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 4:47 PM 

Insurance plan oversight bill goes to Walkerr

The Assembly has concurred through voice vote on a bill that would give JFC approval authority of any contracts involving the state's employee group health insurance program.

Walker vetoed a similar measure from the state budget in summer.

 4:30 PM 

GAB overhaul headed to guv

The Assembly has OK'd the Senate amendments to the GAB overhaul bill.

The first Senate amendment passed 58-37, with Republicans Warren Petryk, of Eleva; Todd Novak, of Dodgeville; and Travis Tranel, of Cuba City, joining Dems in opposition. Read the roll call here.

The second amendment passed on a 56-37 vote, with the same three Republicans voting against. See the roll call here.

 4:10 PM 

Knudson defends GAB bill

The author of the GAB overhaul bill is arguing in favor of amendment concurrence while also offering a lukewarm take on a Senate amendment to the bill.

"I don't directly like the amendment very much," Rep. Dean Knudson said. The Hudson Republican was referring to an amendment that calls for the Joint Committee on Legislative Organization to appoint a temporary administrator if the board doesn't do so within 45 days of a vacancy.

But Knudson said the Assembly can't ping-pong back and forth with the Senate on a bill he said is crucial to remove the GAB's "stain on Wisconsin's reputation for clean and open government."

Knudson, though, said he would be willing to work with Dems on some future amendments. One he mentioned would increase the vacancy window to 120 days before JCLO involvement.

 3:53 PM 

GAB debate shifts to jobs

A Republican has responded to Dems who have been hammering the GOP over holding an extraordinary session on campaign finance and the GAB rather than on creating new jobs.

Dems have talked about how people are losing their jobs and businesses are leaving but Republicans are failing to act.

"We are passing a law to secure your jobs," Rep. Deb Kolste, D-Janesville, told Republicans.

But Rep. Joel Kitchens took exception to the characterization. The Sturgeon Bay Republican cited low unemployment in the state and said businesses need workers more than the other way around.

"We have a worker shortage," he said, "not  job shortage."

 3:11 PM 

Dem amendments done; on to concurrence on Senate version

The last proposed Dem amendment to the GAB overhaul bill has failed.

Debate now has shifted to concurrence of the amended bill as passed by the Senate. And Rep. Andy Jorgensen is chastising Republicans for holding an extraordinary session on campaign finance and GAB overhaul rather than focusing on jobs, roads or education.

"What is going on? How are you going to go to Thanksgiving this year?"' the Milton Dem asked Republicans. "Someone is going to bring this up."

 1:59 PM 

Back to GAB bill

The Assembly has returned to concurrence on the Senate's amendments to the GAB overhaul bill.

The Senate amended and passed the bill 18-14 early in the morning Nov. 7. The bill would create the six-member Ethics and Elections commissions to replace the Government Accountability Board.

Under the amended bill, Dem and GOP legislative leaders each would appoint two members to each board. For the Ethics Commission, the Dem and GOP leaders would create separate pools of up to three retired judges, and guv would appoint one from each pool.

For the Elections Commission, the same setup would apply, except the pools from GOP and Dem leaders would consist of municipal or county clerks instead of judges.

The Senate amendment to the bill also deals with administrator vacancies. Under the amendment, if there is a vacancy for either board administrator for 45 days, the Joint Committee on Legislative Organization must appoint an interim who could serve up to a year.

If that position remained vacant after the one-year period, JCLO would repeat the process until the commissions selected an administrator. Also, an administrator could be removed by a majority of the commission members. The commissions would have up to 45 days after June 30 to appoint the first administrator for each body. If they fail to do so, JCLO would appoint an interim.

The amended bill also would let the guv and four legislative leaders appoint nonvoting members to the GAB effective Feb. 1. Those appointees also could be appointed to the Elections Commission and Ethics Commission and serve prior to Senate confirmation. The administrator for each commission could be picked, but would not be able to start the job until June 30.

 1:47 PM 

Dems return to campaign finance

Assembly Dems have proposed a resolution to amend the chamber's rules to prohibit members from passing legislation that affects campaign finance laws during this biennium.

"This is something that needs to be done in our house," Rep. Andy Jorgensen, D-Milton, said. "People are watching."

Read the resolution here.

 1:37 PM 

Campaign finance bill passes with no debate

The amended campaign finance bill cleared the Assembly on a 59-0 vote.

The bill passed the Senate 17-14 near midnight Nov. 6, with Sen. Rob Cowles, R-Green Bay, joining Dems in opposition.

Details of the amended bill include:

* Current law sets a $100 contribution threshold per year for candidates to report the occupation and employer of donors. Under the bill, there no longer is a requirement to report the employer, and the occupation-reporting threshold goes up to $200.

* The amended bill lowers the threshold for a PAC or independent expenditure registration to $2,500 from $5,000.

* The bill creates an additional restriction on the unlimited contributions to the segregated account of a political party or legislative campaign committee. The bill would not let the parties or legislative committees use that money to make a contribution to a candidate. The amended bill also would restrict the money in that the segregated account could not be used for disbursements on express advocacy.

* The amended bill places a $12,000 per calendar year limit on the contributions a corporation, labor union or Native American tribe can make to an independent expenditure committee, a referendum committee, or a segregated fund created by a political party or legislative campaign committee.

* The amended bill also makes a series of changes to the provisions dealing with coordination.

Dems who recused themselves from the original vote on the bill were not allowed to vote today. 

 1:22 PM 

Assembly Republicans to send letter on Syrian refugees

Assembly Republicans today plan to send a letter to the Department of Homeland Security indicating they do not want Syrian refugees entering the United States and particularly Wisconsin, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said.

"We do not want Syrian refugees relocating to Wisconsin at this time," the Rochester Republican said.

Vos said the letter was circulating through the GOP's Assembly caucus and will be sent today.

 1:17 PM 

Knudson willing to accept Senate's GAB amendments

Rep. Dean Knudson said today he is willing to accept the Senate's amendments to his GAB overhaul bill.

The Hudson Republican, though, said he doesn't "really agree" with a Senate amendment to the bill that, in the case of a commission deadlock in selecting the administrator, would require the Joint Committee on Legislative Organization appoint an interim who could serve up to a year. JCLO then would repeat the process until the commission agrees on an administrator.

"The biggest failure for us would be to fail to reform the Government Accountability Board," Knudson said.

Dem Rep. Peter Barca prior to the floor session blasted the amendment, saying it is part of Republican actions that took a bad bill and "made them worse." The amendment, Barca said, introduces partisan politics to the process.

He said a different Senate amendment that included retired judges in the formation of a new Ethics Commission was a positive improvement to the bill. But, the Kenosha Dem said, the administrator amendment means the changes are "sort of two steps forward, three steps back."

 1:03 PM 

Vos: Dems can't vote on campaign finance

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said today Dems will not be able to vote on the campaign finance bill because they already have recused themselves from the discussion.

When the bill first hit the Assembly floor several weeks ago, Dems recused themselves, saying they have a significant financial interest in the bill. That recusal still stands, Vos said, now that the bill is returning from the Senate with amendments.

"Unfortunately for them, they will have the opportunity to watch but not participate," the Rochester Republican said, citing Government Accountability Board guidelines.

Rep. Peter Barca said today Dems have amendments to bring forward on the bill. One of those amendments, the Kenosha Dem said, would delay the effective date of changes under the bill.

Barca said if those amendments are not accepted, "of course we would recuse ourselves."

Vos said Dems don't have a choice, and the amendments will not be taken up.

 1:47 AM 

Olsen: 'We own this thing'

Dems have raised concerns their GOP colleagues could manipulate the proposed system to create a partisan advantage for Republicans.

But Sen. Luther Olsen, one of the GOP senators who pushed for the inclusion of retired judges on the Ethics Commission, said that wouldn't make any sense. Olsen said the public has lost faith in the GAB, which is what's driving the GOP effort.

Republicans have no incentive to sabotage the possible success of the new commissions because then it would reflect poorly upon them, Olsen said.

"We own this thing and we want it to work," Olsen said. "You may not want it to work, but we do."

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, said he trusts Olsen. But he wasn't so sure about future legislatures. Among other things, he pointed out the possibility a GOP majority would vote down a Dem nominee, for example, leaving an imbalance on the commissions. Nothing in the proposal would stop the commissions from continuing to meet even if they're short a member, he said.

"It's going to fail miserably once a majority party votes down a minority party's nominee, and it's going to happen," Erpenbach said.

 1:04 AM 

Fitzgerald: GAB staffer pushed John Doe probe to change public policy decisions made on Act 10

Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald singled out former GAB staffer Shane Falk as he tore into the GAB, accusing him of manipulating the agency in an attempt to undercut the public policy decisions that lawmakers made on Act 10.

Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said the first John Doe probe started by the Milwaukee County DA's office was about "Walker, Walker, Walker." The second one, which included the GAB's involvement, was about "get the conservative groups" and putting elected officials at a disadvantage moving into the next election cycle.

As he spoke, Fitzgerald often held aloft printouts of emails from GAB staffers that were released as part of a lawsuit targeting the agency over its involvement in John Doe II. He said the emails were troubling and show Falk manipulating and misleading the agency and board, adding bureaucrats should never put themselves in a position where they are trying to counter the actions of the state Legislature.

“A state agency on their own made a decision to fight the public policy decisions of this body," Fitzgerald said.

 12:17 AM 

Vukmir: Dems will offer up intentionally misleading rhetoric on GAB bill

Sen. Leah Vukmir kicked off debate on the GAB bill by warning her colleagues Dems would offer up intentionally misleading rhetoric, including the suggestion the legislation was payback for the agency's involvement in the John Doe probe of coordination between conservative groups and Gov. Scott Walker's campaign during the recalls.

She also suggested Dems would have a different view of the legislation if they were the ones who had been on the receiving end of politically motivated decisions by an agency she described as a failure.

"I don’t know how anyone can fathom that these decisions have been or are acceptable," she said.

The Wauwatosa Republican later added: "We will create a system that will protect the integrity of our election process."

Sen. Julie Lassa, D-Stevens Point, countered it was hard not to laugh during Vukmir's speech because it would have been more appropriate if it were about the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. rather than the GAB.

"If you want to talk about a failed agency, that is the poster child for one," Lassa said.

She also mocked the suggestion Republicans don't have a "political ax to grind," saying that is exactly what is driving the bill.

 12:00 AM 

Campaign finance bill approved 17-15; Cowles joins Dems in voting no

The campaign finance bill cleared the Senate 17-15 after GOP Sen. Rob Cowles joined Dems in voting against the legislation.

Cowles, R-Green Bay, did not speak during the debate. But he told WisPolitics.com ahead of the vote that he was bothered by the decision to keep a provision in the bill that eliminates the requirement under state law that campaigns list the employer of some donors.

Some Republicans had pushed to keep the provision but increase the threshold.

"I've always been for transparency," Cowles said.

No supporters of the bill spoke on final passage.

Sen. Janet Bewley, D-Ashland, said nothing about the legislation is not about building laws that would produce good campaigns that help voters make up their minds, but “money, money, money.”

She said Republicans argue they’re trying to modernize the system and make it easier to understand, “but for whom? For the benefit of those campaigning and not for those who vote.”

“Everything is a conversation about money, as if the object of the game is not to campaign, but the object of the campaign is to maneuver money and whoever does that the best wins,” Bewley said.

 11:20 PM 

Fitzgerald asks for a short recess

Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald asked for a two-minute recess to meet with Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling after a series of terse exchanges between members.

Following the meeting, Shilling went over to Carpenter's desk, where President Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, and other members are having a conversation.

 9:51 PM 

Erpenbach: Campaign finance bill would allow state senators to create own issue advocacy groups

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, said the campaign finance legislation would allow lawmakers to create their own issue advocacy groups that could raise unlimited amounts of money and spend it

Erpenbach said lawmakers could hold a public hearing on a favored piece of legislation and then turn around and collect a corporate check to pay for ads praising the bill. Lawmakers could also, he said, use those issue advocacy groups to praise themselves. All they would need to do is put another name as the contact on the organization.

The only way to stop that is to require disclosure, he said while pushing for an amendment that would require reporting of expenditures and obligations by corporations, cooperative associations and labor unions.

"Who needs Scott Jensen?" Erpenbach said of the former lawmaker who is now involved with the American Federation for Children, which often runs issue ads. "Who needs a middle man? You really don't. You can do it on your own."

Sen. Devin LeMahieu, chair of the Elections Committee, countered the bill is silent on requiring disclosure on issue advocacy and would not change anything already allowed under the law.

"I'm sort of confused how this extra money is going to come into Wisconsin," the Oostburg Republican said.

Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, also took issue with Erpenbach's comments. He said court decisions have opened the door to lawmakers requiring some disclosure from issue advocacy groups. But any attempt to do so has been struck down by the courts as an attempt to regulate speech.

"We don't have all the cards," Fitzgerald said, adding he wants nothing to do with third-party groups.

Erpenbach's amendment was tabled along party lines 18-13.

UPDATE: Sen. Nikiya Harris Dodd, D-Milwaukee, was out of the chamber for the tabling vote. She has been granted permission to be counted with the minority, making the vote 18-14.

 8:19 PM 

GOP amendment approved on finance bill

The Senate approved, via voice vote, the GOP amendment to the Assembly campaign finance bill.

Next up are the Dem amendments. The first is one that would maintain the declaration of policy in state statute that lays out the goal of the campaign finance regulations.

 8:14 PM 

Erpenbach says all 14 Dems will vote no

Assembly Dems recused themselves from voting on the campaign finance bill when it was up in their house. They also encouraged their Senate counterparts to consider doing the same.

But Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, told the chamber the 14 Dem members plan to vote no.

"It’s not about freedom of speech. It’s about freedom of cash," Erpenbach said of the bill.

 7:52 PM 

Fitzgerald: Campaign finance bill not perfect, but current system illegal

Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, told members the campaign finance bill before them is not perfect.

Still, he said a series of court decisions over the years have shot so many holes in Wisconsin's campaign finance laws that the current system is illegal.

Fitzgerald ticked off a series of court decisions and the provisions in state law that have been knocked out because of them. He called the bill necessary because "it fixes a broken law."

"The legislation before you today is not perfect, but once again does what I think the goal for all of us in this body is, to make sure first and foremost that speech is protected," Fitzgerald said.

 7:45 PM 

Hansen spending his 44th wedding anniversary with the Senate rather than his wife

Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, noted today is his 44th wedding anniversary. But rather than spending it with his wife, he slammed being in the chamber for what he said was an attempt to tear down the final remnants of open and honest government.

Hansen knocked Republicans, saying they seemed to realize their agenda is a failure "and the only thing left to do is right the game the best you can and hope it's enough to save you next fall."

 7:41 PM 

Dems release list of amendments

An aide to Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, has passed out a list of the planned amendments to the campaign finance and GAB bills.

Some of the campaign finance amendments include:

*delaying implementation of the changes until after the 2018 general election.

*prohibiting collusion between candidates and other groups.

*requiring attribution for issue ads.

*requiring reporting of express advocacy over $100 rather than $2,500 under the GOP amendment.

*requiring shareholder notice for political donations and allowing reimbursement for the portion of their shares that paid for the political donation.

Some of the GAB amendments include:

*delaying implementation until after the 2016 election.

*eliminating the provision allowing officials to be tried by the court of the county where they reside.

 7:35 PM 

Senate knocks out two bills quickly, GAB, campaign finance up next

The Senate has quickly knocked out two bills and is moving to the campaign finance bill.

The Senate concurred via voice vote on AB 23, which would prohibit individuals from suing a financial institution over an offer to lend money or extend credit unless certain conditions were met. It passed the Assembly 63-36.

The Senate also voted unanimously to approve AB 394, which would give lawmakers more say in changes to the public employee group health insurance programs. It cleared the Assembly 90-2, but Gov. Scott Walker has threatened to veto the bill. If that happens, each house would need a two-thirds vote to override.

 5:18 PM 

Campaign finance Senate amendment is up

The Senate Republican amendment to the campaign finance bill can be found here.

And here's the LRB memo explaining the amendment.

UPDATE: Here are some notes from the memo on the amendment on top of what was previously known.

*Republicans decided against changing the Assembly bill to continue a requirement that candidates report both the occupation and employer for some donors. The current threshold for that information is those giving at least $100. Under the Assembly bill, candidates would have to continue reporting the occupation of contributors whose donations exceed $200 in a calendar year.

*Lowers the threshold for a PAC or independent expenditure registration to $2,500 from $5,000 in the Assembly bill.

*Creates an additional restriction on the unlimited contributions to the segregated account of a political party or legislative campaign committee. The bill would not allow the parties or legislative committee to use that money to make a contribution or a candidate. The amendment would also restrict the money in that the segregated account could not be used for disbursements on express advocacy.

*The bill includes no limits on the contributions a corporation, labor union or Native American tribe can make to an independent expenditure committee, a referendum committee, or a segregated fund created by a political party or legislative campaign committee. The amendment would place a limit of $12,000 per calendar year on those contributions.

*The amendment would also make a series of changes to the provisions dealing with coordination.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This post has been updated to clarify the reporting requirements in the Assembly bill.

 4:48 PM 

Proposed amendments for GAB bill are posted

The two Republican amendments can be seen here and here.

And the Legislative Council memo on the two amendments can be found here.

UPDATE: A couple of details from the LRB memo on top of what was previously known about the proposed changes:

*If there is a vacancy in an administrator position for either commission for 45 days, the Joint Committee on Legislative Organization must appoint an interim who could serve up to a year. If that position remained vacant after the one-year period, JCLO would repeat the process until the commissions selected an administrator. Also, an administrator could be removed by a majority of the commission members. The commissions would also have up to 45 days after June 30 to appoint the first administrator for each body. If they fail to do so, JCLO would appoint an interim.

*The amendment would allow the guv and four legislative leaders to appoint non-voting members to the GAB effective Feb. 1. Those appointees could also be appointed to the Elections Commission and Ethics Commission and serve prior to Senate confirmation. The administrator for each commission could be picked, but would not be able to start the job until June 30.

*The chairs of the Assembly and Senate Elections committees could ask GAB employees to appear before them and provide updates on the transition.

 2:06 PM 

Mandatory minimum bill clears Senate

The Senate has signed off on a bill that would set mandatory minimum prison sentences for some instances of firearm possession.

The Senate concurred on AB 220 with a 23-9 vote.

The bill establishes the mandatory minimum sentences for people who were convicted of certain violent felonies and then violated prohibitions on firearm possession. Those people face a minimum of three years in prison if they violate the prohibition and another five years if they are caught in possession while committing a violent crime.

Several Dem members spoke against the bill, arguing mandatory minimums don't serve a useful purpose, cost taxpayers more money and remove judicial discretion. Sen. Janet Bewley said the bill shows the Legislature is creeping into the judicial branch.

"It is making a prediction about what a judge should do in his or her courtroom," the Ashland Dem said.

Milwaukee Dem Sen. Lena Taylor it's well known that mandatory minimums don't work. A bill such as AB 220, she said, is just "shoot from the hip nonsense."

But Sen. Van Wanggaard said the bill applies to those who already are violent criminals. In Milwaukee, the Racine Republican said, crime is "out of control," and the bill offers another tool to help solve the problem.

"This is another message that we're sending to those individuals that they're not going to get the minimum," Wanggaard said.

See the roll call here.

 1:21 PM 

Senate OKs building material sales tax exemption

The Senate voted unanimously in favor of a bill that would exempt building materials from the sales tax when they are purchased for county, municipal, school or nonprofit group projects.

Under current law, the exemption applies only when the project owner buys the material.

 1:10 PM 

Lead testing bill clears Senate

The Senate approved along party lines legislation to create an exemption to some lead testing requirements in doing certain renovations.

Lead paint is particularly an issue in Milwaukee, and Dem Sen. Lena Taylor said 40 percent of houses in her home city have lead paint. She also noted the impact on children who ingest lead paint, which can lead to developmental problems, among other things.

“You support life, just not the life of little black kids in Milwaukee who are being poisoned?” Taylor said. “Tell the truth.”

But bill sponsor Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, said the proposed exemption would kick in only when renovators assume there is lead present in the home and proceeds “with the highest level of abatement.” Because they are operating under the assumption lead is in the home, Lazich said, there is no need to do testing on top of that.

“What this bill really does is it allows more money to do the lead abatement rather than tying it up with lead abatement testing,” Lazich said.

The bill passed 17-14. See the roll call here.

 12:10 PM 

Senate plans to take up most of calendar, caucus and then come back on GAB, campaign finance

The Senate plans to finish up much of today's calendar before breaking for caucus to discuss the GAB and campaign finance bills, according to leadership offices.

It is unknown how long the two caucuses will meet on the amendments, which were still being drafted. Once they finish up, lawmakers will return to the floor to take up the final two bills on today's calendar.

 11:48 AM 

Senate Republicans: Deal reached on GAB bill, more time needed on campaign finance legislation

Senate Republicans say they have reached a deal on legislation to split up the GAB, but more talks were needed on a bill to overhaul Wisconsin's campaign finance laws.

Senate Republicans earlier this week reached an agreement to change the Assembly bill that would split the Government Accountability Board into two new commissions. Under that deal, the proposed six-person Ethics Commission would include two retired judges.

But Senate Republicans went back to caucus this morning to work out the method for putting the two retired judges on the commission.

Sen. Leah Vukmir, the bill's co-author, said the process will mirror how municipal or county clerks or appointed to the proposed Elections Commission.

The bill calls for the four legislative leaders to each appoint one member of the Elections Commission. The Dem and GOP leaders would then separately propose a pool of up to three candidates with the guv selecting one from each side. 

Under the deal on the Ethics Commission, the process will be the same, though the pool for the final two slots would be comprised of retired judges.

Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, said she is not thrilled with the idea of retired judges being part of the Ethics Commission, but the deal makes an important change to the structure of the agency.

Some Senate Republicans had advocated using a committee that mirrors the makeup of the presidential primary nominating committee to select the judges, one from the Dems and one from the GOP. The commission includes the four legislative leaders, Dem and GOP state party chairs, and the Dem and GOP national committee members.

"We tried that, but the problem is it gets too complicated," said Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon.

Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, has been an opponent of including retired judges on the Ethics Commission. He said he will support the legislation, but he is proposing an amendment that would prevent the retired judges from chairing the commission.

"The judges have basically failed us for eight years," Nass said.

Nass and Olsen said more talks were needed on the campaign finance bill that cleared the Assembly. They said Senate Republicans plan to change the bill to do away with indexing future increases in the cap on contribution limits. They also plan to keep the current schedule for filing campaign finance reports rather than going to a quarterly system as the Assembly proposed.

But talks continued on a provision in current law that requires candidates to identify the occupation and employer of donors who give at least $100. The Assembly bill would end that requirement, though some in the Senate GOP have advocated keeping it but upping the reporting threshold to $200.

 11:03 AM 

Senate delayed until at least 11:30 a.m.

Chief Clerk Jeff Renk just announced the Senate will now reconvene at 11:30 a.m.

But considering Dems have not seen the proposed GOP amendments to the GAB and campaign finance bills, it's questionable if the chamber will actually get started at that time.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

 8:16 PM 

There's the gavel

The Assembly is adjourned.

Members will be back on the floor next week in extraordinary session to take up Senate amendments to bills abolishing the GAB and overhauling the state's campaign finance law.

 7:49 PM 

Anti-heroin bill passes on voice vote

The Assembly passed by voice vote Rep. John Nygren's bill that clarifies and changes the law pertaining to administering drugs that counteract opioid overdoses.

The bill is a part of the Marinette Republican's HOPE agenda to combat heroin and opioid addiction.

 7:42 PM 

Photo ID bill passes Assembly

Rep. Mark Born got the last word on the FoodShare photo ID bill before the Assembly passed it on a 57-40 vote.

Four Republicans joined Dems in voting against the bill. They are: Scott Allen, of Waukesha; Adam Jarchow, of Balsam Lake; Adam Neylon, of Pewaukee; and Mike Rohrkaste, of Neenah.

Born, R-Beaver Dam, is chairman of the Assembly's Public Benefit Reform Committee, which passed the photo ID, unemployment insurance penalties, FoodShare replacement cards and benefits deletion bills.

The bills are designed to add integrity to programs people have lost faith in, Born said.

"This bill and the three prior to it are the reason I ran for office," he said.

See the vote on the bill here.

 7:13 PM 

Debate shifts to passage of photo ID bill

With their amendments on the table, Dems now are criticizing the overall proposal to require photos on FoodShare cards.

Rep. Melissa Sargent called the bill "hateful" in that, she said, it targets those who are most in need.

"The legislation we're debating today," the Madison Dem said, "is shaming those in poverty."

But Assembly Speaker Robin Vos disagreed. He said, if anything, the bill helps ensure those who need the benefits can get into the FoodShare program knowing fraud has been cut away.

"This bill has nothing to do with taking food away from people," the Rochester Republican said.

 6:34 PM 

Assembly turns to bill requiring FoodShare photo IDs

Dems now are trying to amend a bill that would require photo ID cards for food-stamp recipients.

Dems are picking up where they left off in committee in criticizing the legislation. And their sub amendment, which failed, reflected similar proposals put forth in committee, such as exemptions for senior and others.

Rep. Jesse Kremer’s bill passed the Assembly’s Public Benefit Reform Committee on an 8-6 vote, with Rep. Adam Neylon joining Dems in the minority. The Pewaukee Republican said at the time the cost of implementing the bill doesn’t measure up to its expected effectiveness.

The DHS has estimated implementing photos for the FoodShare cards would cost $7.4 million initially and $2 million annually after that. The costs would be split between the state and feds.

The bill would require the state Department of Health Services seek approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to issue electronic benefit transfer cards with photos to FoodShare recipients.

But an amendment from Kremer, R-Kewaskum, means food-stamp recipients would not be required to show that photo ID when using their benefits. During a public hearing on the bill, the Kewaskum Republican acknowledged he did not expect the state would receive federal approval to force recipients to show those photo IDs.

Kremer has said the bill is a way to reduce an estimated $14.5 million per year in recipient fraud in the FoodShare program. But he also has said the majority of the fraud in the program comes from elsewhere.

Dems in committee argued the bill accomplishes nothing but costs the state millions.

 6:15 PM 

Republicans defend unemployment insurance bill

Dems who are so worried about the penalties proposed under the unemployment bill are overlooking what fraud does to those who follow the rules, Republicans said.

Rep. John Macco said that money is being taken from other workers who have a "legitimate claim to it."

"That's what drives me nuts," the Ledgeview Republican said.

Rep. James Edming agreed. The Glen Flora Republican also pointed out that, under the bill, people "don't lose your benefits the first time you goof."

And when dealing with something as important as unemployment benefits, Edming said, people shouldn't be making too many mistakes. He compared it to how careful he is when dealing with his bank account.

 5:36 PM 

Dems slam unemployment insurance bill

Dems are ripping the unemployment insurance bill, saying they agree with rooting out fraud but question how wide the net is in the proposed legislation.

Rep. Andy Jorgensen cited numbers showing 85 percent of unemployment insurance overpayments are the result of unintentional errors. The Milton Dem said the bill comes down on people like a "load of bricks" in making them ineligible for seven years after two instances of misrepresenting or concealing information when claiming benefits.

"And that's a mighty long time, I'm here to tell you," he said, "for wht might be pushing the wrong button on your telephone."

 5:21 PM 

Unemployment insurance bill up for debate

The Assembly has shifted to debate on a bill that would up the penalties for those who conceal information when applying for unemployment insurance.

Rep. Samantha Kerkman, the author of AB 212, has said the goal of the bill is to prevent fraud in the unemployment insurance system. The Salem Republican during committee hearings cited an audit of the system that showed 64,700 cases of intentional fraud that led to $86.3 million in overpayments during a three-year period.

Her bill targets people who conceal wages or impersonate others when claiming unemployment insurance. It would establish a two-strikes-and-you’re-out policy in which recipients who conceal or impersonate more than once are ineligible for benefits for seven years.

Dems during Senate and Assembly hearings have said they support the intent of the bill but the Department of Workforce Development to first take steps to correct the questions it asks of those applying for unemployment benefits. The application has drawn criticism for being confusing, and Dems have said the bill could punish those who make honest mistakes.

Bill supporters have said the appeals process is designed to protect those who are not trying to defraud the system.

Amendments to the bill establish the implementation timeline and would prevent the DWD from enforcing the new penalties if doing so would threaten federal money for the program or federal tax credits for employers.

The amended bill passed the Assembly’s Public Benefit Reform Committee on a 9-5 party line vote.

 5:18 PM 

FoodShare replacement card bill passes Assembly

A bill designed to curb FoodShare card trafficking cleared the Assembly on a 66-31 vote.

AB 200, written by Rep. David Heaton would set guidelines for the Department of Health Services when issuing replacement cards. The Wausau Republican’s original bill would have limited replacement cards to four in a calendar year.

But that would have required a federal waiver. Under a sub amendment to the bill passed by committee, the DHS would have to take certain steps at four replacement cards and beyond.

Those steps are:

* On the fourth request, the card is issued, but the recipient is notified additional requests could lead to referral to the Office of Inspector General.

* On the fifth request, the card is issued, the case is referred to the OIG and the recipient is notified of the review.

* On the sixth request, the recipient must contact the DHS to explain the need for another card. If there is no contact, then no card is issued. If there is contact but no explanation or suspicion of trafficking, the card is issued and the case is referred to the OIG. If contact is made and an appropriate explanation is given, the card is issued and the DHS educates the recipient on how to use the card.

* On subsequent requests within a 12-month period, the cards are issued to recipients who gave appropriate explanations after the sixth request.

The amended bill passed the Assembly’s Public Benefit Reform Committee on an 8-5 party-line vote.

The current FoodShare system automatically issued replacement cards upon request. The DHS has estimated the bill would cost $830,000 to implement and nearly $55,000 in ongoing costs to operate. Those costs would be split between the state and federal government.

The same five Dems who voted for AB 188 voted in favor of AB 200. They are: Jill Billings, of La Crosse; Chris Danou, of Trempealeau; Steve Doyle, of Onalaska; Eric Genrich, of Green Bay; and Nick Milroy, of South Range.

See the vote here.

 5:06 PM 

Assembly passes first FoodShare bill

The Assembly has passed the FoodShare benefits deletion bill on a 66-31 vote, with five Dems joining Republicans in favor.

Dems who voted yes are: Jill Billings, of La Crosse; Chris Danou, of Trempealeau; Steve Doyle, of Onalaska; Eric Genrich, of Green Bay; and Nick Milroy, of South Range.

Members now are debating AB 200, which would set guidelines for FoodShare replacement cards.

See the vote on AB 188 here.

 4:52 PM 

FoodShare bill draws boos from Dems

Dems are slamming a bill that would set thresholds at which food-stamp benefits are suspended or expunged.

AB 188 would require the state Department of Health Services suspend FoodShare benefits for an account if it has not been used for six months or longer. The bill also would require DHS expunge all FoodShare benefits that have not been used after one year, regardless of whether the account is active or suspended.

The latter would require a federal waiver.

Bill author Rep. Andre Jacque, R-De Pere, has said the legislation is designed to prevent fraud in the FoodShare program.

Dems, though, have argued the bill will cost $1.3 million, split between the state and feds, to implement and would target only a limited number of food stamp users.

"This bill doesn't fight fraud, folks," Rep. Andy Jorgensen, D-Milton, said. "It wastes taxpayer money."

The bill cleared the Assembly’s Public Benefit Reform Committee on an 8-5 party-line vote. Committee Dems tried but failed to amend the bill. Those amendments included exemptions for people with disabilities, exemptions for people age 65 and older, and audits of the program.

 4:43 PM 

Senate coming in Friday for extraordinary session on GAB, campaign finance bills

The Senate plans to meet in extraordinary session Friday to take up legislation splitting the GAB into two and overhauling Wisconsin's campaign finance laws.

Myranda Tanck, a spokeswoman for Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, said amendments will be drafted to both bills and provided to members "as soon as possible." She could not immediately detail what the proposed changes would be.

"There will be changes to the board structure, which irons out the issues the caucus was having," she said.

The current bill would split the GAB into an Election Commission and an Ethics Commission. Each would be six-person bodies comprised of partisan appointments. The legislation also calls for reserving two spots on the Election Commission for municipal or county clerks.

Some have called for including retired judges on the Ethics Commission, but others have balked at that suggestion.

 4:24 PM 

Student debt bill debate still going

Lawmakers still are debating the pros and cons of the student debt bill.

And that discussion is exactly what Rep. Cory Mason was hoping for, he said. That is the kind of debate he would have wanted if it had been given a public hearing in an Assembly, the Racine Dem said.

"I'm glad we're having a discussion about the mechanics of the bill," Mason said, adding he is encouraged to hear comments from those on the other side of the aisle.

Some of those comments, though, have not been complimentary.

"When I look at this legislation, I can give it an 'A' for intentions," Rep. David Murphy, R-Greenville, said. "But I have to give it an 'F' for execution."

Murphy returned to questions about the cost of the bill's proposed refinancing program.

 3:44 PM 

Vos says student debt bill flawed

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says the "higher ed, lower debt" bill isn't ready for floor debate.

The Rochester Republican said the proposal would costs the state too much money and set "bad" tax policy that lets people double-deduct on student loan payments. He said he's willing to listen to ways to solve the student debt problem, but "this bill is not ready for prime time, unfortunately."

That, Vos said, is why he wanted the bill to go to the Joint Finance Committee.

 3:30 PM 

Dems try pulling 'higher ed, lower debt' bill to floor

Despite a GOP offer to shift the "higher ed, lower debt" bill to the Joint Finance Committee, Dems are trying to pull the legislation to the Assembly floor for debate.

Speaker Robin Vos said earlier today he knew Dems planned to force the debate on the floor. Instead, the Rochester Republican offered to move the bill from the Ways and Means Committee to Joint Finance to allow for more discussion on parts of the legislation both parties can agree on.

Vos said he was making the offer in the spirit of "wiping the slate clean." He said newly elected House Speaker Paul Ryan' attempt to do the same there was inspiring.

Rep. Cory Mason, the author of the bill, said he has felt like Charlie Brown trying to kick a football held by Lucy. She keeps pulling it away at the last moment, the Racine Dem said.

"Today maybe we'll kick the football," he said.

Mason's bill includes letting students and graduates refinance their debt for lower interest rates. It also makes loan payments tax deductible.

 2:30 PM 

Technical changes bill for UI system clears Assembly

A bill that would cover mostly technical changes to the state’s unemployment insurance system passed the Assembly on a voice vote.

AB 416 would have been part of an agreed-upon bill from the state Unemployment Insurance Advisory Council. But that panel still is working toward consensus on proposed policy changes, and the goal is to get the technical adjustments passed before the end of the year.

So Rep. Dan Knodl, R-Germantown, pushed the technical bill first.

The bill would let the state comply with federal rule changes. It would: change how benefits payments are calculated in the state’s work-share program; expand the Department of Workforce Development’s tax-intercept authority to include employers that owe UI payments to the state; and change the definition of “employer” to include out-of-state companies.

 2:19 PM 

Vos proposes moving 'higher ed, lower debt' bill, Dems object

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos suggested pulling the "higher ed, lower debt" bill out of the Assembly's Ways and Means Committee and sending it to the Joint Finance Committee.

But Dems objected to unanimous consent.

Vos, R-Rochester, said he knew Dems would try to pull the bill from committee. He said he wanted to make the move to the JFC in "good faith" so that committee could find areas of agreement between Dems and Republicans in the bill.

Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, said Dems want to know what Republicans' intentions are for the bill. If the bill gets attention and a vote soon, he said, then Dems might withdraw their objection to Vos' offer.

"We want to make sure that there's going to be a hearing," he said.

 2:09 PM 

Ryan speech inspires Vos

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has called on members to take House Speaker Paul Ryan's advice and work together in ways that honor the positions they were elected to.

The Rochester Republican said he attended Ryan's election as speaker Thursday in Washington, D.C., and was inspired by his first speech.

"Let's talk about wiping the slate clean," Vos said, echoing a phrase from Ryan's speech.

He said that includes recognizing how the past two floor sessions have gotten a little out of hand. And Vos said he takes equal blame for that, considering he called a member's amendment "stupid."

Unfortunately, the last couple of weeks on the floor have gotten a little emotional and way, way too personal," he said.

He said unlike Ryan's claim about the House, though, the process in Wisconsin isn't broken. It just needs tweaking, he said.

"We need to be civil," Vos said. "We need to be kind. We need to be open. We need to be honest."

 1:47 PM 

Dems to try pulling 'higher ed, lower debt' to floor

Assembly Dems will try today to pull a student debt refinancing bill from a committee to the floor, Rep. Peter Barca said before the floor session.

The Kenosha Dem said Wisconsin is the third-worst state in terms of percent of graduates with student loan debt. The bill could help with that, but it's been stuck in committee, he said.

Rep. Cory Mason's bill includes letting students and graduates refinance their school loan debt to get lower interest rates. It also makes student loan payments tax deductible up to $6,800 per year.

Mason, D-Racine, said the bill should appeal to Republicans.

"This about letting the marketplace work," he said.

 1:35 PM 

Vos hopes for campaign finance, GAB resolution

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said today he hopes the Senate can reach a resolution this week on campaign finance and GAB overhaul bills.

The Rochester Republican said there could be tweaks to the GAB bill involving the inclusion of judges and a procedure for logjam votes on the new commissions. He said he's not sure what, if any changes could be in store for the campaign finance bill.

"It is my belief that they will find consensus," Vos said.

If that doesn't happen this week, which is the final week for the fall session, Vos said he would be open to extraordinary session.

Rep. Peter Barca would not be for those two bills, he said. The Kenosha Dem said any extraordinary session should focus on education, roads and helping the middle class.

"How outrageous would that be that you would come in for extraordinary session just to feather your own nest," he said.

 1:26 PM 

Nygren proposes one JFC vote on road bonding

Joint Finance Co-chair John Nygren is circulating a motion that would have the committee vote tomorrow on approving the full $350 million in contingency bonding for roadwork rather than just the first $200 million of it.

The committee tomorrow was expected to take up a DOT request to free up $200 million in contingency bonding during 2015-16. Lawmakers built $350 million of contingency bonding into the state budget broken up over two years with the $150 million in the second year of the biennium.

Nygren said that $150 million would still be for 2016-17. But his motion would allow for one vote to approve all of the bonding rather than requiring the administration submit a second request.

The Walker administration has already indicated it plans to seek the $150 million in the second year of the biennium.

 11:40 AM 

Senate won't be in Wednesday

The state Senate, which canceled plans to be on the floor today, also will not be in on Wednesday, according to a spokeswoman for Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald.

Senate Republicans planned to caucus this afternoon as they work through differences on legislation to break up the GAB and overhaul campaign finance laws.

Fitzgerald spokeswoman Myranda Tanck said GOP leaders were still telling members to keep their calendars open this week. The last scheduled day of the regular floor period this year is Thursday, though lawmakers could come back in extraordinary session.

Monday, November 2, 2015

 11:32 AM 

Senate will not meet tomorrow

The Senate will not meet tomorrow as previously planned with Republicans still trying to work through issues on the GAB bill.

Myranda Tanck, a spokeswoman for Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, said Senate members have been told to keep the rest of the week open for a possible floor period.

Along with the GAB bill, Republican leaders also hope to get the campaign finance bill up yet this week, Tanck said.

Instead of a floor period, Senate Republicans will caucus tomorrow.

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