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2015-16 Legislature: Printable directory | Leadership rosters | New faces

 4:03 PM 

Assembly OKs landlord rights bill

The landlord rights bill has cleared the Assembly on a 60-31 vote.

Several Dems thanked bill author Rep. Robert Brooks, R-Saukville, for his willingness to consider changes. Still, they tried, and failed, to amend the bill.

"There are some significant problems that still exist with this legislation," Rep. Eric Genrich, D-Green Bay, said.

Dems argued, among other things, the bill weakens local control and creates the risk that crime victims could be evicted when those crimes occur in their rentals.

Brooks, in his closing comments, noted that many concerns, such as those for crime victims, were handled in the sub for the bill. But he kept his comments brief, noting Dems want to attend the Democratic presidential debate in Milwaukee tonight.

"Smile more, talk less and when you have the votes, shut up," Brooks said.

 3:29 PM 

On to the landlord rights bill

Some Dem lawmakers, including Cory Mason, of Kenosha, and Andy Jorgensen, of Milton have recused themselves from a vote on the landlord rights bill because they say they own rental properties.

The bill, AB 568, would overhaul landlord rights, local regulations pertaining to rental properties and the process for creating a historic preservation district. The bill has a proposed sub and amendment.

The amended bill that cleared committee would, among other things, let landlords file to evict tenants for criminal activity, such as the manufacture and distribution of controlled substances. The sub differs from the original by excluding possession from that definition, though both versions would allow eviction regardless of whether there was an arrest or a conviction.

The sub also sets restrictions on rental unit inspections.

The sub's provision dealing with historic preservation districts originally would have allowed their creation only after residents in the targeted area were notified, had an opportunity to vote and passed it with a two-thirds majority. The amendment approved would require a public hearing and that residents are notified of the proposal by mail. Under the amendment, residents could appeal to the local governing body any decisions by the historic preservation board. That body then would need a simple majority to uphold the appeal. 

 2:52 PM 

Planned Parenthood debate continues

Dems and Republicans keep going back to the same points in the debate over the Planned Parenthood bill.

Dems say the bill will restrict access to birth control and lead to more abortions. They question the constitutionality of a bill targeting one organization.

"You're turning away women from services they need," Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, said.

But Republicans have emphasized the bill is about preventing fraud. They say Planned Parenthood acknowledged the fraud by saying the bill would cost the organization about $4 million per year.

The bill, Rep. Jesse Kremer said, would ensure the organization doesn't "abuse" Medicaid's 340B program and Wisconsin's taxpayers don't get "soaked" by Planned Parenthood.

"What part of this bill strips Planned Parenthood of contraceptives?" the Kewaskum Republican said.

 2:05 PM 

Debate starts on Planned Parenthood bill

Dems are pushing their sub that would let people with birth control prescriptions fill them for 12 months at a time.

Amendment supporters have cited statistics showing the extended prescriptions would reduce abortions 46 percent and unplanned pregnancies by 32 percent.

But Rep. Andre Jacque, author of the Assembly companion to SB 238, said he doesn't buy the argument. The De Pere Republican said his bill is designed to prevent Planned Parenthood from "bilking" taxpayers.

The amendment, he said, is beside the point.

"Really, we're not talking about an issue with access to birth control," Jacque said.

 1:57 PM 

Dems target landlord, Planned Parenthood bills

Dems went into the floor period today planning to voice their strongest opposition to a landlord rights bill and Planned Parenthood legislation.

AB 568 would overhaul landlord rights, local regulations pertaining to rental properties and the process for creating a historic preservation district.

Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, said the bill is "so harmful to so many citizens in Wisconsin." Dems had amendments planned that would, for instance, protect domestic violence victims.

Dems also had a sub amendment ready for the Planned Parenthood bill. SB 238, which has Senate approval, would require groups bill Medicaid the actual cost, plus a standard dispensing fee, for birth control drugs from Medicaid’s 340B program. Doing so would cost Planned Parenthood an estimated $4 million annually.

Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, said the Dem sub would "increase access to birth control" by letting anyone with a prescription fill it for 12 months.

 1:55 PM 

Assembly passes broadband bill

The Assembly has passed a bill 81-15 that would let the PSC make a total of $6 million in broadband expansion grants in any fiscal year.

Under current law, the PSC has the $6 million but is restricted to giving out only $1.5 million in the grants each fiscal year.

 1:19 PM 

Vos defends school choice amendment

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos today defended his amendment to a special needs scholarship program bill, saying his proposal is a necessary fix to the state’s school choice funding formula.

Vos' amendment to AB 751, which is on the calendar for Tuesday, would adjust the overall funding formula so public schools count voucher students on a three-year rolling average the way other students are counted. Those counts affect school districts’ revenue limit authority.

That change, Vos has said, would correct a drafting mistake in the budget and prevent large property tax increases such as those he saw in his district. The intention all along, he has said, was for those students to be counted the same as everyone else.

Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, today said his “phone has been lighting up” with calls from superintendents who are worried about Vos' proposal.

But the Rochester Republican, speaking to reporters before the floor session today, said his amendment is a technical fix that is meant to keep property taxes down.

"All of the demagoguery that is occurring from the superintendents to say somehow it’s going to reduce their ability to raise property taxes, well that’s the point," he said. "We don’t want to have property tax increases, especially ones where they would be allowed to count students in a significantly different way than the way they count students who are going to a different public school."

Vos said he's pushing the proposal as an amendment rather than separate legislation because "we’re at the end of the legislative session."

 12:57 PM 

Packed calendar for floor session Tuesday

The finalized calendar for the Assembly’s floor period Tuesday includes more than 100 bills, including the GOP’s college affordability package and legislation dealing with "sanctuary cities."

The Rules Committee today agreed to a floor period for Tuesday that starts at 1 p.m. and ends at 1 a.m. Wednesday. The Assembly then would reconvene at 8 a.m. Wednesday and adjourn at noon.

Several bills on the calendar are expected to generate heavy debate, including the amended AB 450, which would allow cities, towns or villages to let employees, such as law enforcement personnel, ask people about their immigration status after they’ve been charged with a crime.

The calendar also includes:

*AB 533, which would establish criminal penalties for fraud in obtaining unemployment insurance;

*AB 723, which would restrict the production and use of photo ID cards by local governments;

*and AB 751, a special needs scholarship program bill that includes an amendment from Assembly Speaker Vos that would adjust the overall funding formula public schools use for school choice students.

See the calendar here.

 12:31 PM 

Vos: Local roadwork bill faces long odds

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos does not expect a bill dealing with sales tax increases for local roadwork will clear the Assembly.

Rep. Dean Knudson’s AB 210 would let counties hold referendums for half-cent sales tax increases to pay for local road maintenance and repair. The Hudson Republican’s amended proposal would let those increases remain valid for four years, but counties would need to reserve some money to distribute to local governments. The money would have to be in addition to regular road spending.

The bill was on the calendar Tuesday but never taken up. That bumped it to the calendar today, but Vos said there is disagreement on the bill within his caucus.

“I don’t think it’s going to happen,” the Rochester Republican said, adding he supports the bill because it gets more money directed toward local roads.

 9:51 PM 

Local roadwork bill on hold

The Assembly has reconvened and moved to adjournments without taking up AB 210, which would let counties institute half-cent sales tax increases to pay for roadwork.

Bill author Rep. Dean Knudson told reporters during the recess a proposed amendment to the bill would eliminate all local wheel taxes but grandfather in those that exist now. The Hudson Republican said he supports the change, particularly because, he said, wheel taxes seldom are used and do not need referendum approval.

The sales tax increase under AB 210 would require referendum approval and then would last four years. A sub amendment to the bill also requires a certain amount of money be distributed to local governments within the county and a continuation of previous spending levels on roads.

Majority Leader Rep. Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, said the bill automatically shifts to the Thursday calendar.

"We'll keep working on it," he said.

 8:35 PM 

Future uncertain for local government roadwork bill

After bumping to the end of the calendar a bill that would let local governments enact half-cent sales tax increases to pay for roadwork, GOP leaders now won't say for sure if the legislation will get a vote.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos would answer directly when Dems asked him f the bill would get a vote.

"I have every intention of really working hard to make that happen," the Rochester Republican said.

Under the amended AB 210, local governments can enact the increase for four years if they get referendum approval. Rep. Dean Knudson, R-Hudson, is the bill author.

 7:59 PM 

Assembly green lights Christmas tree bill

A Christmas tree bill has cleared the Assembly on a voice vote.

The bill, by Rep. Jesse Kremer, R-Kewaskum, would prohibit the state or local governments from enacting rules or ordinances related to fire safety that would prevent the placement of a Christmas tree in the Capitol rotunda or a church. Essentially, the bill would create a rule that Christmas trees are not fire hazards.

The bill passed the State Affairs and Government Operations Committee on a 13-2 bipartisan vote, with two Dems opposed.

 7:57 PM 

Rules Committee sets calendar for floor period Thursday

The Assembly's calendar for the floor session Thursday includes bills aimed at Planned Parenthood and overhauling landlord rights.

The Assembly recessed briefly so the Rules Committee could finalize the calendar for Thursday. The floor period is scheduled to start at noon and end at 4 p.m.

Among the bills on the calendar is SB 238, which is aimed at raising the costs of birth control drugs Planned Parenthood receives through Medicaid. The bill's Republican authors are Sen. Chris Kapenga, of Delafield, and Rep. Andre Jacque, of De Pere.

The legislation, which passed the Senate 19-14 along party lines, would require groups dispensing drugs through Medicaid's 340B program bill for the actual cost, plus a standard dispensing fee, for the drugs. Doing so would cost Planned Parenthood an estimated $4 million annually.

AB 568 would, among other things, overhaul landlord rights, local regulations pertaining to rental properties and the process for creating a historic preservation district. The bill by Rep. Robert Brooks, R-Saukville, cleared an Assembly committee 5-2.

But Senate companion author Frank Lasee, R-De Pere, pulled his version from an exec last month because, he said, he didn't have the votes.

See the finalized calendar here.

The Rules Committee will meet again Thursday morning to finalize the calendar for the floor session Tuesday.

 7:39 PM 

Jarchow's water bill clears Assembly

Despite strong Dem opposition, the Assembly has passed a bill 57-39 that overhauls several areas of state law governing bodies of water.

Four Republicans joined Dems in voting against the bill. They are: Reps. Al Ott, of Forest Junction; Todd Novak, of Dodgeville; John Murtha, of Baldwin; and Joel Kitchens, of Sturgeon Bay.

Dems called the bill "dangerous" and "the worst bill for the environment in this session." Rep. Cory Mason summed up the Dem opposition.

"This is sort of like Act 10 for Wisconsin lakes," the Racine Dem said.

Rep. Adam Jarchow said he appreciated the "good, rigorous debate" from both sides of the aisle on his AB 600. He emphasized all of the amendments the bill took on and all of the conversations he had with conservation groups.

"We are all here," the Balsam Lake Republican said, "and we are all responsible for taking care of our natural resources."

The bill's sub amendment was amended further on the floor. Jarchow's legislation includes provisions such as:

*clarifying the definition of navigable waters as it relates to man-made ditches and storm water control structures. Under the sub, roadside ditches used by fish to reach their spawning areas still would be considered navigable waters.

*changing the ways Areas of Special Natural Resource Interest are designated. The Department of Natural Resources now identifies those areas, but the bill would require approval by the Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules. The sub, though, would provide that a number of areas of lakes keep the ASNRI designation previously assigned by the DNR. An additional amendment would delay implementation of the ASNRI until the beginning of 2017.

*creating a mechanism under which developers can get clean deeds to dry lake beds. Under the bill, any lake bed that was dry prior to Jan. 1, 1975, could be available for a clean deed in certain circumstances. But the sub makes accommodations for dry lake beds the public has been using.

*requiring the DNR issue general permits, rather than more restrictive individual permits, to
allow the removal of 30 cubic yards of material from the bed of an inland lake adjacent to an
owner's property. The sub includes conditions the DNR must add to those general permits.

The bill also was amended to delete a provision that would have required the DNR secretary give "substantial weight" to local findings when determining the level and flow of water in an inland lake.

GOP supporters of the bill praised Jarchow for his work. Some, such as Rep. Dave Craig, of Big Bend, talked about the importance of the dredging provision. Others, such as Rep. Michael Schraa, of Oshkosh, said it's time for the state to loosen the ASNRI designations.

And Rep. John Nygren used the Dem theme of eroding local control to make his argument.

"Ultimate local control is the property owner," the Marinette Republican said, "not local government."

But Rep. Nick Milroy said the legislation shows a basic misunderstanding of the habitats within lakes. It's why, the South Range Dem said, the bill is so dangerous.

"Spare me the stupidity," he said, "and start listening to people who know what they're talking about."

See the roll call here.

 7:31 PM 

Senate continues to debate voting bill

The Senate continues to debate legislation that would allow voters to register electronically.

Dems slammed SB 295, saying it would restrict the right to vote by moving up the deadline for absentee ballots and getting rid of special deputies who can be OK’d by local election clerks to spearhead registration drives.

Absentee ballots are now due to the clerk’s office the Friday after Election Day if postmarked by the Friday after the election. But the legislation would move that up to 8 p.m. on Election Day. The bill also would disqualify an absentee ballot if it was missing the address of the witness.

Sen. Janet Bewley, D-Ashland, noted changes at the U.S. Postal Service that in particular have impacted rural communities. Her mail, for example, is shipped to the Twin Cities and then rerouted back to Wisconsin. 

She said some voters under the bill may go to the Post Office on the Friday before an election thinking they have plenty of time for their ballot to be turned in only to find out a delay disqualified their both. She questioned what the harm was of keeping the current deadline and suggested the aim of the legislation was to narrow the opportunity to vote.

“Isn’t the object of the game to get everybody to vote?” Bewley asked. “I truly believe the intent of this bill is to narrow opportunities, and that shouldn’t be what we’re about.”

Dems complained bitterly about the bill, including Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, suggesting Republicans were pushing it because they can’t win a fair election after dividing the state so badly.

But Republicans said that was an overreaction, particularly over the special registration deputies.

Under the bill, the GAB would have to maintain a secure online registration form. Those registering online would not have to provide proof of residence if their name, date of birth, and driver’s license or state ID card number can be matched with DOT records. Electronic registration would close at midnight on the third Wednesday before an election.

Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said that provision makes the registration deputies obsolete because it would allow anyone with a smart phone to register someone by allowing them to get on the GAB site and input their information.

“I’m amazed we’re getting this much discussion when all you’re doing is changing how registration will happen,” Fitzgerald said. “You’re not changing who or whether they can be registered. We’re not making it more difficult, but certainly we are being asked by both parties at the national level to adapt to the new technologies. That’s what this whole discussion is about.”

Other provisions include allowing federally issued veterans ID cards be used to meet the requirements of voter ID and requiring voters to re-register when they change names or addresses. Now, those registrations transfer. 

The bill also would create a new system for collecting results on Election Night. County clerks would have to post all results to their sites no later than two hours after receiving them. The GAB also would have to provide a link on its site to those returns.

 5:43 PM 

Assembly begins debate on navigable waters bill

The Assembly has begun debating a bill that would overhaul portions of the state’s laws governing bodies of water.

Among the state law changes proposed under the amended AB 600, authored by Rep. Adam Jarchow, R-Balsam Lake, are:

*clarifying the definition of navigable waters as it relates to man-made ditches and storm water control structures. Under the sub, roadside ditches used by fish to reach their spawning areas still would be considered navigable waters.

*changing the ways Areas of Special Natural Resource Interest are designated. The Department of Natural Resources now identifies those areas, but the bill would require approval by the Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules. The sub, though, would provide that a number of areas of lakes keep the ASNRI designation previously assigned by the DNR.

*creating a mechanism under which developers can get clean deeds to dry lake beds. Under the bill, any lake bed that was dry prior to Jan. 1, 1975, could be available for a clean deed in certain circumstances. But the sub makes accommodations for dry lake beds the public has been using.

*requiring the DNR issue general permits, rather than more restrictive individual permits, to allow the removal of 30 cubic yards of material from the bed of an inland lake adjacent to an owner's property. The sub includes conditions the DNR must add to those general permits.

The bill passed the Assembly’s Environment and Forestry Committee 8-5 along party lines.

 5:33 PM 

Assembly passes amended shoreland zoning bill

The Assembly, on a 56-39 vote, passed a bill that would make several changes to property rights and shoreland zoning.

AB 582 by Rep. Adam Jarchow, R-Balsam Lake, was amended to make several changes to the original bill. But the Assembly voted down two amendments from Rep. Leon Young, D-Milwaukee, on 63-34 votes.

The amended version of the bill eliminates a provision from the original bill that would have established new “vested rights,” under which local zoning laws are frozen at a certain point when a developer applies for permits.

Other provisions under the sub include:

*clarifying that land platted and zoned for residential, commercial or manufacturing is assessed at its unimproved value until a building permit is issued, except in certain circumstances involving TIF districts.

*requiring a two-thirds vote from the governing board to down-zone a property, essentially allowing fewer uses on the land. The original bill called for approval by 75 percent of the board.

*requiring municipalities provide to those who request it an annual publication of zoning changes.
*prohibiting the Department of Natural Resources or other authorities from preventing flat roofs on boathouses.

*allowing plaintiffs to substitute the judge in contested case hearings.

*letting a licensed surveyor determine the ordinary high-water mark on shoreland properties. The bill passed the Assembly’s Housing Committee 5-2 along party lines.

 5:24 PM 

Assembly approves zoning bill on 62-35 vote

The Assembly cleared a bill to let Dane County towns opt out of the county’s zoning ordinance on a 62-35 vote.

Dems from Dane County continued to slam the bill, with Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, telling her GOP colleagues to “worry about your own counties.” She also said the bill would lead to “fragmented decisions” that vary across the county.

“How does that help developers?” she asked. “I don’t get it.”

But Rep. John Jagler, R-Watertown, whose district includes Dane County, pushed back against the local control argument, saying Dems aren’t considering towns’ wishes.

“That’s fine when you’re talking about the counties, apparently, but when you’re talking about the towns, then there is no local control,” he said.

 5:19 PM 

Senate approves changes to managed forest land program

The Senate approved 20-11 several changes to the state’s Managed Forest Land program.

Under the program, landowners sign up and agree to forestry management practices and plans to log timber. They also pay fees, in lieu of property taxes, that are less than what they would have been taxed. Current law requires those property owners reserve no more than 160 acres as closed, or private, while the rest is kept open for public recreational use.

Among other things, the amended would double the 160-acre cap for nonindustrial landowners to 320, rather than the original proposal to eliminate the cap.

Other provisions include: 

*ensuring property owners are signing a contract when entering the program and can withdraw if they do not agree with changes; 

*allowing owners lease out their closed land for recreational use; 

*increasing the minimum acreage requirement from 10 to 20; 

*allowing landowners remove as many as 5 acres from the program to build a residence; 

*directing that the closed-acreage fees go to the parcel's county and municipality or town rather than to the DNR, as current law requires. That provision is coupled with an end to the timber harvest yield taxes local governments now receive. 

Dems Janet Bewley of Ashland and Julie Lassa of Stevens Point joined Republicans in backing the legislation.

 4:55 PM 

Debate shifts to Dane County zoning bill

The Assembly is taking up a GOP bill that would let Dane County towns opt out of the countywide zoning ordinance during certain periods.

And Dems such as Rep. Terese Berceau, of Madison, are arguing the bill is another example of Republicans taking away local control.

"Why stick it to Dane County and the city of Madison?" she asked. "Well, first of all, because we know you can."

Rep. Keith Ripp’s AB 563, which was amended in committee, would require those that opt out adopt either a zoning ordinance identical to the county's or a model developed by all towns that have backed out of Dane County's zoning.

The Lodi Republican’s amendments to the bill include one dealing with how farmland preservation zoning is handled and another requiring the opt out must be approved at an annual town meeting or through a referendum.

A Senate companion, by Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, cleared committee this month and is awaiting scheduling.

 4:46 PM 

Sexually violent person placement bill clears Assembly

The Assembly has passed a bill 64-34 dealing with residency requirements for sexually violent people.

Dem Rep. Frederick Kessler, of Milwaukee, joined Republicans in voting in favor.

The amended bill by Rep. Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, includes several guidelines for placement. Those include certain distance restrictions, such as not within 1,500 feet of schools, child care operations, public parks, churches or youth centers. The bill, among other things, also sets certain limitations on local sex offender registry requirements, one of the provisions that raised Dem objections.

Rep. Peter Barca tried and failed to refer the bill to the Children and Families Committee. The Kenosha Dem said a topic of such importance requires the Legislature “exercise due caution.”

“This bill has real-world implications,” he said. “I shudder to think that we might victimize someone again.”

Born, though, said the bill and sub amendment are about public safety and finding a reasonable way to return offenders to their counties of origin. He said even sexually violent offenders have constitutional protections, and lawmakers are obliged to uphold them.

“If it was just my preference,” Born said, “we’d never let these people out.”

 3:52 PM 

Senate votes to expand tech education teaching license to vocational topics

The state would expand the new experience-based licensure process for teaching technical education to vocational topics under legislation the Senate approved 19-13 along party lines today.

The technical education license was created in the state budget last year to draw in more avenues to teach those subjects in Wisconsin high schools. The bill would do the same for teaching agriculture, child services, clothing services, food services, housing and equipment services, family and consumer education, family and consumer services, home economics-related occupations, health care-related occupations, business education, and marketing education.

Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, said the bill was nothing more than a “smokescreen” to cover up that schools are dropping agriculture education because districts can’t afford teachers after the state had “cut the hell out of the budgets.” She said being an expert in a field does not make someone qualified to teach and children need to learn critical thinking, not just memorize formulas.

“The only way someone could help a child do that is if they’ve studied not only the subject matter, but the process of learning,” she said.

Republicans countered the bill does not require districts to hire those who qualified to teach those vocational topics, but gives them that option. 

Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, said lawmakers should trust local officials to decide what is best for their students. Those who would be hired to teach these topics, he said, have made a living training others in these fields.

“I’m comfortable with local control and they will make the right decision and right hires to put these people in our classrooms to provide the education needs our kids very badly need in the state of Wisconsin,” he said.

 3:44 PM 

Assembly OKs bill for wrongfully incarcerated

The state would increase the payment from $5,000 to $50,000 for each year a person has been wrongfully incarcerated under a bill the Assembly passed unanimously.

The amended bill by Rep. Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfield, also would increase the cap on payments from $25,000 to $1 million. The legislation also includes giving those who are exonerated access to transitional services, such as the state’s health plan.

Kooyenga said the bill recognizes that even now, the justice system breaks down.

"As a legislative branch," he said, "we should continue to work to move our great justice system into a greater justice system."

The amendments to the bill include: exempting from state income taxes the value of health insurance premiums paid by the state; requiring the state create a pamphlet explaining financial management for exonorees; prorating payments for partial years of incarceration; limiting state-covered health insurance to five years or the amount of time a person was wrongfully incarcerated, whichever is shorter; and structuring the compensation for wrongful imprisonment as an annuity.

The bill unanimously passed an Assembly committee.

 3:16 PM 

Bodily fluid bill gets Assembly's green light

Dem Rep. Frederick Kessler accused Republicans of “grandstanding” with a bill that would make it a class I felony to throw or expel bodily fluids at a prosecutor.

Still, the Assembly approved the bill 84-14.

Under current law, the felony charge applies in cases involving first responders, police, firefighters or ambulance operators.

Kessler, of Milwaukee, said Republicans are trying to “sound tough,” but he wondered how often the penalty was enforced under the current law. He said he guessed not often.

“They’re going to try now to dump on some mentally ill people,” Kessler said.

The bill cleared the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee 9-4 along party lines.

 3:05 PM 

Senate approves limiting franchise liability in worker's comp, unemployment, discrimination cases brought against franchisees

The Senate voted 19-13 along party lines to limit the role of a franchise if someone brings a worker’s compensation, unemployment, discrimination, minimum wage or wage claim against a franchisee.

Sen. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, said the National Labor Relations Board ruled that if someone works for a fast food franchise, such as McDonald’s, Burger King or Arby’s, they work for the chain, not just the local restaurant. The bill, he said, would move the state away from that and impact those seeking a living wage.

“We should stop standing on the back of those who are carrying our economy and maybe for once say, ‘You know what? This ruling makes sense,’” Larson said.

He was the only one to speak on the bill.

 2:51 PM 

Assembly passes wolf bill

A bill that would change the start date of the annual season for hunting and trapping wolves, provided the season is allowed by the federal government, has Assembly approval.

The legislation passed on a voice vote.

The bill, by Rep. Al Ott, R-Forest Junction, would shift the start of the season from Oct. 15 to the first Saturday in November.

The proposal cleared committee unanimously.

 2:37 PM 

Parental rights bill clears Assembly

A bill dealing with the termination of parental rights has cleared the Assembly on a voice vote.

Under current law, a parent can terminate his or her rights only after appearing in court. The amended bill by Rep. Andre Jacque, R-De Pere, offers other options such as filing an affidavit or disclaimer.

The bill passed the Assembly’s Family Law Committee 5-3.

 2:09 PM 

Jarchow plans amendments to water bill

Rep. Adam Jarchow plans to introduce two new amendments to AB 600, the Balsam Lake Republican said before the floor period today.

The bill, which already has a sub amendment, would overhaul portions of the state’s laws governing bodies of water. Jarchow said one amendment would clarify issues with respect to wetlands and Areas of Special Natural Resource Interest.

The second, he said, would remove a provision requiring the Department of Natural Resources secretary give “substantial weight” to local findings when determining the level and flow of water in an inland lake.

 1:59 PM 

Vos responds to Dems, provides updates on fetal tissue, other bills

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, speaking before the floor period today, said he's not certain his caucus will find consensus before session's end on a bill that would outlaw the sale of, and research on, fetal tissue derived from abortions.

The Rochester Republican also said he's moving forward with amendments to a school choice bill. They would correct, Vos said, a mistake in state law that allows for double counting of students who are in open enrollment for private schools. That "misdrafing," he said, has led to large property tax increases.

His amendment would prevent the double counting and "smooth out" the time it takes to recover property tax payments.

Vos also briefly responded to Dem criticism today that Republicans have eroded local control and passed unfunded mandates. He said he supports local control but understands there are exceptions.

"There are certainly times when it makes sense to have a statewide standard so we don't have a patchwork quilt," he said.

The speaker also predicted presidential candidate Marco Rubio will take second in the New Hampshire primary today. Vos is a supporter of Rubio's.

 12:55 PM 

Dems reluctantly support local sales tax bump for roadwork

Assembly Dems today said their caucus is split over a GOP lawmaker's bill that would let local governments enact half-cent sales tax increases to pay for street and highway repairs and maintenance.

Under the amended AB 210, local governments can enact the increase for four years if they get referendum approval. Rep. Dean Knudson, R-Hudson, is the bill author.

Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, said the Dem caucus has mixed feelings. Some know how important the money is for local governments, he said, but they also think Republicans are sidestepping a problem they should solve at the state level.

"Republicans have totally neglected their responsibility to have a strong infrastructure in this state," Barca said, adding Dems will reluctantly support the bill.

 12:44 PM 

Assembly Dems slam water bill, Republican actions

Assembly Dems, speaking before the floor period today, hit Republicans from multiple angles, focusing on the agenda today as well as GOP actions during past sessions.

AB 600 represented one focus of Dem contempt. Rep. Adam Jarchow's bill, which is on the agenda today, would overhaul portions of the state’s laws governing bodies of water.

In particular, Dems focused on a provision in the Balsam Lake Republican's bill that would require the DNR issue general permits, rather than more restrictive individual permits, to
allow the removal of 30 cubic yards of material from the bed of an inland lake adjacent to an
owner's property. A sub amendment to the bill includes conditions the Department of Natural Resources must place on those permits.

Still, Rep. Chris Danou said the bill would lead to the destruction of near-shore habitats. The Trempealeau Dem said Republicans "pose for holy pictures" showing how supportive they are of Wisconsin's outdoor traditions and then pass a bill that threatens the source of those activities.

"Anybody who supports AB 600 and claims to be a sportsman," Danou said, "is not a sportsman."

Assembly Dem leaders also took swings at the GOP-led Legislature for passing unfunded mandates and eroding local control. Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, cited a Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo Dems requested that showed more than 100 ways Republicans have eliminated local control and increased the number of unfunded mandates on local communities.

Those examples ranged from three-tiered beer laws to changes to the state's prevailing wage laws.

"Whatever it takes to consolidate power at the top," Shankland said.

See the memo here.

 12:10 PM 

Senate approves jukebox tax break

The Senate voted 29-3 to approve a $248,800 sales tax break for those who operate jukeboxes.

Under currently law, the music purchased to be played on a jukebox is subject to the sales tax, which also applies to the music when customers pay to hear it played.

The bill would exempt from the sales tax the music purchased by the jukebox operator.

 12:10 PM 

Senate OKs address confidentiality program for abuse victims

The Senate signed off via voice vote on legislation to create an address confidentiality program for victims of child abuse, domestic abuse, sexual abuse, stalking and human trafficking.

The bill would require DOJ to provide an assigned address to each program participant and forward all mail the agency receives at the assigned address to the actual address.

Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-LaCrosse, recounted the experience of a constituent who had suffered abuse and had to move repeatedly. She said the program would help abuse victims keep their actual address secret in the hopes to avoiding detection by their abusers. 

“Today’s vote to her if a gift,” Shilling said, adding it would add some stability and peace of mind for victims of abuse.

 11:32 AM 

Senate signs off on appointments

The Senate signed off on a series of appointments, most of them unanimously.

That includes Ray Allen to be DWD secretary after he served in a similar role at DFI and former GOP state Rep. Mary Williams as a public member of the Wisconsin Technical College System Board.

The exception was Yash Wadhwa to be Railroads commissioner, who cleared the chamber 26-6.

He replaces former Dem Sen. Jeff Plale, who left the office after news reports that raised questions over how he handled the discipline of two employees who were carrying on an affair in the office.

Sen. Tim Carpenter, D-Milwaukee, said he wasn’t satisfied that Wadhwa would be an advocate in the role.

“I would like to have a very activist railroad commissioner, someone who’s going to use their bully pulpit to take care of some of the railroad issues,” Carpenter said.

Wadhwa has an engineering background and has been a regular donor to GOP groups and candidates, including the guv. He also ran unsuccessfully for the Assembly in 2008.

Sen Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, said he has known Wadhwa for many years and is happy he’s coming to the job without significant experience in the railroad industry. He predicted Wadhwa will be accessible to lawmakers.

“He’s going to bring a fresh perspective,” Wanggaard said. “He’s going to be an active listener and get people involved who weren’t involved before.”

 11:08 AM 

There's the bell

And away we go.

UPDATE: Sen. Nikiya Harris Dodd, D-Milwaukee, is absent today.

Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said the chamber will get through as much of its calendar as it can before adjourning for a reception in the parlor in honor of Black History Month. He said Dems have requested to go back to caucus after that before the Senate finishes the rest of its calendar.

 9:53 PM 

Title X bill clears Senate

The Republican bill  that would attempt to redirect up to $3.5 million annually in federal Title X grants away from Planned Parenthood cleared the Senate.

The body concurred 19-14 on the Assembly version of the bill.

 9:15 PM 

Debate shifts to bill directing federal money away from Planned Parenthood

The amended bill would attempt to redirect as much as $3.5 million annually in federal Title X grants away from Planned Parenthood.

The bill, AB 310, would require the state Department of Health Services apply, starting in 2018, for the grant money and distribute it to the Wisconsin Well-Woman Program and local or state health departments or clinics. Public entities can distribute the money to other groups as long as they and their affiliates do not perform abortions.

Dem Sen. Jon Erpenbach is arguing it's ironic the bill is trying to redirect money from Planned Parenthood, but the legislation would force the DHS to do what the organization does in order to get the money.

"This is actually too good," Erpenbach said. "I couldn't come up with something like this."

Sen. Chris Kapenga, author of the Senate bill, said the legislation would give Wisconsin the chance to get millions of dollars to direct toward services such as cervical cancer screening, contraceptives and sexually transmitted disease screening.

"We're going to be able to go and get money," the Delafield Republican said, "for these critical health services."

 8:51 PM 

Civil service bill clears Senate

The Senate concurred 19-14 along party lines on the Assembly's version of the civil service bill.

That version passed passed the Assembly on Oct. 27. It would make multiple changes to the state system, including: giving the state power to fire workers for specific conduct without imposing progressive discipline; replacing the civil service test with a resume-based application process; reducing the threshold for an employee's job to be considered abandoned; allowing layoffs based on performance and other factors rather than just seniority; expediting the hiring process; and eliminating the state's right to ask applicants immediately about previous criminal convictions, except under certain circumstances.

The vote followed multiple Dems speaking in opposition. Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, said he expects the quality of state government will go down.

"There will be no more accountability to taxpayers," he said.

 7:43 PM 

Audit amendment to civil service prompts Nass comments

A Dem amendment calling for annual audits of the civil service system led Sen. Steve Nass to say it has been made clear to him any changes to the bill will kill it.

The audit provision was a part of the Senate bill, which was tabled during the session today. That version, for which Nass was a co-sponsor, also would have eliminated the "ban the box" provision in the Assembly version that prohibits asking applicants early in the hiring process about their criminal past.

Sen. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, said he supports the audit.

"Put your money where your mouth is," he said.

Doing so, Nass said, means supporters would lose the entire bill. And that, he said, is frustrating.

"The Assembly has, quite frankly, staked out their position pretty harshly," Nass, R-Whitewater, said, adding it's "bogus" for lawmakers to use time left in the session as a reason for not acting on the bill.

Nass' comments prompted Sen. Julie Lassa, D-Stevens Point, to urge her colleagues to act independently.

"Speaker Vos does not rule the state Senate," she said.

 7:12 PM 

Civil service bill author responds to Dems

After several Senate Dems spoke out against the civil service bill, the legislation's author responded.

Sen. Roger Roth said when he took on the job of writing the bill, his goal was to keep the core of civil service the same and make sure the state can attract more workers. But as for Dem accusations the bill could lead to patronage, Roth said it won't happen.

"Just because you say something, doesn't make it true," he said, noting civil service protections in state law for political affiliations still would be there if his bill passes.

But Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, disagreed. She cited portions of the proposal that explained what could lead to firing state employees, and those, she said, include personal conduct that is inadequate, unsuitable and inferior.

"That ambiguous rule could become a proxy for political retribution," Vinehout said.

 6:18 PM 

Risser cites connection to civil service as debate starts

Sen. Fred Risser is kicking off debate on the Assembly version of the civil service bill, noting it was his grandfather who proposed the original civil service legislation 111 years ago.

And that bill, he pointed out, was signed by a Republican governor.

The Madison Dem said he represents more state employees than anyone in the state, and, he added, the bill isn't good for them. He noted how its provisions, such as eliminating the civil service exam as a part of hiring, will return the state to patronage and favoritism.

"I feel strongly state employees should be hired on what they know," Risser said, "rather than who they know."

 6:03 PM 

Senate concurs on treasurer's office constitutional amendment

A constitutional amendment that would eliminate the office of the state treasurer is another step closer to passage, having cleared both houses of the Legislature this session.

The Senate approved the amendment 20-13, with Dems Fred Risser, of Madison, and Tim Carpenter, of Milwaukee, in favor. Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, voted against.

For the constitutional amendment to succeed, the resolution would have to be passed by two successive legislatures and then in a statewide referendum.

Senate Dems argued the resolution would take the state in the wrong direction. Sen. Kathleen Vinehout said the treasurer should be given more responsibility rather than disappearing.

"Instead of getting rid of the treasurer and secretary of state," Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, said, "I think we have to give them a real job."

But the vote tonight simply moves the resolution forward in the process, Sen. Richard Gudex said. The Fond du Lac Republican said the final decision will not rest with the Legislature.

"Here's a novel idea: Let's put the question to the people," Gudex said.

Approval of the change would eliminate from the constitution a position now held by Matt Adamczyk, who was elected in fall 2014. During his campaign, he promised to try to eliminate the state treasurer’s position.

 5:46 PM 

Strip search bill passes

The Senate voted 19-14 along party lines to expand the circumstances under which someone in police custody can be strip searched as Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, ripped her colleagues for a move she said would lead to additional abuses of African-American men.

Now, other than those arrested for felonies and some misdemeanors, someone has to be facing detainment of at least 12 hours before police can conduct a strip search. SB 248 would drop the 12-hour requirement.

Taylor, D-Milwaukee, recounted how her 16-year-old son, Isaiah, was stopped, patted down and put in the back of a squad car last month while delivering a turkey to a needy family in their neighborhood. Police have called their actions lawful, but Taylor used it as an example of how African-Americans face different standards than others with law enforcement.

She also said existing strip search policies are already being abused, citing a $5 million settlement the Milwaukee Common Council approved this week with 74 African-American residents who said they were subjected to illegal strip searches and cavity searches. It is part of a settlement covering more than a dozen federal civil rights suits filed against the city over the searches.

“I’m not some angry black woman saying something that’s not true,” said Taylor, who tried to amend the bill to exempt Milwaukee and Milwaukee County. “I’m speaking truth to power, and I know it’s uncomfortable. Whether you realize it, unintended consequences of your legislation is what leads to the disparities.”

But bill author Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls, is about making sure law enforcement can conduct a search when there is suspicion there are weapons or drugs. She said the bill also removes "real challenges" and "costly mandates" for county jails.

"It ensures safety," Harsdorf said, "not only of jail staff, but also the other inmates."

Sen. Nikiya Harris Dodd, the only other black member of the chamber, said her colleagues likely tire of hearing her and Taylor talk about race and color regularly as they bring up issues in Milwaukee. She started to apologize before catching herself.

“I’m tired of apologizing for it,” said Harris Dodd, D-Milwaukee. “I’m African-American, I see these things happening in our community, and it’s happening largely to African-American males.”

 3:53 PM 

Senate approves bill that would raise cost of birth control drugs Planned Parenthood receives through Medicaid

The Senate approved along party lines legislation that would result in raising the costs of birth control drugs Planned Parenthood receives through Medicaid.

Dems decried it as unconstitutional because it would treat Planned Parenthood differently from other groups that dispense the drugs through Medicaid’s 340B program. The bill, approved 18-14, would require groups to bill Medicaid the actual cost, plus a standard dispensing fee, for the drugs. Doing so would cost Planned Parenthood an estimate $4 million annually.

When the bill was introduced, some Republicans feared it would impact local health clinics as well as Planned Parenthood, which has been targeted by the GOP following a series of videos released last year. But the legislation was amended Wednesday to apply on to abortion providers and their affiliates.

“I think we all know that this bill is dealing specifically with an organization called Planned Parenthood,” said co-author Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield. “There isn’t any debate about that.”

Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee and an attorney, said there is a constitutional problem with singling out the organization so that it is treated differently under the Medicaid program compared to others. 

“I would argue that it may even be seen as vindictive legislation in a way that would surely not be seen as appropriate for this body,” she said.

Lawmakers spent a good portion of the debate arguing over access to birth control with Dems charging it would restrict access by cutting off money for Planned Parenthood and possibly lead to the closure of clinics. Republicans countered the bill would only require Planned Parenthood to charge the actual cost of dispensing the drug.

The bill was one of two on today’s Senate calendar targeting Planned Parenthood’s funding. The other would cut off as much as $3.5 million annually in federal Title X grants the group now receives.

Kapenga said the bills don’t fix what he sees as the problem with the organization, but advances the cause.

“This is a consistent stance, consistent stance with where I have always been, where many others have always been,” Kapenga said. “We are going to protect life. There is a fundamental disagreement on where that begins. I bel that begins at conception, and I believe one of the cornerstones of the Declaration of Independence and what our Constitution is drafted around is the protection of life.”

 1:33 PM 

And there's the bell

Roll call is underway.

One programming note. The southeast gallery is closed today after a water pipe burst. That forced the temporary relocation of Sen. Tom Tiffany’s office and means that gallery will be off limits this week as things dry out.

UPDATE: Senate President Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, announced there will be an overflow room in 300SE because the gallery is closed.

 12:02 PM 

Nass: Senate will take up Assembly version of civil service bill with ban-the-box provision

Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, said he is dropping an effort to remove a ban-the-box provision from the civil service bill on today’s Senate calendar because any changes to what passed the Assembly would kill the legislation this session.

Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, co-author of the civil service bill, has been adamant that he wants to keep the provision, which would prohibit an administration from asking a job applicant during the initial screening if they have a criminal background.

Nass wants to strip that provision from the bill. But he said the message he received is the Assembly will not take up any changes to the legislation it already passed. 

“If I put amendments on the bill, everything is dead,” Nass said. “The assembly is not going to take that up. They’re very adamant about that.”

Steineke, R-Kaukauna, did not immediately return a message left on his cell phone. 

Both versions of the civil service bill are on today’s Senate calendar, including the one that cleared Nass’ committee. That version would still allow administrations to ask applicants about their criminal history up front. 

Nass said he will likely vote for the Assembly version when it comes up on the floor today because he supports most other provisions in the bill. Still, he continued to rail against the ban-the-box provision.

“The day is going to come, sooner rather than later, where there’s a mother calling a legislator saying, ‘There’s a rapist working right next to my daughter. What are you going to do about it?’, and all they’re going to say is, ‘Well, we got rid of the box,’” Nass said.

 10:45 AM 

Senate not coming in until 1:30 p.m. now

Senate Chief Clerk Jeff Renk just announced the Senate now won't be in until 1:30 p.m.

The chamber had been scheduled to come in at 11 a.m. But Senate leaders didn't release the calendar until late yesterday afternoon, and it includes a series of controversial bills. That includes the overhaul to the state's civil service system and legislation aimed at funding for Planned Parenthood.

See the calendar.

 3:12 PM 

Dems call again for Gannon apology

Dems are again seeking an apology from Rep. Bob Gannon for comments he made in a press release about Milwaukee murder rates and unemployment in certain city neighborhoods.

The Slinger Republican did not comment on the floor today.

Dems framed their request for an apology by proposing the creation of a Combating Racial Intolerance Committee. Dems then sought the apology, saying Gannon's only apology was to Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, for flipping him off on the floor.

But Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa, D-Milwaukee, said Gannon must do more.

"He did not apologize to African-American Wisconsinites," she said. "He did not apologize to Milwaukee."

 2:43 PM 

Dems trying to pull bills to floor

Dems are trying, and failing to pull various bills to the floor.

Among the bills Dems are trying to pull is one dealing with funding for public schools and another with expanding Medicaid. Dems also attempted to pull their Higher Ed/Lower Debt bill, which would allow for refinancing of student debt.

"It's time that we do something and not nothing about the student loan debt crisis," said bill author Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine.

 2:23 PM 

Novak gives maiden floor speech

Rep. Todd Novak drew a round of applause from the floor after speaking on behalf of his bill, which would change state law to allow more access to information about birth parents and children.

"I firmly believe every child should have a loving home," the Dodgeville Republican said while explaining the benefits of the bill. He said it's important, for instance, that adopted children have access to health information about their birth parents.

 2:14 PM 

Child-support bill draws first roll call

A bill that would make various changes to laws governing, among other things, child support, home visitation and medical assistance passed 96-0.

AB 440, by Rep. Adam Neylon, R-Pewaukee, passed the Assembly's Children and Families Committee unanimously.

 1:51 PM 

Assembly zipping through calendar

The Assembly is marching through the today's calendar, passing by voice vote multiple Law Revision Committee bills as well as those dealing with children and families.

One of those bills, AB 218, would prohibit parents from inheriting a child’s estate if they have abandoned the child. The bill by Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, defines abandonment as having failed to communicate with, care for and support the child for at least a year prior to death.

Kleefisch said before the floor period the legislation would support "caring parents" over dead-beats.

The bill cleared committee 11-1, with Rep. David Heaton, R-Wausau, voting against.

 1:41 PM 

Fetal tissue bill uncertainty remains

A bill that would prohibit the sale of, or experimentation on, fetal tissue from abortions still is at a standstill, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said today.

The Rochester Republican said he's still waiting to hear about potential compromises from the bill authors. He wouldn't say if he expects a compromise before the end of the session.

"It depends on how they work together," Vos said of the authors and those who have concerns about the bill.

 1:36 PM 

Dems plan to push agenda on floor today

Rep. Katrina Shankland said today Assembly Dems will push elements of their "Bring back the middle class" agenda during the floor period.

That agenda, the Stevens Point Dem said, includes legislation on refinancing student loans, making child care more affordable through tax credits and ensuring everyone has access to sick days.

None of the bills are on the agenda for the session today.

 1:32 PM 

Vos wants Walker to discuss successes during State of the State

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he wants Gov. Scott Walker during his State of the State speech tonight to discuss the successes of bills that have passed.

The Rochester Republican said those successes sometimes get lost in the shuffle of constantly looking forward. It's important, he said, to let people know that while there still is much to do, the Legislature has done good work.

But, looking forward, Vos said, he expects Walker to discuss more money for broadband in rural areas as well as his college affordability plan. Vos said he supports the plan.

"Hopefully, it will be passed before we leave in the spring," he said.

Vos also criticized Dems' counter-proposal that would, among other things, let people refinance their college debts. He said there really is no evidence there would be lower interest rates.

Dems, though, said before the floor session today the contrast between the two parties couldn't be stronger than it is right now. Rep. Peter Barca said he wants Walker tonight to propose ideas to improve roads, solve student debt problems and strengthen the middle class.

"Unfortunately," the Kenosha Dem said, "from what we've heard so far, what the governor is going to put forward is anemic at best."

 1:13 PM 

Barca not sure Walker wants third term

Rep. Peter Barca said today he's "not so sure" Gov. Scott Walker will seek a third term.

The Kenosha Dem, speaking before the Assembly's floor session, said it's clear to him Walker has hinted at running for a third term to at least avoid becoming a lame duck.

"He wants to put forward that image because he wants to raise money right now," Barca said.

The Assembly minority leader sidestepped responding to a question about which Dem might run for guv. But he said he's "very optimistic" about Dems' chances in the upcoming elections, adding he expects fewer Assembly Republicans than in the past will run unopposed.

"I think you're going to see a much broader cast," Barca said.

 3:28 PM 

Tempers flare on floor; Gannon flips off Barca

A floor debate over a news release Rep. Bob Gannon recently put out about murder rates in Milwaukee escalated to the point of the Slinger Republican giving Rep. Peter Barca the middle finger.

"It's totally inappropriate to give someone the finger, for God's sake, on the floor of the Assembly," Barca, D-Kenosha, said. Barca called for Gannon to be reprimanded and called for an apology.

Gannon, R-Slinger, apologized.

"In the heat of the battle, I made a gesture that was inappropriate," Gannon said, adding later, "I do apologize for the gesture."

The exchange followed Dem Rep. Mandela Barnes, of Milwaukee, and others asking Gannon for an apology for comments in the news release.

"We've continued to hear very irresponsible rhetoric from this gentleman," Barnes said.

Gannon in the news release drew a comparison between murder and unemployment rates in Milwaukee. In the release, Gannon noted unemployment in Milwaukee among black people is 20 percent, which he said was four times as high as the "white unemployment rate" in the city and state.

Gannon also said in the release Milwaukee leads in "murder and mayhem" per capita, and much of that crime occurs in black neighborhoods that have high unemployment.

Gannon would not apologize for those comments and accused Barnes and others of attacking his character. He said it is "racist" to ignore "that it's predominantly blacks that are dying."

"Put your focus where it belongs," Gannon said, "and stop worrying about me."

Gannon then made the gesture toward Barca when he responded, again calling for an apology.

 2:45 PM 

Utility bill wins approval

The Assembly has passed via voice vote a bill that would change the process for selling or leasing municipal water or sewer utilities to investor-owned companies.

The bill by Rep. Tyler August, R-Lake Geneva, cleared an Assembly committee 12-3, with two Dems in favor and three against.

 2:36 PM 

Trespass bill passes

A bill that establishes criminal penalties for intentionally damaging or trespassing on property owned by an energy company cleared the Assembly on a voice vote.

The bill by Rep. David Steffen, R-Green Bay, would make such actions a Class H felony, which carries a maximum six years in prison and $10,000 fine.

The bill passed the Assembly’s Energy and Utilities Committee 14-1. Republican Rep. Adam Jarchow, of Balsam Lake, voted against.

 2:34 PM 

Nuclear bill passes Assembly

A bill that would lift what amounts to Wisconsin’s moratorium on nuclear power plant construction has cleared the Assembly on a voice vote.

Rep. Kevin Petersen’s bill would loosen regulations the state enacted in 1983 that essentially halted construction of nuclear power plants. Under current law, the Public Service Commission can’t approve a nuclear plant unless an analysis shows ratepayers will save money and there is a storage operation with enough capacity to hold all of the spent fuel in the state.

The Waupaca Republican’s proposal would eliminate both requirements.

AB 384 also would add nuclear to the list of PSC priorities for energy generation. The order of priorities under current law is: energy conservation and efficiency; noncombustible renewable energy; combustible renewable energy; and nonrenewable combustible energy.

The bill would slot nuclear after combustible renewable, a point Petersen emphasized when responding to bill critics on the Assembly floor.

"We're not taking away renewable sources," he said.

 2:21 PM 

Nuclear power plant bill up for debate

The Assembly is kicking off debate on a nuclear power plant bill.

Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, started the debate by speaking against the bill. She said she's happy the state is considering alternatives to coal but doesn't think nuclear should be an option.

"We need to invest in our best energy options," Taylor said, "and nuclear is not our best option."

 2:08 PM 

Nygren's HOPE bills clear Assembly

The four most recent bills in Rep. John Nygren's Heroin, Opiate, Prevention, and Education agenda have passed the Assembly on voice votes.

The Marinette Republican's AB 364 would make several changes to the state’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, which helps the Controlled Substances Board track prescriptions of monitored drugs. Among its proposed changes, the bill would require a practitioner review a patient’s PDMP record before prescribing monitored drugs. It also would establish who, under certain circumstances, has access to PDMP records.

AB 365 would establish guidelines for law enforcement when encountering a potential controlled-substance violation or opioid-related overdose or death. Under the bill, law enforcement in those cases would be required to gather information such as the prescribing practitioner and prescription number and then share it with the state’s PDMP.

The third bill, AB 366, would require pain clinics be certified by the state Department of Health Services. The bill also would establish certification criteria, such as requirements not to accept cash payments or to directly administer certain monitored drugs.

The final bill, AB 367, would establish guidelines for methadone clinics in the state. Those clinics, under the bill, would have to annually report to the DHS information such as the number of people in treatment programs.

 1:59 PM 

Corpse bill headed to guv

A bill that ups the penalty for illegally hiding or burying a corpse is on its way to Gov. Scott Walker’s desk.

Under current law, hiding a corpse illegally is a Class G penalty. The bill by Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls, would make it a Class F penalty, which carries a maximum $25,000 fine and 12 ½ years in prison.

The bill passed both houses on voice votes.

 1:27 PM 

Speaker comments on rallies outside Capitol

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos offered his take on two rallies taking place at opposite ends of the Capitol today.

The Ho-Chunk Nation held a "Save the Mounds" rally in protest of a proposal that would give property owners the right to test burial mounds they own for evidence of human remains. Under the proposal, if there is no evidence, they would be removed from the state's burial mound catalog.

Vos said he supports the rights of property owners but also respects the perspective of Native American.

"I think it's unlikely that this bill will come up this spring," he said.

The Rochester Republican was less certain about bills at the heart of a "Rally for Life" held by anti-abortion groups. Pro-Life Wisconsin, Wisconsin Family Action and Wisconsin Right to Life are urging legislative action on bills related to: fetal tissue; cutting off as much as $3.5 million annually in federal Title X grants for Planned Parenthood; and forcing the organization and other family planning clinics to bill Medicaid the actual cost, plus a standard dispensing fee, for drugs acquired through the Medicaid 340B program.

Vos said the fetal tissue bill, in particular, will require some members of his caucus deciding to "look at what we can get" rather than opting for an all-or-nothing approach.

 1:16 PM 

Vos: Future caucus retirements 'definitely possible'

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said today it's "definitely possible" more members of his caucus will choose to retire before the fall elections.

The Rochester Republican, though, disagreed with Rep. Peter Barca's explanation for why those retirements are taking place. Barca, D-Kenosha, said before the floor session today the retirements could be connected to Republicans not liking what they see in polls.

"They know their agenda is very unpopular," Barca said, emphasizing what he said has been an agenda that has hurt the state's middle class.

But Vos said Barca is uninformed.

"I know how many are retiring," he said. That number, he said, will be "substantially less" than is typical during a presidential cycle.

So far, Assembly Republicans David Heaton, of Wausau, and Dean Knudson, of Hudson, have announced they will not seek re-election in fall. Heaton's seat, in particular, will be a strong target for Dems, Barca said.

As for Dem retirements, Barca said he doesn't expect much.

"I think, by and large, you'll see everybody running again, perhaps everybody," he said.

 11:58 AM 

Senate adjourns

The Senate has adjourned.

The plan is to be back again Jan. 20, according to the majority leader's office.

 11:49 AM 

Senate approves bill to give out fewer Blue Books, state maps

There could be fewer Blue Books and free state maps to pass out under legislation that cleared the Senate today.

Now, each member of the Assembly receives 350 Blue Books and each senator 600. The bill would require the Legislative Reference Bureau to ask lawmakers if they want to reduce the number distributed to their office.

It would also eliminate the requirement that the Blue Book be distributed to constitutional officers, legislative service agencies, state agencies, libraries and educational institutions.

The LRB said it paid $320,217 to print 64,500 copies of the latest Blue Book, or $4.96 per book. In addition, the agency paid $36,100 to the Department of Administration for handling, storage and shipping.

The books given to lawmakers account for 54,450 of the total printed.

The bill also would allow lawmakers to reduce the number of free highway maps they receive from the Department of Transportation. They now get 50 laminated highway service maps at $1.33 each and 500 folded maps at 15 cents apiece. DOT says the current costs for the maps is $18,678 for the full Legislature.

The bill also would eliminate the 300 folded maps now sent to the legislative bureau and 1,000 folded maps sent to state officers for a savings of $195, according to DOT.

 11:46 AM 

Senate approves to bills from 'Justice for Children' package

The Senate signed off via voice vote on two bills that Sen. Rob Cowles, R-Green Bay, has been working on with the AG’s office as part of a “Justice for Children” package.

SB 323 grants victims of sexual assault, human trafficking or child abuse the right to be accompanied by a victim advocate while present at some hearings, law enforcement interviews and examinations at hospitals as a result of the alleged violation.

“If you have a victim advocate with you, someone that’s standing with you and answering questions in a very traumatic situation, studies have shown the outcomes are better,” Cowles said.

SB 325 creates the crime of repeated physical abuse of the same child. A jury would have to find an individual committed at least three acts of physical abuse of the same child within a specific period to meet the proposed standard. The crime would vary from a class E felony to a class A felony depending on the harm to the child.

 11:38 AM 

Senate votes to ban sale of novelty lighters to minors

The Senate voted via voice vote to ban the sale of novelty lighters to minors and prohibit their display for resale in an area of a store that’s accessible to the general public.

Sen. Julie Lassa, D-Stevens Point, said the bill was the idea of three Pittsville elementary students in 2008 after a fellow second grader was killed in a house fire that was started by a lighter.

She said there wasn’t enough left of the lighter to tell what type it was. But the girls included one who was the granddaughter of the Pittsville Fire chief and said, “You know, grandpa, there ought to be a law.”

As Lassa spoke, she help up lighters that looked like a rifle, a guitar, a hand grenade and a cow. Though President Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, reminded Lassa there were no visual aids allowed in the chamber, Lassa said they illustrated that many of the novelty lighters are indistinguishable from children’s toys.

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