- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 3, 2015
Assembly planning for 24 hours of debate on right-to-work

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - The Wisconsin state Assembly plans to start debate of the right-to-work bill at 9 a.m. Thursday and end no later than 9 a.m. Friday.

Republican Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke said Tuesday that the 24 hours of debate time was negotiated with Democrats. He says Democrats wanted 48 hours of debate.

Republicans also agreed to have the Labor Committee hold an executive session on Wednesday to consider Democratic amendments.

Steineke says he does not anticipate than any amendments will be made to the bill. It already passed the Senate last week and if it is changed, the Senate would need to vote again.

Gov. Scott Walker has said he will sign the bill into law.

Democrats complained during Tuesday’s 12-hour hearing that no executive session had been planned.

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Walker says he supports ban on abortions after 20 weeks

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker, a longtime abortion opponent and likely presidential candidate, said Tuesday that he supports banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, taking a clear stance on an issue he avoided during his re-election campaign last year.

Walker issued what he called an “open letter on life” in which he stated his support for the ban, which is based on the disputed premise that a fetus can feel pain at that stage. Walker said he would sign such a ban into law if it passes Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled Legislature. There is no bill pending, but anti-abortion advocates have said it’s a priority and expect there to be a proposal sometime this year.

Walker’s statement came after he didn’t take a position on a 20-week abortion ban during his re-election campaign last year. He ran an ad where he reiterated that he was anti-abortion, but also said that the decision to end a pregnancy is agonizing.

Julaine Appling, president of Wisconsin Family Action, a group that supports the 20-week abortion ban, said she was glad to see Walker’s statement taking a firm position on the issue.

“I think he said it well in his letter. He’s pro-life. He understands that this kind of bill is helpful in advancing the pro-life position,” Appling said.

She said she expects a bill to be introduced in the Legislature by this fall and that Walker issued his statement now to get in front of the issue.

But Nicole Safar, public policy director for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, said after years of downplaying his opposition to abortion, Walker is now trying to court conservative Republicans as he explores a likely presidential run.

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Budget committee demands assurances of no UW tuition surge

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Republicans on the Legislature’s finance committee demanded assurances Tuesday from University of Wisconsin System officials that they won’t dramatically increase tuition if they’re uncoupled from state oversight under Gov. Scott Walker’s budget plan.

Walker’s budget proposal would cut $300 million from the system over the next two years and keep a current tuition freeze in place over that period. In exchange, the governor would free the system from state oversight and give its leaders the autonomy they’ve been seeking for years. Future state funding would come through a block grant fueled by sales tax revenue, with annual increases tied to inflation. Right now, state aid for the system comes from a combination of different taxes.

Critics have warned that system leaders could use that new autonomy to dramatically increase tuition when the freeze ends in 2017. Republicans on the Joint Finance Committee peppered system President Ray Cross on how he would ensure that wouldn’t happen.

“We don’t want to see skyrocketing tuition under the flexibilities,” Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, R-Hudson, warned Cross at the hearing.

Cross insisted that a dedicated funding source could create more certainty for long-range financial planning, in turn helping stabilize tuition. He stressed that raising tuition dramatically could anger lawmakers into revoking the system’s flexibility.

“The question is can you trust us?” Cross said. “We’ll only know if you give us that opportunity. We will try to do our best and expect to be held accountable.”

Cross also asked the committee to reduce the $300 million cut, calling the reduction “serious.” UW-Eau Claire Chancellor Jim Schmidt, who accompanied Cross to the hearing, said the Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimates his campus will lose $7.6 million. He told the committee that he’s asked every division on his campus to identify ways to cut as much as 20 percent and has formed task forces to look at consolidating student services, streamlining administrative functions and reworking the curriculum to make it more attractive to students.

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Speed limit bill continues coasting through the Capitol

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - A bill that would increase speed limits on some Wisconsin highways and freeways has coasted through another green light at the Capitol.

The state Assembly Transportation Committee voted 12-1 in favor of the measure Tuesday. The full Assembly is expected to vote on it this month.

The bill allows the Department of Transportation to increase speed limits to 70 mph in approved areas, up from the current 65 mph limit.

Committee members rejected an amendment that would have established a lower speed limit for commercial vehicles.

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