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Friday, February 3, 2017

 8:24 AM 

Democrats knock Republican move to hire outside counsel for redistricting lawsuit

Democratic lawmakers are slamming a move by GOP leadership to hire outside lawyers to represent them in an ongoing redistricting lawsuit, warning Republicans are setting up taxpayers to be fleeced.

The Assembly and Senate Org committees voted along party lines Thursday to authorize the Legislature to hire the law firms of Kirkland & Ellis LLP and Bell Giftos St. John LLC "and any other firms, entities or counsel deemed necessary."

"This is an open-ended as it can be, and it's a blank check from taxpayers," said Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha.

He offered amendments that would have limited lawmakers to working with the Legislative Reference Bureau or Leg Council, as well as one that would have required monthly expenditure reports from the outside firms.

Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, refused to answer questions from reporters following an Assembly Rules meeting. Asked if it was an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars, Steineke said: "I'm not going to get into that," saying several times a statement would be released by the office of Speaker Robin Vos.

The ballot commits state taxpayer dollars to cover the legal work, though it included no caps on how much the lawyers can charge for an hourly rate or what the final legal bill may be. Myranda Tanck, a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said that follows past practice with ballots to authorize outside counsel. Lawmakers could not negotiate terms of the engagement until after they received the OK to hire the firms, she added.

Tanck said the engagement letter with the firms would include specifics on how much they will charge. But she could not speak to specifics because the agreement had not been finalized.

Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, said there's "absolutely no reason" to give GOP attorneys a "blank check."

"Republicans have already wasted too much time and taxpayer money trying to justify their unconstitutional election rigging efforts," Shilling said. "Rather than throwing more money at high-priced Republican lawyers, we should be investing our scarce taxpayer resources in Wisconsin classrooms, roads and communities."

The lawyers are expected to file a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of lawmakers after a federal lawsuit found unconstitutional the Assembly map Republicans drew six years ago. The three-judge panel has ordered the Legislature to redraw the lines by Nov. 1, but the state Department of Justice has vowed to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Vos said in a release, "We must ensure that every essential argument is heard before the court to make clear that Wisconsin has legislative maps that are constitutional."

DOJ spokesman Johnny Koremenos said it is common in redistricting cases for lawmakers to hire outside counsel to support the state's position.

"We welcome such support here," he wrote in an email.

Bell Giftos St. John LLC is home to Kevin St. John, who served as deputy attorney general from 2011-15 under Republican J.B. Van Hollen. Kirkland & Ellis LLP lists offices in seven U.S. cities, as well as Europe and Asia; Paul Clement, a Cedarburg native who served as solicitor general under President George W. Bush, is a partner at the DC office.

See the firms' websites:

See the Barca amendments:

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

 8:30 AM 

Committee considers bill banning labor agreement requirements for public projects

Union backers during a public hearing Tuesday said the latest example of the GOP's attack on workers is a bill that bans the state and local governments from requiring project labor agreements on construction bids.

But Republicans and non-union firms countered that AB 24 encourages competition in the bidding process and still lets local governments use those agreements if they'd like. The agreements, called PLAs, are common in the construction industry and lay out standards such as wages, benefits and safety guidelines.

The bill's co-author, Rep. Rob Hutton, said at an Assembly Committee on Labor public hearing that non-union firms are discouraged from applying for government construction projects if they require companies to enter PLAs. It's a "free market issue," he said.

"The legislation isn't an indictment of PLAs," Hutton said. "It is simply an indictment on PLAs being required as a condition for the bid process."

But Dems and union backers said PLAs ensure projects are high-quality and that they're done on time and on budget, noting the agreements last throughout the entirety of the project and therefore help prevent work stoppages.

Stephanie Bloomingdale, the secretary-treasurer of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO, ticked off a list of projects that have had PLAs, including the Hoover Dam and Disney World or at the local level, the new Milwaukee Bucks arena. PLAs, she said, have "built America."

"When you have something that works and works well, then you have to ask yourself, why change that?" she said.

Specifically, the bill says the state or local governments can't consider when awarding a project whether a company bidding on it agreed to enter an agreement with a labor union. The bill also would prohibit the government's' requests for proposals, or RFPs, from including provisions requiring bidders to enter such agreements. And those RFPs would also not be able to require bidders to enter into an agreement that requires them or their employees to join labor unions or pay dues or fees to unions.

Joe Daniels, the president and CEO of Madison-based Daniels Construction, said he'd like to "have the opportunity" to bid on all projects, without having employees pay into things like a union trust fund that will never benefit them.

"I'm looking out for my employees," Daniels said.

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said the county uses PLAs "judiciously" and that they're helpful in complicated projects.

Before he entered that post in 2011, he said, the county didn't use a PLA on a nursing home and it's "still cleaning up the mess" and paying for fixes because the project wasn't done right. On a more recent medical examiner's facility, he said, the county decided to use a PLA because the project was so complex.

"We're not saying everyone should be forced to use a PLA," Parisi said. "We're saying, 'Let's take the middle ground and allow your local officials to use those when they deem it necessary.'"

Dems on the committee took a sharper tone, with Rep. Christine Sinicki, D-Milwaukee, saying it's the latest example of Republicans starting off the legislative session "looking at ways to reduce people's benefits."

Rep. Cory Mason, meanwhile, said PLAs ensure workers get good wages and are safe on the job. He said local governments should have the option to require them.

"Let's be honest," the Racine Dem said. "This is about making sure that you can pay people less."

Monday, January 23, 2017

 10:14 AM 

Walker calls for expanding work requirements in welfare programs

Gov. Scott Walker today called for expanding work requirements under the state’s food stamps program to able-bodied adults with school-age children as well as those receiving housing assistance.

Walker made the announcement in Milwaukee as part of a statewide tour to unveil what he’s calling Wisconsin Works for Everyone. The name is a take off of the Wisconsin Works program that former Gov. Tommy Thompson unveiled two decades ago. Thompson was to join Walker in Madison as part of the tour.

“We want to put people on the pathway to success,” Walker said during the Milwaukee stop.

Currently, the state requires abled-bodied adults between 18 and 49 who do not have minor children to work 80 hours a month, spend 80 hours a month in a program such as W-2 that includes job training or a combination of the two.

In his State of the State address this month, Walker touted new numbers that showed since July 2015, more than 21,000 people had found a job after participating in the Food Share Employment Training Program.

The number also show more than 64,000 people have lost eligibility for food stamps after failing to meet the requirements.

Walker said the changes would initially take place on a pilot basis. Also, some proposals in the full package would require a federal waiver.

Other pieces of the package, which will be included in Walker’s budget, include:

*increasing funding for job and skills training for the unemployed and underemployed.

*expanding job training programs under FoodShare to include the incarcerated, ex-offenders and low-income noncustodial parents involved in the child support system.

*reducing occupational licensing.

*eliminating the “benefits cliff” in child care subsidies.

See more in today’s PM Update.

-- By David Wise

 2:51 PM 

Senate signs off on session rules

The Senate voted 21-12 today to approve a new package of rules to govern the 2017-18 session.

The changes includes eliminating a requirement that a committee chair who decides to hold a hearing to schedule the hearing as early as practicable.

Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, proposed four amendments today, including a rule requiring a racial impact statement on any bill that creates a crime or modifies a penalty, as well as one that would require a bill with a penalty to include a fiscal impact before it could receive a third reading. Each of her four amendments was tabled.

Taylor introduced them to highlight issues facing her Milwaukee district.

The rules approved would:

*allow any member to participate in a hearing by phone or other electronic communication with the consent of the chair. Now, only a member connected to the meeting may do so with the chair’s permission.

*eliminate the requirement the chamber be “properly ventilated” before each session day.

*require those in the Senate gallery now have to silence and conceal electronic devices. Before, they had to be turned off.

*allow delayed calendars to be referred to Senate Org. Now, they must be taken up after completion of the ninth order of business on the current day and before consideration of the 10th order.

 2:21 PM 

Senate unanimously approves bill to help Oostburg project

The Senate voted unanimously today for a bill that would help Plymouth-based Masters Gallery Foods Inc. build a $30 million packaging and distribution facility in the village of Oostburg.

Sen. Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, said the jobs would pay a start salary of $18 an hour and asked for unanimous support from the chamber so the company could begin construction after the weather warms this spring.

The company announced plans last month for a 150,000-square-foot facility with the initial investment expected to generate 120 jobs over the next two to three years. More could be added as the facility expands, the company said.

SB 1 would impact a tax incremental district for the village. Current rules limit the equalized value of taxable property for a new TID, when combined with those already in existence, to be 12 percent of the total equalized value of taxable property in a city or village. The bill would bump that to 15 percent to account for a new TID. Once it was terminated, the limit would return to 12 percent.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

 9:58 AM 

Walker's campaign starts online petition, digital ad in fight over transportation funding

Gov. Scott Walker's state campaign is releasing a digital ad and online petition today as he ups the ante in the fight over revenue increases for transportation. 

The petition includes a message from the guv that he made a promise he would not increase taxes and "I've kept my word." 

"Today, I remain opposed to increasing your taxes -- despite pressure from some to take more money from Wisconsin's working families at the pump," the online petition reads. "Join me now and take a stand against higher taxes, and in support of elected officials who keep their promises." 

Walker's campaign says the digital ads will be similar to the online petition.

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