Wisconsin roundup: Baldwin introduces bill to prevent large pension benefit cuts; more state news stories
WASHINGTON — U.S. Senate Democrat Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin is joining a new effort to preserve retirement benefits for those in retirement plans with more than one employer.
On Tuesday, Baldwin joined Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders as they reintroduced a bill to stop larger pension funds from cutting benefits in the name of staying solvent. A 2014 budget package allowed multi-employer pension funds to cut benefits. But when the Central States Pension fund tried doing that in 2015, the Treasury Department later turned the request down, thus preventing reported pension cuts of 50 percent to thousands of Teamsters both active and retired. Sanders first introduced his bill to reverse the provision in 2015, but it was never acted upon. Baldwin says the new bill would prevent ten-million workers and retirees from losing pension benefits.
Finance panel to consider reviving WEDC loans to businesses
MADISON — Lawmakers will decide Tuesda) whether the state's job creation agency should again start loaning money to businesses.
The Joint Finance Committee will decide whether its version of the new state budget should include Gov. Scott Walker's request to bring back business loans — which had problems before the program was cut off two years ago. State audits and news reports showed that some loan recipients did not have to verify that they used the money to create jobs — contracts did not always include conditions required by law — a $500,000 loan to a political contributor went sour — and $12 million in past due loans were not properly tracked. Both Walker's office and the WEDC says numerous reforms have since been made to increase transparency and accountability. In Walker's budget plan, new loans could be issued with money paid back by previous loans — and forgivable loans for possible write offs would no longer be allowed.
Former restaurant owner charged with food stamp fraud
WAUKESHA — A former restaurant owner from Oconomowoc is accused of using a man's FoodShare benefits to buy $7,000 of food for his business.
Thirty-eight-year-old Albert Islami is due in Waukesha County Circuit Court next Monday on five felony charges of food stamp fraud — and 39-year-old Adam Kuehn, who is the Waupun prison for another conviction, is charged with five felony counts of trafficking his food stamps. Prosecutors say Islami bought large amounts of food from a large warehouse store for his Buca All Day Eatery and Grill in 2015 and 2016. Officials said they got suspicious when Kuehn asked for 13 replacement cards for his FoodShare account. Kuehn also has an apparent plea deal in the works for other charges that include theft, forgery, identity theft, and bail jumping — and a hearing in that case is set for June 29.
Clock ticking on Walker's self-insurance for state employees
MADISON — The committee that's rewriting the next state budget now has three weeks to decide whether it wants to move forward with the governor's plan to self insure state employees.
The Walker administration submitted six contracts to the Joint Finance Committee Monday from companies that would help the state run its own health insurance plan for 250,00 state workers and their families. Panel members have until June 5 to decide if they want a formal meeting on the proposal — and Senate finance chair Alberta Darling says she does not believe it would generate long term savings. She also says the state would take a risk by changing its use of 17 private HMOs while Congress considers an alternative to Obamacare. Gov. Scott Walker made another pitch for self-insurance Monday, saying it would save $60 million in his two year budget.
Gallagher to House colleagues: Stop the celebrating
GREEN BAY — The U.S. House is known to be more rambunctious than the deliberative Senate — something Wisconsin's newest congressman is not happy about.
Republican Mike Gallagher tells WTAQ Radio in Green Bay he didn't like both parties' responses after the House passed its version of the GOP's Obamacare alternative bill last week. In a response highlighted nationally, Gallagher — a former Marine — said he did not like Republicans taking a victory lap around the White House Rose Garden at a ceremony with the president and vice president, and he didn't like the Democrats' chants of "nah nah hey hey goodbye" as a sign that some who voted for the repeal could lose their House seats in 2018. Gallagher says the Senate would rewrite the bill and as he put it, "I've never seen the Packers pop the champagne at halftime." Gallagher did say a change was needed, noting that the individual market would disappear in northeast Wisconsin if nothing is done.
Jury hears self-defense claim in murder trial
MILWAUKEE — A defense lawyer says Randy Drescher acted in self defense when he shot and killed a man who threw a traffic cone toward him outside a police station in Milwaukee.
A jury is hearing its second day of testimony in the trial of the 66-year-old Drescher, who's charged with reckless homicide in the death of 42-year-old Reed Carlsen last August. Prosecutors say Carlsen was unarmed when Drescher shot him three times. But the defense says Carlsen was looking for a fight, and he picked on a "weaker target who couldn't run." The two men did not know each other, and Drescher was arrested as soon he walked into the Milwaukee district police station to report the shooting.