sign-ups increase

Around 40,750 Wisconsin residents signed up for coverage on the federal health exchange website by Dec. 28, according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The HHS issued a statement in December outlining the steps it would take to increase access to health plans including extensions on deadlines to sign up, deadlines for payment and length of existing coverage.

According to a report from the Associated Press, more than 19,000 Wisconsin residents attempted to sign up for health plans during October, the first month of the site’s operation.

However, the report also states less than 900 Wisconsin residents were able to secure health care coverage by the end of October due to the technical issues that plagued the site’s early inception.

Walker signs controversial mascot bill

Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill into law on Dec. 19 that will make it harder for public schools to be forced to change Native American-themed mascots.

The law requires an individual to petition for the state to review a school mascot. Previously, state law required only one complaint as grounds for review.

Walker said in a statement the bill will allow for greater free speech and community input in the process of changing school mascots.

According to the AP, Barbara Munson, Wisconsin Indian Education Association’s Indian Mascot and Logo Task Force chair, said this argument does not make sense because government institutions do not have free speech.

“[The bill] is an example of institutionalized racism in content and process,” Munson said in a statement. “It’s a poke in the eye with a sharp stick to all Wisconsin tribes, and it is an act of discrimination leveled directly at our children.”

City warming shelters stay open to help homeless in frigid temperatures

Porchlight Inc., a homeless shelter located in downtown Madison, has been keeping its doors open to the homeless during the day to protect them from the harsh winter temperatures, according to Executive Director Steve Schooler. He said the center will remain open until the end of March from about 7:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Schooler said the center has social workers on staff to help homeless individuals find employment and housing and computers will be provided for them to fill out applications.

The homeless have previously been able to stay warm in the basement of the Capitol or Central Library last winter, Dane County Supervisor Heidi Wegleitner, District 2, said. She said these are no longer options because Gov. Scott Walker closed off the basement of the Capitol, and the library is being renovated.

Wegleitner said another benefit to the center has been its location. She said that the central location makes transportation easier for people, which can often be a large barrier for the homeless in accessing necessary services.

Dane County Supervisor Leland Pan, District 5, said the shelter also allows for homeless residents who may work night shifts to have a warm place to sleep during the day.

Pedal Pubs may be coming to Madison

Pedal taverns allowing patrons to bike their way through the city while enjoying an adult beverage of their choice may soon be coming to Madison.

Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill into law allowing municipalities to issue ordinances allowing alcohol consumption on commercial quadricycles. The bill was enacted on Dec. 14 and set to go into effect one month after.

Previous law did not allow alcohol consumption on pedal taverns, as the consumption occurs in a public space without an alcohol license. This act adds pedal taverns to the list of exceptions to the law, which currently includes county parks, schools, churches and athletic fields or stadiums.

The law allows municipalities to prohibit the consumption or possession of alcohol on commercial quadricycles within the municipality, which could be an option for Madison if Mayor Paul Soglin chooses to pursue it.

Wisconsin Alcohol Policy Project Coordinator Julia Sherman said the bill is part of a larger pattern of bills coming before the Legislature in recent years to increase the availability of alcohol in Wisconsin.

Crime slows during cold temperatures

Madison Police Department spokesperson Joel Despain said not much crime has occurred in Madison over the winter break, most likely due to the cold temperatures.

A police statement said on frigid days when crime is not as prevalent, police officers still had much to do, including directing homeless individuals to shelters, responding to “assist citizen” calls for service for those walking or stranded in streets, helping with crashes on roadways and assisting those with medical issues.

However, police did release some crime reports in the past weeks.

In one Dec. 29 incident, police arrested a 19-year-old man for several charges including battery, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, damaging property and depositing human waste products.

The victim of the incident, a 24-year-old downtown resident, opened the door of her apartment building to investigate who was repeatedly pushing door buzzers. She encountered a stranger who tried to get access into her building and slammed the steel door on her arm when she refused, the report said.

Despite an injury, the victim fled to her apartment to call police and was then driven to a local hospital. Police were able to capture the suspect inside the apartment building. The suspect resisted the arrest, breaking the radio of one of the officers, and at one point urinating in his pants during his struggle.

Wisconsin Partnership awards more than three million dollars to communities in need

In late December, the Wisconsin Partnership Program recently pledged $3.65 million to 16 well being-related projects with the intention of making communities throughout Wisconsin healthier.

The program, executed by the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, aims to improve the health and well-being of Wisconsin residents by investing in research, education, prevention practices, interventions and policy development. Since the partnership began in 2004, the School of Medicine has awarded almost $48 million in funds.

Large implementation grants, which provide up to $400,000 for three years, were awarded to seven different projects, ranging from the Southeastern Wisconsin Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment Project to increase screening to detect risky behaviors among adolescents, to serving African-American seniors with dementia by expanding funding and programming with the Milwaukee Health Services’ Memory Clinic.

The partnership also awarded four small implementation grants for up to $150,000 for three years. Five development grants, up to $50,000 for two years, were awarded to pilot projects. A program to help the community of Cross Plains improve its residents’ health, nutrition and physical activity by launching a Lifestyle Initiative for Fitness Empowerment project is among the groups to receive funds.

Darrel Bazzell updates on campus projects

Darrell Bazzell, University of Wisconsin vice chancellor for finance and administration, reflected on projects completed in 2013 and the work that remains to be done in 2014.

In a letter, Bazzell said 2014 is going to be a “year of change,” listing eight large projects that will be put into effect this calendar year.

The first big project slotted to begin this month is the transition away from WiscMail and other small email platforms used by departments to a singular email and calendar platform. The campus-wide migration is set to be completed by no later than August 2014.

Bazzell said although the migration is a complicated process, the benefits will far outweigh the costs. The project has been re-evaluated numerous times and attempts to migrate past calendar data have been abandoned, he said.

Secondly, Bazzell noted the new campus-wide alcohol policy that was adopted at the beginning of 2014. This new policy, drafted by a University Health Services task force, offers new training opportunities and forms for approving the service of alcohol at sanctioned events.

UW researcher links protein to cancer growth

Dr. Vincent Cryns and his cancer research team at the University of Wisconsin have identified a protein suspected to be linked to breast cancer metastasis.

According to Cryns’ findings, the protein αB-crystallin has been strongly correlated with metastasis, which is the growth of cancer from one part of the body to the other. The research shows this protein allows the cancer cells to penetrate both the epithelial lining of the blood vessels as well as the blood-brain barrier.

“Our clinical findings need to be validated in additional studies to determine whether αB-crystallin could be used as a molecular marker in breast cancer patients to determine prognosis or to predict the risk of developing brain metastasis,” Cryns said in a statement.

Cryns and his team found that an overexpression of this protein was correlated to a higher rate of cancer metastases. Similarly, Cryns said he hopes an inhibition of the αB-crystallin protein will lower the rate of spread and that he and his team remain hopeful for the development of new drug treatments.

According to Cryns, breast cancer metastases in the brain often go unnoticed and untreated until patients begin exhibiting symptoms. Cryns said he hopes a new drug treatment will improve the prognosis of patients with brain metastases.