives. For now, though, the recall primaries against the Republican senators are set for July 12th with the general elections on August ninth. The votes against the Democrats would be held a week later.
Thompson on the Defensive
6/16/11 – Republican Tommy Thompson is fighting back at claims that he supported the Democratic health care reform law. The former Wisconsin governor and Bush health secretary is thinking about running for the U-S Senate next year. He told G-O-P donors in Washington yesterday that the Obama health law must be quote, “repealed and replaced and rewritten.” The conservative Club-for-Growth said Thompson gave the Obama package his blessing – which he strongly denies. The former governor said he did work to achieve reforms that both parties could support. But in the end, he said the package became too liberal. The 69-year-old Thompson has been out of the public sector since 2004, and he’s toyed several times with the idea of returning to public office. He says voters have a right to be skeptical that he’ll run this time – but he says the opportunity is better for him now. Thompson was Wisconsin’s governor for 14 years before he joined the Bush cabinet in 2001. He says he’ll decide after this summer’s state Senate recall elections whether he’ll run for the seat to be given up by Democrat Herb Kohl next year.
Clyman FD Puts Grant Money To Good Use
6/16/11 – The Clyman Fire and Rescue Department has recently put into service equipment purchased with grant funding. The department recently received Assistance to Firefighters grant from the U.S. Fire totaling $121,500. Fire Chief John Haase says the department is now using new Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus, or SCBA gear, that will give firefighters up to 35 minutes of breathing time; their old equipment only allowed for 15 to 20 minutes of oxygen. Haase says each of the 14 SCBA air packs are worth $5000 to $6000 dollars while the air compressor filling station cost around $45,000. The grant also paid for the purchase of custom-fit, voice-activated face pieces that will allow firefighters to communicate with the command center during a fire.
BDFD Responds To Car Fire
6/16/11 – The Beaver Dam Fire Department responded to a passenger car fire last night. The vehicle was in the parking lot of the KFC on East Industrial Drive. It was fully involved when crews arrived on scene just before 8:30pm. There no injuries and the car was a complete loss. Firefighters were on scene for about 45 minutes.
Tavern Burglary Spree Ringleader In Court
6/16/11 – A Mauston man arrested in connection with a series of Dodge County tavern break-ins was in a Dodge County courtroom this morning. Thomas Dahlgren had a public defender assigned and a preliminary hearing scheduled for next week. The 44-year-old is charged with three felony counts of Burglary and three misdemeanor counts of Theft. Dahlgren and two others are accused of breaking into the Dockside Pub and Grille in the Town of Westford in January, Jumpers Bar in the Town of Beaver Dam in February and Chances Bar in the Town of Burnett in March. Thousands of dollars was stolen from poker machines, ATM’s and safes. 32-year-old Nicholas J. Etter of West Salem and 32-year-old Michelle L. Novak of Mayville were the first to be charged in the case. According to the criminal complaint, Novak reportedly admitted to being the getaway driver and lookout; she has since waived her right to a preliminary hearing and has court activity on the calendar next month. Etter admitted that he was involved but blamed someone else for orchestrating the break-ins. Etter entered a “no contest” plea earlier this month and will be sentenced in September. Dahlgren, meanwhile, was on probation for Attempted Homicide at the time of his arrest and is currently incarcerated at the Waupun Correctional Institution.
A-G Refuses To Honor Federal Request
6/16/11 – Wisconsin’s attorney general says he will not honor a federal request to seek the repeal of state laws which make it harder for ex-convicts to find jobs and housing. Republican J-B Van Hollen says he believes all of Wisconsin’s laws address legitimate public safety concerns. U-S Attorney General Eric Holder has asked all the states to review their laws, and ask legislators to eliminate those which place un-due burdens on ex-offenders. Holder’s request was connected with the release of a new data-base from the American Bar Association. It lists all state laws throughout the country that impose post-prison sanctions on offenders. Wisconsin has 525 such laws, fewer than the national average of around 700. George Washington University law professor Stephen Saltzburg, who helped create the data-base, says states can use it to help prevent ex-convicts from going back to prison. Holder says new research has shown that good jobs and stable housing are the best ways to prevent offenders from committing new crimes. Saltzburg says he’d like to see punishments that hold offenders accountable, but do not unduly destroy their chances of being productive citizens once they’ve served their time.