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Bill to secretly select legislative successors put on hold, where it should be


The state Senate is considering legislation to devise a system to replace state lawmakers killed or incapacitated due to a terrorist attack or pandemic. Because I have concerns about the proposed legislation, Senate Bill 227 (SB 227), I wrote in a previous column, “
During emergencies, cooler heads need to prevail. The same holds true during non-emergencies.”

I am happy to report that cooler heads, for the moment, have succeeded as SB 227 has temporarily been referred by the Senate back to committee. Hopefully, the bill will be permanently shelved.

Here is why I find SB 227 problematic. If disaster should strike the state Capitol and require replacements, I strongly believe voters should decide the successors.

SB 227 requires that a legislator, as soon as  feasible after the Legislature reconvenes every two years, must file with the chief clerk for the legislator’s house a list of not less than three nor more than seven emergency interim successors. The list would be secret and not subject to inspection or copying under the open records law.

If more than nine vacancies in the state Senate or more than 25 vacancies in the state Assembly are created because of some disaster, interim successors chosen by legislators on their secret lists would be appointed by the presiding officer or his or her designee in the appropriate house of the Legislature to fill the vacancies. The emergency successor would exercise the powers and duties of the office until an election is held or the emergency is over. All votes taken by interim successors would be valid.

Such a system removes electoral power from voters and would place expansive taxing and spending powers in the hands of unelected, unaccountable individuals chosen secretly.

During the September 22, 2009 state Senate floor session, I was prepared to offer an amendment to SB 227 to address my chief concern that the right to vote was being stripped from the electorate. My amendment outlined specific guidelines for emergency elections to he held quickly in the event of a disaster so that seats could be filled as soon as possible and citizens would continue to have elected representation.

Under my amendment, the state would use the procedures already in place for special elections and allow the current process to move forward during a terrorist attack or pandemic.   A special election takes place 62 to 77 days after the order is given by the governor. Primaries, if necessary, are held four weeks prior to the special election. An emergency election would collapse the process down to a much shorter time line. 

My amendment likely had enough votes to be approved by the state Senate and that, along with a desire to reconsider the legislation, persuaded Senate Democrats to send SB 227 back to the senate’s scheduling committee, putting the measure on hold temporarily.

I question whether the state even needs to establish a system for interim successors as proposed by SB 227. The governor has emergency powers and Wisconsin has a Homeland Security Council with a specified Homeland Security strategy in place. Following a disaster, it seems a wiser approach would be to execute traditional special elections as quickly as possible instead of relying on an undemocratic process of picking names out of sealed envelopes.

Legislation to create a system of selecting an unelected successor from a handpicked list should simply be forgotten. Recall the price tag on the Illinois replacement to former Senator Obama. Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, now facing federal fraud and racketeering charges, made the controversial appointment of Roland Burris as the successor to then president-elect Barack Obama. Blagojevich was impeached by the Illinois House and removed from office by the Illinois senate.

The state of Wisconsin should allow citizens to maintain their voting rights and choose their representatives.

"I am being taxed to death. Where in the world does it stop?"


David Vogt of Milwaukee made that comment to Steve Walters of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel seven months ago. Vogt was expressing his frustration about an extension of the state sales tax  to digital downloads that goes into effect today, October 1, 2009. 

The Wisconsin Department of Revenue (Page 16) reports:

“Effective October 1, 2009, state, county, and stadium sales taxes and the premier resort area tax are imposed on the sale, lease, license, or rental of specified digital goods and additional digital goods at retail.

Effective October 1, 2009, state, county, and stadium use taxes are imposed on the storage, use, or other consumption of specified digital goods and additional digital goods purchased from any retailer, if the purchaser has the right to use the specified digital goods or additional digital goods on a permanent or less than permanent basis and regardless of whether the purchaser is required to make continued payments for such right.

‘Specified digital goods’ means digital audio works, digital audiovisual works, and digital books.

‘Additional digital goods’ means all of the following, if they are transferred electronically: greeting cards;  finished artwork;  periodicals; and video or electronic games.

‘Digital audio works’ means works that result from the fixation of a series of musical, spoken, or other sounds that are transferred electronically, including prerecorded or live music, prerecorded or live readings of books or other written materials, prerecorded or live speeches, ringtones, or other sound recordings but not including audio greeting cards sent by electronic mail.

‘Digital audiovisual works’ means a series of related images that, when shown in succession, impart an impression of motion, along with accompanying sounds, if any, and that are transferred electronically.

‘Digital audiovisual works’ includes motion pictures, musical videos, news and entertainment programs, and live events, but does not include video greeting cards or video or electronic games.

‘Digital book’ means works that are generally recognized in the ordinary and usual sense as books and are transferred electronically. ‘Digital books’ includes any literary work, other than a digital audio work or digital audiovisual work, that is expressed in words, numbers, or other verbal or numerical symbols or indicia, if the literary work is generally recognized in the ordinary and usual sense as a book, work of fiction or nonfiction, or a short story, but does not include newspapers or other news or information products, periodicals, chat room discussions, or blogs.”

Read more

Franklin to host legislative hearing on elections

News you can use

I invite you to attend a state Assembly committee hearing on campaign finance reform this month in Franklin.

The state Assembly’s Committee on Elections and Campaign Reform will hold an informational hearing seeking testimony and input from the public on Wednesday, October 14, 2009 at 2:00 p.m. at Franklin City Hall in the Common Council Chambers located at 9229 W. Loomis Road, Franklin.

DOJ holding seminars on public records, open meetings

News you can use

Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen and the Department of Justice are holding seminars around the state on Wisconsin public records and open meetings laws. The seminars are free. Advance registration is required. One of the seminars will be held in Milwaukee.

Here are more details.

Required reading for all state legislators

The Wisconsin State Journal recently editorialized this warning to the Wisconsin Legislature:

“When lawmakers built the 2009-2011 state budget, they aimed to preserve business as usual. They used one-time federal stimulus money to increase spending from all sources by 9.4 percent, even though state tax dollar spending declined by a fraction.

They are now counting on a recovery to bail them out when the federal spigot is turned off.

Their risky bet fits a pattern. State lawmakers in recent years have lurched from budget crisis to budget crisis as they try to use short-term gimmicks, accounting maneuvers and optimistic hopes to avoid the bold restructuring decisions required to set the state's fiscal house in order.

Lawmakers should stop avoiding fiscal responsibility.

Every member of the state Senate and state Assembly should read the editorial and then take its serious advice to heart.

Your odds of crashing with a deer: 1 in 116

News you can use

According to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT), during 2008, 10 people died in 10 fatal motor vehicle-deer crashes, 99 people suffered incapacitating injuries, 243 people suffered less serious injuries, and 183 people were possibly injured. 

Wisconsin ranks eighth in the nation for the likelihood of vehicles crashing with deer. October and November are deadly months for deer crashes. The deer are quite active due to their mating season.

Here are safety tips from the DOT for avoiding deer collisions:

  • Be vigilant in early morning and evening hours, the most active time for deer.
  • Drive cautiously at all times.
  • Heed deer crossing signs and speed limits.
  • Always wear your safety belt—there are fewer and less severe injuries in vehicle vs. deer crashes when safety belts are worn.
  • If you see a deer by the side of the road, slow down and blow your horn with one long blast to frighten the deer away.
  • When you see one deer, look for another one—deer seldom run alone.
  • If you find a deer looming in your headlights, don't expect the deer to move away.
  • Headlights can confuse a deer and cause the animal to freeze.
  • Brake firmly when you notice a deer in or near your path.
  • Do not swerve. It can confuse the deer as to where to run.
  • It can also cause you to lose control and hit a tree or another car.
  • The one exception is if you are riding a motorcycle. In this case, you should slow down, brake firmly and then swerve if you need to in order to avoid hitting the deer. When swerving on a motorcycle, always try to stay within the lane, if possible, to avoid hitting other objects.
  • If your vehicle strikes a deer, stay in your vehicle and do not touch the animal if it is still alive.
  • The injured deer, in attempting to move, could hurt you or itself.
  • Walking or stopping on the highway is very dangerous – you could be hit by an oncoming vehicle if you get out of your car.
  • The best advice is to get your car off the road, if possible, and call law enforcement.

Wisconsin personal income continues to suffer


Some very alarming news comes from the Wall Street Journal by way of new data from the US Census Bureau about tax collections during the second quarter of 2009. The newspaper reports:

States across the country saw big declines in personal income taxes, the largest single source of state funding, representing about a third of states' overall revenues. Eleven states -- including California, New York and Wisconsin -- saw personal income taxes fall more than 30%.”

The recession has resulted in lost jobs and salary cuts meaning less revenue flowing into state government coffers. I have blogged extensively that a slumping economy is the worst time to raise taxes. And yet some Democrats in the state Legislature after proposing and approving the 2009-11 state budget loaded with tax and fee increases are still talking publicly about raising income taxes for some Wisconsin residents.

When revenues are down, the key to reversing the trend is job creation made possible by improving our woeful state business climate. Increasing taxes, especially now would be disastrous.

Read more in the Wall Street Journal. 

States fight back against government health care

Government health care

Under a government health care plan being debated in Washington D.C.:

1) You must purchase health insurance.

2) Failure to purchase health insurance results in a penalty.

3) Failure to pay the penalty results in jail time. 

Such government heavy handedness is simply too much for lawmakers in several states now considering constitutional amendments to prohibit the requirement that most citizens purchase health insurance under the threat of penalties.

Approval of the constitutional amendments could set up a huge battle pitting the states against the nation’s capital over states’ rights.

Ten states have introduced the Freedom of Choice in Health Care Act (Wisconsin is not one of them) that prohibits penalties imposed on patients for refusing to enroll in a specific health plan.

The New York Times reports that opponents of the constitutional amendments “
acknowledge that the measures could create legal collisions that would be both expensive and cause delays to health care changes, and could be a rallying point for opponents (of government health care) in the increasingly tense debate.”

A constitutional amendment to protect the rights of patients is a great idea. However, given the current political landscape in Madison, even if proposed, the amendment would go nowhere.

Read more in the
New York Times.

Parks & Rec Hosts Nordic Walk Now Instructor Program


The Greenfield Parks & Recreation Dept hosted the Nordic Walk Now Instructor Training program on Saturday, September 12th at the new Greenfield Library Community Room.

Read more

City Is Awarded Grant For Energy Efficiency For New Community Center

Community Center

On Thursday, October 1st, Sheila O'Brien, Greenfield Public Library Director, turned over the key to the former Library, located next to Greenfield City Hall on 72nd & Cold Spring Rd., to the Parks & Recreation Department staff to pave the way for the creation of the Greenfield Community Center.  The City of Greenfield also was awarded a Community Development Block Grant for energy efficiency this week in the amount of approximately $142,000, which will be used toward the NEW Community Center.

Keep watching this blog and the City of Greenfield website for updates on the NEW Community Center as fundraising efforts will begin this month along with a public promotions campaign.

BadgerCare Plus Core Plan to be suspended

Earlier this week, I received the following e-mail from Department of Health Services Secretary Karen Timberlake about the BadgerCare Plus Core Plan.

Good morning:

I wanted to take this opportunity to share with you a major announcement that Governor Jim Doyle will be making regarding the BadgerCare Plus Core Plan.


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Sweeping sex education legislation under consideration


During the 2005 legislative session, I authored an abstinence bill that was approved by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Doyle. Under the law, school boards that choose to provide sex education are required to present abstinence as the preferred choice of behavior.

The law is now under attack and in jeopardy.

According to Wisconsin Family Action, “Assembly Bill 458/Senate Bill 324 does away with the current requirement that abstinence must be presented as the very best behavior choice for unmarried students.”

Blogger Randy Melchert has posted an entry about Tuesday’s Assembly hearing on the legislation that got quite heated. Melchert’s blog includes YouTube videos of testimony in opposition to the legislation by Julaine Appling of Wisconsin Family Action and Matt Sande of Pro Life Wisconsin.

AB458/SB324 is dangerous legislation that must be rejected.

Check your electric bill for another new hidden tax

Taxes, State budget

It is difficult to keep up with the tax and fee increases that were contained in the Democrats’ approved 2009-11 state budget, there were so many.

One of the new fees goes into effect for many Wisconsin residents this week that could go unnoticed. A new tax will appear on electric bills with the additional revenue going toward salaries and benefits for district attorneys across Wisconsin.

The spin by the tax increasers, if you watch this WBAY-TV news report , is that the tax is minimal and a public benefit. Besides, the people who raised taxes claim they didn’t raise taxes.

The Oshkosh Northwestern Editorial Board isn’t buying that argument.

State offices closed Monday

News you can use

This Monday, October 12, 2009 is one of four designated  furlough days during the fiscal year that state offices will be closed.

This memo has details and the exceptions noted for October 12, 2009.

Condoms are out, breast pumps are in

Government health care, Taxes

An old saying in politics says, “The devil is the details.” The axiom is especially true in the current debate in Washington D.C. about government health care.

Montana Democrat Max Baucus chairs the U.S. Senate Health Committee that is working on a federal overhaul of America’s health care system. Last month, Baucus suggested a proposed tax on medical equipment manufacturers include condoms. Baucus’ idea was met with howls, leading him to backtrack and exempt condoms from the tax. 

A condom, classified as a class I medical device by the Food and Drug Administration is, at this point, tax-free. However, government health care proponents have to find ways to pay for their takeover. Since class I medical devices are exempted, class II medical devices are still covered.

That means
powered breast pumps used to bottle milk for babies will be subject to the new tax that Washington Times columnist Amanda Carpenter calls, “the new mommy tax.”

The national political blog, Hot Air analyzed the medical devices that would be taxed to fund government health plan. The list includes:

  • Dentures, both partial and full
  • Fetal cell-screening kit
  • Female condoms, single use
  • Treponemal syphilis test
  • HIV saliva test kit
  • Patient data storage and transmission software
  • Stair-climbing wheelchair
  • Inflatable penis prosthetic  
  • Hip, knee, ankle, breast prosthetics  
  • Soft contact lenses, extended wear
  • IUDs
  • Dialysis catheters  
  • Dental X-rays
  • Sickle-cell anemia tests  
  • Mammograms


Read more

Influenza on the rise in Wisconsin

News you can use

The state Department of Health Services (DHS) reports influenza activity is on the rise:

“Currently, Wisconsin is experiencing elevated flu activity in most areas of the state, with cases reported from 48 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties. 99% of all the circulating influenza viruses have been confirmed as H1N1. Flu activity is currently higher than what is normally seen at this time of the year.”

DHS recommends good hygiene to prevent the spread of influenza.

Five schools in the Wisconsin Dells district are closed until this Monday due to an influenza increase.

Here are more details from DHS.

Taxes would increase by $29 billion for medical industries under health care bill

Government health care, Taxes

Here’s a big surprise. From the Reuters news agency:

“The nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation reported the (government health care) bill would raise $121 billion in fees on drug companies, health insurers and the makers of medical devices, up from the $92 billion it reported last month.” 

This revelation is one of the reasons there could be more delays in Congressional action on government health care legislation.

Suddenly, the federal overhaul of America’s health care system that was once on the fast track has run into roadblocks, and that is good news.

$48 billion in stimulus $$$ can't bail out states


During January 2009, I blogged that the nearly $1 trillion in federal stimulus funding would not be the cure all for states suffering huge budget deficits.

All but $1 billion of the $49 billion in stimulus funding for fiscal year 2009 has been dished out by Washington, and states, according to the Government Accountability Office, “continue to be fiscally strained.” New, stringent reporting requirements states must follow to account for their spending raise the possibility of faulty data.

Most of the money used by the states is going toward Medicaid and protecting layoffs of positions like police, fire, and teachers.

A question I have raised on my blog in the past is now of concern to state officials seeing money pouring in from the nation’s capital with budget deficits that refuse to go away: What happens when the stimulus spigot shuts off January 2011?

Read more from Stateline. 

Should Wisconsin extend the deer hunting season?

News you can use

The Wisconsin Natural Resources Board wants public input about a proposal to extend the deer gun hunting season from the current 9-day hunt to 16 days. The season would begin one week earlier.

The state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is searching for new ideas to reduce Wisconsin’s whitetail herd since DNR Secretary Matt Frank announced during April 2009 that a one-year moratorium on the controversial Earn-a-Buck program would be imposed outside the Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) zone during the 2009 deer hunting season.

Deer populations were lower than anticipated during the fall of 2008 due to a rough winter and a late, cool spring. The deer kill was down 19 percent during 2008, and hunters generally opposed to the Earn-a-Buck program blamed the DNR for its projections of the deer population that were too high. The Earn-a-Buck program was quite unpopular.

During January 2009, the Wisconsin Outdoor News reported, “The Earn-a-Buck program forces hunters to shoot antlerless deer before taking a buck. It’s designed as a population-control measure, but many hunters despise it because it forces them to pass up trophy kills.”

The Earn-a-Buck program has been scrapped, and the DNR believes a new method to thin the herd would be an extended season. Thus far, reaction has been as chilly as deer hunting weather

Jon Gafner, owner of Jon's Sport Shop in Oshkosh, told the Oshkosh Northwestern he has yet to hear a positive comment from his customers about a 16-day hunt. Russ Ref told the newspaper, “I think the deer herd has already been decimated by the Earn-a Buck and antlerless deer seasons. I'm opposed to any change that is going to reduce the herd more."

Several public hearings are planned. The closest location to Senate District 28 that I represent is a hearing October 28, 2009 at Pewaukee. Here is the complete schedule of public hearings that all begin at 6:30 p.m. with an informational presentation about the proposed rule followed by public comment at 7:00 p.m.:

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Community Center Meeting - Mon., Oct. 19th

Community Center

The Ad Hoc Committee for the NEW Greenfield Community Center will meet again Monday, October 19th in Room 105 in Greenfield City Hall beginning at 6:00pm.  A presentation will be made for fundraising ideas and a public promotions campaign for converting the former Greenfield Public Library into a Community Center as well as discussion on architectural services for renovating the building.  The public is invited to attend this meeting to see what the Center will be all about and have an opportunity to speak.

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