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Thursday, February 25, 2010

 4:28 PM 

IRA conversion bill gets unanimous approval

The state would end the penalty on high-income earners converting traditional IRAs to Roth IRAs under a bill adopted by the Assembly today.

SB 439 makes state law consistent with the federal tax code. It allows conversion to a Roth IRA without penalty. Wisconsin is the last state to adopt the standard.

The bill, already approved unanimously by the Senate, now goes to Gov. Jim Doyle, who included the change in his 2009-11 budget only to have it removed by legislators.

Rep. Robin Vos, R-Caledonia, used the occasion to blast Dems for all the wrong moves he believes they made in the state budget. He said perhaps it could lead Democrats to reverse themselves on other budget initiative like new taxes, early release of some non-violent offenders from state prisons and mandatory increases to minimum auto insurance coverage levels.

"I hope this is the first of many do-over bills," Vos said.

Rep. Pedro Colon, D-Milwaukee, chided Vos for taking the opportunity to make a political point.

"Why do you have to bring all that nasty stuff up?" Colon said. "The reality is the bill is going to pass unanimously, and you're still angry. Why are you so angry?"

 4:18 PM 

Bill to allow cheaper meds passes

The Assembly passed a bill to exempt prescription drugs from the Unfair Sales Act, ending a state prohibition on below-cost sale of prescription drugs.

Also passed was a bill to require candidates for full−time law enforcement or tribal law enforcement officer positions to submit to a psychological evaluation.

 4:15 PM 

Assembly approves bill on race-based mascots

The Assembly voted 51-42 to approve legislation that could require schools to drop race-based nicknames, logos or mascots if a district resident complained to the state.

Republicans objected Tuesday to a final vote on the bill, forcing today's vote. They also objected to messaging the bill to the Senate to delay further action as GOP members complained over what they said was the oversensitivity of some and allowing a state bureacrat to weigh in on a local issue over a school’s mascot.

Rep. Bill Kramer, R-Waukesha, said he is a member of the Red Cliff Chippewa Indians and questioned why mascots were creating such a furor, adding Methodists don't raise objections to Wake Forest’s mascot the Demon Deacons.

"Aren't there bigger issues for the Native Americans to worry about?" Kramer said.

Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, mocked the idea that just one person being offended would be enough to nix a district's mascot as a ridiculously low standard. He said he was sure at least someone in the room was offended at his tie.

That drew a sharp rebuke from Rep. Tamara Grigsby, D-Milwaukee.

"Are you seriously going to compare a tie, being offended by a tie to a name or to a title or to a word that may carry years of oppression or years of genocide? Are you seriously going to do that?" Grigsby said.

 3:22 PM 

BadgerCare Basic approved by Senate

On a slim 17-16 vote, the Senate approved a stopgap health insurance program meant to serve the 25,000 state residents on the waiting list for the BadgerCare Core Plus program.

Dem Sen. Kathleen Vinehout of Alma joined 15 Republicans in voting against the legislation.

 2:51 PM 

More amendments added to Basic bill

The amendment, authored by Dem freshmen Sens. Jim Sullivan, Pat Kreitlow and Kathleen Vinehout, requires monthly checks by the Department of Health Services to verify an individual continues to meet eligibility criteria. It also requires that the department provide information to applicants comparing premium costs and benefits offered in the Health Insurance Risk-Sharing Plan and the Basic plan.

If an applicant is younger than 27, the amendment requires that they be notified that they may be eligible for coverage as a dependent under their parent's health plan.

In addition, the amendment requires quarterly reports by the DHS to the Joint Finance Committee about the financial condition of the plan, any changes in benefits or premiums, information about applicants and enrollees who have been ruled ineligible, and demographic information on enrollees.

The amendment passed on a voice vote.

 2:12 PM 

Audit requirement added to Basic plan

Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, said BadgerCare Basic is "ill-conceived" and "poorly funded."

Vinehout has a trio of amendments, including one to limit the plan to two years, which failed. Another amendment to require the LAB to do a comprehensive performance evaluation at the end of the year was eventually adopted.

Vinehout said now is not the time for the state to be expanding public insurance plans, saying the proposal is "too expensive for the person (enrolled) and too expensive for the state."

She urged Republican members to work with her to come up with a plan to "put all small businesses in one single risk pool."

Senate Minority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, praised Vinehout for having "a very good grasp of what's going on here today ... Certainly I hope she reminded the rest of the members of her party that this is not the day to do this or the place to do this."

The amendment to end the program after two years was tabled, with Vinehout voting with 15 Republicans against putting the amendment aside.

A motion to table the amendment to have an audit performed failed, with Sen. Tim Carpenter, D-Milwaukee, joining Vinehout and the Republicans in defeating it. It then passed 23-10.

 12:26 PM 

Debate begins on BadgerCare Basic

A public health insurance option meant as a stopgap for 25,000 state residents on a waiting list for BadgerCare Plus Core plan is unnecessary, Senate Republicans said today.

BadgerCare Basic, is designed to be paid for through enrollee premiums, set at $130 per month.

Senate Minority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, tried to get the bill sent back to Senate Organization, saying the program is not needed.

Fitzgerald said private sector insurance companies already offer low-cost, limited benefit plans, and a public program would hinder the private industries ability to provide that coverage. For those denied private coverage, there's the state's Health Insurance Risk Sharing Plan, he said.

He also said that there could be unseen cost overruns. Gov. Jim Doyle's office insists there won't be any additional burden on taxpayers, though Republicans have been skeptical.

"If state actuarial studies are wrong, then Wisconsin taxpayers are on the hook," Fitzgerald said.

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, said if private insurance companies have a plan to match the Basic proposal, they should be covering the people on the waiting list.

"If insurance companies would underwrite these 25,000 people we wouldn't be here today on this issue," Erpenbach said. "They don't underwrite these people because they don't have to."

Erpenbach noted the average HIRSP premium is $466 per month.

Fitzgerald said the reason there is a waiting list of 25,000 is that the state had to shut down enrollment in the BadgerCare Plus Core plan because demand exceeded funding.

"They applied and the state said 'Sorry, we can't take you,'" Fitzgerald said. "And now you're out here saying these people weren't served somehow."

Erpenbach countered that it wasn't the state that shut down enrollment, it was a federal requirement that the program be cost neutral. He said the waiting list materialized "over night."

"I don't know why that doesn't tell you there's a major league crisis with health insurance out there," Erpenbach said.

Sen. Judy Robson, D-Beloit, said legislators enjoy a "very rich" health insurance plan.

"I can't believe those of you who have insurance would be denying at least 25,000 people in this state from having health insurance. Walk a day in their shoes."

"You have insurance. Why don't you let them have it?"

Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, said the state is inserting itself into a private market.

"We are now going to be the board of directors of an insurance company," he said.

Olsen said the $1 million the state set aside from a federal grant to absorb cost overruns will likely not be enough to cover the liability the state is exposing itself to under the program.

Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, said the program is another "false promise" from state government, and will result in a "major cost shift" to private insurance rate payers throughout the state.

"We're all going to have to pay the bills," she said.

Sen. Jim Sullivan, D-Wauwatosa, accused Republicans of turning a blind eye to those who need help.

Fitzgerald said the proposal is reflective of national Democrats who are "overreaching" on health care.

"This is ObamaCare, that's what this is," he said, warning that government meddling will kill the private insurance system.

"This is an absolute vote in favor of government-run health care," Fitzgerald said.

Dems scoffed at Republican pleas that they want more time to study the issue and come up with a better proposal.

"If you vote to send this back to committee you are voting to kill this," Erpenbach said.

UPDATE: 1:59 p.m. The motion to return the bill to committee fails on a party-line vote, 18-15.

 11:06 AM 

Dems tout IRA, New Markets Tax Credit bills prior to session

Assembly Democrats held a press conference prior to the scheduled start of their session today to tout a pair of bills on the calendar they say will spur job creation in the state.

Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, said Wisconsin is poised to become just the fifth state to enact a state supplement to federal New Markets Tax Credits, providing a competitive advantage to companies that want to expand in the state.

"Having that investment capital is so critical right now," Barca said, predicting that the legislation could have just a large an impact as the state's angel investment tax credits.

Several business leaders from Milwaukee were in attendance at the press conference, including the leaders of Alterra Coffee and Lena's Markets. Both companies used the federal credits to move into abandoned Milwaukee properties; Barca said the city has been among the largest beneficiaries of the federal credits since their introduction in the 1990s.

Rep. Louis Molepske, D-Stevens Point, also touted the bill to end the penalty on high income earners from converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. He said the bill, which passed the Senate unanimously last week, would impact 95 percent of Wisconsinites and encourage executives to consider the state for their businesses.

 9:26 AM 

Senate, Assembly take up Tuesday leftovers

Both the Senate and Assembly return to the floor today to consider bills held over from Tuesday's sessions.

The Senate, set to begin at noon, will consider approving BadgerCare Basic, a state health care program whose benefits and administrative costs would be funded entirely by premiums. Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker, D-Weston, sent the bill back to committee Tuesday, saying his caucus members wanted to "take a longer look at it."

The Assembly will take up the bill to formalize a process for seeking the removal of a race-based mascot in a school district. That bill was also originally debated Tuesday, with Rep. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, objecting to the third reading of the bill.

The Assembly will also consider bills to end the penalty on high-income earners converting traditional IRAs to Roth IRAs, and to require psychological evaluations of law enforcement officers. That chamber is scheduled to be on the floor at 10:30 a.m.

See the Senate calendar:

See the Assembly calendar:

Watch the sessions on WisconsinEye:

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

 6:13 PM 

Assembly passes mandates for Natural Resources Board composition

The Natural Resources Board would have to have at least one member with an agricultural background, and at least three members who have held a hunting, fishing, or trapping license in at least seven of the 10 years before the year of nomination, under legislation passed by the Assembly today.

Also passed was an amendment that requires at least one member come from a 1st class city. Milwaukee is the only city in the state that has that designation.

The requirements all passed on voice votes.

 5:48 PM 

Final vote on race-based mascot bill blocked

The Assembly didn't take a vote on a bill that would formalize a process for seeking the removal of a race-based mascot in a school district, with Rep. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, objecting to the third reading of the bill.

The legislation sets up a hearing process where the state DPI superintendent would rule on complaints, and the local school board would have the burden of proving that the use of the nickname, logo or mascot does not promote discrimination, pupil harassment or stereotyping.

If the DPI superintendent finds in favor of the complainant, the school board must terminate the use of the mascot within one year or face a forfeiture of between $100 and $1,000 each day the the mascot is used.

The superintendents ruling could be appealed to circuit court.

The Assembly did adopt a handful of amendments to the bill today, including one to prohibit non-resident students from filing an objection to a mascot. Under another amendment adopted by the Assembly, if a nickname or mascot is that of a federally recognized Indian tribe, the district could demonstrate that the tribe supports the use of the name or likeness and avoid a hearing.

A third amendment would allow for the DPI superintendent to rule that the use of the mascot is "ambiguous" as to whether it is race-based.

The bill will come to the floor again Thursday.

 5:00 PM 

Assembly fails to override guv's veto

The Assembly fell six votes short this afternoon of the two-thirds majority needed to override the governor's veto of legislation to restore the Natural Resources Board's power to appoint the agency secretary.

The body voted 58-38 to override the veto with 10 Republicans and independent Jeff Wood joining majority Dems in supporting the override, while three Dems voted to sustain the guv's veto.

With one member not voting and two paired, backers needed 64 votes to override the veto and send the issue to the Senate for a final vote.

During the debate, the two sides clashed on whether changing who appoints the secretary would take politics out of the decisions the DNR makes and if the change would be in the best interests of the state's hunters, anglers and businesses.

The original Assembly bill called for the DNR Board to appoint the secretary to a four-year term after it lost that power in the 1995 budget. That bill was approved 61-32, but the state Senate amended the bill to add a provision requiring its confirmation of a board appointment. That Assembly signed off on the amended bill 49-44.

State Rep. Fred Clark, a former DNR forester, said there exists a glass ceiling in the agency for longtime employees because jobs within the secretary's office and those as division administrators have been carved out for political appointees.

He said that system prevents the best in the agency from making the key decisions.

"It also means more and more of the decisions that should be bottom up decisions, that should be made by rank-and-file employees based on the statutes and rules that we provide, instead get made from the top down," said Clark, D-Baraboo.

But Republicans mocked the idea that the change would take politics out of DNR decisions, especially considering a provision the Senate added to the original bill to give itself confirmation power over the board's appointment.

Rep. Mike Huebsch, R-West Salem, pointed out the Senate president would assign a DNR appointment to a committee, which would then mull it over before Senate Org decided whether to even allow it to the floor for a vote. At that point, all 33 members of the Senate would be allowed to weigh in on the appointment.

"You have taken the politics supposedly of one individual and increased it 33 times," Huebsch said. "To suggest it is not political and that amendment is inconsequential is absolutely false."

Gov. Jim Doyle said in a statement after the vote that having an appointed secretary has allowed the state over the past seven years to make "the most significant environmental achievements in a generation."

"We have also taken the most effective steps to streamline regulations, while maintaining the highest environmental standards," Doyle said.

 3:20 PM 

BadgerCare Basic gets sent back to committee

Saying his caucus members wanted to "take a longer look at it," Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker today sent the bill to establish the BadgerCare Plus Basic plan back to the Senate Organization Committee.

The Senate Democrats took a longer than usual caucus today to discuss the bill. There were eight amendments offered to the bill today, the last summing up provisions in many of the previous amendments.

The program, with its benefit and administrative costs paid for by the premiums of enrollees, is not expected to have a short- or long-term fiscal impact.

The final amendment, authored by Dem Sens. Jim Sullivan, Pat Kreitlow and Kathleen Vinehout, all of whom are freshmen considered to be in tough re-election fights, requires monthly checks by the Department of Health Services to verify an individual continues to meet eligibility criteria. It also requires that the department provide information to applicants compare premium costs and benefits offered in the Health Insurance Risk-Sharing Plan and under the BadgerCare Basic plan.

If an applicant is under 27, the amendment requires that they be notified that they may be eligible for coverage as a dependent under their parent's health plan.

In addition, the amendment requires quarterly reports by the DHS to the Joint Finance Committee about the financial condition of the plan, any changes in benefits or premiums, information about applicants and enrollees who have been ruled ineligible, and demographic information on enrollees.

Another amendment, authored by Vinehout, would limit enrollees to two years on the plan.

Senate Minority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, initially opposed the motion to send the bill back to committee.

"We're here. It's scheduled. We're ready to debate it," Fitzgerald said.

Decker, D-Weston, said members simply want more time to consider the bill.

Fitzgerald withdrew his objection, but said he had heard there were "some serious issues" emerging among Senate Dems, and that he hoped "there is no arm-twisting going on" to round up votes for the bill.

 1:24 PM 

Succession plan scratched from bill

A succession plan to replace legislators in case an enemy attack has been scrapped for now.

The Senate will vote on a bill that would change the rule that the state Legislature can meet only in Madison, and would allow the Legislature to hold a virtual session in case a pandemic or other emergency makes meeting at the Capitol unfeasible.

Bill author Sen. Bob Jauch said prior to the floor session that an amendment to create a successorship plan in the legislation was submitted mistakenly. He said a consensus has not been reached.

"It's a very difficult challenge to figure out how you create a succession until you face a tragedy which opens our eyes to the need to do it," Jauch, D-Poplar, said. "Right now we can't come up with an alternative."

Under the most recent proposal, county chairs of the party that holds the district would submit a list of interim successor nominees to the state party chair. The state party chair would submit between three and five names to the Senate or Assembly party leader within seven days of the vacancy occurring. The leader would have to name a successor within 14 days of the vacancy.

The succession plan would kick in if there are nine or more simultaneous vacancies in the Senate, and 25 or more in the Assembly.

The original plan, which was pulled back in September, would have required legislators to submit secret lists of successors from their district.

UPDATE: SB 227 passed unanimously as amended.

 11:48 AM 

Greater cooperation called for in State of Tribes address

St. Croix Chippewa Chair Lewis Taylor urged the state today to recommit itself to the Special Committee on State-Tribal Relations, calling for more cooperation on issues like clean energy and community health.

In the sixth annual State of the Tribes address, Taylor said the committee got off to a fast start after Gov. Jim Doyle created it through executive order. But progress has since bogged down and more -- not less -- consultation was needed between the sate and tribes.

Taylor also urged cooperation on three initiatives, including a prisoner re-entry project designed to help young people get back into the workforce, the expansion of broadband access and work to improve U.S. 8, which stretches across northern Wisconsin from Norway through Crandon, Rhinelander and Ladysmith before heading into Minnesota.

"A sincere, open and continuing government to government consultation process will ensure the best possible conclusions," said Taylor, a vice chair of the Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council.

Taylor told lawmakers the reservations have also struggled financially along with the rest of he state during the current economic downturn. He also said the tribes realize that they have to continue looking for new ways of cooperating and planning for the "better lives of all of our people."

"We realize that services cannot just stop at the reservation boundaries," he said.

Taylor also called on lawmakers to approve legislation that would change state law on mutual aid between tribal and state law enforcement agencies.

Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen found in an opinion that state law now does not recognize tribal agencies as law enforcement, preventing them from providing back up to county and municipal agencies. AB 713 would allow law enforcement agencies to both request help from state, county and municipal agencies and respond to their calls for help.

"If there is a need for mutual aid that has to pass so many steps, is that what you call progress? I don't think so," Taylor said. "Let's get it right. Let's protect our people and get it right."

Van Hollen, who attended the speech, said he has been working with lawmakers to address the issue since issuing his opinion, which he said identified a significant slight to tribal law enforcement in state law. He said he supports AB 713, which is scheduled for an executive session tomorrow before the Assembly Criminal Justice Committee.

"It's a problem we've tried to correct," Van Hollen said.

Taylor also urged lawmakers to allow tribal police officers to participate in the state pension program. He said many of the tribe's best officers have left for non-tribal departments because of the disparity in benefit packages.

He also said the state needs tribal representation on the UW System Board of Regents, and he praised lawmakers for approving the Indian Child Welfare Act. The law fulfills mandates of the federal Indian Child Welfare Act and ensures cultural, emotional and psychological ties between Indian children and their affiliated tribes.

Taylor singled out state Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, for his work on the bill, resulting in a standing ovation from the tribal leaders present.

"My hat's off to you," said Taylor, who sported a cowboy hat.

 8:56 AM 

State of the Tribes kicks off Senate, Assembly sessions

A full slate of legislative action Tuesday begins at 11 a.m. with the annual State of the Tribes address.

This year's speech, the sixth in a row, will be delivered to a joint session of the Legislature by St. Croix Chippewa tribal chairman Lewis Taylor.

Following the address, the Assembly is scheduled to take up an override of Gov. Jim Doyle's veto of a bill to restore the Natural Resources Board's power to appoint the agency secretary. Under the bill as amended, the Senate has confirmation authority.

In addition, the chamber will consider bills to require that certain nominees to the Natural Resources Board have backgrounds in agriculture along with hunting and fishing. Also on the Assembly calendar is a bill that formalizes a complaint process for race-based mascots in school districts.

Among the bills the Senate will take up is legislation to establish the BadgerCare Basic Plan, a health insurance stopgap for individuals on the waiting list for the state's BadgerCare Core Plan.

*See the Assembly calendar:

*See the Senate calendar:

*Watch the sessions on WisconsinEye:

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

 11:14 PM 

Sheridan apologizes for misleading on relationship with lobbyist

Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan apologized to reporters Tuesday night for misleading them about his relationship with a payday loan industry lobbyist, saying he wants to move past it and get back to the work of the Legislature.

Sheridan, D-Janesville, met with reporters for the first time since he acknowledged the relationship several days after he initially denied rumors he was dating Shanna Wycoff. He told reporters he is no longer dating her, though he declined to discuss details.

"I'm sorry if you thought I was trying to mislead you," Sheridan said. "That was not my intent. But I understand that was the perception."

Sheridan has been embroiled in a controversy about the relationship for the last several weeks with some questioning whether it had influenced his views on restrictions for the payday lending industry. Sheridan had previously co-authored legislation to cap interest rates the industry can charge at 36 percent, but he backtracked from that stance last fall, saying it was too restrictive. He voted Tuesday night to table an amendment to the payday bill that would have implemented such a cap, but voted for the legislation on final passage.

The relationship has also prompted a series of stories about Sheridan's use of his campaign funds, his travel to out-of-state conferences that Wycoff also attended and the fact that he is currently not living in his district. State law allows lawmakers to temporarily live outside their districts so long as they plan to return.

The former UAW representative for Janesville's GM plant said he was careful to abide by state rules regarding using state or campaign funds throughout the relationship.

"I worked in a factory for 31 years, and this is kind of a new frontier for me," Sheridan said. "I know three weeks ago there were questions about my relationship, and quite frankly it's very difficult to talk about those things. I wasn't trying to be misleading. It's just very difficult to talk about those things."

Sheridan said that the episode had been very painful for his family and said he has some "personal issues" he needs to take care of.

"I want to close this chapter and move on," Sheridan said.

Sheridan said he was proud of the effort put into getting a compromise payday lending bill to the floor, singling out Dem Reps. Donna Seidel, Jason Fields, Gordon Hintz, Jeff Smith, Andy Jorgensen and Josh Zepnick for praise.

Sheridan said his leadership style is to delegate and that he never had any influence over the direction of the legislation.

"I want to make sure we give credit where credit is due. This working group really pulled together and came up with some really good legislation," he said. "To me it's about empowering people and then get the heck out of the way."

Sheridan said he is "humbled" by the support of his caucus through this episode.

"At times people were questioning 'Why do they stand by this guy?'" he said. "I think it's because they know I'm genuine and trying to do the right things. Obviously I'm human, and I make mistakes."

When the relationship first became public and speculation swirled about a challenge to his leadership, Sheridan and some Assembly Dems blamed lobbyists for the payday loan industry for spreading the rumors to try to block the legislation. Tonight, he backed away from those charges.

"I'm just proud of the legislation we passed. There's a lot of emotion around this, and I just want to move forward and get back to what we're supposed to be doing and that's find ways to create jobs the state," he said. "I'm not going to spend much energy on who did what and who did it when."

Sheridan said he plans to be on the campaign trail as Assembly Democrats head out this year to keep the majority.

"My attention is that I'll be all over the state. That's what I did a year and a half ago before we took the majority. I worked all over the state, and I intend to do that again."

Sheridan, who has been living outside his district as he goes through a divorce from his wife, said he plans to move back as soon as possible.

"Part of it is working out my financial situation and the possibility of putting a home up for sale," he said.

Sheridan also called on Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker to pass the bill.

"We want to make sure that we pass the toughest legislation we can," he said. "I can't predict what the Senate's going to do. But I hope you all have an opportunity to make sure they're doing their job over there."

 9:25 PM 

Assembly passes payday loan bill

On 59-38 vote.

Republicans voting for the bill were Reps. Garey Bies, Dean Kaufert, Keith Ripp, Jerry Petrowksi, Al Ott, Lee Nerison, John Murtha, Phil Montgomery, Roger Roth, Dick Spanbauer, Karl Van Roy and Mary Williams.

Democrats who voted against it were Annette Williams, Bob Ziegelbauer, Peg Krusick, Fred Kessler and Nick Milroy. Independent Rep. Jeff Wood voted for the bill.

Assembly Minority Jeff Fitzgerald blasted the legislation, saying with unemployment high and people struggling to make ends meet this is the wrong time to restrict credit.

"You're taking a legitimate option away from people during the worst recession we've seen in 80 years," Fitzgerald said. "You're tone deaf to what's going on out there."

He also warned that the regulations will kill jobs in the payday lending industry.

He also made a reference to Democrats rushing the bill to the floor.

"We know the public relations problem that you have," he said, and apparent reference to Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan's relationship with a payday loan lobbyist.

Rep. Gordon Hintz, one of the architects of the compromise bill, said the payday loan industry is "a system set up to fail." He said customers get caught in a "continuous debt trap" because of the lack of regulation. Wisconsin is the only state that does not regulate the industry.

"If you think that's OK, then vote no," he said.

He also said that the Senate has plenty of time to act on the bill and issued a challenge.

"They'll have to decide whether they're with the consumers of Wisconsin or with an industry that preys on people," he said.

 8:48 PM 

Rate cap amendment fails

The Assembly voted to table an amendment that would have put a 36 percent annual interest rate cap on payday loans on a 56-41 vote that criss-crossed partisan lines.

Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, who authored a previous bill that included a 36 percent rate cap, made the motion to table the amendment.

Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan, who supported a bill with a rate cap last session but this session said a rate cap went too far, also voted to table the amendment.

UPDATE: 9:10 p.m. Amendment that encompasses the compromise announced last week passed on a voice vote after an attempt by Republicans to have it ruled non-germane is overruled by Speaker Pro Tem Tony Staskunas. A vote led by Republicans to table the amendment also failed, on a 43-54 vote. Three Republicans voted with Democrats against tabling -- Reps. Lee Nerison, Mary Williams and Keith Ripp.

 5:50 PM 

Back to caucus

Assembly Republicans have asked for a caucus to discuss the payday lending bill. Democrats will not caucus.

On another note, the Assembly passed a ban on using bisphenol A in children's bottles and spill-proof cups. The vote was 95-2, with GOP Reps. Joel Kleefisch and Robin Vos voting against it. (Rep. Kelda Roys, Sen. Julie Lassa press release.)

UPDATE: 8:03 p.m. The chief clerk just made an announcement asking Assembly Republicans to return to caucus.

UPDATE 2: 8:44 p.m. The Assembly is back in session. They've dispensed with all the other bills on the calendar, so all that's left is payday lending regulation, AB 447.

 4:50 PM 

Assembly session starting soon; rate cap amendment expected

Assembly Dems have emerged from their closed caucus, and notice has been sent out that the Assembly floor session will reconvene at 5 p.m.

Rep. Jason Fields, one of the authors of the compromise bill on the calendar today, said there will be an amendment to install a 36 percent annual interest rate cap on the industry. A rate cap was left out of the compromise reached by Fields, chairman of the Assembly Financial Institutions Committee, and the handful of other legislators who put together the legislation.

"Are there enough votes for 36 percent? I don't know," Fields, D-Milwaukee said.

Fields opposes a rate cap because he fears it may cost jobs in the payday lending industry, and would cut off vital credit to some consumers.

"I can tell you if they shut down some of these places they're not going to get $200 (or) $300 loans. Banks and credit unions don't give those kinds of loans out," he said.

 1:37 PM 

Retirement account legislation sails through Senate

Those with incomes of more than $100,000 would be able to transfer money from a traditional individual retirement account to a Roth IRA without penalty under legislation the Senate unanimously apporved today.

Wisconsin is the last state with a penalty for those higher earners seeking to convert an IRA to a Roth IRA, and backers praised the bill for bring the state in line with the rest of the nation.

The IRA provisions were coupled with matching the state up with changes to the Internal Revenue Cod included in the Heroes Earnings Assistance and Relief Tax Act of 2008. The Heroes provisions apply to various retirement accounts for soldiers and their families. The net impact of the bill would reduce reduce state tax collections by $12 million in 2010-11, $31.8 million in 2011-12, and $42.1 million in 2012-13.

The Assembly and guv would have to also approve the bill for it to become law.

 11:09 AM 

Assembly, Senate delayed

The Assembly and Senate have been delayed while the Joint Finance Committee wraps up its work this morning.

Both expect to hit the floor once JFC is done.

Watch the JFC hearing at WisEye.

 10:21 AM 

Assembly, Senate head to the floor

Both houses of the Legislature are set to be on the floor this morning at 11 a.m.

The Assembly will take up a package of legislation to tighten regulations on the payday loan industry. AB 447 was unveiled and passed out of committee last week, but was overshadowed by recent revelations that Speaker Mike Sheridan had a relationship with an industry lobbyist. Republicans have called for delaying the bill to stop speculation that Assembly Dems are providing political cover for their leader.

See the bill:

In the Senate, lawmakers are set to take up bills to establish standards for the sale of honey and provide protections for mothers who breastfeed in public.

See the Assembly calendar:

See the Senate calendar:

Watch the sessions on WisconsinEye:

Monday, February 1, 2010

 6:05 PM 

Sheridan acknowledges relationship with lobbyist

Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan said today that he still has the confidence of his caucus despite going public about his relationship with a lobbyist who represents a payday loan company.

"I got a call from my home newspaper and it just -- it kind of evolved," Sheridan said when questioned by WisPolitics today about why he decided to acknowledge the relationship.

Sheridan did a series of interviews last week with Capitol reporters as speculation exploded that Sheridan might be challenged for the speaker's spot due to the relationship. But the Janesville Democrat declined to talk about it last week, citing the desire to keep his personal life private.

According to the state Government Accountability Board, legislators are prohibited from receiving anything of monetary value from a lobbyist. Sheridan said he never violated that rule.

"I know the rules, and I know how restrictive they are," Sheridan said. "I would never do anything to affect the work I do here in the state Assembly."

Sheridan said he last went on a date with the lobbyist about a month ago, but declined to give any more details about the relationship.

See more in today's PM Update.

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