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Assembly taking up bill lifting Family Care cap

By Lee Bergquist of the Journal Sentinel

Madison – The enrollment cap on a state long-term care program for the elderly and disabled would be lifted, under a bill to be taken up by the Assembly on Tuesday.

If passed, the bill would go to Gov. Scott Walker, who announced the $72 million plan to resume expanding Family Care in December following an order from federal officials. Walker and Republican lawmakers had capped the program on July 1 to hold down rising costs, but now say they’ve come up with other ways to control them.

As part of a raft of legislation as the session ends, the Assembly also was scheduled to take up a wolf hunting bill aimed at calming the concerns of many hunters and landowners as the wolf population continues to rise.

Family Care provides services to help needy people who are elderly and disabled stay in their homes or other community settings rather than enter nursing homes.

The cap on enrollment frustrated local officials and advocates for the elderly and the disabled. Shortly after the budget passed in June, Walker said he hoped to modify or drop the cap this year.

Family Care and other so-called community-based programs operate under federal waivers that allow states to offer services not required by law.

Family Care is available in 57 of the state’s 72 counties. The bill would allow the remaining counties to participate in Family Care in the future subject to review by the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee.

Wisconsin’s Family Care and other Medicaid health programs for the poor have an overall $141 million shortfall in state money over the next year and a half. The Walker administration says it is looking for ways to cut spending to bridge that gap.

The legislation on wolves paves the way to the first hunting season since wolves disappeared from the state more than 50 years ago.

Wisconsin took over management of wolves on Jan. 27 after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed them from a federal list of endangered species.

Tensions have escalated over the gray wolf as its population has soared in recent years. Wolves are primarily located in the northern third of the state and in central Wisconsin near Necedah National Wildlife Refuge.

Wolves have killed increasing numbers of livestock, pets and hunting dogs.

In 2011 alone, wolves killed 20 dogs, mostly hunting dogs. The proposed hunting rules are modeled after those used for bear hunting.

The season would start Oct. 15 and end in February. Wolves could be hunted with firearms, bows, crossbows and leg traps. Bait, dogs and electronic calls also would be legal.

It’s unclear how many wolves could be killed, but the bill allows the Department of Natural Resources to close the season within 24 hours, if necessary.

A wolf hunting license would cost $100 for residents and $500 for nonresidents. It would cost $10 to apply for a wolf license.

Potential hunters would be selected in a drawing. There are an estimated 800 wolves in Wisconsin.

The state’s management goal, set in the 1990s, had been 350 outside of Indian reservations. At the time of European settlement, the DNR estimated there were 3,000 to 5,000 wolves in the state. As settlers moved in, so did efforts to kill wolves.

Wisconsin paid a bounty on wolves from 1865 to 1957. Wolves were considered extinct in the state by 1960.

They returned by natural in-migration, and by 1980, the DNR estimated there were about 25 wolves in five packs in the state.

The Assembly is also expected to take up a bill that would allow police, prosecutors and others in the justice system swifter access to children’s court.

The bill was proposed following a Journal Sentinel investigation of the case of Markus Evans, who received repeated breaks in the juvenile system before he shot and killed a teenager walking home from school – part of the newspaper’s ” Dangerous and Free” investigation.

Police stopping juveniles on probation with children’s court cannot quickly check the youths’ status. The measure passed the Senate on a voice vote last month and will go to Walker if it passes the Assembly.

Journal Sentinel reporters John Diedrich and Jason Stein contributed to this report.