Charitable Giving Tips, Bill To Encourage Rural Lawyers, Politics Of Tax Overhaul

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A bill in the state legislature would help pay back student loans for lawyers who choose to represent low-income clients in Wisconsin’s rural counties. The bill’s author is with us to share the details. We also talk about charity scams to watch out for during the holiday giving season. And with Senate Republicans aiming to pass a tax overhaul plan by the end of the year, we examine the politics of getting the bill to the President’s desk.

Featured in this Show

  • What To Watch Out For With Charitable Giving This Holiday Season

    As we enter the holiday season, more people will be giving to charities. But donating to a cause–especially online–can sometimes lead to scams. We speak with Jim Temmer, CEO of the Better Business Bureau-Wisconsin, about how to make sure your donation is going to those who need it most.

  • Legislation Aims To Address Attorney Shortage In Wisconsin's Rural Counties

    For young lawyers emerging from law school with thousands of dollars of debt, a new option could be coming to help pay off those bills — and help solve a growing problem in Wisconsin.

    Under a new bill, attorneys who move to more rural parts of the state and agree to take on court-appointed cases could be eligible for thousands of dollars in student loan forgiveness.

    One of the bill’s co-sponsors, Ron Tusler, R-Harrison, said the legislation is aimed at addressing the shortage of attorneys in counties where the total population is less than 25,000 residents.

    “Some of these counties only have three, five, seven attorneys in the entire county,” Tusler said. “But, we have to provide a public defender for anybody that’s charged with any crime.”

    If approved, the bill would create a two-year pilot program that would set aside $250,000 a year in available money. Tusler says program participants could quality for up to $20,000 in loan forgiveness per year, but certain quotas must be met.

    “You only can apply if you’re taking 50 public defender cases, which is quite a few cases,” he said. “The average attorney might hold 60 to 70 cases total at one time, so you’re mostly a public defender.”

    Right now, the state is paying attorneys from more urban parts of the state to make the drive and represent clients in rural areas.

    “We’ve been paying a significant amount of money to have attorneys from Madison and Milwaukee drive all the way up to Ashland County or all the way up to Marquette County,” he said. “And that’s expensive on our state.”

    To that end, Tusler says the state spent $41,700 just on gas to drive people back and forth to Ashland County in the last year. He says he’d like to see that money spent more wisely.

    “I would rather see this money go to helping kids that are struggling with student loans … than spend it on gasoline,” he said.

    Tusler is hoping the bill will give defendants in these counties more options and better representation.

    “If we could just increase the number of attorneys up there, even 20 attorneys or 25 attorneys up there, that would make a huge difference for the state as a whole,” he said.

    What the bill doesn’t address, however, is the rate of pay public defenders receive in Wisconsin. As it stands, public defenders receive $40 an hour for their work, the lowest rate in the nation.

    “$40 an hour would sound great if you didn’t have expenses,” Tusler said. “But the truth is that when you include staff and a business, it’s very hard for an attorney to come out, at least, ahead, when they take public defender cases at $40 (an hour) unless they have very little overhead.”

    He said it’s something he’d like to see changed going forward.

    “I think it’s important that we do increase the amount, and I think that there’s ways that we could do that that would incentivize, again, people to where we need them the most,” he said.

    For instance, he pointed out that public defenders receive the same rate of pay, regardless of the type of case they take on. Right now, a public defender taking on a felony homicide case would make the same amount as one taking on a misdemeanor property damage case.

    So far, Tusler says he’s gotten some good feedback on the bill, which will be taken up by an Assembly committee in early 2018. He says he’s confident about its future, but it’s unclear whether the GOP-led Legislature will support the measure.

    That said, Tusler believes this is one area where lawmakers from both parties can and should come together.

    “When we’re spending money to reduce our student loans and encourage people to live in our rural areas, as opposed to spending on gasoline and drive time, I don’t think that should be a partisan issue, that should just be a good governance issue,” he said.

  • Bill Would Help Pay Student Loans For Rural Public Defenders

    For low-income residents of Wisconsin’s rural areas, legal representation can be in short supply. A new bill would incentivize lawyers to fill the void by helping to pay off student loans for those who take public defender appointments in the state’s least populous counties. We talk with one of the bill’s Republican sponsors about why he thinks it’s needed to address the issue.

  • Political Fight Continues Over The GOP's Congressional Tax Plan

    Senate Republicans are still looking for the necessary votes to pass their $1.5 trillion tax cut legislation. Lawmakers, however, have a short amount of time to pass the bill before the end of the legislative session. We speak with Professor Steven Smith of Washington University about what’s in the tax plan and what maneuvering will need to happen to see it pass or fail.

    What are your thoughts on the Senate tax plan? Do you think we need lower taxes? Or, do you think we’re not paying enough?

    Let us know by emailing

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Episode Credits

  • Rob Ferrett Host
  • J. Carlisle Larsen Producer
  • Dean Knetter Producer
  • Jim Temmer Guest
  • Rep. Ron Tusler Guest
  • Steven Smith Guest