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Panel approves 2 new scientists at Wisconsin DNR

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- The Latest on the Legislature's budget committee action (all times local):

7 p.m.

The Wisconsin Department of Resources would be able to hire fewer scientists than Gov. Tony Evers proposed under a vote by the Legislature's budget committee.

The Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee voted Tuesday to approve hiring two new scientists. The Democratic Evers had wanted to hire five and create a new Bureau of Natural Resources Science. Republicans killed creation of that bureau.

The two new positions Republicans approved would be charged with researching water pollution, particularly from substances known as PFAS.

The committee also approved Evers' plan to spend $200,000 on determining the extent and locations of PFAS contamination in Wisconsin.

Republicans also reduced from $25 million to $4 million the amount of increased borrowing authority to pay for cleaning up contaminated sediment from Lake Superior and Lake Michigan and their tributaries.
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5:55 p.m.

University of Wisconsin System President Ray Cross says he feels like he's been "kicked in the shins" after Republicans who control the

Legislature's budget committee approved spending $69 million less on UW than Gov. Tony Evers proposed.

The budget committee voted Tuesday to increase funding over two years by $58 million, $45 million of which will only be given after lawmakers approve how UW wants to spend it.

Cross says he is "really frustrated and disappointed" after lawmakers had told him until Thursday that he UW's budget proposal was reasonable. Lawmakers on Tuesday killed proposals to address high-demand areas including nursing and engineering.

Cross says, "The Legislature missed an opportunity to meet the future needs of the state." Cross calls the committee's decision "shocking" and "very short-sighted."
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5:33 p.m.

The Legislature's budget-writing committee has voted to continue a University of Wisconsin tuition freeze for another two years and give the system about $58 million more in state funding, with a catch.

Most of the money, $45 million, would only be turned over after UW if lawmakers approve of how they want to spend it.

Total new funding approved Tuesday by the committee is about $69 million less than Gov. Tony Evers proposed.

Evers wanted about $50 million to pay for the tuition freeze, but the committee rejected that while extending the six-year-old freeze.

The panel also rejected Evers' proposals to spend $45 million to attract and retain students in high demand areas. It also rejected a $10 million Evers proposal designed to increase teachers in the nursing school.

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Proposals to continue a University of Wisconsin tuition freeze for another two years and restore previously cut scientist positions at the Department of Natural Resources were both up for key votes Tuesday in the Legislature's budget committee.

The Joint Finance Committee was scheduled to vote on UW funding, expanding anti-pollution programs at the DNR and raising pay for prosecutors and public defenders. The Republican-controlled committee is making changes to the state budget submitted by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers as it prepares to send the two-year spending plan to the full Legislature, likely in June.

Republicans are expected to go along with Evers' call to continue the UW tuition freeze for another two years, but they will likely pare back the $110 million in additional funding Evers had for the university. Nearly half of that would be used to pay for the tuition freeze.

Evers proposed giving UW $45 million to attract and retain students in high-demand areas including science, technology, engineering, math, nursing and health care and business.

The committee was also voting on whether to give the university $10 million to pay for a program that would establish fellowships and loan programs for nursing students who commit to teach for three years in the university's nursing program.

In the area of natural resources, the committee was considering whether to add five scientist positions at the DNR and create a Bureau of Natural Resources Science. The scientists would research areas related to water quality and contamination, all funded by grants.

The Evers proposal would restore five of 18 research scientist positions cut by then-Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-controlled Legislature in 2015. The cuts were done to stop the department from studying climate change and the impact of mining on pollution as Walker and legislative Republicans were trying to lure a mining company to the state.

The DNR argues that adding the positions and creating the new bureau would expand its ability to conduct scientific research and incorporate science and research into its policy making. The new positions would be charged with researching water pollution, particularly from polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.

Those are man-made chemicals are contaminants involved in a variety of industrial and consumer products, including fast-food wrappers and stain-resistant sprays. Contamination from PFAS has been documented in over 170 sites in 40 states, including Wisconsin. But the state DNR said it can't engage in research or provide information about PFAS contamination in the state without additional staff.

Democrats have introduced a bill calling on the DNR to set standards for the contaminant in drinking water, groundwater, surface water, air and soil, and to establish monitoring requirements. Republicans have a more limited bill dealing only with limiting the use of PFAS in firefighting foam.

The budget committee was also voting on whether to approve Evers' plan to spend $200,000 on determining the extent and locations of PFAS contamination in Wisconsin.

Other Evers' proposals up for approval include:

— borrowing $25 million additional to remove contaminants from sediment in waterways in Milwaukee, Sheboygan, Marinette, Superior and Portage.

— adding five full-time positions to oversee permitting, inspection and enforcement of concentrated animal feeding operations and increase the fee paid by CAFOs from $345 a year to $660.

— increasing reimbursement rates for lawyers who offer public defender services from $40 to $70 per hour by 2020.

— raising the salaries of public defenders and prosecutors by 2% each of the next two years, in line with what other state employees receive.

— adding about 20 assistant district attorney positions across the state.

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