Ryan, Kind team on Medicare data release bill; whitefish shortage may affect some Passover meals; more state news
Americans can now see how many federal tax dollars are given to doctors who treat Medicare patients, but information remains limited on how good of a job those doctors are doing.
Republican House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan of Janesville and Democrat Ron Kind of La Crosse have introduced a bill that requires the release of Medicare data showing which doctors provide the best care in the most cost--effective manner. Their goal is help keep costs down, by identifying doctors who are mostly likely told order tests, procedures, and medicines that do less to improve patients' health.
Jo Musser of the Wisconsin Health Information Organization said last week's release of Medicare data says almost nothing about cost-effective quality. Those reports merely identified how much physicians received from Medicare in 2012 -- including a Milwaukee eye doctor who was reimbursed over $8.5 million.
Last week's report was unprecedented, but Wisconsin health groups have been asking for more. Senate Democrat Tammy Baldwin has co-sponsored a bill with South Dakota Republican John Thune to release data with more depth.
Petri eludes question of why he's quitting Congress
NEENAH -- U.S. House Republican Tom Petri says there is no single reason he decided not to run for re-election this fall.
At a town hall meeting Monday, the Fond du Lac lawmaker explained his sudden announcement from last Friday. Petri said 35 years in office is enough, and he refused to blame pressure from his party's conservative wing.
His departure announcement came a few days after state Senate Republican Glenn Grothman of West Bend said he would run in a GOP primary against Petri.
State Representative Duey Stroebel of Saukville also plans to seek the Republican bid -- and Sheboygan state Senator Joe Leibham is thinking about it. Senate GOP leader Scott Fitzgerald said Monday he would not run for the congressional post, opting instead to seek a third term as the Senate's majority leader next year.
Petri mentioned the growing partisanship in politics, saying "Neither party should concentrate on destroying the other."
He said he was most proud of changing a federal highway formula that brought a billion more dollars to Wisconsin for road work. Petri also cited reforms he helped achieve for taxes, student loans, banking, and health care -- plus cost-sharing for federal water projects.
Petri would not comment on the House Ethics Committee probe he requested, for having stock in the Oshkosh Corporation while supporting federal contracts for the company.
Photographer who secretly captured politician's rant promises more
A cameraman who secretly videotaped Senate President Mike Ellis at a Madison bar while posing as one of his constituents says you can expect more tactics like this. The Republican Ellis said last week he would step down in January, after a video showed him discussing a possible independent group to attack his election challenger this fall. Christian Hartsock made the video for the conservative group Project Veritas.
He denied to the Associated Press that he was brought in by more conservative Republicans who wanted to push out the moderate Ellis. However, Hartsock said politicians at all levels should prepare to be recorded any time they're in public.
"We want to create a climate where if you're going to represent a constituency, you better be looking over your shoulder."
The 73-year-old Ellis scrapped the idea of a political attack committee after he found it was illegal. He later told a Milwaukee radio show he was just venting at the bar, like a sports fan would vent after a player just loses a big game. Ellis calls it an invasion of privacy and the "new norm," and he's leaving office because he doesn't fit in anymore.
Corn-planting is underway -- somewhere
MADISON -- It may be hard to believe but three percent of the nation's corn crop has been planted already.
The United States Department of Agriculture says Wisconsin is among 10 major corn-growing states with nothing significant in the ground yet. That stands to reason, since much of the state has just received a fresh coating of snow and more is in the forecast for Tuesday evening and Wednesday in the northern half of Wisconsin.
The weather isn't conducive to field work but it's not unusual. At this time a year ago, Wisconsin was among nine major corn states with virtually nothing planted yet. Nationally, only two percent of the corn was in by this time in 2013. The average is six percent in the past five years.
A recent bout of warmer weather has quickly disappeared in the Badger State. Early morning temperatures across Wisconsin ranged from -7 at Land O'Lakes to 27 at La Crosse. Highs statewide Tuesday won't get any warmer than the mid 30's.
Liberal group urges High Court to ignore Walker request
A liberal group has asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court not to get involved in a dispute over subpoenas in the John Doe probe involving the state's recall elections.
One Wisconsin Now said there would be at least an appearance of impropriety if the high court took the case -- and it could taint the court's integrity for generations. That's because two reported targets of the probe -- the Wisconsin Club for Growth and the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce -- helped to get the court's conservative majority elected.
One Wisconsin Now said the two groups spent over $7 million since 2007 on the campaigns of Justices David Prosser, Michael Gableman, Annette Ziegler, and Pat Roggensack.
The John Doe probe began in 2012. Prosecutors are secretly gathering evidence about alleged illegal campaign coordination between outside groups and Republican candidates in the 2011-and-'12 recall elections.
In January, Judge Greg Peterson quashed subpoenas in the case, saying the prosecutors have not shown probable cause of wrongdoing.
A state appeals court is now considering the matter -- and Gov. Scott Walker's re-election campaign recently asked the Supreme Court to take the case directly.
FBI leader visiting Milwaukee Tuesday
MILWAUKEE -- The head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation was expected to talk about heroin abuse, cyber-crime, and counter-terrorism when he visited Wisconsin Tuesday.
James Comey is visiting all 56 FBI field offices, and Milwaukee is now at the top of his list.
On Monday, Comey spoke in Chicago about his agency's efforts to reduce street crime.
Bob Shields recently became the special agent in charge of the FBI office for Wisconsin. He said his goals include the creation of a forensics lab to fight computer-related crimes.
Higher natural gas prices showing up in bills
Wisconsin natural gas customers are complaining to their utilities, their local news media, and state officials after bills skyrocketed this month.
We Energies, the state's largest natural gas supplier, raised its residential bills by $30 from February to March due to higher wholesale costs.
Utilities normally buy their winter supplies in advance to take advantage of lower prices. But We Energies spokesman Brian Manthey said its advance supplies dried up during the long and cold winter -- so it had to buy much more expensive gas on the open market that was in short supply.
We Energies now says customers can expect to pay 35 percent more this winter than last for their natural gas.
A normal six-month bill will average $739, up from $552 a year ago.
A spokesman for the state's utility regulating agency said the weather wasn't the only thing that drove prices higher. Nathan Conrad also cites an explosion in Canada that cut off a gas pipeline into Wisconsin.
He said his office has fielded almost five dozen calls about high natural prices.
Some want to eliminate the utilities' ability to pass on its unexpected fuel costs but the state has no plans to do that.
Freeway sign maintenance contract leaving state
MADISON -- Beginning May 1, a new company will maintain those blue freeway signs that tell you where to eat, stay, and get gas.
The Georgia firm of Interstate Logos will take over the Wisconsin road-sign contract which Derse of Milwaukee held for 30 years.
Derse promised to cut the rates that businesses pay to alert freeway motorists to their services. Interstate Logos will keep the old prices the same, but officials said businesses would get better signs and faster repairs when those signs wear down. Derse appealed the DOT's decision twice -- but both the DOT and the state Administration Department found that the contract was awarded properly.
The program does not use tax money. Gas stations, restaurants, lodging outfits, and attractions pay $30 a month for signs on the highways -- and $10 a month for signs on entrance and exit ramps.
'Honor Flights' now including Korean-, Vietnam vets
They don't always get statewide news coverage anymore but thousands of Wisconsin veterans are still taking free one-day Honor Flights to see their national memorials before they die.
On Monday, almost 90 veterans and their caretakers flew from central Wisconsin to Washington and back and they received a hero's welcome last night from a packed concourse at the regional airport in Mosinee. The Honor Flight program began several years ago, so the dwindling number of World War II veterans could visit a national memorial that was new at the time.
Now, the central Wisconsin program also takes Korean and Vietnam veterans. Private donations pay for the Honor Flight program, and Lac du Flambeau American Legion commander John Brown says it's a second chance for the country to do right for its Native American veterans.
Said Brown: "We were treated badly by our own country, our own people -- but now, the last 20 years, it's changed."
More Honor Flights are planned out of Mosinee in May, September, and October.
-- Raymond Neupert, WSAU, Wausau
Many procrastinators expected to request tax extension
MADISON -- Tuesday night is the deadline for filing income tax returns but the Internal Revenue Service expects 137,000 Wisconsinites to ask for more time.
Christopher Miller of the IRS says lots of people still have problems getting all the paperwork together. They're the ones most likely to get six-month extensions to file their federal returns.
Others don't have the money, but an extension does not get you out of paying your tax obligation now. Interest and penalties build up after April 15th, and Miller says those with financial issues should call the IRS now and work out some type of installment plan.
In Madison, officials at a volunteer assistance center have helped eight percent more people than a year ago. One reason is a reduction in customer service and enforcement efforts at the IRS, due to budget cuts.
The agency says some of its callers have waited over 20 minutes to get help with their returns and the percentage of returns to be audited will be the lowest since the 1980's, at less than one percent.
Madison arrestee gets death sentence in SD
SIOUX FALLS -- A man arrested in Madison for killing a woman in South Dakota, as part of a plot to assassinate the president, was sentenced to death Monday.
A jury in Sioux Falls chose the death penalty over life in prison for 43-year-old James McVay.
He had pleaded guilty but insane to a murder charge and he now joins three other death row inmates in South Dakota who are going through a series of appeals. McVay escaped from a minimum-security prison in 2011. Authorities said he was under the influence of alcohol and cough syrup when he killed 75-year-old Maybelle Schein and stole her car. He was arrested on Interstate-90 at Madison after a brief chase. McVay told police and a Madison TV reporter he killed a quote, "little old lady," and was heading to Washington to kill President Obama while he was playing golf.
Prosecutors said McVay stabbed Schein nine times and she bled to death in just 16 seconds.
Public defender Traci Smith said McVay's mental health was not properly cared for by his prison staff -- and when he gets proper treatment, Smith said he does not pose a threat.
Whitefish shortage may affect some Passover menus
There's a shortage of whitefish in the Great Lakes and it's causing problems for Jewish families during the Passover holiday which began Monday evening.
Whitefish is a key ingredient in a traditional Jewish recipe, but the long cold winter has prevented commercial fishermen from bringing in enough.
Chuck Bronte of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Green Bay says many boats still cannot get out to fish, as record ice levels on the Great Lakes continue their slow melting.
As a result, fish wholesalers are not getting anywhere near the whitefish they need. Wholesaler Kevin Dean of suburban Detroit said he got only got 75 pounds in his latest shipment, although he asked for 500. Whitefish is a key ingredient in gefilte fish, a traditional Jewish recipe that normally ground-up fish and other foods like eggs, carrots, onions, and bread crumbs. Other fish are also used, but whitefish is the most popular.
Experts say the Great Lakes whitefish population has dropped in recent years anyway. Some blame invasive species like zebra mussels.