An Assembly committee deadlocked this morning on resolutions to reprimand or expel Jeff Wood for his three arrests over 10 months on suspicion for OWI.
All three Dems on the committee voted to support the resolution to reprimand, while the three Republicans backed the call to expel him.
The issue now moves to the full Assembly with no recommendation from the committee on what action the body should take.
Committee Dems cautioned Wood should not be expelled because he is fighting two of his three arrests.
"I don't know how anybody can argue for expulsion," said Chair Mary Hubler, D-Rice Lake. "I think reprimand is the way to go."
But Republicans countered a reprimand was not enough considering the danger Wood posed to the public.
Rep. Mark Gundrum, R-New Berlin, pointed out Wood's travel records show he drove 425 miles in April 2008 and more than 900 miles in May 2008, when lawmakers had a similar workload to what they expect this spring, and that he worried allowing Wood to remain in the Assembly means he'll be behind the wheel to fulfill his duties as a legislator.
"I think he's still going to be a danger to the public. But we create more of a danger if we keep him in a job that if he does it like he has in the past, he'll be driving," Gundrum said.
The Assembly Special Committee on Ethics and Standards of Conduct will exec Tuesday on the resolution to expel Rep. Jeff Wood.
The committee has set a 10 a.m. start in the North Hearing Room and may consider amendments to three versions of the resolution, which call for Wood to be expelled, censured or reprimanded over his three arrests in a 10-month period.
Rep. Mary Hubler, chair of the Assembly Special Committee on Ethics and Standards of Conduct, said Tuesday she doesn't believe that Rep. Steve Nass has made an adequate case to expel embattled Rep. Jeff Wood from his seat.
Hubler, D-Rice Lake, noted that Wood continues to fight two of the charges and suggested lawmakers should allow the legal process to run its course.
"It would be an embarrassment to this place if we voted to expel Rep. Wood and a week later two of the charges were thrown out," she said.
Hubler said she would check with committee members before establishing a date for an executive session and insisted she believed the Assembly still had time to act on Nass' expulsion resolution before adjourning for the year this spring.
She said she was still open to reprimanding or censuring Wood, two other options before the committee. She added that she doubts Nass has the two-thirds support necessary in the chamber to remove Wood, I-Chippewa Falls, noting Nass was the only one to sponsor the resolution.
Nass, R-Whitewater, countered later he had no doubts two-thirds of the Assembly would vote to expel Wood considering the environment members are in and their recent actions to crack down on drunken driving.
"How can a legislator not vote for expulsion under these circumstances and then go home and defend that vote?" he asked.
Nass has previously threatened to use a pulling motion to force a vote on his resolution before the Assembly adjourns. He said today he worries that such a move would be lost in the debate over procedure but still held open the possibility he would try it on the floor.
State Rep. Steve Nass today dismissed Jeff Wood's defense that he should not be expelled from the Assembly because he cannot be disciplined by his fellow lawmakers for actions outside the Capitol.
Nass, R-Whitewater and author of the expulsion resolution, testified before the Special Committee on Ethics and Standards of Conduct today after failing to show up at its first public hearing on the proposal to kick Wood out of the body.
During that first hearing, Wood's attorney insisted lawmakers cannot be expelled by their peers for their actions outside of the Capitol and ticked off a list of past lawmakers accused of more serious crimes who escaped discipline from their peers.
"Of course, this logic might be considered scholarly in the world of trial lawyers, but it is insulting to the people of this state who face real standards of accountability everyday," Nass said as Wood sat with his attorney at a nearby table.
At that first hearing, Wood blamed many of his problems on a lifelong struggle with alcohol and on the anxiety prescription medication he was given to deal with the fall out from his first arrest.
Nass charged that Wood has tried to "play the victim" rather than taking accountability for his actions and that his was a "very lucky man" for only facing expulsion from the Assembly and not a more serious penalty.
"He is no victim when it comes to his personal choices in using drugs and alcohol," Nass said. "Representative Wood's real intent has been to delay and avoid taking responsibility for his own personal failings."
The Assembly has adjourned the MPS special session, too.
The Assembly tried adjourning the special session earlier this year, but the Senate didn't follow suit. Legislative rules require both houses to adjourn a special session within three days of each other. The Senate adjourned the special session earlier today.
A bill requiring the State Public Defender to take into account when accessing eligibility the anticipated costs of effective representation for the type of case involved has been pulled to the floor. The new rules would make the income standard for eligibility for a public defender the same as that for the W-2 program.
When the Senate passed the bill in January,it was amended 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.
An amendment from Rep. Mark Radcliffe, D-Black River Falls, to include more funding int he bill for district attorneys and to prohibit layoffs or additional furloughs to DAs was ruled non-germane.
After a long "informal" period, the Assembly returned to work. Kleefisch lifted his objection, and Kaufert lifted his. SB 227, which includes emergency meeting provisions and a succession plan for the Legislature, then passed on a voice vote.
A bill to provide some procedures for the Legislature in case of an enemy attack or other emergency was blocked by Assembly Republicans.
Rep. Dean Kaufert, R-Neenah, stalled the bill by objecting to the third reading.
The bill would the Legislature to meet outside of Madison in case of emergency. The bill also would allow legislators to hold a virtual session in case of a pandemic or other emergency prohibits a meeting in the Capitol.
The bill was amended by the voice vote on the Assembly floor to allow for a succession plan for legislators. Under the proposal, county chairs of the party that holds the legislative 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 Senate passed a bill last week to create the provisions for legislative meetings in case of emergency, but the succession plan was nixed before the bill came to the Senate floor.
After failing to derail an amendment that would have allowed individuals who have five or fewer tickets to sell a single ticket outside the zones, bill co-author Rep. Josh Zepnick, D-Milwaukee, tabled the bill.
Assembly Minority Leader Jeff Fitzgerald has repeatedly taken the Dem majority to task for not doing enough on jobs this session. So today on the floor he offered a bipartisan package of 10 bills he says would create jobs, bundling them together in a special resolution he wants considered for the next floor session on April 13.
Four of the bills are from Dem authors, and six are from Republican authors.
The resolution will be forwarded to the Assembly Committee on Rules for consideration.
A victim of a "gender-based" crime would be allowed to file a civil action against the perpetrator under a bill approved in the Assembly.
Under the bill, a gender−based act is defined as one committed, at least in part, on the basis of the victim's gender or a physical intrusion that is sexual in nature and that the actor commits under coercive conditions.
A victim would have seven years to commence the civil suit or, if the victim is under 18, within seven years of the victim's birthday. A victim may recover damages for emotional distress, punitive damages, and investigation or litigation costs, including attorney fees.
Also approved was legislation to provide a penalty enhancer for a crime based on gender.
The Assembly approved a bill that would allow police officers to force a driver to submit to an intoxication test if the driver has been involved in an accident even though the office may not have probable cause to believe the individual is intoxicated.
Under the bill, if a vehicle operator is involved in an injury- or death-causing accident, the officer may request the person to submit to a test before arrest, regardless of whether the officer detects the presence of alcohol or another drug.
Assembly Democrats held a press conference prior to their floor session this morning to tout three bills they say continue to "advance Wisconsin's business interests."
The featured bill on the agenda today was AB 767, which would change the composition of the Small Business Regulatory Review Board create a new Office of the Small Business Advocate within the Department of Commerce. Its authors said the bill would create a stronger voice for small businesses in the state regulatory process.
"Obviously, we expect businesses to follow our environmental laws, our worker protection laws. We're not changing that," said Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha. "What we are changing is we're saying help them to comply, and if there's minor violations ... work with them."
Democrats also showcased SB 190 -- which Rep. Bob Turner of Racine said would prevent automatic extensions of business property leases without written notice -- and SB 399, which Rep. Donna Seidel of Wausau said would build on recent efforts to expand bonding for capital projects by local governments.
Seidel said the bill allows local economic development groups to act as a conduit for tax exempt bonding, and said California has seen billions in investment from a similar program over the last 20 years.
"Small, local units of government throughout the state many times are not even aware of how to tap into the market, or they simply lack the infrastructure in their own areas or the expertise to do so," Seidel said.
The Assembly is now in partisan caucus after passing several opening resolutions.
The Senate approved legislation prohibiting health insurance policies and governmental self-insured health plans from using an insured persons alcohol consumption or use of a controlled substance as a basis for denial of coverage.
Sen. Bob Jauch, co-author of the bill, said Wisconsin would be the 14th state to adopt the standard.
"This practice is simply wrong," he said. The bill passed unanimously.
Among the other bills approved was a legislation that creates an exception from the definition of collection agency for health care billing companies. That bill passed on a 23-9 vote. The nine Dems who voted against it cited consumer protection concerns.
The session, called for by Gov. Jim Doyle in December, has continued for months as Democrats fail to find agreement on how to reform the ailing district. Doyle and Taylor are proponents of changing the governance system of the district to give the mayor the power to hire the superintendent and broad budget powers.
Taylor, who co-authored a bill for mayoral control, said she planned to talk with mayoral control opponent Sen. Spencer Coggs, D-Milwaukee, and come up with a solution. But for the time being, the special session should end.
"We have failed," Taylor said.
"We might as well adjourn the special session because we missed the boat," Taylor said. "The ship is gone."
UPDATE: On a voice vote, the Senate closed out the special session.
The Assembly attempted to close the special session in January, but legislative rules require that both houses close a session within three days of each other.
Both chambers of the Legislature will be on the floor today, with the Assembly scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. followed by the Senate at 11 a.m.
The Assembly calendar includes legislation to allow the Legislature to meet outside of Madison in case of emergency. The bill also allows legislators to hold a virtual session in case of a pandemic or other emergency prohibits a meeting in the Capitol. The bill originally included a succession plan for legislators, but that was pulled prior to approval by the Senate last week.
In the Senate, lawmakers will consider legislation prohibiting health insurance policies and governmental self-insured health plans from using an insured persons alcohol consumption or use of a controlled substance as a basis for denial of coverage.
Rep. Steve Nass told reporters today that he is willing to testify about his resolution seeking Jeff Wood's expulsion from the Assembly, but he will refuse to answer any questions that he considers non-germane.
Rep. Mary Hubler, who chairs the committee overseeing the resolution, put off scheduling an exec session until after Nass testifies. She also expressed disappointment that Nass did not show up for today's public hearing so the committee could ask him questions.
Nass said he was in Whitewater with his sister helping their mother on several issues related to his father's state at a nursing home. He said he did not believe he needed to be at this morning's hearing because his resolution speaks for itself and that he believed Wood would try to use his appearance to distract attention from the charges against him.
"My being there would have allowed him to make it even more of a three-ring circus," Nass said.
Nass repeatedly said Dems were trying to drag out the process as long as possible because they need Wood's vote to push their priorities through and defended his decision to file the expulsion resolution against Wood but not other lawmakers who have faced charges. Nass said Wood video evidence from Wood's arrests make it clear he's guilty and that other lawmakers busted for drunk driving were only arrested once.
"This has risen to the level of repeated conduct," Nass said.
Rep. Mary Hubler today delayed scheduling an exec on a resolution seeking to expel Jeff Wood from the Assembly until after the committee she chairs can first hear from Rep. Steve Nass, who proposed kicking him out.
Nass, R-Whitewater, did not attend today's hearing, instead sending the committee overseeing the expulsion resolution a memo on Tuesday dismissing some of Wood's defenses against being expelled.
Hubler, D-Rice Lake, and Rep. Tony Staskunas, D-West Allis, expressed their disappointment that Nass chose not to show up for the hearing, saying they wanted to ask him questions about his expulsion resolution. Hubler said she wanted to hold another public hearing to take Nass' testimony before scheduling an exec.
Nass aide Mike Mikalsen attended today's hearing and said afterward that Nass did not show up because of what he called a "circus atmosphere" in which Wood was allowed to cross examine anyone who chose to testify in favor of the expulsion resolution. Assembly rules grant anyone targeted in an expulsion resolution that opportunity, treating the hearing somewhat like a trial.
Mikalsen said cross examination should be limited to the issues in the resolution, noting that Wood has pulled a number of public records about Nass' background and seemed intent on making the hearing about Nass rather than his own actions.
During his testimony, Wood took a swipe at the Whitewater Republican, saying Nass was at one time $12,000 in arrears in child support and then sued his ex-wife to reduce his payments only to "say I haven't lived up to my moral and ethical obligations and doesn't bother to come here."
"I thought that was pretty pathetic," Wood said, never mentioning Nass by name. "I do take my moral and ethical obligations pretty seriously. Through counseling and some changes that I made, my marriage is back probably better than it ever has been. My family is doing pretty well."
Mikalsen said he attack exemplified why Nass chose not to attend the hearing and said Wood was distorting the case. He said Nass sued in part to get custody of his daughter and that the dispute over child support centered around how to count per diems in calculating his support.
Mikalsen complained Dem committee members did not bother to ask any questions about the evidence it had gathered about Wood's conduct, instead focusing on Nass, and declared "this has turned into a partisan process."
GOP committee members also did not ask about the evidence. Rep. Rich Zipperer of Pewaukee was the only Republican to ask a question, asking Wood if he disputed any of the charges in the resolutions pending against him.
"Rep. Nass' background is not in question. Rep. Wood's is," Mikalsen said.
Rep. Jeff Wood said today he is grateful he did not kill or hurt anyone while he was driving under the influence, but told fellow lawmakers he did not regret what happened.
He also said he is guilty of the charges filed against him after his first arrest, but says he is fighting the other two counts because he believed he was taking the prescribed amounts of medication that he was on when he was pulled over.
Wood, who faces expulsion over his three arrests in a 12-month period for operating while intoxicated, gave a committee overseeing the expulsion resolution filed against him his version of what happened between his first troubles with alcohol as a teenager and his completion of a treatment program to help him remain sober.
He said he quit drinking in his early 20s after realizing he had a problem with alcohol and didn't start up again until after his first election to the Assembly at age 33. He said that use began to spiral out of control, particularly as he warded off personal attacks after leaving the GOP and running as an independent in 2008. He quit again after that election, but took it up again after coming back to the Assembly in 2009.
He said his three arrests were what it finally took to get him sober.
"I don't regret what happened because I really do believe that was what it was going to take to get me sober," Wood said. "In the long run, that's more important."
Wood also argued his arrests should be between him and his constituents, who would be left without representation through the end of the year if he were kicked out of office. He said he should be allowed instead to provide the best representation for them that he can.
"I do think that being an advocate for my constituents for the next nine months and trying to set the best example I can is fulfilling the best promise that I can make to them," he said.
Wood told the committee he was clearly guilty of the charges for his first arrest, adding that he regretted his actions. But he contests the charges in the second two arrests, which he attributed to the drugs that he was prescribed to treat anxiety.
Wood said he was first given a prescription after his initial arrest and the ensuing media scrutiny, which he said sent him into a depression. He said he noticed various problems with the medications he was given, including loss of memory, and quit taking it after having trouble finding a dosage that made him comfortable. He also canceled his prescription.
He started an out-patient treatment and was attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, but after a "particularly stressful day" at the Capitol, he found an empty pill bottle in his desk and a prescription. He filled the prescription and took the drug while he was also taking cough medicine for a bad cold. He said he didn't realize how the two could interact, and he was picked up the next day near Wausau.
Following that arrest, a friend suggested he try a VA hospital for treatment, and he was accepted at a program in Tomah.
There, he was again prescribed a medication to help him deal with his anxiety over the ensuing media coverage. The pills were handed out by the VA staff each day, he said.
He said his roommate, a Vietnam veteran, left the program and counselors asked Wood if he knew where the man was going. He said he did and went to find him. He had taken his medication for the day, but insisted it was within he guidelines. He came back after not finding him and was given more meds by the nursing staff because he felt stressed.
He said the staff took him to his room, he went to bed and the next thing he remembers is waking up in jail. Video from that third arrest shows Wood stumbling badly at times as he fails a field sobriety test.
"I do want to say that right after that, no matter what the cost was, I had to get into a good treatment facility," Wood said.
Rep. Jeff Wood's attorney argued this morning the Legislature does not have the power to kick the independent lawmaker out of the Assembly for his three arrests, arguing a failure to adhere to any standard of moral behavior unrelated to his duties as a lawmkaer is not grounds for expulsion.
John Hyland reminded the committee reviewing a resolution seeking to expel Wood that he has not been convicted of any crimes yet and the people of his district have not taken any steps to recall him.
Wood, the Chippewa Falls independent who has reached a plea deal in one of the three cases, sat next to his attorney as he laid out the arguments against expelling him from office.
Rep. Steve Nass, who introduced the expulsion resolution, did not show up for today's hearing after submitting a written statement to the committee yesterday. Hyland and several committee members expressed their disappointment that the Whitewater Republican did not show up to answer their questions about the allegations he laid out in his resolution.
Matt Gaboda, an independent candidate for the Assembly from Evansville, was the only person to testify in favor of the expulsion resolution this morning. He acknowledged that Wood has not been convicted but noted that everyone has seen the video of his drunken driving arrests.
"He should have made the call himself instead of forcing the state to do what he should have already done," Gaboda said, suggesting Wood should have resigned after his arrests.
Hyland argued lawmakers only have the power to discipline members for being in contempt of Assembly rules or for disorderly behavior. He argued they cannot be disciplined for any of their actions outside of the Capitol, except for felony convictions, which require automatic expulsion under state law.
Hyland also took issue with Gaboda's argument, countering what people take away from the video tapes of the arrest are not what matters.
"People can form opinions, but the actions of this committee and the Legislature aren't based on opinions," Hyland said. "They're based on the constitution."
Wood's is the first expulsion proceeding in the Legislature since 1917, when Frank Raguse, a socialist from Milwaukee, took issue with another member's resolution to print President Wilson's message urging the declaration of war against Germany.
Raguse questioned if the member would "blow up another Maine" for patriotism, criticized President McKinley over the Spanish-American War, and questioned how "can a man have any patriotism when he has not got any land." He refused to withdraw or apologize for his comments, and the Senate voted 30-3 to expel and censure him for contempt, disorderly behavior and conduct unbecoming of a senator.
State Rep. Jeff Wood is scheduled to go before an Assembly committee this morning for a public hearing on a resolution to expel him from the chamber following three arrests on suspicion of driving under the influence.
But Wood, I-Chippewa Falls, says he should be held to the same standard as other lawmakers and not punished by the Assembly. He introduced a substitute amendment to the expulsion resolution listing a host of former Assembly members who have committed crimes -- ranging from sexual assault and misconduct in public office to drunken driving and pot possession -- but faced no disciplinary action from the Assembly.
Wood goes on to point out he hasn't been convicted of a crime, hasn't violated an Assembly rule and that the voters in his district haven't tried to recall him in urging the Assembly "takes no further action and the special committee on ethics and standards of conduct is hereby disbanded."
Wood was arrested three times in a 12-month period on suspicion of OWI. He has reached a plea deal in one of those cases. He is scheduled to plead no contest April 19 in Columbia County to third offense drunken driving and possession of drug paraphernalia in exchange for a charge on pot possession being dropped. He also faces charges in Marathon and Monroe counties.
State Rep. Steve Nass, who authored the expulsion resolution, sent a memo to the Special Committee on Ethics and Standards of Conduct urging action and expressed no sympathy for Wood and his "repeated dangerous conduct."
"If you believe that Mr. Wood's repeated abuse of alcohol and drugs followed by his decision to drive is conduct that conforms to reasonable standards of ethics and moral behavior for a member of the State Assembly, then by all means don't vote to recommend expulsion," wrote Nass, R-Whitewater. "If you believe the repeated nature of his conduct does cross the line of ethics and moral responsibility as a member of the Assembly, then your vote to recommend expulsion should be in the affirmative."
Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan said today donations from payday lenders played no role in his change of position on an interest cap for the industry.
"I took my position in 2008 so, no, that had nothing to do with it," the Janesville Dem said.
The Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee collected $10,500 in donations from the payday loan industry last fall just before and after Sheridan said in a Sept. 9 interview he believed a proposed loan rate cap was too tough, according to a report from the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.
Sheridan, whose relationship with a payday loan lobbyist came under fire earlier this year, had previously supported a rate cap.
The Assembly approved legislation last month placing new regulation on the industry, but it did not include a rate cap.
"The fact is this is a real tough bill. The industry doesn't like it, so I think we did a heck of a job," Sheridan said following an Assembly Rules meeting.
The Senate also approved AB 614, which requires the disclosure of the costs for various health procedures, and AB 579, which creates a new license plate honoring Marquette University.
A couple of UW fans got their digs in, though, before the Senate approved the Marquette license plate. Sens. Decker, Miller, Lassa and Kreitlow proposed an amendment that would, among other things, only allow the license plate after MU "finally" has a football team, require the plates to be in "Badger Red and White and contain a Bucky the Badger logo on it" and have the words "UW-Marquette" on them.
It was tabled over the playful objections of some Badger fans.
The Senate approved legislation today that would make it easier to crack down on aggressive ticket scalpers.
The bill, supported by the Milwaukee Brewers, would allow municipalities to allow the creation of re-sale zones for those seeking to re-sell tickets for events. The Senate approved it 27-3 after Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, questioned whether it was really needed.
Grothman complained the bill would allow the police to give a $10 ticket to anyone who ends up with an extra ticket for a Brewers game and seeks to sell it on the way into the game.
He also questioned the Brewers' motives, noting the team plays in a multi-million dollar stadium financed with taxpayer dollars and the more tickets sold outside the stadium means fewer tickets sold by the team at the box office.
"I have never been harassed or felt offended by people either trying to sell me tickets ... or people asking me if I have extra tickets," Grothman said.
But Sen. Jim Sullivan, D-Wauwatosa, countered the legislation was not targeting the fan trying to sell an extra ticket, but the overaggressive scalpers who pull people out of ticket lines or jump on tour buses trying to hawk their tickets. He compared it to "aggressive panhandling."
Sen. Tim Carpenter says he wants to force a debate on mayoral control of Milwaukee Public Schools.
The Milwaukee Dem threw a wrench in the early proceedings today in an effort to make his point. He objected when Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker, D-Weston, requested unanimous consent to adjourn the ongoing special session to deal with MPS control.
That forced a vote of the body to adjourn the special session until Thursday. The motion passed 29-2 with Carpenter and Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee and a co-sponsor of legislation to give the mayor control of the district, voting no.
The guv called the session last year with the hopes of getting the Legislature to take up the MPS bill, but the Senate has shown no signs of taking it up. The Assembly moved to adjourn the special session earlier this year.
"I want to be able to have a debate on MPS," Carpenter said. "I don't want to bury it."
The state Senate will hold a floor session scheduled to start at 11 a.m., and every bill on the calendar -- save one -- made it out of committee on an unanimous vote.
The exception is SB 458, which would allow the creation of zones for those reselling tickets for sporting and other events. The bill, backed by the Milwaukee Brewers to combat aggressive ticket scalping, passed out of committee 6-1.
Other bills under consideration today include bills to ban so-called "diploma mills" and to create a license plate recognizing Marquette University.