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.

Joint Finance Committee Update

budget, JFC, legislation, walker, town halls

Tuesday at the Capitol

budget, legislation

A judge issued a restraining order requiring state officials to open the Capitol to the public.

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Senate acts on Voter ID bill, Bob Uecker resolution

Photo ID, releases, Legislation, budget

The Senate remained under a call of the house Thursday. Under a call of the house, absent members of the Senate are required to come to the Senate chamber. The 14 Senate Democrats have ignored this requirement for the last week. 

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State Senate Committee Acts on Bureaucratic Overreach

Business, Legislation

Earlier today, the Senate Committee on Small Business that I serve on met to discuss payday loan regulations put forward by the Department of Financial Institutions (DFI).  The new regulations follow the payday loan bill, signed into law earlier this year.

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Special committee looking into plastics


A special Wisconsin Legislative Council Study Committee on Single-use Plastics has begun its work. At its first meeting last month, Brad Wolbert of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources told the committee that from 2002 through 2009, there was an 18 percent increase in the pounds per person per day in plastics going into Wisconsin landfills. Far more than any other material, plastics stand out for increases seen in our landfills with grocery and garbage bags up substantially.

When asked by a committee member, paper or plastic, Wolbert replied the choice is paper because it’s better for the landfill and the environment. Drainage problems are caused by garbage and produce bags and plastic film packaging.

Generally, after a Legislative Council Study Committee completes its extensive work, the committee recommends a large, comprehensive omnibus bill for consideration during the subsequent legislative session. Conceivably, this committee might be considering restrictions on plastics.

Even California is rejecting calls to ban plastic shopping bags.

Puppy Mill Law - State wants public input about dog seller licensing regulations


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Electronics recycling law coming


Beginning September 1, 2010, Wisconsin’s new electronics recycling law goes into effect. The law bans
TVs, computers, DVD players, printers, and other electronics in landfills. Electronics that normally were tossed in the garbage will now have to be recycled.

Here is more information from the Department of Natural Resources 
and the Wisconsin Legislative Council.

Last day to comment about proposed rules claiming use of words Indians and Chiefs are discriminatory


A complaint has been filed with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) claiming the Mukwonago School District’s use of the nickname, “Chief,” is discriminatory.

The Mukwonago Chief newspaper reports a Mukwonago resident and former Mukwonago High School student initiated the complaint, claiming he was the subject of racial taunts attending the high school and that school officials refused to take action about his complaints.

Paul Strobel, Superintendent of the Mukwonago School District commented, “I did indicate that we believe the decision relating to the use of the logo is a local decision. We don't necessarily appreciate politicians in Madison who are not connected to the district making decisions for the district.”

The state Legislature approved a bill banning racial logos and mascots. Governor Doyle signed the bill into law. I voted against the legislation.

Thursday, July 29, 2001, DPI held a public hearing about the e
mergency and proposed permanent rules related to the legislation. DPI states:

 “Enacted this spring, 2009 Wisconsin Act 250 allows a school district resident who objects to the use of a race-based nickname, logo, mascot, or team name by the school board of that school district to file a complaint with the state superintendent. The legislation requires immediate review of the complaint to determine whether the use of the nickname or team name, alone or in connection with a logo or mascot, is ambiguous or unambiguous in being race-based.

The emergency and proposed permanent rules specify that the use of certain nicknames or team names are unambiguously race-based and presumed to promote discrimination, pupil harassment or stereotyping unless the school district produces clear and convincing evidence refuting this presumption. The proposed rules establish procedures for a school district resident to submit a complaint about a race-based nickname or team name; information a school district must provide when there is a complaint and if the nickname or team name is found to be ambiguous; and depending on the result of the complaint review, the timeframe for the state superintendent to notify the parties or schedule a contested case hearing.”

Here is an excerpt from DPI demonstrating subjective government decision making:

“The rules specify that the use of any of the following nicknames or team names are unambiguously race-based and presumed to promote discrimination, pupil harassment or stereotyping unless the school district produces clear and convincing evidence refuting this presumption. 

                         A nickname or team name is unambiguously race-based if it includes any of the following terms: 1. the full or partial name of any specific, federally recognized American Indian tribe, 2. Indians, 3. Braves, or 4. Redmen.                        

                        A nickname or team name is unambiguously race-based if it includes any of the terms arrows, blackhawks, chiefs, chieftains, hatchets, raiders, red raiders, warriors, or warhawks and is used in connection with any of the following logos or mascots: 1. A depiction of an American Indian person or persons, 2. Feathers or feather headdress, 3. Arrows, bows, spears, tomahawks, stone hatchets, or other historical or traditional American Indian weapons or tools, or 4. Historical or traditional American Indian drums, pipes, beadwork, clothing or footwear.”

Comments are accepted by DPI through August 4, 2010. Here are more details including information to contact DPI via email.

I predict future reminiscence of the many schools that were named in honor of Native American culture, much lament about the loss of the remnants of Native American culture, and future requests to name schools and other buildings in honor of Native American culture.

Disabling Driver Distractions


If you’re driving while reading this, please stop and pay close attention to the road.

The 2009 Traffic Safety Culture Survey sponsored by the AAA Foundation found that 40 percent of drivers younger than 35 and about one out of five drivers of all ages said they were texting while driving during the previous month.

Beginning December 1, 2010, texting while driving will be prohibited in Wisconsin. Violators could be fined not less than $20 or more than $400. Exempt will be operators of authorized emergency vehicles, emergency transmissions, and licensed amateur radio operators. The use of cell phones while driving will still be allowed.

The Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA) report, “Curbing Distracted Driving: 2010 Survey of State Safety Programs” says, “There have been concerns about distracted driving since windshield wipers were introduced in cars in the early 1900s. Opponents believed that the rhythmic movement might hypnotize the driver.” Contemporary causes of distracted driving mentioned by police on crash reports cited by the GHSA include: Cell phone use, children, eating, drinking, smoking, animals, reading, personal hygiene, visual obscurement, operation of electronic equipment, object or person outside the vehicle, sun in eyes, insect, livestock, animals outside the vehicle, navigation device, and Palm Pilot.

Wisconsin’s texting ban is part of a nationwide trend with states enacting new laws to address distracted driving. The state of Louisiana could be upping the ante.

The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) has volunteered to participate in a one-month pilot study examining the effectiveness of Cell Control. The web site of the Baton Rouge-based company, Cell Control claims its product is able to “automatically stop distracted driving caused by cell phones, Laptops, hand helds and other mobile devices when car is accurately determined to be moving.”

Seven Cell Control devices donated by the manufacturer have been installed in the state automobiles of leadership of the Louisiana DOTD, connected to the on-board diagnostic ports under the dashboards. Incoming calls, emails and/or text messages are received and stored. However, the messages are inaccessible while the vehicle is in motion. Regular functions continue while the vehicle is stopped. Emergency 911 calls can always be made.

Today, the Louisiana DOTD. Tomorrow, your car?

Future models will be, to use the vernacular of car salesmen, loaded. A myriad of flashy new gadgetry in cars is on the horizon. At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this year, Intel and Google exhibited the latest computers for cars featuring 10-inch screens capable of showing high-definition videos, road maps in 3-D and Internet pages. Other features include GPS and Wi Fi. Federal officials are not pleased with these built-in distractions.

On the heels of President Obama signing an Executive Order prohibiting federal employees from using government-issued Blackberries or phones while driving, US Department of Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood told the political web site, POLITICO in an interview he believes new technology stands in the way of the fight against distracted driving.

“I've been talking to the CEOs of auto manufacturers, and I'm going to continue to meet with them,” Secretary Lahood said. “I'm going to continue to talk to 'em. I believe all these are distractions--I really do--and I just think they need to realize when they promote these kind of activities, they're promoting activities for people to be distracted while they're driving.”

Would the federal government mandate automobile equipment that could and could not be allowed? Is a device like Cell Control going to become standard?

Washington D.C. would never exert its authority over a private enterprise like the automobile industry, would it?

DOJ issues details about smoking ban

Legislation, News you can use

’s statewide smoking ban takes effect this Monday, July 5, 2010. The Wisconsin Department of Justice has released a memo summarizing the ban requirements. The memo also explains enforcement.

You can see the memo here.

"...Boulder, ... the number of dispensaries [marijuana shops]... is larger than the number of Starbucks and liquor stores combined"


Since Colorado legalized medical marijuana, the New York Times reports, “Hundreds of dispensaries popped up and a startling number of residents turned out to be in ‘severe pain,’ the most popular of eight conditions that can be treated legally with the once-demonized weed. More than 80,000 people here now have medical marijuana certificates, which are essentially
prescriptions, and for months new enrollees have signed up at a rate of roughly 1,000 a day.”

At dispensaries, so-called budtenders sell marijuana out of glass cases with names like Jack the Ripper and Blue Skunk, so powerful that one seller states matter of factly, “it goes right to your brain.”

You can buy all sorts of pot. There are pot cookies, pot fudge, pot butter, pot candy bars, pot muffins, pot coffee and pot ice cream.

One dispensary is operated by a self-proclaimed ““three-time convicted felon for possession of marijuana with intent to sell.”

Getting medical marijuana is easy. Just claim you’re suffering from insomnia or menstrual cramps. An exam takes about 3-5 minutes.

The New York Times interviewed Dr. James Boland.  Dr. Boland has an office just outside Boulder:

“In one year alone, working just three days a week at Relaxed Clarity, he’s seen 7,000 patients, each paying an average of $150 for a visit. He takes out a calculator and does some quick arithmetic. That’s more than $1 million, grossed in 12 months.

‘There’s no waiting for an insurance company to pay you a fraction of what you billed,’ Dr. Boland says. ‘It’s just boom, you know, cash on the spot. So you can make a significant amount of money doing this’.”

With business so easy and lucrative, let’s be realistic. How many patients is Dr. Boland going to turn away?

Medical marijuana has turned into a bureaucratic nightmare. Because Colorado is the first state to attempt to fully regulate its for-profit marijuana trade, the state’s Department of Revenue has been working for several months on new rules and regulations.

Read more in the New York Times. 

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A smoking alternative?


Don’t forget, Wisconsin’s statewide smoking ban takes effect next week.

What’s a smoker to do? The answer could be e-cigarettes, described by the Green Bay Press-Gazette as “battery-powered devices that use liquid nicotine to imitate a cigarette's taste and effects. Made to look like cigarettes, electronic cigarettes do not use tobacco. The battery heats the nicotine when the user inhales, creating a vapor that gives the appearance of smoke.”

The Brown County Tavern League is getting demands for e-cigarettes from all across the state.

Read more here.

Editorial supports my suggested state transparency web site


Monday, I released a column renewing my call for the creation of a state government transparency web site. I intend to introduce transparency web site legislation during the next legislative session. 

The Appleton Post-Crescent has editorialized in support of the idea:

“Wisconsin is one of just 14 states that don't have a transparency website, where the public can go to track state government spending…..somehow, 36 other states have figured out a way to do it — and not spend millions in the process.

If Wisconsin had a transparency website, would it draw thousands of people? Maybe not. But those who would view it, including others in state government, should be able to find some ways for the state to save money. Just the fact that spending information would be made public could lead to reduced spending.”

You can read the entire editorial here. 

Mopeds, too


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DPI issues emergency rule about mascot law


A Wisconsin law that establishes a new procedure for challenging a school board’s use of a race-based nickname, logo, mascot, or team name went into effect May 20, 2010. I voted against the mascot legislation.

The state Superintendent of Public Instruction is required to promulgate rules necessary to implement and administer the law.  June 1, 2010, the office of the state Superintendent of Public Instruction published an emergency rule pertaining to the new law. Here are excerpts from the department’s analysis:

“Plain language analysis:

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The 2009-10 legislative session by the numbers


The nonpartisan Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance (WISTAX) has crunched the numbers from the 2009-10 general legislative session that ended during April 2010 to determine the extent of legislative activity. Here are some of the findings:

“Legislators made 8,987 requests for bills, amendments, and resolutions to be drafted in statutory language in 2009-10.

A total of 412 bills passed the legislature this session, up from 243 in 2007-08 and the fourth-highest number in the last 10 sessions.

The assembly convened and took a roll call 36 times in 2009-10, up from 29 times in 2007-08, but down from sessions in the 1980s and 1990s when session days often exceeded 60.

As has been the case in recent years, the senate convened slightly fewer days (31) than the assembly, but numbers in both houses could grow if lawmakers were yet to meet in special session.”

Some observers base their legislative activity barometer on total number of bills approved. Others argue that the Legislature could inflict too much damage by passing too many bills that create too many taxes, fees, spending, rules, regulations, bureaucracy, and bad policy. This past session is a perfect example.

Read more from WISTAX.

Great news from the US Supreme Court


The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled the
Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Actsigned into law during 2006 by President George W. Bush, is constitutional.

A lower court had ruled Congress went beyond its authority, approving legislation that could incarcerate dangerous sex offenders beyond their prison terms. The Supreme Court reversed that ruling, with Justice Stephen Breyer writing the majority opinion:

"The statute is a 'necessary and proper' means of exercising the federal authority that permits Congress to create federal criminal laws, to punish their violation, to imprison violators, to provide appropriately for those imprisoned and to maintain the security of those who are not imprisoned by who may be affected by the federal imprisonment of others.”

You can read more about the law at John Walsh’s America’s Most Wanted web site.

Read more about the Supreme Court ruling here.

The 2009-10 general legislative session review: RTAs


One of the major issues of contention during the 2009-10 general legislative session was the creation of regional transit authorities (RTAs).

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Like Wisconsin, like Washington


Like Wisconsin, like Washington

During the final days and
weeks of the 2009-10 Wisconsin general legislative session, Democrats in power tried desperately to jam through major pieces of legislation before the clock struck midnight, regardless of the legislation's unpopularity with the general public.

Thank goodness global warming, radical election reform, regional transit authority, and local sex offender ordinance repeal legislation all failed to be approved and is considered dead at this time.

The state Legislature has adjourned until January. Still in session is Congress. Like Wisconsin, Democrats control the entire shooting match. Like Wisconsin, Congressional Democrats aim to ram and jam as much as possible before voters decide their fate in November.

Here are some of the big ticket items on their agenda:

Cap and trade

Immigration reform

Value-added tax

Financial reform

Fred Barnes writes in the Wall Street Journal:

“The model for such a strategy is the health-care legislation—ObamaCare—enacted in March. For months nearly every opinion poll found either a solid majority or a plurality of Americans opposed to the bill. And it was assumed to be dead after Republican Scott Brown campaigned against it and won a special election in January for the Massachusetts Senate seat of the late Edward M. Kennedy.

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Bill allowing one-day fish licenses approved

Legislation, Tourism

Senate Bill 401 (SB 401), approved by the Legislature allows the Department of Natural Resources (DNR)  to issue one−day fishing licenses to residents and nonresidents. Holders of one-day licenses would pay a reduced fee for an annual license that is issued during the same year the one−day license is valid.

The pro-tourism bill was signed into law by Governor Doyle this week.

Federal global warming bill would cost Wisconsin dearly


Global warming legislation may have died in Madison
however federal legislation is still being considered in Washington D.C.

The National Taxpayers Union (NTU) writes, “The proposed federal renewable energy standard (RES) will raise prices for consumers, the equivalent of a damaging tax hike on Americans who continue to struggle to make ends meet. The United States is primarily powered by traditional energy sources like coal, natural gas, and nuclear fuel. These energy sources are far more abundant domestically and cheaper than ‘renewable’ sources like wind and solar power, which also happen to be recipients of lavish taxpayer subsidies. But, the federal RES will force states to purchase these renewable sources or renewable energy credits, whether or not they can afford them or have access to them. Consequently, the increased cost of electricity will be passed on to the taxpayer.”

To demonstrate the impact of the economic damage to each state as a result of the proposed federal RES, the NTU has developed a map that puts the severity of the RES to Wisconsin in the moderate category.  Are we expected to believe that it is just peachy keen that we will only have moderate damage? Let's examine the numbers:

The RES would cause an increase in residential electricity bills of 59.7 percent in Wisconsin by 2030.

The RES would cause a loss of 56,700 jobs in Wisconsin by 2030.

Only 2.6 percent of Wisconsin’s current electricity generation would meet Congress’ definition of “carbon-free renewable” energy.

The NTU concludes from a national perspective, “A federal renewable energy standard will cost nearly all Americans and threatens to derail economic recovery.”

Read more here. 

"Illegals driving illegally"


A very troubling report in the Racine Journal Times opens with a rather blunt headline:

Illegals driving illegally”

The Times reports, “Illegal immigrants continue to drive here without licenses, going through traffic court and before local judges. In Racine County, there are hundreds of cases a year involving illegal immigrants driving without valid licenses or after revocation, District Attorney Michael Nieskes estimated. Under the law, drivers without licenses could get jail time, but both Racine County Circuit Court traffic court judges, Allan Torhorst and John Jude, said they don't sentence unlicensed drivers to jail if they have not been charged with other offenses.”

State Representative Pedro Colon (D-Milwaukee) is considering reintroducing legislation to give special driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. Colon’s bill failed during the previous session.

The Times reports, “Judges Torhorst and Jude said they would not oppose a law that would allow illegal immigrants to drive.”

The main argument as reported by the newspaper in support of driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants is safety. The illegal immigrants are going to drive anyway, so let them attend classes to learn the rules of the road, etc. This defense is a smokescreen for the main issue that the immigrants are in Wisconsin illegally and should not be entitled to the same privilege as law-abiding citizens.

Follow this disturbing pattern. There are a number of illegal immigrants in Wisconsin. They are driving illegally. Officers of the court are fully aware. The illegal immigrants could be sent to jail; however, they are not. Some lawmakers want to provide special driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. Some judges would support the idea.

This is outrageous. I opposed giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants in the past and will continue to do so. The state should not be rewarding illegal activity.

Read more in the Racine Journal Times. 

The 2009-10 legislative session review: Sex education


Victories came at the end of the 2009-10 general legislative session in the failure of major, controversial bills to gain approval. However, one significant piece of legislation unable to be blocked was a new
law that guts abstinence education and paves the way for a radical expansion of the kinds of issues that can be discussed in human growth and development classes.

Governor Doyle signed legislation into law that requires public schools that teach sex education to include instruction about the use of condoms and discussion about sexually transmitted diseases. The new law is a dramatic departure from current procedures that has already angered and upset many parents.

Under previous Wisconsin law, local school boards were allowed to determine if and how sex education is taught to students in their school districts. The new law that I voted against eliminates the autonomy local school districts did have to provide the instruction they considered to be the best for their students. School districts will no longer be allowed to teach an abstinence-only curriculum. A wide-ranging sex education curriculum will be established, including non-judgmental instruction on alternative lifestyles and behaviors.

During the 2005 legislative session, I authored legislation that became law (signed by the same Governor Doyle) that required school boards that chose to provide sex education to present abstinence as the preferred choice of behavior. I authored the abstinence legislation because there is only one method that is 100 percent effective in preventing unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. It is abstinence. That is indisputable. Health professionals agree that abstinence is the healthiest choice for teens. The abstinence law is a common sense approach to an adolescent health issue.  In order to make the choice to be abstinent, teens must have access to abstinence instruction and be equipped with accurate information about the consequences resulting from sexual activity. The legislation Governor Doyle signed February 24, 2010 will make opportunities for teens to hear this critically important message far less likely.

On behalf of the West Allis-West Milwaukee school district that requested a positive change in the legislation, I proposed an amendment on the floor of the state Senate that would have allowed a school district that offered a comprehensive sex education curriculum and an abstinence-only curriculum to have the option of choosing an abstinence-only program. The West Allis-West Milwaukee school district used to offer the two options to parents. I found their request to be a reasonable compromise. My amendment was rejected by the state Senate along party lines.

Another troubling provision prohibits school districts from being judgmental or biased against sexually active students. My colleagues and I that opposed the legislation emphasized this is a logical scenario to be judgmental. The emphatic instruction to children is that they should not be having sex, period.

A significant change was made to the legislation under an amendment that requires school boards that provide sex education to instruct students about: a)  the criminal penalties for engaging in sexual activities involving a child and  b) sex offender registration requirements. The amendment passed unanimously and is the only bright spot in a highly risky, and yes, dangerous new law that guts abstinence instruction, mandates the instruction of elements of sex education that will make many parents uncomfortable and angry, and removes local control from local school districts. State government should not be telling local school districts and parents it knows best, especially about an issue as sensitive as sex education.

Hopefully, this law can be repealed during the next session.

Speak out: DNR wants to change bow hunting rules

Legislation, News you can use

Many Wisconsin hunters will tell you they are not happy about the way the department of Natural Resources (DNR) has managed the annual deer hunting season. Now it might be the bow hunters’ turn to get upset.

The DNR has announced that under a proposed rule, “Archery deer hunters would be restricted to using the antlerless deer carcass tag that is issued with each archery hunting license to only those deer management units with an established antlerless deer harvest quota.”

Current rules allow the use of an antlerless tag in any deer management unit in the state.

The state has 134 deer management units (DMUs) and all have a set deer population quota. The DNR reports that during 2010, “18 DMUs will have no antlerless permits available to gun hunters in an effort to increase deer populations in the fastest possible way. Under this proposed rule, archery deer hunters also would not be able to kill an antlerless deer in these units.”

The elimination of areas for bow hunting could cause frustration. I am starting to hear from concerned constituents worried about the changes. They consider the plan to be more meddling by the DNR that will only serve to create problems.

A DNR official says the earliest the rule could be in effect would be the 2011 season; however, if there is enough support, the DNR could ask the Natural Resources Board to adopt an emergency rule to take effect during the 2010 hunt.

Public hearings about the proposed rule are scheduled. After a brief informational presentation, public comments and statements will be accepted. The public hearings at 7 p.m. at the following locations:

  • May 17, Rhinelander - James Williams Middle School, 915 Acacia Lane
  • May 18, Fitchburg - DNR South Central Region Headquarters, 3911 Fish Hatchery Rd.
  • May 24, Green Bay - DNR Northeast Region Headquarters, 2984 Shawano Ave.

Read more

Neighborhood Electric Vehicle (NEV) legislation signed into law


Legislation that I co-sponsored allowing
the operation of a neighborhood electric vehicle (NEV) on any roadway within a municipality that has passed an ordinance allowing NEVs has been signed into law by Governor Doyle.

Under Senate Bill 321 (SB 321), a municipality that has approved an ordinance can authorize the use of NEVs on any roadway within the municipality that has a speed limit of 35 miles per hour or less. The operation of a Low Speed Vehicle (LSV) on certain highways at 25 miles per hour or less is allowed under SB 321 that includes NEVs in the definition of LSV.

The Wisconsin Legislative Council reports that in general, LSVs can operate on any highway that has a speed limit of 35 miles per hour or less that is under the jurisdiction, for maintenance purposes, of a municipality or county. Under SB 321, municipalities or counties may approve ordinances to prohibit the use of LSVs on highways under their jurisdiction .SB 321 is necessary to allow the use of NEVs on roads that cross state trunk highways through local ordinance. Under previous law, a municipality needed state Department of Transportation permission to allow NEV’s on roads that cross state trunk highways . 

Here is the history of SB 321 that contains a Legislative Council memo.

Sign Language Interpreter bill signed into law


Governor Doyle has signed legislation into law that I co-authored t
hat relates to licensing of sign language interpreters.

Senate Bill 389 (SB 389) stipulates that  a  person may not provide, for compensation, sign language interpretation services for a deaf or hard of hearing client unless the person holds a license granted by the Department of Regulation and Licensing (DRL). Exemptions are made for the following: 1) a person interpreting in a court proceeding, if the person is certified by the Wisconsin Supreme Court; 2) a person interpreting at a school or school−sponsored event, if the person is certified by the Department of Public Instruction; 3) a person interpreting at a religious service or religious function; 4) a support service provider facilitating communication between an interpreter and an individual who is deaf or hard of hearing; and 5) a person interpreting in the course of employment during an emergency, for up to 24 hours.

A nine member Sign Language Interpreter Council is created that will advise DRL about the practice of sign language interpreters. The council may grant a temporary exemption from the licensure requirement, and must make recommendations to DRL regarding a code of ethics for interpreters. The bill requires DRL to promulgate rules establishing a code of ethics for interpreters and authorizes DRL to conduct disciplinary proceedings against interpreters.

Under SB 389, a licensed interpreter may not disclose any aspect of confidential communication facilitated by the interpreter, unless all parties to the communication consent and a court determines that disclosure is necessary for the proper administration of justice.

An amendment to SB 389 was offered that would have allowed interpreters trained by DPI to provide service in educational settings to also practice outside the classroom. On the floor of the state Senate, I spoke against the amendment, expressing concern that while DPI-trained educational interpreters do an outstanding job in our schools, there are serious ramifications in areas like courtrooms or medical communities if education-trained interpreters make miscommunications.

The amendment was defeated, 27-5 and SB 389, greatly supported by deaf and hard of hearing groups was approved by the state Legislature and signed into law.

Wisconsin's smoking ban: The facts


Time to clear the air.  Confusion abounds regarding Wisconsin’s looming statewide smoking ban. Here are important facts about the new law based on information from the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau and the Legislative Council.

Beginning July 5, 2010, smoking will be prohibited in enclosed public places and workplaces, publicly or privately owned, including taverns and restaurants.  Smoking is defined as the burning or holding, or inhaling or exhaling smoke from a lighted cigarette, cigar, pipe, or any other lighted smoking equipment.  A public place is a place open to the public, regardless of whether a fee is charged, or a place the pub­lic has lawful access or may be invited.  A place of employment is any indoor place that employees normally frequent during the course of employment. That includes an office, work area, employee lounge, a restroom, a conference or meet­ing room, a classroom, or a hallway. 

Under the smoking ban law signed by Governor Doyle May 18, 2009, the word enclosed was defined as a structure that has a roof and more than two substantial walls. A substantial wall was defined as a wall with an opening, door or window, that may be used to allow air in from the outside that is less than 25 percent of the wall’s surface area. 

Near the end of the 2009-10 general legislative session, the Legislature amended the definition of substantial wall to now mean, a wall with no opening or with an opening that either does not allow air in from the outside or that is less than 25 percent of the wall’s surface area. That means the smoking ban law will allow structures that have a roof and not more than two substantial walls. Bar and restaurant owners could, thus, build L-shaped outdoor patios or beer gardens with two substantial walls and allow smoking in such areas.

Indoor smoking will be allowed in private residences, retail tobacco stores or tobacco bars that were in exis­tence June 3, 2009, rooms used as a residence by only one per­son in an assisted living facility or a room that all occupants requested in writing to be allowed to smoke, and Tribal casinos or facilities. The ban applies everywhere else. A person in charge of a building cannot designate rooms or parts of rooms as smoking areas.

Penalties will be issued to violators. Anyone smoking in a prohibited area is subject to a forfeiture of not less than $100 nor more than $250 for each violation. A person in charge of a facility is subject to a forfeiture of $100 for each violation, but not more than one penalty per day if the person fails to take any required action to stop illegal smok­ing.

Persons in charge of facilities are required to make reasonable efforts to prevent illegal smoking. The Legislative Reference Bureau writes:

“For example, a bartender may not provide matches, ash­trays, or other smoking-related equipment, and must take all of the following steps:

Read more

Medical marijuana update


Victories in the completed 2009-10 general legislative session came when bad legislation died. Here is another example: legalizing medical marijuana.

I served on the state Senate Health Committee that considered the proposed legislation and last December, I blogged about a joint hearing of the state Senate and Assembly Health Committees:

“Assistant Attorney General (AAG) Kevin St. John told the committees, ‘Compassion centers (medical marijuana dispensaries) become targets for criminal activity.’ AAG St. John noted crimes including homicides have been associated with dispensaries. Drug dealers are known to congregate outside the facilities, offering marijuana for lower prices.

Under the legislation, an individual would be allowed access to 12 marijuana plants.  AAG St. John testified a plant can yield one pound of marijuana. The street value of marijuana is about $4,000/pound meaning patients would have access to about $50,000 worth of pot.”

This week, prosecutors in Los Angeles sent out notices to 439 medical marijuana dispensaries informing they must shut down by June 7, 2010 to comply with a city ordinance.  In the process, Los Angeles is bucking a national trend.  

When California, of all places, starts clamping down on pot sales, that is surprisingly good news. 

Lions Clubs license plates bill signed into law


I am very pleased legislation I authored to create special license plates supporting Lions Clubs of Wisconsin was signed into law Wednesday by the Governor.  Senate Bill 307 (SB 307) allows special plates to be designed featuring a logo or image of the Lion associated with Lions Clubs International. A $15 fee for issuance or reissuance of the special plates will be charged along with a $25 annual fee that provides funds to the Wisconsin Lions Foundation, Inc.

The Wisconsin Lions Foundation, located at Rosholt Wisconsin on Wisconsin Lions Camp property, is operated by Lions Clubs. The Foundation runs statewide projects, including a camp for blind, deaf, cognitively disabled and diabetic children. 

There are 559 individual Lions Clubs in Wisconsin with a total of 19,633 Lions. Wisconsin has more than 2,800 Wisconsin Lioness members in 104 communities statewide.  Lioness members are affiliate members of Lions Clubs.

The New Berlin Lions Club web site reports, “In 1957, the club began plans to establish the first park in the community.  The club purchased 7.1 acres of land just west of Brookland at VFW Post 5716 Road between Cleveland and Lincoln Avenues.  The club built shelters, tennis courts and finally a library was built on this land which was donated to the City of New Berlin.  The club was also instrumental in establishing the first volunteer fire department in New Berlin.  In 1981 the club planted a Christmas tree on the corner of Civic Drive and National Avenue, which was the beginning of the annual lighting ceremony.  This is still held each year as part of the Christmas parade in November.  The club furnishes free ice cream at the annual Fourth of July picnic and is active in many community projects.  The club has donated in excess of $1,000,000.00 to date to its many projects.  It's amazing what the sale of one ear of corn does.”

Imagine the labors of only one Lions Club, the New Berlin Club, multiplied by the other 558 Lions Clubs in Wisconsin.  Add to that, the many Lions Clubs world-wide, and imagine Lions members immense service impact to communities, states, countries, and the entire world.    

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Thank You For Rising Up To Protect Families And Children


A giant sigh of relief at the conclusion of the 2009-10 general legislative session emanated from the area I represent, Senate District 28, and from more than 100 municipalities statewide.

Concerned citizens were worried local ordinances that restrict residences and whereabouts of released sex offenders were going to be repealed by bills proposed in both the state Assembly and state Senate. Thankfully, the bills never came up for a final vote in either house of the legislature and local ordinances designed to protect families and children survive.

For Senate District 28, that means laws in Franklin, Greendale, Greenfield, Muskego, East Troy, Big Bend and Vernon remain in effect, providing law enforcement a critical tool in keeping neighborhoods safe. At a recent meeting of the Franklin Public Safety Task Force, Franklin Police Chief Rick Oliva informed me that Franklin’s dual ordinances, ruled constitutional by Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge John Franke, have been instrumental in preventing over a dozen released sex offenders from moving into restricted areas.

I am very proud that leaders in the city of Franklin crafted ordinances that have proved to be models for many similar ordinances enacted across Wisconsin. Concerned officials and citizens in communities, threatened with the potential elimination of laws they deemed appropriate and necessary to protect innocent children, galvanized strong support to fight and defeat the proposed bills.

Thank you to everyone that devoted time and energy to killing the bills. A special thank you to the people mentioned in the State Assembly Committee Report for traveling to Madison and testifying against the Assembly bill.

Appearances Against
· Jeff Stone, Madison — State Representative
· Bob Ryan, Sheboygan — Mayor City of Sheboygan
· Jim Gischia, Sheboygan—Common Council President, City of Sheboygan
· Steve Olson, Franklin Alderman
· Jill Didier, Wauwatosa — Mayor of Wauwatosa
· Mary Lazich, Madison — Senator
· Rick Oliva, Franklin — City of Franklin Police Department
· Tom Taylor, Franklin — Mayor of Franklin
· Frances Springer, Greenfield
· Michael Neitzke, Greenfield — Mayor, City of Greenfield
· Joe Mikolajczak, Cudahy
· Tami Mayzek, South Milwaukee
· Kristen Wilhelm, Franklin Alderperson
· William Morris, Town of Sommers
· Basil Ryan, Franklin

Registrations Against
· Tim Carpenter, Madison — Senator
· Alberta Darling, Madison — Senator
· Peggy Krusick, Madison — State Representative
· Tim Blake, Oshkosh
· Curt Witynski, Madison — League of Wisconsin Municipalities
· Linda Lubotsky, Greenfield — Alderperson City of Greenfield
· Gaylord Hahn, Franklin
· Ken Skowronski, Franklin — Alderman city of Franklin
· Ann Wellens, South Milwaukee — South Milwaukee Police Department
· Clark Groen, Waterford

A special thank you to the people that traveled to Madison to testify at the Senate Committee hearing. Unfortunately, the Senate Committee report is not available.

A special thank you to Mayor Tom Taylor and City of Franklin staff for informing Franklin residents and aggressively networking throughout Milwaukee County.

If you telephoned or e-mailed state legislators about this issue, I extend my heartfelt appreciation. Your passionate work greatly contributed to a successful outcome. Again, thank you very much.

I appeared on WVCY

Legislation, Mary in the media

During the final weeks of the 2009-10 general legislative session, I appeared as a guest on a live call-in program on WVCY to discuss legislative issues.

You can see the program here.

The 2009-10 legislative session review: Global Warming


During the 2009-10 general legislative session, I served on the
state Senate Select Committee on Clean Energy that examined proposed global warming legislation. There were four public hearings and well over 22 hours of testimony on the bill.  Committee members heard various pros and cons from state agencies, businesspeople, and environmentalists.

Riveting and very damaging testimony during our final public hearing was presented by
Paula Quinn of Hartland.  Quinn is not an elected official, government bureaucrat, or member of any special interest group. Paula Quinn is a taxpaying, PTA attending mother of three.

Paula Quinn cited a study compiled by the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid and told the committee that the controversial policies being considered in Wisconsin were instituted in Spain during 1997. Spain is the model for climate control being pushed in America. More than any other country, Spain has supported renewable energy concepts.

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Why I opposed the mascot legislation

Legislation, Mary in the media

A mascot bill that I voted against was approved by the legislature and is awaiting action by Governor Doyle who is expected to sign the legislation.

I was interviewed by MyCommunity NOW newspapers. You can read my thoughts about the legislation on MuskegoNOW and WauwatosaNOW. 

The 2009-10 legislative session review: Jobs


Jobs.  That is the #1 concern of Wisconsinites today. It should have been the #1 concern of the just-completed general legislative session. Sadly, job creation and improving our dismal business climate was not a high priority. The legislature did little, if anything to strengthen economy.

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The 2009-10 legislative session review: The budget


The 2009-10 general legislative session began with the legislature addressing its single most important piece of business; the 2009-11 state budget.  The result was music to the ears of Democrats and a big disappointment to Republicans. 

You may recall that during the 2003 State of the State address, Governor Doyle said, “Going forward, my mind will be open to every solution -- except one. We should not -- we must not -- and I will not -- raise taxes. Wisconsin's problem is not that we tax too little. It is that we spend too much.”

Unfortunately, it amounted to empty rhetoric.

A Democrat governor and Democrat-controlled legislature put together the current state budget in secret rather than an open, transparent process. The final results explain the state fiscal mess. 

While most Wisconsin families tightened their belts, state government went on a spending spree. The Wisconsin taxpayers Alliance (WISTAX) reports the 2009-11 state budget increased spending 9.4 percent. Are you spending nearly 10 percent more these days? I don't think so.

Remember the QEO (Qualified Economic Offer)?  Taxpayers demanded and got the QEO during the early-1990’s after property taxes kept skyrocketing. The state budget eliminated the QEO. The result?  WISTAX reports, “School property tax levies for 2009-10 are up 6.0%.”

Spending was increased. Taxes were increased. The tax increases from the 2009 budget adjustment bill plus the tax increases in the 2009-11 state budget total, according to WISTAX, $3.03 billion.  Keep in mind this happened during a recession with unemployment skyrocketing to the highest levels since the Great Depression.

Out of all the tax increases in the budget, according to WISTAX, the largest is in individual income taxes totaling $529.8 million.  Increasing individual income taxes is foolish policy especially since Wisconsin’s growth in per capita income ranking is one of the lowest in the nation. 

A flood of federal stimulus dollars was merely a band-aid barely able to heal a budget process ailing from taxing and spending. The state still finds itself immersed in a structural deficit. The moment Governor Doyle signed the 2009-2011 state budget into law, it created a gigantic hole of $899 million going into 2010-11 and $1.15 billion the year after.

Our current budget deficit figures according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau: This biennium, the deficit is $10 million. The next biennium, the structural deficit is $2 billion, 329 million.

The next governor and legislature will have to grapple with extremely difficult budget decisions. Taxing and spending our way out of  the deficit are not the answers.

Voter fraud legislation isn't dead yet


One of the better moments in the just completed general legislative session was the failure of election overhaul legislation to move forward. Critics of the legislation including myself saw the dramatic changes for what they were: a blatant attempt to pave the way for voter fraud.

The effort to encourage cheating may have died in Wisconsin; however, the issue is alive in Washington D.C.

John Fund of the Wall Street Journal follows and covers election issues extensively and writes in an opinion piece, “
Congress may rush to pass ill-conceived legislation this year that would only sow confusion and increase the potential for chaos on a national level.”

Who is leading the charge in the nation’s capital?  Fund writes, “Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold, a Democrat, has introduced federal legislation to mandate same-day registration in every state, claiming the system has worked well in his state.”

Has same-day registration worked well here? Fund contends real evidence of voter fraud materialized in Wisconsin due to same-day registration:

“In 2004, John Kerry won Wisconsin over George W. Bush by 11,380 votes out of 2.5 million cast. After allegations of fraud surfaced, the Milwaukee police department's Special Investigative Unit conducted a probe. Its February 2008 report found that from 4,600 to 5,300 more votes were counted in Milwaukee than the number of voters recorded as having cast ballots. Absentee ballots were cast by people living elsewhere; ineligible felons not only voted but worked at the polls; transient college students cast improper votes; and homeless voters possibly voted more than once.

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Legislature approves Wisconsin Crime Alert Network


During August 2008, I proposed that Wisconsin create a Silver Alert system to notify the public about an elderly person wandering or becoming lost. The state Legislature this session approved Senate Bill 533 (SB 533) that establishes the Wisconsin Crime Alert Network administered by the Department of Justice. The Crime Alert Network would provide, according to the Legislative Reference Bureau, “information regarding known or suspected criminal activity, crime prevention, and missing or endangered persons to state agencies, law enforcement officers, and members of the private sector.”

Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen gave written testimony in support of SB 533 during February 2010. Attorney General Van Hollen writes, in part:

“Here is how it will work. Law enforcement trained by the Department of Justice to use the Wisconsin Crime Alert Network would send out messages to participating businesses and members of the community about criminal activity, criminal trends, or missing persons. By using a drop down menu, those messages can be distributed to specific geographic regions—or even statewide—and specify the type of private entity to receive the message.

Participants and law enforcement would then receive an email or fax with the message. Alerted and armed with information, participants can be on the lookout for unusual behavior or identified suspects. This will help them protect themselves—and help them alert law enforcement.

Sometimes statewide distribution will be appropriate. Take for example an abducted child. An alert containing pictures of the child could be sent throughout the network, and those on the lookout can report sightings to law enforcement.

Senate Bill 533 authorizes the creation of the Wisconsin Crime Alert Network. Creation of the system will not require any general revenue. It authorizes the Department of Justice to charge a nominal fee to those private entities that choose to participate. In Minnesota, where a similar network has been in existence for over 15 years, the network has been used in the apprehension of suspects who have been responsible for more than $3 million worth of crimes including forgery, theft and burglary. It has also assisted in locating at least 10 missing people.”

Here is the Attorney General’s statement. 

SB 533 that I co-sponsored now goes to Governor Doyle for his consideration. In the interest of greater public safety, I urge the governor to sign this critical legislation into law.

2009-10 legislative session mercifully ends


Results of the 2009-10 session show Wisconsin taxed more, Wisconsin spent more, Wisconsin was more hostile to business, and Wisconsin did little to create jobs and revive its sputtering economy.

A review of the disappointing session must begin with the 2009-11 state budget that increased spending 9.4 percent during a recession. The budget eliminated the QEO, the Qualified Economic Offer causing school property tax levies for 2009-10 to increase six percent according to the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance that also reports the tax increases from the 2009 budget adjustment bill plus the tax increases in the 2009-11 state budget total $3.03 billion. Wisconsin’s current deficit according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau this biennium is $10 million. The next biennium, the structural deficit is $2.3 billion.

Jobs.  Getting the unemployed back to work should have been the top priority of the Legislature. According to the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, Wisconsin lost over 163,000 jobs since the start of the recession during 2007. Between January 2009 and January 2010, Wisconsin lost 113,600 jobs.  During the same period, the Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis area lost 39,800 jobs. The Legislature did nothing to spur job growth or jump start our sluggish economy.

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Local sex offender ordinances survive


Great news at the end of the general legislative session. Proceedings conclude without final action on legislation that would have repealed over 100 local ordinances around Wisconsin that restrict the residences and whereabouts of released sex offenders.

The legislation is dead and the local ordinances remain in effect.

I commend the many concerned officials and citizens that participated in the process to save these important local ordinances. If you drove to Madison to testify or register in opposition to the legislation, telephoned or e-mailed legislative offices, I thank you very much for your efforts to maintain local control and to protect families and children.

Most hypocritical bill


Senate Bill 600 (SB 600) is the most blatantly hypocritical bill that I have seen before the state Legislature this session.  There have been a lot of bills by Democrats that are supposed to do one thing, and pretty much do something else. But, SB 600 takes the cake. 

SB 600, before the state Senate Small Business Committee that I serve as a member, would impose penalties on businesses that hire illegal immigrants; however, the bill fails to address state government payment for services provided to illegal immigrants.  

The bill says companies may not employ illegal immigrants. Seemingly, that would be a dastardly thing. However, the bill says illegal immigrants are welcome to stay in Wisconsin without employment. Hello, what is it that people blackballed from Wisconsin employment, but invited to live in the state do for a living?

SB 600 penalizes companies that hire illegal immigrants. Under the bill, a company that hires an illegal immigrant would be ineligible to: 

  • receive income or franchise tax credits or property tax exemptions;
  • enter into contracts with the state or local governments for work on public works or building, or for providing supplies or services; and
  • receive any grants or loans from a local governmental unit. 

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State Senate rejects vote about suing the federal government

Legislation, Government health care

The state Senate today failed to bring Senate Resolution 11 to the state Senate floor for consideration that calls for Wisconsin’s Attorney General to file or join a lawsuit against the federal government over the new health care law. Senate Resolution 11
authorizes the Attorney General to challenge the law’s constitutionality.

Wisconsin has some of the best health care in the country. The federal government should not mandate that citizens purchase a product, in this case, health insurance. Violators would be subject to penalties.

Over a dozen attorneys general around the country are suing the federal government on constitutional grounds. Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van H
ollen would need authorization from the governor or one house of the Legislature in order to file or join a lawsuit.

The vote to bring Senate Resolution 11 to the state Senate floor failed along party lines with all 5 Senate Republicans voting in favor of having a floor vote and all 18 Senate Democrats opposed.

Lions Clubs license plates


Legislation I have authored to create special license plates supporting the Lions Clubs of Wisconsin has been approved unanimously by the state Senate. Senate Bill 307 (SB 307) allows special plates to be designed featuring a logo or image of the lion associated with the Lions Clubs International.

Lions Clubs International

Under SB 307, a $15 fee for issuance or reissuance of the special plates is charged along with a $25 annual fee that provides funds to the Wisconsin Lions Foundation, Inc.

If approved by the state Assembly and signed into law, Wisconsinites will have a wonderful opportunity to support an amazing organization with
a long history of providing great services to our state.

The state Assembly has approved SB 307. The bill now goes to Governor Doyle for his consideration.

Approved Senate bill will not fix MPS


The state Senate has approved legislation that will not improve conditions at the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) system as proponents claim.  It is said Senate Bill 437 (SB 437) gives the state s
uperintendent of public instruction greater authority to intervene in failing schools within MPS and other school districts.  Like a previous proposal to give Milwaukee’s mayor the power to appoint the MPS superintendent, SB 437 fails to fix the many real problems associated with MPS.

SB 437 ends tenure for MPS principals. That is a good concept except that under the bill, teachers would continue to earn tenure. As I stated on the floor of the state Senate, you might as well not have principals if you are going to strip them of their ability to hold teachers accountable.

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Consumers now able to convert IRAs to Roth IRAs

Legislation, News you can use

Good news for Wisconsin consumers.

February 19, 2010, I urged the Assembly to quickly take action on Senate Bill 439 that would allow conversion of traditional IRAs to Roth IRAs. I wrote in a news release, “This bi-partisan bill needs to be on the Assembly’s agenda and fast. The sooner we allow Wisconsinites to take advantage of Roth conversions, the better.”

I am pleased the Assembly approved the legislation the following week and Governor Doyle signed the bill into law. 

Here are more details from the Wisconsin Department of Revenue.

Election clerks blast Democrats' proposed voting changes


Municipal election clerks from around Wisconsin voiced deep concerns about proposed legislation by state Democrats they say will harm the integrity of the state’s voting system. Clerks spoke at a state Capitol news conference Wednesday, the same day Wisconsin Attorney J.B. Van Hollen issued a news release criticizing the proposed election law changes. Van Hollen writes:

“The following changes increased the potential for or impaired the investigation of election fraud:

  • Populating the official statewide voter registration list with persons who are not registered to vote;
  • Not requiring signatures to confirm voter registration, whereas signatures are required for all registrations under current law;
  • Enabling citizens to obtain and submit an absentee ballot in-person, without needing to certify with a signature or have ballot witnessed, unlike current law.”

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Government the most unlikely authority about responsibility

Government health care, Legislation

Who would be the last person you would seek assistance from about handling your money wisely? If you replied Uncle Sam, you answered correctly.

Pairing the words federal government and financial responsibility in the same sentence is oxymoron-like. The mere suggestion that Americans turn to Washington for fiscal expertise is laughable. However, one of the serious ironies of the approved federal health care law is that the federal government will spend a great deal of taxpayer dollars to promote not only financial responsibility, but personal responsibility.

Tucked inside the massive health care law is a new $375 million Personal Responsibility Education program to instruct youngsters about various subjects. One of them is financial literacy.

Public sector lecturing on finances is a paradox, a terrible joke, or both. Spinning like a slot machine in New York’s Time Square, the National Debt Clock, like the Energizer Bunny keeps going and going and going on its non-stop march toward $13 trillion.

UW-Madison graduate Brian Riedl, now The Heritage Foundation's lead budget analyst calculates President Obama’s budget would borrow 42 cents for each dollar spent during 2010. That means Washington will borrow over $157 million to fund the program to educate about financial responsibility. The disconnect is as wide as the Grand Canyon.

Riedl writes in the April issue of Townhall magazine that as our debt climbs, “Fewer savings will be available to families and businesses for home loans, auto loans, student loans or business loans…The United States is about to dump the largest pile of debt in history onto the next generation.” With that dangerous backdrop in place, we are entrusting the feds to counsel youth about managing money?

While Washington creates new programs, others, like Medicare and Social security are on the brink of disappearing. According to the 2009 Annual Report of the Board of Trustees of the Federal Hospital Insurance and Federal Supplementary Medical Insurance Trust Funds, Medicare is expected to run out of money and become insolvent during 2017, and Social Security will run out of money during 2020 and will be unable to pay retirees full benefits by 2037.

What else is in the Personal Responsibility Education program? Adolescents will be taught about prevention of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV/AIDS. The problem is the government has been there, done that, and has failed miserably.

Here’s an example, according to STOP AIDS project of San Francisco, during August 2003, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) funded a class at STOP AIDS called “Flirt, Date, Score” and was advertised: “Want to flirt with greater finesse and date with more confidence? Who doesn't? Share your expertise and hear how others are successful in meeting guys and staying safe today.”

Another component of the new program would offer instruction about healthy relationships and relationship dynamics. Again, the feds have tried this before.

A June 2007 report by the Senate Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, and International Security Minority Office explains a program called “Men for Hire” taught by Joseph Itiel. Advertisements for the program said Itiel “presents practical tips and covers the seven guidelines for safe and friendly relations with escorts.”

Where have previous government programs taken us? According to the CDC, the number of new HIV infections occurring in the U.S. has not decreased in over 15 years despite government spending hundreds of billions of dollars every year on prevention programs. CDC estimates that there are approximately 19 million newly acquired STDs each year in the U.S. cites a Pediatrics journal study that one in four teenage girls is infected with a STD.

And yet, we expect the same government agency to somehow be successful with new, duplicative programs? Certainly, these are serious problems. However, history tells us the best solutions do not come from Washington.

U.S. Senator Tom Coburn (R-Ok) tried unsuccessfully to kill the Personal Responsibility Education program with an amendment that was rejected. Another Coburn amendment that would have denied Viagra and similar medications to sex offenders was also defeated.

Whether the issue is financial literacy, contraception, STD prevention, or dating relationships, the federal government, now over $12 trillion in debt and wasting billions of dollars via ineffective programs, has zero credibility about personal and fiscal responsibility.

Today's State Senate Scorecard


# of bills on the calendar: 67

# of bills on the calendar authored by Republicans: 0

# of bills on the calendar that address the top concern of Wisconsin residents, namely, jobs and the economy: 0

State Senate approves process to appoint legislative successors during emergencies


The state Senate has approved Senate Bill 227 (SB 227) that establishes a process to replace multiple vacancies in each house of the Legislature if disaster should strike the state Capitol.

In the event replacements are required, I strongly believe that the voters should decide the successors. SB 227 as proposed creates a system that removes electoral power from voters and in turn would place expansive taxing and spending powers in the hands of unelected, unaccountable individuals.

Here is the analysis of the bill by the Legislative Council:

Under the provision for interim successors for Senators, the Senate leader of each political party for each vacant Senate seat that was last held by a member of his or her own party must request the state chairperson of that party to solicit nominations for an interim successor from county chairpersons of the party in each county that is at least partially within the Senate district. The Senate leader must request that the state chairperson select three to five potential interim successors from the nominees submitted by the county chairpersons and request that the state chairperson submit the names to the Senate leader of the party within seven days after the date on which the ninth Senate vacancy occurred.

Within 14 days after the ninth vacancy occurred, the Senate leader of the political party must appoint an interim successor from the list of potential interim successors that is submitted by the state chairperson of the party. The bill lists the order in which persons are determined to be the Senate leader for the majority party and for the minority party.

A similar procedure is specified in the amendment for situations in which there are 25 or more vacancies in the Assembly at the same time.”

process outlined in SB 227 is severely flawed because it calls for unelected representation.

I offered an amendment that would have voters select replacements when vacancies need to be filled. Under my amendment, after receiving notice of vacancies in either house of the Legislature by a presiding officer, the governor shall immediately call for a special election to fill each of the vacancies. The Government Accountability Board would then promulgate the rules that would be used to govern the special elections. The rules would include issues like notice requirements, places and deadlines for filing declarations, expedited printing and delivery of ballots, shortened periods for absentee voting, and setting the dates of special elections.

I worked closely with Government Accountability Board Director and General Counsel Kevin Kennedy on this amendment who informs the amendment is fair, reasonable, and workable.

My view is that the state of Wisconsin should and must allow citizens to maintain their voting rights and choose their representatives, and that includes during a time of vacancies caused by emergencies. My amendment insured that this basic principle in our governing process is upheld.

The amendment was defeated along party lines.

SB 227 now goes to Governor Doyle for his consideration.

State Senate approves school mascot legislation


The state Senate has narrowly approved legislation about the use of race-based names, nicknames, logos, and mascots by school districts.

An analysis of the bill by the Legislative Reference Bureau says, "A school district resident may object to a school board’s use of a race-based name, nickname, logo, or mascot by filing a complaint with the state superintendent of public instruction. The state superintendent must schedule a hearing on the complaint. The school board has the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that the use of the race-based name nickname, logo, or mascot does not promote discrimination pupil harassment, or stereotyping. If the state superintendent finds in favor of the complainant, the state superintendent must order the school board to terminate its use of the race-based name, nickname, logo, or mascot within 12 months after issuance of the order. A school board is subject to a forfeiture of not less than $100 nor more than $1,000 for each day that it uses the race-based name, nickname, logo, or mascot in violation of the order."

I voted against the bill, Senate Bill 25, because the process created will cost financially-strapped school districts, and will purge Wisconsin school districts of their history.

Senate Bill 25 was approved 17-16 and now goes to the state Assembly for its consideration.

Proposed changes would harm Wisconsin election process

Legislation, Photo ID

I strongly oppose Senate Bill 640 (SB 640), legislation that dramatically changes the way elections are conducted in Wisconsin. Grounds for my opposition to the legislation are two-fold: 1) the process and 2) the substance.

First, the process. SB 640 (link to the bill) was introduced March 23, 2010 and is now being rammed through the Legislature in the final three weeks of the current legislative session. Following introduction, a joint public hearing was held eight days later with executive sessions in committee to vote on the bill the day after the public hearing. Serious, problematic changes in our voting system are being rushed.

Secondly, the substance. The bill would automatically
register voters during driver license renewal. No other state has such a law.

SB 640 also
allows municipalities to set up satellite absentee ballot stations for early voting,  changes the current practice of allowing any citizen to challenge individual ballots, grants permanent absentee ballot status to voters that historically do not vote in low-turnout elections,  allows university IDs to be used as proof of residence, and requires municipalities to hire speakers of a foreign language if at least five percent of  the adults in their district are not English proficient.

The stunning changes are an open invitation to voter fraud and erode confidence in our election system that has seen its integrity questioned amid reports of fraudulent voting.

Last week, the Joint Finance Committee approved the election reform package along party lines. reports:

“The committee also approved a substitute amendment that makes changes to how electors can be challenged under the bill. The original bill requires that challengers be from the ward of the elector. The sub says that challengers can be from the county of the elector. An amendment introduced in JFC by Sen. John Lehman removed a provision that would have required a challenger to come from the aldermanic ward of the elector in Milwaukee, putting the city under the same rule as the rest of the state. The sub also includes provisions to allay the fears of municipal clerks of the costs of the reforms, including allowing clerks to apply to the GAB for reimbursement for the cost of postage for absentee requirements. The substitute amendment also clears the way for online voter registration.”

If proponents of SB 640 are serious about making positive change to restore credibility in Wisconsin’s elections, they would support legislation I have co-sponsored to require a photo ID to vote.

Legislation with provisions that have serious consequences affecting our voting system should be addressed carefully. Instead, this bill is on the fast track. I can only suspect the intent of proponents is to continue to water down election oversight to build upon their voter base.

SB 640 is available to be scheduled by the Senate and Assembly. If SB 640 is scheduled for state Senate floor debate, I will be voting no.

More lessons from Spain about renewable energy


During February 2010, I blogged that Wisconsin, that is considering radical global warming legislation, should learn from what has occurred in green-conscious Spain.

The March 2009 Spanish “Study of the effects on employments of public aid to renewable energy sources” said renewable energy policies implemented in Spain were “terribly economically counterproductive” and that the “green jobs” agenda “in fact kills jobs.” I wrote:

“Here is the most damning point of the study: Spain’s experience pinpointed as a model by President Obama can be expected to result in a loss of 2.2 jobs for every job created, or nearly nine jobs lost for every four created. Gabriel Calzada, an economics professor at the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos and author of the study reports the premiums paid for solar, biomass, wave and wind power that  are charged to consumers in their bills amounted to a $774,000 cost for each Spanish ‘green job’ created since 2000.

Here is my blog. 

Solar power was intended to be an economic boost for Spain. The New York Times reports, “Half the solar power installed globally in 2008 was installed in Spain.”

Then the bubble burst. The newspaper reports, “As low-quality, poorly designed solar plants sprang up on Spain’s plateaus, Spanish officials came to realize that they would have to subsidize many of them indefinitely, and that the industry they had created might never produce efficient green energy on its own.  In September the government abruptly changed course, cutting payments and capping solar construction. Puertollano’s brief boom turned bust. Factories and stores shut, thousands of workers lost jobs, foreign companies and banks abandoned contracts that had already been negotiated.”

Wisconsin would be wise not to travel the same path as Spain.

Easing up on marijuana is too risky


The front page headline in USA TODAY was troubling:

Slowly, states are lessening limits on marijuana”

The newspaper reports that there is “a growing national movement to rethink pot laws. From California, where lawmakers may outright legalize marijuana, to New Jersey, which implemented a medical use law Jan. 19, states are taking unprecedented steps to loosen marijuana restrictions. At least 14 states this year will consider legalizing pot for medical purposes or lessening the penalties for possessing small amounts for personal use.”

As a member of the state Senate Committee on Health, I have serious concerns about this issue. The committee held a public hearing on bill considering legalizing medical marijuana. USA TODAY also reports, “The National Institute on Drug Abuse says marijuana can cause heart irregularities, lung problems and addiction.”  Dismissing the inherent health risks of loosening restrictions on marijuana is very difficult.

Dr. Robert Wallace is a member of the National Education Association and the National Association of High School Administrators and writes a medical column on Wallace recently wrote, “Don't kid yourself that smoking marijuana is harmless. It can cause severe physical ailments.”

Wallace then quotes from a magazine aimed at teen music fans:

“Smoking pot regularly breaks down the immune system, which means the user will be sick more often. Marijuana smoke also messes with the smoker's lungs big time, even worse than cigarettes……There is also medical proof that marijuana users develop what is called A-motivational syndrome which means they become apathetic.”

Read Wallace’s article here.

Too many questions remain making it too risky to ease up on marijuana restrictions.

Let Wisconsin speak about the federal health care mandate

Government health care, Legislation

I am renewing my request that the chairman of the state Senate Health Committee, state Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) hold a hearing on a proposed state constitutional amendment about the approved federal government health care mandate. Senate Joint Resolution 62 (SJR 62), upon approval of voters statewide “... provides that the people have the right to enter into private contracts with health care providers for health care services and to purchase private health care coverage, and prohibits enactment of any law that requires any person to obtain or maintain health insurance coverage or to participate in any health care system or plan."

This is the single most important bill during the remainder of the legislative session. As the ranking minority member of the state Senate Health Committee, I ask that Wisconsin citizens be given the opportunity to be heard. The thousands upon thousands of individuals in Wisconsin that strongly believe this mandate is wrong and unconstitutional cannot be ignored.

I have officially made my request in a letter to Senator Erpenbach. What could be more bipartisan than to conduct a public hearing on this resolution before the general legislative session ends April 22, 2010.  If people like the federal mandate, they can testify in support. If people do not like the unconstitutional mandate that imposes fines for failing to purchase health insurance, they can testify in opposition to the federal mandate and in support of SJR 62.

My fear is that the quality of health care will deteriorate in Wisconsin under the approved federal health care bill. Wisconsin has some of the best doctors, the best hospitals, the best clinics, and some of the best care in the nation. Our high quality medical care is now in jeopardy and concerned citizens should be given the opportunity to be heard about the future ramifications of the new federal legislation.

Strong signs indicate that the recent proliferation of government health care in Wisconsin causes a crisis. The recent expansion of state BadgerCare government insurance caused an abrupt stoppage of enrollment during October 2009. During January 2010 enrollment was 63,644. The projected enrollment was 24,900. How is Governor Doyle's Department of Health Services paying for health care for 63,644? The answer the legislature got was to create another version of BadgerCare for those that were cut off from enrolling.

In the very same budget that expanded BadgerCare to more population, the Doyle administration's Department of Health Services was directed to reduce medical assistance spending by $600 million. On top of that, the state has been late making Medicaid payments to hundreds of providers of care to the frail elderly and those with serious disabilities. 

The BadgerCare debacle, cutting $600 million in government health care expenditures, and the $955 million Family Care Program are three known medical assistance problems.  Yet, a state audit of Medical Assistance requested by Republican state Senator Rob Cowles and I is being stopped at every turn by Democrats. 

In addition, an audit just released by the Legislative Audit Bureau found a $109 million shortfall in the
Injured Patients and Families Compensation Fund, the state’s medical malpractice fund. To balance the 2007-09 state budget, $200 million was raided from the Injured Patients and Families Compensation Fund to balance the 2007-09 state budget.

We all read about the massive fraud in Wisconsin Shares, the childcare program.  There have been major problems with the state’s food stamp program. Where there is smoke, there is fire.  What's next?

I sincerely wish the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel or any other news outlet would duplicate the Journal Sentinel’s award-winning reporting on the Wisconsin Shares program that led to an audit of the state subsidized child care program. This time, the focus should be on the $6 billion state Medical Assistance program. Imagine the amount of fraud and waste that could be uncovered by investigative reporters.

The State Legislative Audit Bureau published a scope statement for an audit of Medical Assistance.  The co-chairs of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee scheduled two meetings to approve a Medical Assistance audit.  At both meetings Democrats obstructed the audit.  The Joint Legislative Audit Committee that I serve on should, as I have requested, schedule an audit of Medical Assistance to determine the scope of inefficiency in one of the state’s largest programs. A full-blown audit by our outstanding Legislative Audit Bureau would provide clear answers. Ongoing problems with unaffordable programs that the state continues to expand must stop.

Before the current general legislative session expires in late April, I would hope the citizens of Wisconsin would be given the courtesy of addressing the proposed state constitutional amendment, SJR 62. A constitutional amendment requires adoption by two successive legislatures, and approval from voters in a statewide referendum.  A public hearing on SJR 62 would provide some reassurance that Wisconsin state government is not ignorant to the concerns of the vast majority of Wisconsin residents.

I want a public hearing on health care mandate

Legislation, Government health care

I issued the following news release today:

SJR 62 denies government attempt to force purchase of health care on WI citizens

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                           CONTACT: Sen. Lazich
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 31, 2010                                    PHONE: (608) 266-5400

State Senator Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) is renewing her request that the chairman of the state Senate Health Committee, state Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) hold a hearing on a proposed state constitutional amendment about the approved federal government health care mandate. Senate Joint Resolution 62 (SJR 62) provides that Wisconsin residents have the right to enter into private contracts with health care providers for health care services and prohibits enactment of any law that requires any person to obtain or maintain health insurance coverage.

“This is the single most important bill of the legislative session,” said Lazich, the ranking minority member of the state Senate Health Committee. “Wisconsin citizens want to and deserve to be heard. The thousands upon thousands of individuals in Wisconsin that strongly believe that this mandate is wrong and unconstitutional cannot be ignored.”

Lazich appeared at a state Capitol news conference with SJR 62 author, state Senator Joe Leibham (R-Sheboygan), and co-author, state Representative Robin Vos (R-Racine) to urge the Joint Resolution be scheduled for a public hearing. During the news conference, Lazich held up a letter she sent to Senator Erpenbach, requesting a public hearing.

“What could be more bipartisan than to conduct a public hearing on this resolution before the legislative session runs out,” said Lazich. “If people like the federal mandate, they can testify in support. If people do not like the mandate that imposes fines for failing to purchase insurance, they can testify in opposition.”

Lazich said the quality of health care is likely to deteriorate in Wisconsin under the approved federal health care bill.

Wisconsin has some of the best doctors, the best hospitals, the best clinics, and some of the best care in the nation,” said Lazich. “Our high quality medical care is now in jeopardy and concerned citizens should be given the opportunity to be heard.”

Dozens of citizens from all across Wisconsin in support of SJR 62 appeared at the news conference and marched to Senator Erpenbach’s office to request a public hearing. A constitutional amendment requires adoption by two successive legislatures, and approval from voters in a statewide referendum.

Watch coverage from the MacIver Institute:

Read more

UPDATE - SB 548 removed from public hearing agenda


I am pleased to inform you that Senate Bill 548 (SB 548)  is removed from the March 23, 2010, State Senate Judiciary calendar by the Committee Chair, State Senator Lena Taylor. Senator Taylor removed the bill from the calendar after I spoke with her today.

I reminded Senator Taylor that she had promised to inform me before she was going to schedule SB 548 for a committee public hearing. Senator Taylor agreed that she had not given notice to me that a hearing was being scheduled and promptly agreed to remove the bill from the March 23, 2010 calendar.

I asked Senator Taylor whether she intends to re-schedule SB 548. Senator Taylor said she intends to schedule a public hearing, and has promised to give me advance notice of the public hearing date. I am appreciative that Senator Taylor has kept her commitment and is willing to give the many concerned parties about this important issue enough time to make necessary preparations.

As soon as I am aware of the scheduling of SB 548 by the Senate Judiciary Committee, I will inform you 


Read more

State Senate committee to hold hearing on sex offender residency bill


The state Senate Judiciary Committee scheduled a public hearing on Senate Bill 548 that would nullify local sex offender ordinances restricting the residences and whereabouts of released sex offenders.

The hearing takes place Tuesday March 23, 2010, 10:05 AM,  Room 411 South, State Capitol at Madison. I urge all concerned citizens to attend the hearing or contact committee members to express opposition to the repeal of these important local ordinances.

UPDATE on 3/19/10:

I am pleased to inform you that Senate Bill 548 (SB 548)  has been removed from the March 23, 2010 state Senate Judiciary calendar by the Committee Chair, state Senator Lena Taylor.

More lessons from Spain about renewable energy


Last month, I blogged that Wisconsin, that is considering radical global warming legislation, should learn from what has occurred in green-conscious Spain.

The March 2009 Spanish “Study of the effects on employments of public aid to renewable energy sources” said renewable energy policies implemented in Spain were “terribly economically counterproductive” and that the “green jobs” agenda “in fact kills jobs.” I wrote:

“Here is the most damning point of the study: Spain’s experience pinpointed as a model by President Obama can be expected to result in a loss of 2.2 jobs for every job created, or nearly 9 jobs lost for every four created. Gabriel Calzada, an economics professor at the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos and author of the study reports the premiums paid for solar, biomass, wave and wind power that  are charged to consumers in their bills amounted to a $774,000 cost for each Spanish ‘green job’ created since 2000.

Here is my blog.

Solar power was intended to be an economic boost for Spain. The New York Times reports, “Half the solar power installed globally in 2008 was installed in Spain.”

Then the bubble burst. The newspaper reports, “As low-quality, poorly designed solar plants sprang up on Spain’s plateaus, Spanish officials came to realize that they would have to subsidize many of them indefinitely, and that the industry they had created might never produce efficient green energy on its own.  In September the government abruptly changed course, cutting payments and capping solar construction. Puertollano’s brief boom turned bust. Factories and stores shut, thousands of workers lost jobs, foreign companies and banks abandoned contracts that had already been negotiated.”

Wisconsin would be wise not to travel the same path as Spain. 

Have you ever been spoofed?


Fox 6 reporter Bryan Polcyn did a special investigation on spoofing and I played a key role.

You can watch his special report here:

Legislature takes up ticket scalping


The state Senate has approved legislation to regulate ticket reselling. Senate Bill 458 (SB 458) allows the Bradley Center, Miller Park, and Summerfest to create ticket resale zones.

Read more

Your help is needed to oppose the repeal of local sex offender ordinances


The state Assembly Committee on Corrections and the Courts will hold a public hearing Thursday, March 11, 2010, about legislation proposed to repeal local ordinances that restrict released sex offenders whereabouts and residences. Dozens of communities around the state have ordinances in place.  Many of the communities I represent, including Franklin, Greendale, Greenfield, Muskego, and Waukesha have sex offender ordinances.

Franklin is the leading pioneer about the issue, adopting two ordinances during 2007. The ordinances were challenged by a released sex offender that moved into Franklin after the ordinances were enacted into law.  Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge John Franke during 2008 ruled Franklin’s ordinances to be constitutional. Numerous municipalities around Wisconsin followed suit and adopted similar laws that have been found to be effective in protecting children and families.

I strongly oppose Assembly Bill 759 and I urge concerned citizens to attend Thursday’s public hearing. 

I encourage you to contact family, friends, and acquaintances in other legislative districts and request they contact their State Senator and State Representative opposing the bill. Here is a link to a Wisconsin State Legislature website that assists finding a person's State Senator and State Representative.

The city of Franklin’s web site has more background about this issue.

UPDATE: The room location has been changed for Thursday's public hearing. The hearing will take place in the North Hearing Room (2nd Floor North) of the state Capitol. The time of the public hearing remains the same.

State Senate approves ticket reselling legislation


The state Senate has approved legislation to regulate ticket reselling. Senate Bill 458 (SB 458) allows the Bradley Center, Miller Park, and Summerfest to create ticket resale zones.

A resale zone is defined as property controlled by the aforementioned sports and entertainment venues that is designated as the only area of its property that a ticket may be resold. Under an amendment approved, Camp Randall Stadium and the Kohl Center at the UW-Madison are exempt.

Under SB 458
a municipality would be allowed to prohibit the reselling of tickets at or less than face value within 250 feet of any property on which a resale zone is created if signage is posted notifying the public that reselling of tickets is prohibited in that area. The reselling of tickets to a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament event at or less than face value within 250 feet of the Bradley Center would be prohibited.

If a person is convicted of violating the requirements of a resale zone, the person is subject to a forfeiture of $10 for the first offense. For a second or any subsequent offense, a person is subject to a forfeiture not to exceed the penalty for a Class C forfeiture, which is a civil penalty with a maximum forfeiture of $500. Court costs may be imposed on a defendant for a second or subsequent offense, but not for a first offense.

I voted against SB 458 that constitutes another example of government intervention where it does not belong. The motivation of the bill to go after the large groups of professional scalpers that reportedly bother and annoy event patrons as they enter a facility is understandable.

However, what about the one-time scenario of a single individual or a small family that wants to either sell or purchase tickets? Why is state government regulating this rather harmless, simple transaction?

It seems there should be some specific, numerical level of ticket-reselling that is deemed  problematic before the state drops a punitive hammer on families or a single sports fan that only want to see a ballgame. On this vote, I side with families and against government intrusion.

SB 458 was approved by the state Senate, 28-3 and advances to the state Assembly.

A new generation gets hooked on marijuana


Illicit drugs are not being used exclusively by the young. Americans over 50, including many senior citizens are now smoking marijuana.

Retirees say they are resorting to marijuana to ease pain. However health officials warn they could be jeopardizing their health, becoming at risk to falls and heart problems. There are, as I have blogged in the past, other alternatives that are legal.

I am concerned about a growing number of marijuana users that has now extrapolated into the elderly. As a member of the state Senate Health Committee that is considering the issue of medical marijuana. I fear such legislation, if enacted into law, would open Pandora’s Box to even more people experimenting with and getting hooked on marijuana and potentially even more dangerous drugs.

Read more from the Associated Press.  

Wisconsin could suffer California’s high speed rail headaches

Legislation, Taxes

Chuck Devore, a candidate for U.S. Senate in California, is critical of the state’s planned $45 billion high speed rail project from Anaheim to San Francisco. The project will use $2.25 billion in stimulus funding.

California voters approved the high speed rail project, a bonding initiative, during November 2008 by a percentage of 52-48. Devore writes on the website Big Government that supporters promised less expensive travel that would save time. High speed rail, proponents claimed, would offer an alternative to high gas prices, reduce greenhouse gases, and would cost less than expanding freeways and airports.

You can guess what has happened since the November 2008 vote. Cost estimates are increasing with a one-way fare from Los Angeles to San Francisco jumping from $50 to $105. Devore writes, “The doubled cost to riders has tanked train ridership estimates by one-third.”

Estimates of ridership, according to Devore who cites a newspaper report, were based on public employees intentionally holding back final projections to help get the ballot project approved.

Devore adds paying back the bonds will be extremely costly.

If all this sounds familiar, it should.

The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee quickly approved spending $810 million of federal stimulus money for high speed rail between Milwaukee and Madison. The state will need an additional $7.6 million in operating expenses each year to cover the cost of the project. Bonding is being considered.

Specific figures about the cost of fares and ridership are unknown. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has reported that only 55 permanent jobs will be created.

Devore concludes his piece on Big Government with this advice:

“As for the rest of America, look to California and take careful notice: incurring mountains of debt without the ability to reliably repay it comes at a high cost.  Out of control debt encumbers future generations with crushing repayment obligations – essentially subjecting America’s youth to taxation without representation while consigning them to a life with a lower standard of living than their parents and grandparents.”

We would be wise to pay attention. Wisconsin’s economy is not as horrendous as California’s. However, we are
in the ballpark.

Here is the latest about California high speed rail from the LA Times.

Providing wellness program incentives to everyone

Business, Legislation

The state Senate Health Committee that I serve on conducted a public hearing Wednesday, February 24, 2010 about legislation that would exempt wellness programs from unfair trade or marketing practices. Under current Wisconsin law, fully insured and individual health insurance plans are prohibited from providing benefits that are not spelled out in the policy. Therefore, they are prohibited from advertising, marketing, offering or operating a wellness program without violating an unfair trade or marketing practice. Senate Bill 502 that I have co-sponsored would allow health care providers to offer wellness program incentives to all clients without violating unfair trade or marketing practices.

The Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau in its analysis of SB 502 writes, “A wellness program is designed to promote health or prevent disease by offering a reward to insured individuals.” Wellness programs include smoking cessation weight loss, stress management, and nutrition improvement.

Meg Christianson, a nurse coach for Humana that provides coverage to more than 400,000 Wisconsinites gave excellent testimony about SB 502.  Meg Christianson told the Senate Health Committee Wisconsin must provide wellness program incentives to everyone and ensure reasonable alternatives for persons with medical conditions that make it medically unadvisable for them to participate or satisfy the program standard.

She reminded committee members current federal nondiscrimination rules under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) provide protections to ensure wellness programs do not unfairly discriminate on the basis of health factors. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that wellness program information is treated confidentially, separate from employer personnel files and only accessible to wellness program personnel.

More and more employees are spending time at work, Meg Christianson testified, making the workplace an ideal spot to engage people in wellness programs. Workers that participate in employer-based wellness programs have better on the job decision-making and time management skills and greater loyalty to their company.

Businesses that invest in workplace wellness programs can enjoy savings through lower healthcare costs, decreased absenteeism and decreased workers' compensation claims. A MetLife survey found that more than half, 57 percent, of larger employers, those with 500 or more employees, during 2008 were providing employees with a wellness program, up from 49 percent during 2006. reports, “Employee wellness programs just may be the cure for companies struggling to keep up with rapidly rising health care costs. According to the Kaiser Foundation's Employer Health Benefits 2008 Annual Survey, average premiums for employer-sponsored health insurance for family coverage increased 119 percent between 1999 and 2008. The report, which surveyed randomly selected public and private firms, also found that more employers are turning to employee wellness programs -- more than half of the small and large firms that offered employee health benefits also offered some form of a wellness program.”

I wholeheartedly support SB 502Wisconsin s
hould provide the flexibility businesses need to provide wellness programs that can lead to healthier lifestyles, longer lives, and reduced health care costs.

Wisconsin must stop the early release of dangerous inmates now

Corrections, Legislation

Legislation will soon be introduced at the state Capitol to immediately repeal the early release privileges for convicted felons, a provision that was included in the 2009-2011 state budget. I will be a co-sponsor of the legislation to end this dangerous policy.

During last year’s state budget deliberations, I blogged, “Suggestions to save the state over $2 billion and ease prison overcrowding involve locking up fewer criminals and releasing many from custody early. The Council of State Governments Justice Center has made a series of recommendations to the state Legislature. They include alternatives that result in reduced incarceration. That is a recipe for even greater costs and harm to society. Wisconsin cannot afford this open door policy for criminals.”

I added the following:

“Why is the prison population growing? The Capital Times also examined the Council of State Governments Justice Center report, writing that, ‘A majority of inmates are incarcerated because they re-offend or violate the terms of their release. In 2007, 55 percent of prison inmates had violated terms of their parole, probation or extended supervision or were re-offenders who had committed a new crime.’

And we want to release more of them earlier? Certainly, inmates inside prison cost the state. Do not forget all the costs of criminals to society.”

I was also one of 45 state legislators to sign a letter to Governor Doyle requesting that he immediately stop his early release of felons. Our letter to Governor Doyle reads in part:

“In the interest of public safety and in light of the suspension of a similar program in Illinois, we are respectfully asking you to consider an immediate repeal of the early release program.

Chief among our concerns is the threat this program poses for compromising public safety. Out of the 21 offenders who were released this week, many of them have a history of serious felony convictions. Most could be classified as career criminals who have been in and out of the corrections system their entire life.

Furthermore, the fact that this program does not rely on judges, prosecutors, or law enforcement to determine whether these inmates are safe for release makes it even more likely that new crimes will be committed.

Also, communities are not being notified when these felons are being released.”

You can read the entire letter

Our letter was ignored by Governor Doyle.

The Wisconsin Policy Research Institute did an independent analysis of the criminal backgrounds of the first 22 offenders released early and reports, “The 22 inmates together have been convicted of at least 150 crimes and that, in nearly 70% of the cases, judges earlier denied their requests for early release.”

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported last week, “
A review of court records for (Derrick) Parnell and other offenders from Milwaukee who have been released early this year shows that several of the men - convicted of a range of felonies including drug dealing and identity theft - have extensive criminal records and a history of returning to crime during previous stints on the streets.”

The incredibly risky procedure of releasing dangerous prisoners must end immediately before an innocent citizen is victimized by a freed inmate that should have been behind bars.

UPDATE: Roth IRA conversions


This is very good news.

Last week, I issued a news release 
urging the state Assembly to take quick action on legislation (Senate Bill 439) to approve tax changes that would comply with a new federal rule allowing conversion of assets from a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA.  The Senate had approved the bill, 33-0. 

I am pleased the state Assembly voted 93-0 Thursday in support of Senate Bill 439. 

overnor Doyle needs to sign this legislation into law as soon as possible so that those interested can take advantage of Roth IRA conversions.

Here is more background on the issue.

State Senate approves the Interpreter Licensure Bill


Read more

High speed rail fallout is starting


Maybe the planners of the $800 million-plus high speed rail project from Milwaukee to Madison should have given it more thought.

The Daily Reporter writes that the rail will literally split Waterloo in half, creating a disparity in property values Alderwoman Laura Cotting is not pleased, going so far as to say the state should “admit that the current plan is not acceptable.”

Cotting is also suggesting that the state spend millions more on improvements to, as
the newspaper writes
“offset the negatives” of cutting through Waterloo.

his is just the beginning. Watch as the price tag of this project continues to increase far more than projected.

Wal-Mart to the rescue….in Wisconsin


One of my very first blogs on Conservatively Speaking during February 2007 was titled, “Wal-Mart to the rescue.”  I wrote, in part:

“The best solution to provide top-notch health care at affordable prices is not going to come out of city halls, statehouses, or Washington D.C. Any talk of fixing health care in America should have Wal-Mart and other private sector executives at the discussion table.

Wal-Mart is revolutionizing access to prescription drugs. During September 2006, Wal-Mart made over 300 generic prescriptions available to customers and their employees, referred to as associates, in 65 Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club pharmacies in the Tampa, Florida area. The cost per prescription was an incredible $4. The program is also open to the uninsured.

Needless to say, Wal-Mart’s $4 prescription drug program became so immensely popular in Tampa that Wal-Mart expanded it statewide in Florida during October 2006, four months ahead of schedule. Medications for everything from allergies to diabetes and Parkinson’s disease are available. Discount drugs are available at Wal-Marts in 15 states, including neighboring Illinois and Indiana.

Customers are thrilled. Kelius Guzman of Chicago said, ‘Four bucks for a prescription is just amazing.’ Another Chicago resident, Clyde Branch who is now saving $120 per month said it’s a great program, ‘especially for seniors, because we have a rough time trying to keep up with the price of prescription drugs’.”

You can read my blog here. 

Interestingly, the state Assembly Thursday approved legislation that would allow big-box retailers like Wal-Mart to offer more prescription drugs at the incredible price of $4/ month.

Read more in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Global warming lessons from Spain to Wisconsin


The state Senate Select Committee on Clean Energy that I serve on has completed its schedule of four public hearings about proposed global warming legislation that would make dramatic and problematic changes to  Wisconsin energy policy. Committee members heard 22 hours of testimony, none more damaging than that of Paula Quinn of Hartland. 

Paula Quinn is not an elected official, government bureaucrat, or member of any special interest.  Paula Quinn is a taxpaying, PTA attending mother of three. Citing a study by the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid, Paula Quinn told the committee that the controversial policies being considered in Wisconsin were instituted in Spain during 1997 and called the country an example of actual history.

Spain is the model being pushed in America. Speaking at a wind turbine plant in Bedford heights, Ohio 
January 16th, 2009, then president-elect Barack Obama said that renewable energy “can create millions of additional jobs and entire new industries.” Obama added, “Think of what’s happening in countries like Spain, where they’re making real investments in renewable energy. They’re surging ahead of us.”

More than any other country, Spain has supported renewable energy concepts. The Spanish “Study of the effects on employments of public aid to renewable energy sources” released during March 2009 says the claims made about “green jobs” in Spain and throughout Europe are the same being waged in the United States today. The study bluntly asserts these policies are “terribly economically counterproductive” and that the “green jobs” agenda “in fact kills jobs.”

Here is the most damning point of the study: Spain’s experience pinpointed as a model by President Obama can be expected to result in a loss of 2.2 jobs for every job created, or nearly 9 jobs lost for every four created. Gabriel Calzada, an economics professor at the
Universidad Rey Juan Carlos and author of the study reports the premiums paid for solar, biomass, wave and wind power that  are charged to consumers in their bills amounted to a $774,000 cost for each Spanish “green job” created since 2000.

Spain created a low number of jobs from renewable energy policies, two-thirds in construction, fabrication, and installation, and one-quarter in administrative, marketing, and engineering positions. Only one out of 10 jobs was created to permanently operate and maintain the renewable sources of energy.

Programs creating these jobs caused the loss of 110,500 jobs in other sectors of the economy like metallurgy, non-metallic mining, food processing, beverage and tobacco industries due to the subsequent increase in the cost of electricity.

The total subsidy Spain spent on renewable energy sources was $36 billion. In order to repay Spain’s historic debt caused by the subsidies to renewables, the study concludes electric rates would have to be increased 31 percent. Study researchers say the U.S., like Spain, would have to cope with higher energy costs or higher taxes by following Spain’s lead.

What’s more, the high cost of energy drives businesses away. Take Spain-based Acerinox, the world’s second-largest manufacturer of stainless steel. According to the study, the CEO of Acerinox during 2002, Victoriano Muñoz cautioned at that time that the price of electricity for consumers had increased 10.6 percent since the beginning of the decade, and that service had been interrupted dozens of times. Two years later, Acerinox decided to expand, not in Spain, but at plants in Kentucky (USA) and Columbia (South Africa). Hundreds of jobs were exported out of Spain.

In short, the study that can be viewed here reveals Spain’s energy regulator must decide whether residents and businesses need expensive and inefficient energy, or opt instead for affordable energy to get the country through its economic crisis. The same can be said for Wisconsin.

The study’s author writes that when it comes to the Spanish model the U.S. wishes to replicate, “the reality is far from what has typically been presented, and that such schemes also offer considerable employment consequences and implications for emerging from the economic crisis.”  The study’s evaluation should be regarded as, the author says, a note of caution.

Given the devastating ramifications that could result with Wisconsin adopting proposed global warming legislation, calling the advice from the Spanish researchers a note of caution is an understatement.

State Senate ok’s another government health care program without idea how to pay

Government health care, Legislation

The state Senate approved Senate Bill 484 (SB 484) creating another new, unaffordable state government health care plan without a method to pay for the program. It is called BadgerCare Plus Basic to address the overflow that evolved from the BadgerCare Plus Core plan that was adopted during the 2009-2011 state budget. BadgerCare Plus Core covers childless adults with incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty line.

Interest was so great in BadgerCare Plus Core that the program immediately filled and a huge waiting list was created. Originally, the program was expected to have 24,900 participants during 2009-10. As of January 8, 2010, the number grew to 63,644, more than double capacity.

SB 484 rolls out BadgerCare Plus Basic that is similar to the Core plan, and is sold as fully funded by fees paid by enrollees. The Department of Health Services (DHS) estimates that a minimum of 5,000 people on the 25,000 Core plan waiting list will sign up for the Basic plan.  Based on that assumption, DHS says a monthly premium of $130 will cover the program’s costs. The bill does not include a limit on pre-existing conditions, and there is not a requirement that an enrollee remain in the program for a specific length of time. 

Who will be willing to pay $130 a month?  Those with high health care costs. 

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) explains BadgerCare Plus Core would not prohibit an individual that knows he/she needs a service covered under the plan from enrolling, paying a short term premum, and terminating enrollment after receiving service.

The LFB says the plan could encourage enrollment by having a deductible that would apply to hospital visits only after the first inpatient stay or the fifth non-emergency outpatient visit. Ten physician visits per year would also be allowed.

An eligible person will sign up as soon as he/she becomes aware of a medical problem.  Once those problems are taken care of, they will bail out of the program and eliminate that pressure on their personal budgets. This adverse selection effect is likely to make the program far more expensive than its proponents are saying. 

Our state is currently mired in a horrific fiscal mess. BadgerCare Plus Basic makes our economic crisis even worse.

The state Senate needed to send SB 484 back to committee for further study, including answers about payment for BadgerCare Plus Basic and completion of an audit. A motion to refer SB 484 to committee failed.

As a member of the Legislative Joint Audit Committee, I have called for an audit of the state’s massive Medical Assistance (MA) program that totals $5 billion. An amendment to conduct an audit of BadgerCare Plus Core was approved by the state Senate.

The membership numbers for BadgerCare Plus Core that exploded from 24,900 to 63,644 clearly cry out for an MA audit. The program surely has problems that the highly respected nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) would snuff out. Like the audit of Wisconsin Shares, an MA audit is of critical importance to the state that has an obligation to taxpayers to determine the depth of problems. Despite the call for an MA audit, the Democrat chairs of the Audit Committee have thus far refused to schedule a review. Instead, by and large we have been using the LAB’s valuable time to audit programs in the $400 thousand ballpark.

I voted against SB 484 that was approved 17-16. SB 484 now goes to the state Assembly.

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