The Assembly voted yesterday to adjourn a special session on governance change in Milwaukee Public Schools, but Senate President Fred Risser said this morning that there may be a procedural snag that could keep the session from formally closing.
Risser, D-Madison, said a rule exists that prevents one house from adjourning a special session for more than three days without the approval of another house. The Senate yesterday continued the special session until Tuesday, when a skeleton session is scheduled. The full Senate is not scheduled to be on the floor again until Feb. 16, and Risser said he's not sure a special session can be adjourned in a skeleton session.
"In my opinion we're still in special session," Risser said. "I have some hesitancy in thinking we can adjourn in skeleton ... It's quite clear that one house cannot adjourn for more than three days without the approval of the other house."
An aide in Assembly Speaker Pro Tem Tony Staskunas' office, citing the rule, said this morning the session is not officially adjourned, and a skeleton session may be necessary to keep it open.
The state Senate and Assembly today passed a bill to prohibit school districts from teaching abstinence-only sex ed classes.
The bill, approved 18-15 in the Senate and 48-43 in the Assembly, requires those districts that include a human growth and development course to incorporate sex education along with the benefits and reasons for abstaining from sexual activity.
Gov. Jim Doyle has not indicated whether he will sign the bill.
Without a bill ever coming to the floor, the Assembly voted today to close out a special session on governance change in Milwaukee Public Schools.
Gov. Jim Doyle, who supports mayoral control of the troubled district, called for a special session on Dec. 16 to take up a bill that would have given the mayor the power to appoint the district superintendent. But the special session call went unheeded as supporters and opponents of the bill tried to work out a compromise.
Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, said in a statement today that there aren't enough votes to pass the bill.
He said statements from Education Secretary Arne Duncan that mayoral takeover is not necessary for Race to the Top funding and last week's hire of a new superintendent by the Milwaukee school board means "for now the mayoral takeover issue of Milwaukee Public Schools is over."
"I appreciate the intense debate, passion and focus on reforming and improving the Milwaukee Public Schools and want to thank Mayor Tom Barrett, Gov. Doyle and my colleagues for bringing this issue to the center of our attention in the Legislature," Pocan said.
"I believe this is the beginning -- not the end -- of discussion on educational issues in Milwaukee and other areas with growing poverty."
The special session on the bill in the Senate was continued until Tuesday. The bill, and legislation from Sen. Spencer Coggs and Rep. Tamara Grigsby that allows the school board to keep appointment authority of the district superintendent, remain in the Senate Education Committee.
Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan today shot down rumors that an attempt was underway to depose him as the Dem leader, saying he plans to remain in the position through session's end.
"That's my goal. I can tell you I felt very supported" Sheridan told WisPolitics about today's caucus meeting.
Assembly Dems spent the afternoon in closed caucus as rumors swirled about a possible coup attempt. But several Assembly Dems who emerged from the meeting and spoke with reporters said there was no discussion of changing leaders.
The caucus was closed for about an hour and a half. Sheridan, D-Janesville, said the Dems talked about job creation, but in the last five minutes of the closed session he did address rumors that were circulating. Sheridan then met with reporters one-on-one this afternoon to address the rumors.
Capitol talk circled around the payday lending industry regulation bill that has been stalled in the Assembly for months.
Sheridan said he delegated work on the bill to a handful of legislators, including Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, Rep. Donna Seidel, D-Wausau, and Rep. Jason Fields, D-Milwaukee.
"The issue is very contentious. As you know, they've hired a lot of lobbyists," Sheridan said. "We're going to be coming up with a very strong bill."
Hintz, a main author of the bill, said he's received assurances from Sheridan that the bill will move forward.
"We're getting very close to getting a reform bill done," Hintz said, who has pushed for a rate cap on the industry, a provision that has been one of the sticking points.
Hintz said he isn't aware of an attempt to engineer an ouster of Sheridan and said the speculation may be coming from those who want to derail the bill.
"I can tell you there's an industry out there with a lot of lobbyists who would like to create any distraction they can," Hintz said.
"There's been a lot of buzz about nothing."
Several Assembly Dems who emerged from the meeting and spoke with reporters said there was no discussion in the closed caucus of changing leaders.
Sheridan declined to discuss Capitol chatter about his personal life. Sheridan said he's going through a divorce and "what I do outside this building is not something that I really want to talk about."
"I want to make sure out of respect for my wife and children I'm not talking about this stuff," Sheridan said.
Sheridan said he's focused on his work in the Assembly and hasn't looked into the possibility of running for the Senate seat that will open this fall with the retirement of Sen. Judy Robson.
"I'm very content with the job I have now," he said. "In all likelihood I'm staying where I'm at."
The state Senate today signed off on a bill to prohibit school districts from teaching abstinence-only sex ed classes.
The bill, approved 18-15, requires those districts that include a human growth and development course to incorporate sex education along with the benefits and reasons for abstaining from sexual activity.
Opponents complained the bill takes local control away from school districts and forces them to teach a sex education course forced upon them by lawmakers in Madison.
Proponents countered districts are still allowed to teach abstinence, but they also must take a more comprehensive approach is they are going to offer courses on human development.
The bill was amended in the Senate to require educators to instruct students about penalties for having sex with anyone under age 16. The amended bill now goes back to the Assembly.
The Senate today passed a bill requiring mental health parity in insurance coverage on a 19-13 vote.
Sen. Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, argued that the bill would be costly for employers and could increase premiums for health insurance plans.
Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, said he has been pushing for the legislation since 2001. He said it is time to treat mental illness like any other illness.
"The stigma exists and I think that stigma still being there is killing people," he said.
Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, was the lone Republican vote in favor of the bill. Sen. Jeff Plale, D-South Milwaukee, was absent at roll call but later returned to the floor cast his vote in favor of the bill.
On a 21-12 vote, the Senate approved new standards for determining if a person is eligible to be represented by a State Public Defender.
The bill requires the State Public Defender to take into account when accessing eligibility the anticipated costs of effective representation for the type of case involved. The new rules would make the income standard for eligibility for a public defender the same as that for the W−2 program.
The Senate amended the bill to provide the Public Defender Board authority for 45.4 new full−time equivalent general purpose revenue positions. The bill originally provided 49.25 positions.
Both houses of the Legislature are on the floor today, with the Assembly kicking off at 10:15 a.m. and the Senate following at 11 a.m.
The Assembly is expected to break for partisan caucus shortly after convening.
Both chambers will take up a bill to extend requirements on carbon monoxide detectors to one- and two-unit dwellings. Assembly Republicans also appear poised to oppose AB 116, which would allow employees up to 16 hours of leave to attend parent-teacher conferences and other school functions.
On the Senate calendar are bills to address indigency standards for public defender representation, mental health parity, and reform of sex education standards.
The Assembly decided to put off a vote on a bill that would change the standards for when defendants qualify to have taxpayers pick up the costs of their public defenders.
A spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan said lawmakers were working on an amendment to the bill and decided to put off the vote to give them more time with it, especially with the governor's State of the State speech tonight.
The Assembly is back on the floor Thursday.
Under current law, defendants are considered indigent and eligible for the state to cover the cost of a public defender if their income and assets, minus living expenses, aren't enough to cover the costs of effective representation.
The bill includes proposed changes such as considering the anticipated costs of effective representation as well as the type of case in which the defendants are involved in determining if they are indigent.
The Assembly today signed off on a constitutional amendment that would strip county execs of their "Frankenstein veto" powers.
The amendment is similar to the one lawmakers passed and the voters approved that prohibited the governor from creating a new word by crossing our individual letters in words and from creating new sentences by combining parts of two or more sentences.
The amendment, which the Senate has already approved, would now have to make it through the full Legislature again during the 2011-12 session before it could go to the public for a referendum.
Rep. Robin Vos, R-Racine, was the only member to vote no.
The Senate on a 32-1 vote passed a jobs creation package today even though Republicans trashed the proposal prior to the vote as too little, too late.
SB 409, dubbed the CORE Jobs Act, includes a postsecondary education tax credit for businesses, higher annual limits on angel investment tax credits and a host of other provisions. The only senator to vote against the package was Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend.
Sen. Julie Lassa, an author of the bill, said businesses from across the country are looking to locate in Wisconsin because of incentive programs like those included in the bill. And legislators in other states have inquired about the bill looking to emulate it.
"They are looking to replicate the success we've had in terms of getting that entrepreneurial spirit together," she said.
But Republicans said it doesn't go nearly far enough to cover for the damage done by tax increases passed by the Dem-controlled Legislature.
Sen. Ted Kanavas, R-Brookfield, said Democrats have "dumped a load of gravel on Wisconsin businesses" during this legislative session.
"What we're going to do today is take off one shovelful of that load of gravel," Kanavas said.
Senate Minority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Horicon, said it's no surprise that Republicans voted for the bill because Democrats "pirated" many provisions from Republican ideas.
Sen. John Lehman, D-Racine, said the business environment isn't as dire as Republicans paint it, citing a new business that recently decided to locate in his district. Offering negative assessments of the state will do nothing to spur job growth, he said.
"Do you think the fear and loathing in those comments gets you votes?" he asked.
CORRECTION: Please note the item has been updated to correct Sen. Kanavas quote.
Former state Rep. Sheldon Wasserman has been appointed to the state Medical Examining Board.
Wasserman, a Milwaukee Democrat and OB/GYN who lost in a 2008 election bid against River Hills Republican Sen. Alberta Darling, was appointed on a 26-7 vote. Voting against the nomination were GOP Sens. Scott Fitzgerald, Glenn Grothman, Randy Hopper, Ted Kanavas, Neil Kedzie, Alan Lasee, Mary Lazich, and Joe Leibham.
While Republicans at the press conference praised some aspects of the Dems' CORE plan, the also characterized it as lacking vision and say the $15 million it invests in job creation doesn't undo the damage done through tax and regulatory increases included in the 2009-11 state budget.
UPDATE: Session start has now been moved back until 12:30.
The Senate today passed a bill to regulate issue ads on a bipartisan vote. The bill passed 26-7, with GOP Sens. Fitzgerald, Grothman, Hopper, Kanavas, Kedzie, Lazich and Leibham voting against it.
SB 43 would impose new reporting requirements on those who run issue ads mentioning a candidate or the campaign within 60 days of an election. It also would prohibit issue ads in judicial campaigns.
In brief remarks before the vote, bill author Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Waunakee, called the legislation "a really big step" toward cleaning up elections and a move that has been a long time in coming.
Sen. Mike Ellis, R-Neenah, was more outspoken, saying that the spending of special interests in elections is "a cancer that wil destroy our democracy a lot quicker than any foreign invader could."
"We're losing control of our elections," Elis said, saying that third party spending in many cases dwarfs spending by candidate campaign committees.
But while Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, acknowledged that too much is spent by independent groups and not enough by campaign committees, he blamed legislative tinkering for over-regulation of state elections, forcing restrictions on what candidates can raise. Meanwhile, third party groups' spending has gone unfettered, he said.
"Most of the problems we have in campaigns is not because this body has done too little, it's because we've done too much," he said.
Grothman was off the floor when the vote was taken, but was added to the roll call after returning.
Here's the bill and a Leg Council memo on the legislation.
The appointment of Eau Claire resident Jeffrey Moessner was pulled out from the list of committee confirmations this morning by Republicans. Moessner was nominated for appointment to the Council on Domestic Abuse.
Sen. Randy Hopper, R-Fond du Lac, said his objection wasn't a reflection on Moessner's qualifications. He objected because Moessner had not contacted Republican members prior to today's floor vote.
Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, said she told Moessner that he did not have to appear in person before the committee, but Moessner did contact some Senators one-on-one to discuss the appointment.
Hopper said in the future appointees should reach out to both sides of the aisle.
"How serious are appointees if they don't reach out to legislators from both parties?" he said. "I would hope they take these appointments as seriously as we are."
The Senate eventually voted on Moessner's appointment separately, and he was confirmed unanimously. His term ends July 1, 2011.
All other appointments on the calendar were also approved unanimously.
The Legislature kicks off its election-year spring session today with relatively light calendars as lawmakers wrestle with heavy issues away from the floor.
The Assembly calendar includes a ban on text messaging while driving and a bill that seeks to remove barriers that keep buyer's club retailers, such as the company Direct Buy, from operating in the state.
The latter proposal passed the Senate unanimously in the fall.
In the Senate, the sizzle comes from an issue ad bill from Dem Sen. Jon Erpenbach. It would require any individual or group running an ad within 60 days of an election that mentions or has a likeness of a candidate, election or political party to follow campaign disclosure rules.
Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker said on Sunday's "UpFront with Mike Gousha" that job creation will be the continued focus as the Legislature returns to session.
The Center on Wisconsin Strategy reported the state lost more than 163,800 jobs between December 2007 and November 2009 as recession gripped the state and national economy.
Decker, D-Weston, noted that the Legislature tripled the amount of investor tax credits in the last state budget, which he said has spurred some job creation, and that the focus now will be on helping businesses in the state expand through passage of the CORE Jobs Act.
"We're really going to gear it to small businesses in the state of Wisconsin," Decker said.
Decker also said the state has boosted its spending on infrastructure, which is creating construction and construction equipment manufacturing jobs and giving businesses improved infrastructure to use.
"It's our responsibility to keep the roads and the bridges and the airports and the harbors going," Decker said. "Those are all something that makes a better, more safe and efficient transportation system, and those are Wisconsin companies hiring Wisconsin workers."
Decker credited the federal economic stimulus plan with helping to stave off steep budget cuts and defended the state's new requirement that businesses in Wisconsin headquartered elsewhere pay state income tax, saying it is fair and that 87 percent of Wisconsin companies were not affected by it.
Decker said he is "very confident" that Democrats would retain their hold on the state Senate in the face of what some expect could be a rocky year for Dems.
"We're not giving ground to the Republicans on any area," Decker said. "We think we can compete with them on taxes or education or job development or health care. So we think we're on good solid ground."
Also on the program, Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett discussed what he described as his final major compromise on governance reform for Milwaukee Public Schools.
Barrett's compromise plan retains his original call that the mayor appoint the MPS superintendent, but it would now grant the board veto power over the appointment.
Barrett said the compromise would set up a system of accountability and governance similar to city government.
The plan has been met with a cool reception thus far, and Decker said on the program that legislation to change the district's governance would likely not move forward until there was community support for the idea. At this point, Decker said he believe there are not enough votes in the Senate to pass the measure.