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Friday, April 23, 2010

 4:09 PM 

Doyle downplays special session, vetoes

Gov. Jim Doyle today downplayed special session and veto talk.

The Dem guv told reporters he doesn't foresee any major policy issues with the late legislation sent to him.

"Well, there are 400 of them so the odds are probably good that there's something in there," Doyle said with a laugh.

"There are some that just given the rush of business at the end and the amendments that flew back and forth one way or another I really want to make sure that I understand before I make that decision, but (on a broad policy basis) no." Doyle indicated he'll likely sign bills to curtail race-based school mascots and logos as well as legislation to legalize certain raw milk sales.

Doyle said he's disappointed at the demise of the "Clean Energy Jobs Act" this session and added it's unlikely there would be a special session on CEJA or any other issue.

"My general view on special sessions ... I have to really believe that there's a chance it's going to pass to do that," he said. "Obviously I would love to see the 'Clean Energy Jobs Act' pass. And if there was a realistic possibility that calling them in would get that passed, then I'd be very interested in doing it. I'm not going to do it just to kind of do it."

Looking back at the last two years, Doyle gave the leggies credit for an "extraordinary session" that saw the passage of an on-time budget that closed a gaping budget hole and made deep cuts while not raising sales or payroll taxes or income taxes for most state residents.

Doyle also paused to point out "what didn't happen," namely a budget repair bill, freeing up the last few months to focus on legislation.

"If you look at what's happening in most states right now that are grappling with huge budget problems, I commend the Legislature because they passed a budget that I was able to sign with the vetoes I put on it in addition, and we made the cuts that needed to be made and we have not had to come back and repair it," Doyle said.

Doyle listed the expansion of health care access through BadgerCare Core Plan and the just-passed BadgerCare Basic Plan as major achievements that sets Wisconsin up as a "health care leader in this country."

Doyle also lauded the statewide smoking ban, saying he doesn't have a problem with the bill passed early this morning to define outdoor smoking areas, because it closes a loophole in the original legislation.

Doyle praised economic development initiatives passed by lawmakers, including the C.O.R.E. Jobs Act, the "Green to Gold" revolving loan program that he outlined in his State of the State address in February, and tax credits that helped companies like Mercury Marine, Republic Airlines and Oshkosh Truck.

And Doyle said he was "very pleased" with the passage of the bill to give the state DPI superintendent more power to intervene in struggling school districts, but expressed regret that the Milwaukee Public Schools governance legislation he championed stalled.


 4:15 AM 

Legislature ends regular 2010 session

The Assembly has adjourned, bringing the last general-business floor period of the 2009-2010 biennium to a close.

Speaker Mike Sheridan, D-Janesville, told his caucus he was proud of their accomplishments over the entire session, particularly on economic development.

"We're able to create a lot of tax credits and those tax credits and development opportunities were always the priority of the day," Sheridan said. "Every step of the way we concentrated on that."

He pointed particularly to more than $200 million in growth incentives that had tangible effects on some large state employers.

"Be proud of the work that you did here," Sheridan told his members. "We're going to be able to go home and talk about these things all through the fall."

Assembly Minority Leader Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon, countered that the session was largely a wasted opportunity for lawmakers.

"I think this week was kind of the epitome," Fitzgerald said. "A lot of time spent on the floor, a lot of time sitting around, not a lot that really got accomplished."

He also said that Democrats were showing the burden of being in charge after 14 years in the minority.

"I think you got a taste of what it's like to be in the majority and how hard it is to govern," Fitzgerald said. "It's not an ideal situation to tell you the truth. You've got nobody to blame."


 3:46 AM 

Roth attempts to pull health care lawsuit resolution

Rep. Roger Roth, R-Appleton, has moved to pull AR 21 from the chamber's Health Committee as the session winds to a close. His motion fell by a 51-44 vote.

The resolution would authorize Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen to sue the federal government over the recently enacted federal health care bill. Van Hollen has requested authorization to sue from the governor or either chamber of the Legislature, which he would need in order to join other states in their lawsuit.

A similar pulling motion from Sen. Dan Kapanke, R-La Crosse, fell short in that chamber last week.


 3:40 AM 

Raw milk bill heads to governor

The Assembly has concurred in the Senate version of a bill to legalize the sale of raw milk on a 60-35 vote.

A motion to postpone the bill and an amendment from Rep. Amy Sue Vruwink were defeated, after which the Milladore Dem withdrew her remaining amendments.

"You're voting on one of the most fundamental industries in our state," Rep. Marlin Schneider, D-Wisconsin Rapids, said in opposition to the bill. "A vote in favor of this bill is to jeopardize that entire (dairy) industry."

Schneider said one case of contamination would have dire effects for the industry, comparing it to the effect of the H1N1 virus on pork producers after it was dubbed "Swine Flu."

But Rep. Phil Garthwaite, D-Dickeyville, said the bill struck a good balance. He said the bill addresses the increased health risks associated with raw milk and that the milk market responds differently than meat prices to outbreaks.

He also charged that opponents of the bill focus on the health aspects at the expense of the economic benefits to farmers. He said other agricultural producers -- from poultry to pork to beef -- are being wiped out as independent producers.

"If we are not careful, we will see the dairy industry in this state go in that direction," Garthwaite said.

Rep. Ed Brooks, R-Reedsburg and a dairy farmer, disputed the notion that the bill would "save the family farm."

"There's a reason why they're getting $5 a gallon," Brooks said of the going rate for raw milk sales. "It's contraband."

The bill now goes to Gov. Jim Doyle, who has not indicated his position on the bill.


 2:59 AM 

Reps. adopt smoking ban change

The Assembly has concurred in AB 720 -- originally passed in the Assembly but amended last week by the Senate -- to make a technical change defining "substantial wall" for the purposes of enforcing the statewide smoking ban set to go into effect this summer.

Backers say the measure conforms to the original intent of the bill. But opponents say it would undermine the ban and question the use of the Law Revision Committee to make what they say are policy changes.

"I just can't believe that we're trying to put a couple windows in a wall and say, 'Ok, now you can smoke whereever you want," said Rep. Karl Van Roy, R-Green Bay.

The chamber is now debating their final scheduled bill -- SB 434, to regulate raw milk sales.


 2:45 AM 

Two procedural votes kick off restored session

Rep. Amy Sue Vruwink, D-Milladore, moves to pull SB 302 -- a bill limiting abuses by powersports manfacuters on dealerships -- from the Assembly Rules Committee. Her motion fails 73-21.

The chamber then concurs in a raffle regulation bill, SB 618, after Rep. Marlin Schneider, D-Wisconsin Rapids, withdraws his objection to third reading.

The chamber is now onto AB 720, which deals with changes to the impending state smoking ban.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

 10:29 PM 

Democrats head to caucus

After mowing through a number of bills, Assembly Democrats are headed to caucus with just the raw milk bill and a technical adjustment to the state smoking ban language remaining on the agenda.

Meanwhile, GOP Rep. Joel Kleefisch asked for "unanimous consent for the Republicans to eat pizza and play cards."


 9:38 PM 

Assembly concurs in payday lending bill

The Assembly is onto the Senate changes to SB 530.

UPDATE: The amended bill passes 72-25. Gov. Doyle has said he would sign any legislation regulating payday lenders into law.

"The bottom line is that the Assembly passing Senate Bill 530 as amended will be the first meaningful consumer protection on payday lending and auto title lending in Wisconsin," said Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh and the Assembly author of the bill.

"The goal all along has been to address the worst parts of the system. ... We currently have no safeguards in place, and Wisconsin consumers are paying the price."


 9:16 PM 

Payday lending, raw milk bills delayed

The payday lender bill has been moved down on the calendar so that Republicans can go through the Senate's changes to the bill enacted this afternoon.

The bill to legalize sales of raw milk has also been moved to the foot of the calendar.


 8:34 PM 

Assembly to hold Friday session as well

It appears the Assembly may not be done when tonight's session gavels to a close.

After Republicans signaled they would object to one bill messaged from the Senate this afternoon, the Assembly Rules Committee apppears poised to schedule another session for 10 a.m. tomorrow.

The bill, AB 939, passed the Senate on a voice vote this afternoon. It would allow the state to crack down on construction employers who misclassify their workers as independent contractors for tax and health insurance purposes. The bill would be funded through existing federal funding.

The Assembly is now back on the floor.

UPDATE: The Assembly has approved the special order resolution from the Rules Committee 53-44.

Rep. Mark Gottleib, R-Port Washington, said agreeing to eight of nine Senate messages wasn't good enough, so "we're going to come back here tomorrow to pass this one bill."


 8:07 PM 

Fox Valley RTA bill passes

After a tearful plea from Rep. Penny Bernard Schaber, D-Appleton, for the Senate to come back and complete its work on RTA legislation, the Assembly backed the Fox Valley RTA bill 51-46.

The chamber is now in recess for a meeting of the Rules Committee.


 7:43 PM 

Assembly takes up Fox RTA

The Assembly is now onto AB 734, which would create a Fox Cities regional transit authority.

The issue is largely moot since the state Senate failed to act on RTA legislation before adjourning earlier today. Rep. Scott Gunderson, R-Waterford, loudly reminded Dems of that fact during debate on the first amendment.

"The Senate went home. This bill is dead. It's going nowhere," Gunderson said. "Are we going to do things here tonight just for political purposes?"


 7:37 PM 

Assembly backs education reform bill

The Assembly has concurred in SB 437, sending the superintendent bill to Gov. Doyle's desk.

The bill passed 50-47.

Republicans charged that the bill won't do anything to improve the targeted Milwaukee Public Schools, and chided Democrats for their education reform efforts.

Rep. Don Pridemore, R-Hartford, said the Assembly Education Reform committee hadn't met during the entire session, while Rep. Brett Davis, R-Oregon, said the most significant reform bills passed by Democrats revised sex ed standards and took on school mascots.

"The largest city in our state can either be a jewel or an anchor on our state," said Rep. Mike Huebsch, R-West Salem. "The seniors of today in Milwaukee were 5th graders when Gov. Doyle took office ... and yet it took essentially the promise of some money from Washington for them to realize the problem they have."

Some Milwaukee Dems, including Pedro Colon and Fred Kessler, said they would reluctantly support the bill despite not going far enough to help Latino and special needs kids, respectively.

But Rep. Christine Sinicki, D-Milwaukee, said, "If we're serious about fixing Milwaukee Public Schools, this is the bill we do it with."


 6:25 PM 

Krusick: Superintendent should have authority over choice schools

Rep. Peggy Krusick, D-Milwaukee, rips the education bill for not addressing private schools enrolled in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program.

"I'm planning to vote no on this bill," Krusick said. "We need folks to work together -- choice, public and charter."

The first two amendments were returned to the author, while four amendments from Rep. Brett Davis, R-Oregon, are tabled.

Davis called the bill in its current form "completely meaningless and complete window dressing," and said lawmakers would learn the truth in the second round of federal Race to the Top awards.

"I strongly believe that we will not even be close again in receiving the Race to the Top application," Davis said.


 6:11 PM 

Assembly takes up education reform bill

The Assembly, after commending its departing members, has moved onto consideration of SB 437, which would allow greater authority for the state schools superintendent to intervene in struggling school districts.

There are seven amendments currently proposed on the bill.


 5:50 PM 

Mason: Clean energy bill "came up short"

While speaking about a resolution to honor the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, Rep. Cory Mason said it was with a "degree of irony" that the annual environmental celebration falls on this day.

Mason, D-Racine, said legislators "attempted to address energy jobs in this session, and we came up short," an apparent reference to the death of the Clean Energy Jobs Act.


 5:43 PM 

Assembly honors Lawton

Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton is being recognized for her public service by the Assembly. The two term Dem lt. guv announced last year that she will not seek re-election.

Rep. Donna Seidel said she will be remembered as an "incredible advocate" for economic development and advancing opportunities for women and minorities. And she will be appreciated for her passion for advancing arts and culture in the state, Seidel said.

Lawton said it has been "an amazing privilege to work in this building."


 5:07 PM 

Assembly gets moving

They are now taking up a resolution honoring John A. Volk, a former Assemblyman.

The Assembly also is recognizing the NCAA Division III national champion UW-Stevens Point men's basketball team.

UPDATE: 5:30 p.m. -- Assembly is still doing resolutions and recognitions.

Speaker Sheridan's office said that the Dems may go back to caucus at some point.

Legislation like the "Clean Energy Jobs Act" and regional RTAs can't go anywhere because the Senate adjourned early this afternoon, effectively killing those bills.

Speaker Pro Tem Tony Staskunas, D-West Allis, said those bills likely wouldn't come up. Rebekah Sweeney, spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan, said some things are going to fall off the calendar tonight but couldn't offer specifics.


 5:02 PM 

Doyle: 'Disappointed' clean energy bill not acted on

Though Assembly Democrats aren't officially admitting that the Clean Energy Jobs Act is dead this session, Gov. Jim Doyle is.

Doyle's statement:

"I am disappointed with the Legislature's failure to act on this compromise legislation and take this opportunity to build on Wisconsin's leading role in the clean energy economy.

"The great strides we have taken in recent years have already made Wisconsin a leader in the clean energy economy.

"Wisconsin was one of the first states to enact renewable portfolio standards. Today, we are well on the way to having 10 percent of our energy come from renewable sources by 2015. These standards have had great success, and as a result, we've seen a rapid expansion in renewable energy production and real growth in clean energy jobs.

"There is still time to get this done before our current renewable portfolio standards are fulfilled in 2015. Often major legislative issues have to come up several times before they are finally passed. We have a lot of good legislators who have worked very hard on this issue with businesses, organizations and others. I know they will continue to focus on building on Wisconsin's clean energy successes and get a bill passed."


 4:14 PM 

Assembly Republicans have broken caucus

Assembly session will reconvene at 4:30 p.m.

UPDATE: 4:54 p.m. -- The Assembly still hasn't gotten down to business. Roll has been called and most members are in the chamber, but things are informal at this point.


 2:02 PM 

Senate passes payday lending bill, adjourns

The Senate has adjourned after adopting its own changes to legislation to regulate payday lending.

The Senate amendment to the Assembly's version of SB 530 deletes most the Assembly language banning auto title loans, but creates an entirely new section in the bill regulating title loans.

The Senate changes implement the same monthly interest rate cap governing payday loans on title loans, and would ban practices such as possessing the loan applicant's vehicle without notice or requiring that copies of the car keys be turned over.

Amendment author Sen. Jim Sullivan, D-Wauwatosa, said the chamber has met the Assembly half-way on the bill. The changes have now been messaged to the other house.

"We did not have titles as part of our bill and now we are," Sullivan said. "We have a very strong bill here."


 1:48 PM 

More third reading objections

AB 544 -- relating to wheel weight restrictions -- and AB 878, providing DHS funding to businesses who help their employees seek health insurance, have had their third readings objected to by Sen. Fitzgerald.


 1:13 PM 

Robson recalls 'historic path' in Legislature

Retiring Sen. Judy Robson, D-Beloit, gave her farewell remarks to the Senate following the passage of SB 657, which would ban patient neglect at a health care facility.

Robson, a nurse and the first Dem woman to serve as Senate minority and majority leader, said he believe she paved a historic path in the chamber.

"Only 21 women have served in the state Senate ... and I was number 16, so there are only 15 women ahead of me."

She said that since she started her legislative career the women's caucus in the Legislature has gained just one seat, saying the state has "a long way to go," but lauded her staff, constituents and colleagues for allowing her to serve.

"We helped make the state Senate a more civil place, a more tranparent place, a more welcoming place," Robson said.


 12:54 PM 

Fitzgerald stops third reading of bills

Senate Minority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, has objected to third reading of two bills on the Senate agenda.

The first, SB 597, would allow the small Marinette County municipality of Pound to use a $500,000 DOT grant allocated for a particular street project to be used for any street project.

Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, said approving the grant is a public safety issue.

"Must be pound on Pound day," Hansen quipped.

Fitzgerald also objected to third reading of SB 600, which would penalize businesses who hire workers that are in the country illegally.

Hansen, the bill's author, said the current state practice is "not fair to the vast majority of businesses in Wisconsin who care about doing the right thing."

"This bill is not aimed at law-abiding businesses," Hansen said.

UPDATE: Fitzgerald also objects to third reading of SB 695, which would require the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority to allocate federal tax credits to minority- or women-owned businesses in at least 25 percent of allocations. A motion by Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, to give the bill its third reading falls short of the required two-thirds vote.


 12:21 PM 

Senators honor Lawton, retiring Leg Council attorneys

Senators paid tribute to a pair of retiring Legislative Council staffers, John Stolzenberg and Russ Whitesel, who will each depart the Legislature this year following 35 years of service to the state.

The Senate has also passed a resolution honoring Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton, who's not seeking re-election. The calendar does not include a similar resolution for Gov. Jim Doyle, who is also not seeking re-election.


 12:03 PM 

Senate concurs in BadgerCare Basic bill

The Senate has concurred in two amendments to SB 484, establishing the Badger BadgerCare Plus Basic health care plan to serve Wisconsinites on the waiting list for the BadgerCare Plus Core Plan.

Meanwhile, the payday lender bill -- SB 530 -- has been moved to the foot of the calendar.


 11:59 AM 

Kanavas thanks colleagues

Sen. Ted Kanavas, R-Brookfield, thanked the Senate for endorsing a resolution he authored asking the government of Turkey to recognize the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and used the opportunity to thank his family and colleagues as he retires from his seat this year.

Kanavas' wife and one of his daughters are in attendance, and he said every member of his family has enjoyed serving the state.

"It's been just tremendous for all of us," Kanavas said, urging his colleagues to continue listening to each other to move the state forward. He received a standing ovation after concluding his remarks.


 11:51 AM 

VA Board members confirmed

The Senate confirmed three members to the state Veterans Affairs Board -- David Boetcher, Marvin Freedman and Peter Moran -- on a 20-13 vote.

Jude Genereaux's nomination to the Medical Examining Board also passed 27-6.


 11:47 AM 

UW nominees confirmed

The Senate voted 29-4 to reappoint Wausau attorney Mark Bradley and to confirm Eau Claire attorney Ed Manydeeds to the UW Board of Regents. Manydeeds becomes the first Native American to serve on the board.

The chamber then voted 18-15 to confirm Roger Axtell to the UW Hospitals and Clinics Authority and Board.

Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, said Axtell's vote to permit late-term abortions at a jointly operated UW facility has tarnished the university's name and is "beyond the pale of human decency."

Dems said that vote should not discredit Axtell's vast experience in the medical profession, with Sen. Jon Erpenbach of Waunakee calling Grothman's comments "a petty attack on a really good man."


 11:30 AM 

Senate in session

The state Senate has been called to order, and will first take up 117 appointments.

The nominations will be taken up en masse, except for two nominees to the UW Board of Regents, three nominees to the Veterans Affairs Board, and two other nominees -- Roger Axtell to the UW Hospitals and Clinics Authority and Board and Jude Genereaux to the Medical Examining Board.

Tripp Ahern's nomination as a member of the Lower Fox River Remediation Authority has been returned to the Senate Committee on Organization.


 11:11 AM 

Assembly heads to partisan caucuses; Rhoades paid tribute

Rep. Jen Shilling, D-La Crosse, said tribute was being paid by members today to retiring Rep. Kitty Rhoades with the wearing of wraps.

Rhoades frequently has a shawl or scarf wrapped around her. When Shilling gave the word, a bipartisan crowd of a dozen lawmakers stood to display their wraps, including Reps. Mike Huebsch and Jeff Smith. Huebsch said his was a "man wrap."


 11:09 AM 

Senate getting ready to go

Democrats have broken caucus and members are beginning to file into the chamber. Republicans, for the moment, are still in caucus.

UPDATE: Republicans are filtering into the chamber, and Senate President Fred Risser, D-Madison, has called the Senate to order.


 10:45 AM 

Assembly session has begun

Rep. Pedro Colon's niece, Katie, a freshman at UW-Madison, sang a wonderful rendition the national anthem.

Speaker Mike Sheridan quipped afterward, "Now we know that someone in that family has talent."


 9:50 AM 

Calendars set for final session day

While much of the attention in the Capitol is focused on what isn't on the legislative agenda today, the Assembly could take action on a bill to give the state DPI superintendent more power to intervene in poorly performing school districts. The bill has already passed by the Senate. Also on the Assembly calendar is a Senate-approved bill to allow the sale of unpasteurized dairy products.

The Assembly has also scheduled a bill that would raise the unpaid wage claim lien for workers from $3,000 to $10,950 before a commercial lending institution can recover assets from a bankrupt employer. The measure passed the Senate early in 2009 and is a priority of Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker. But Decker said he has been told that Assembly Dems "don't have the votes" to pass the bill.

Meanwhile, Decker said he's still considering the Assembly's amendments to the payday loan bill. The Assembly changed the Senate bill to include regulation on auto title loans.

The Senate may also concur on the Assembly changes to the BadgerCare Basic proposal.

See the Assembly calendar here.

See the Senate calendar here.

Watch the last sessions of the general business floorperiod on WisconsinEye.


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

 9:14 PM 

Prospects dim on CEJA, elections overhaul, RTA bill

It's not looking good for the "Clean Energy Jobs Act," an overhaul to the state's election laws and legislation to create regional transit authorities.

Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker, D-Weston, sent signals today that none of the three would make it through his chamber this session.

Decker said the election bill was introduced "a little bit late in the process."

"I'd like to see it happen," Decker said. "If it started up a few weeks earlier, I think members could have gotten their arms around it and gotten a better feel for it."

Decker reiterated Republican votes were needed to pass RTA legislation, which has yet to make it out of the Assembly.

"If there's six Republican votes, we'll look at it," Decker said. "I don't believe there's enough Democrats that would support it straight up."

Responding to speculation that he won't get six GOP votes, Decker quipped, "Well, we'll go for seven then."

Meanwhile, state Rep. Spencer Black, D-Madison, accused Decker and Sen. Jeff Plale of standing in the way of the "Clean Energy Jobs Act," while the Sen Dems shot back the Assembly doesn't have the votes and Black's just trying to cast blame.

Black, D-Madison suggested the Assembly would only take up the bill if the Senate showed some progress on it.

But that looked unlikely. Decker told reporters this afternoon he didn't think the Assembly had the votes to pass the bill anyway and his chamber wouldn't vote on it unless it was first taken up by the special committee set up to handle the legislation.

Plale, a co-chair of the special committee, said he's been rebuffing requests to convene an exec session because the bill doesn't have the votes needed to pass either house.


 10:46 AM 

Barca says Dems will regroup on RTA later today

State Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, said Assembly Dems will regroup later today on the RTA bill and go over the issue.

The bill stalled after an amendment was tacked on that makes a positive Milwaukee County referendum vote mandatory before a new tax can be established to fund the authority. Five Milwaukee-area Dems voted for the mandatory referendum, though two of them, Reps. Fred Kessler and Leon Young, moved to reconsider the vote. That reconsideration vote has not happened so far.

Milwaukee County voters previously approved a non-binding referendum on a new sales tax that could be used for transportation funding.

Barca said he doesn't know where the Senate is on the issue or whether there will be time for the Assembly to pass the bill before the Senate adjourns for the session. Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker has said it will take Republican votes to pass the bill in that house.

"I would hope that there's strong enough interest in the Senate that they'll consider it," he said. "We've moved it as far as we could at this juncture."


 7:11 AM 

Wood debate continues

Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, said Wood's actions were "foolish" but he said the unpredictable cocktail of drugs he was on to battle anxiety and depression were responsible for two of his three driving while intoxicated arrests.

"Unlesss you know he was trying to purposely abuse those drugs, you should not vote to expel," Pocan said.

Pocan said Wood has substance abuse and mental health issues, and he doesn't believe those should be used as an excuse to expel him.

"I don't know a single person in this body who would be mean-spirited enough to do that," he said.

Rep. Mark Gundrum, R-New Berlin, said legislators log a lot of miles on Wisconsin roads, and reminded the legislators that two of his alleged offenses were committed when he was driving from the Capitol.

"I have no confidence that's not going to happen again in the next eight months," Gundrum said.

Hubler said that Gundrum's argument is moot because Wood had his license taken away when he had his license taken away as part of his plea agreement Monday.

Rep. Keven Peterson, R-Waupaca, said if Wood is not expelled he will continue to draw his taxpayer-funded salary.

"How you go home and look an unemployed constituent in the eye," Peterson said.


 6:41 AM 

Wood not in seat as debate to expel him begins

Rep. Jeff Wood is not in the chamber to hear the arguments made for and against expelling him from the Assembly.

Expulsion resolution author Rep. Steve Nass said while he believes people deserve second chances, Wood has squandered his. Nass said Wood's behavior could have had extremely dire consequences.

"He's lucky that his repeated dangerous conduct has not caused his death or the death of another person," Nass said.

Rep. Mary Hubler, D-Rice Lake, said expulsion goes too far. Though Wood has been charged with three driving while intoxicated offenses in the span of a year, he has only been convicted of one.

"That doesn't rise to the level of expulsion," said Hubler, who has an amendment to censure Wood.


 5:43 AM 

Wood resolution coming up

Rep. Jeff Wood says that it's inappropriate for the Assembly to take up his expulsion resolution because of the hour.

"To bring this up at quarter to 6 (in the morning) is just inappropriate," he said.

The Assembly voted 91-6 to take it up. Those voting against taking it up, besides Wood, were Dem Reps. Sandy Pasch, Nick Milroy, Joe Parisi, Kelda Helen Roys, Gary Sherman.


 5:20 AM 

Big bills being sent to Thursday

The "Clean Energy Jobs Act," a bill to give the state DPI superintendent more powers to intervene in failing school districts, and a sweeping elections reform bill have all been shuttled to Thursday.

Also on Thursday's calendar is a bill to permit the sale of unpasteurized dairy products and a wage lien claim bill.


 5:15 AM 

Clean energy on Thursday calendar

Rules Committee adopted a calendar for Thursday with the "Clean Energy Jobs Act," meaning the bill won't likely come up today. It's widely suspected the bill does not have the votes to pass the Assembly.


 4:39 AM 

Still talking RTA

Dems have succeeded in tabling four amendments, and the Milwaukee County tax referendum amendment that passed has been sent to the bottom of the amendments list. There may still be a re-vote on that one, but it will be difficult to make up the difference.

The bill faces an uncertain future in the Senate, where Majority Leader Russ Decker said last week that Republican votes would be needed to pass it in that house.

A lot of big issues still on the calendar including the clean energy bill (for which there are 24 amendments), elections reforms, and the education reform package that includes new powers for the DPI superintendent.

Also still expected to come up tonight is the expulsion resolution against Rep. Jeff Wood.


 4:15 AM 

Kessler, Young want to reconsider vote on referendum

Two of the Milwaukee Dems that voted for an amendment to require a binding referendum on the RTA in Milwaukee County want to reconsider their votes.

Reps. Fred Kessler and Leon Young say they want the body to vote again. The amendment passed on first try by a 52-46 vote.

Rep. Peter Barca wants to move the amendment to the bottom of the list of amendments for this bill.

And we are again informal.


 3:58 AM 

Assembly informal as RTA gets iffy

An amendment to require a binding referendum in Milwaukee County before a sales tax could be implemented for transit may stall the RTA bill. The amendment was adopted 52-46.

Milwaukee-area Dems voting for a referendum were Reps. Dave Cullen, Peg Krusick, Fred Kessler, Tony Staskunas and Leon Young.

Though the legislation calls for referenda before an RTA could impose a tax, Milwaukee County was exempted from that in the bill. Proponents said a successful non-binding referendum in Milwaukee County was proof that residents are behind a tax to fund transit. But opponents point out that referendum question asked if voters wanted to use the tax to fund parks and emergency services, and they say a question on transit alone would not pass.


 3:48 AM 

Assembly now taking up RTA bill

The bill the creation of interim regional transit authorities in seven southeastern Wisconsin counties with incentives for them to eventually join the Southeastern Regional Transit Authority.

The bill also would create an RTA for the Fox Valley and would require binding referendums before the RTAs could asses a sales tax increase to pay for transportation costs.


 3:35 AM 

Assembly taking up Senate payday lending bill

Rep. Gordon Hintz is talking about his amendment to regulate the auto title industry.

The Assembly passed a bill in February that in addition to regulating payday loans banned auto title loans. The Senate version did not address auto title lending.

The Hintz amendment would regulate the auto title loan industry by:

- Requiring lenders to return any profit from the sale of the lost vehicle above the principal, interest, and fees on a loan to the borrower. If you lose your car and it is worth more than what you owe, then you get the money back

- Prohibiting lenders from taking physical possession of car keys. Many lenders in Wisconsin require that borrowers turn over a copy of their keys. By providing keys to the lender, borrowers face the risk of loss of their vehicle without notification that it is being repossessed.

- Only allowing one auto title loan per customer at a time. Right now there is no regulatory mechanism to prohibit someone from taking out multiple loans on the same auto title.

- Limiting loans to 50% of the motor vehicle's value. This is inclusive of all interest and fees. Just as it was important to include a threshold for payday loans, it is important to do the same thing for auto title loans.

- Requiring notice to be given before a car is repossessed or sold. The biggest risk of auto title loans is the result of a lost vehicle. Appropriate notification of when a car is going to be repossessed or sold will provide people with time to make informed decisions.

- Only allow auto title lenders to charge a reasonable storage fee after the motor vehicle is repossessed or surrendered. Once a vehicle has been repossessed and is held prior to storage, additional fees beyond principle and interest should not be added making it even more difficult for someone to reclaim their car. (Rules process to determine amount)

- Prohibiting interest accrual on a loan after vehicle has been repossessed or after 60 days following the failure to make a payment. If someone has their car repossessed, additional interest should not be added once a vehicle is repossessed making it even more difficult for someone to reclaim their car.


 3:04 AM 

Assembly is informal

It's quiet on the floor right now as legislators try to decide whether to take up the "Clean Energy Jobs Act." Both sides will go to caucus if the bill is coming up for a vote.

UPDATE: 3:11 a.m. -- Back in session. Still not taking up clean energy bill. They're running out of non-controversial bills to vote on.

UPDATE: 3:12 a.m. -- They're informal again.


 2:36 AM 

Assembly approves BadgerCare Basic plan

The Assembly amended a bill to create a basic insurance plan for the 30,000 individuals on the waiting list for the BadgerCare Plus program. It passed on a 50-47 vote.

The amendment sets a date of Jan. 1, 2014 for termination of the program.

The program is designed as a stopgap plan for people on the BadgerCare Plus waiting list. The program is paid for by premiums from enrollees.

Also passed was the veterans tuition remission legislation.


 2:17 AM 

Assembly is back in session

Still a lot of big bills to come tonight, though it's not clear whether some of the most contentious will be coming to the floor, particularly RTA and the "Clean Energy Jobs Act." There is also a chance the bill to give extra powers to the state schools superintendent to intervene in struggling districts may be put off until later this week.

The veterans tuition bill Rep. Steve Hilgenberg pulled to the floor is going to be delayed. The bill jacket is over in the Joint Finance Committee room and must be retrieved by one of the Assembly Sergeant at Arms staff.

The Assembly is now taking up SB484, the BadgerCare Basic bill.


 1:10 AM 

Republicans go to caucus

Caucus was requested after Dem Rep. Steve Hilgenberg attempted to pull AB 781 to the floor from the Joint Finance Committee. The bill relates to remission of fees and tuition for veterans and their dependents at UW System schools and Wisconsin Technical College System schools.


 12:42 AM 

Marshfield dental school funding approved

The Assembly approved $10 million in bonding for a dental school in Marshfield that would focus on rural outreach.

The bill passed on a 51-47 vote.

The bonding is contingent upon Marshfield Clinic providing $10 million of non-state funding for the project by 2015, and it must be authorized by the state Building Commission.

Republicans complained that the bill didn't have a public hearing and the location of the clinic. Rep. Phil Montgomery, R-Ashwaubenon, said he doubted residents from his area or from Milwaukee will drive to the central Wisconsin city of Marshfield for dental care, and called the project "a big white elephant."


 12:07 AM 

BadgerCare Basic bill vote put off

The legislation to establish the BadgerCare Basic health insurance plan for individuals on the waiting list for BadgerCare Plus has been sent to the end of the Assembly calendar.

UPDATE: 12:20 a.m -- SB 530, the payday lending bill, has also been sent to the foot of the calendar.


 11:25 PM 

Dems headed to "brief" caucus

Rep. Peter Barca says it will last 15 minutes.

A kerfuffle erupted a few mninutes ago between Rep. Marlin Schneider and Majority Leader Tom Nelson over bringing a Senate bill requiring newborn hearing screening. Schneider didn't want it to come up.

Schneider asked for a caucus, then withdrew his request. Barca called for the caucus anyway.

Republicans will not caucus.


 11:08 PM 

Race based mascot bill heads to governor

The bill passed on a 53-45 vote. It passed the Senate last week.

Under the legislation, any school district resident can file a complaint about a race-based school nickname, logo or mascot. The Department of Public Instruction superintendent could order the nickname, logo or mascot if a school board could not prove it doesn't promote discrimination.


 10:58 PM 

"Green to Gold" on its way to Doyle

A bill to create loans to business to invest in energy efficient equipment and expand in "green" energy operations passed on a bipartisan 78-20 vote.

The bill passed the Senate earlier today.

Gov. Jim Doyle outlined the program during his State of the State speech.


 10:05 PM 

Landline deregulation bill passes Assembly

The bill to deregulate landline telephone providers passed with a bipartisan 71-27 vote.

The legislation would repeal a number of regulations on landline telephone providers and eliminate the Public Service Commission's oversight of customer rates and complaints. Proponents say it would modernize the industry.

Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker has expressed reservations about the bill, fearing it may cause rates to increase for rural customers.

So far the Assembly has been moving down the list of special order lists in order. Controversial bills have been sent to the end of the agenda.


 9:57 PM 

Assembly passes resolution to curb gubernatorial veto powers

The Assembly passed a resolution to amend the state constitution to prohibit governors from using their veto pen to veto sections of a bill without rejecting the entire bill section. The resolution passed 50-48.

The vote went along party lines with all Republicans voting against it and all Dems for it except Rep. Bob Ziegelbauer. Dem Rep. Annette Williams did not vote.

The resolution has already passed in the Senate. To amend the constitution, a resolution must pass in consecutive legislative sessions and a referendum before becoming law.


 9:37 PM 

Assembly has come to order

Members are still filing into the chamber.

Another caucus is expected later as some contentious issues weren't resolved in the Dem caucus but the body will move through some bills first.


 8:48 PM 

Black says CEJA still coming up for a vote

A couple of Assembly Democrats stepped out of caucus briefly tonight to talk about their top bills.

Rep. Spencer Black, D-Madison, said the Clean Energy Jobs Act will still come up for a vote in the Assembly, and he thinks it will have "strong support."

He said he is "disappointed" that it appears the Senate won't act on the bill, but he said Assembly Democrats are "proud to go forward."

Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, said he will offer a substitute amendment to the payday lending bill passed by the Senate. The amendment will include provisions to regulate the auto title industry.

The Assembly passed a bill earlier this year that bans auto title loans but the Senate version doesn't address that part of the industry. The Senate's bill was sent to the Assembly for concurrence.

Hintz said he doesn't think a bill that doesn't address auto title loans could pass in the Assembly. He said there is a "good chance" the Senate will pass the amended bill when it returns to the floor Thursday.

While Assembly Republicans broke caucus hours ago, Assembly Democrats have remained in closed caucus since about 1:30 p.m. Rebekah Sweeney, spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan, said the caucus is considering whether to take up the full calendar of 70-plus bills tonight, or whether to push some of the calendar for a possible floor session Wednesday or for a planned Thursday floor session.


 2:15 PM 

Dems reject motion on health care lawsuit

Senate Democrats have rejected an attempt by Sen. Dan Kapanke, R-La Crosse, to pull a resolution to the Senate Organization Committee authoritizing Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen to sue over federal health care reform.

Van Hollen must be authorized by either chamber of the Legislature or the governor to proceed with a lawsuit, and Kapanke said moving Senate Resolution 11 forward would "preserve our state's autonomy and what goes on within our borders."

The motion failed on an 18-15 party-line vote.

Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, characterized other state attorney generals' lawsuits over the bill as "phony" and "demagogic," while Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Waunakee, said the state would have to abide by the results of other states' suits regardless of whether Van Hollen joins.

"It would be a complete waste of time," Erpenbach said. "It would be an even bigger waste of money."

The Senate is now adjourned. Majority Leader Russ Decker, D-Weston, said he expects the body to reconvene Thursday at 11 a.m.


 1:59 PM 

Senate concurs in Assembly jobs legislation

The Senate concurred in a slew of Assembly economic development bills Thursday, highlighted by proposals to create tax credits for the purchase of equipment to process woody biomass and to extend the dairy farm modernization tax credit.

The biomass bill -- AB 749 -- passed 31-2, while AB 756 passed 32-1.

Other concurred-in bills include:

- AB 757: A bill to create a tax credit for the food processing industry passed 31-2.

- AB 768: The chamber voted 30-3 to back a bill creating two more enterprise zones in the state.

- AB 771: A proposal to fund videoconferencing equipment at 20 job centers around the state moved through on a 20-13 vote.

- AB 864: A bill to offer tax incentives to enterprise zone businesses that create a supply chain with other in-state businesses passes 29-4.

- AB 898: The Senate clears a bill to increase the amount of wage subsidies to employers who hire participants in the state's Trial Jobs and Transitional Jobs programs. The measure passes 22-11.


 1:37 PM 

Senate passes green building, reporter shield laws

Senators have quickly moved through their bills for the day and are now onto concurrence in Assembly bills.

The Senate has passed a proposal to require that new major state construction projects -- defined as at least 10,000 gross square feet -- meet the silver level of the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED Green Building Rating System.

The bill passed 19-14, with Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, voting with Democrats in support of the bill.

The Senate then passed AB 333 on a voice vote. The bill would create reporter shield law in the state, protecting reporters from having to testify in court or divulge confidential sources in most cases.


 1:26 PM 

Senate backs 'Green to Gold' loan program

The Senate has passed SB 651 to create a so-called "Green to Gold" manufacturing business loan program.

The bill, which passed 28-5, is intended to entice businesses to pursue energy efficiency and to create or expand clean energy manufacturing operations. The chamber approved an amendment to the bill that would cap the loan program at 10 years.

The Senate has also concurred in Assembly changes to SB 409, creating a tax credit for businesses that pay for employees' post-secondary education tuition.


 12:25 PM 

Plale: CEJA cost too high

Sen. Jeff Plale, a co-chair of the select committee on the "Clean Energy Jobs Act" legislation, said today that the Senate isn't blocking the bill, the price tag is.

"The problem with the bill isn't Russ Decker or Jeff Plale. The problem with the bill is it's expensive," said Plale, who was one of four legislators who tried to come up with an energy policy bill that could pass both houses.

"There are a lot of people in this caucus who have concerns about what it will do to rates," Plale said.

Rep. Spencer Black, who is a co-chair of the Assembly select committee, said earlier this morning that he believes he has the votes in that house to pass the bill, saying "the problem is unquestionably in the Senate."

Black further said that Plale would not agree to a meeting of the Senate select committee to vote on the bill. The Assembly committee passed the bill last week on a 6-3 party line vote, and the bill is available for a vote today in that chamber.

Plale would not say the legislation is dead.

"It depends on what happens today (in the Assembly," he said.


 12:13 PM 

Senate back in at 12:45

Senate President Fred Risser has announced that the Senate will reconvene in 30 minutes. Some members have left the building momentarily and the chamber is still waiting on some messages from the Assembly.


 11:47 AM 

Assembly is underway

The legislators are hearing a resolution honoring UW hockey player Blake Geoffrion, who won the prestigious Hobey Baker award as college hockey's top player this year.

A second resolution honors the many achievements in other UW sports this year.


 11:18 AM 

Dems will pull Wood resolution to the floor

Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan's spokeswoman Rebekah Sweeney says that Assembly Democrats today will have a motion to pull the expulsion resolution regarding Rep. Jeff Wood to the floor.

The timing of that pulling motion remains unknown.

Wood, and independent lawmaker from Chippewa Falls, attempted to pull the motion to the floor last Thursday. After hours of partisan caucus, the motion failed early Friday morning to get the two-thirds majority needed to bring the resolution to the floor. Wood was charged with three operating while intoxicated offenses in the span of a year.

The author of the resolution, Rep. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, was absent from last Thursday's session due to the death of his mother. Nass has also said he will pull the resolution to the floor.


 11:10 AM 

Senate start briefly delayed

Senate Republicans have asked for an additional 15 minutes to conclude their caucus.

The Senate is now set to begin at 11:25 a.m.

UPDATE: Retiring Sen. Alan Lasee, R-Green Bay, took over for Senate President Fred Risser to call the Senate to order and call the roll. He received a standing ovation from the chamber after yielding the president's post back to Risser.

All senators and their respective caucuses are now having their official pictures taken in the chamber.


 10:44 AM 

Black: Senate blocking clean energy bill

Rep. Spencer Black said today he believes there are enough votes to pass the "Clean Energy Jobs Act" through the Assembly, but the measure is being blocked in the Senate.

"There are times when one looks longingly at the state of Nebraska," Black, D-Madison, said. "But unfortunately we do have a bicameral legislature, and the problem is unquestionably in the Senate."

Nebraska only has one legislative house, and the representatives are non-partisan.

The bill, which brings sweeping changes to the state's energy usage policy, is on the calendar for today's Assembly session and available for a vote.

Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker, D-Weston, has been critical of the bill and is wary that it may increase costs for ratepayers. Last week Decker said he didn't believe it had enough votes to pass in the Senate.

Black said Decker "did not have facts to back up his assertions" for opposing the bill. He cites a Public Service Commission study that estimates ratepayers will save $1.4 billion with passage of the bill, and could save as much as $6.4 billion if federal legislation passes curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

Critics have questioned the PSC study, and call the bill a job killer because they claim it will raise rates on businesses and individuals.

The Assembly select committee Black co-chairs passed the bill last week on a 6-3 party line vote. The Senate select committee tasked with sherpherding the bill has not held a vote on the bill because one of the co-chairs, Sen. Jeff Plale, D-South Milwaukee, has not agreed to a meeting, Black said.


 8:30 AM 

Assembly to tackle crowded agenda; Senate considers energy efficiency loans, education tax credits

The state Assembly is set to take up a host of controversial bills during its floor session Tuesday, with the revised energy bill leading off the agenda.

The bill includes a goal of producing 25 percent of the state's energy through renewable resources by 2025 and reducing energy consumption by 2 percent. Proponents say the legislation will be good for the environment and create jobs in the burgeoning clean energy sector, while critics say it will raise utility rates on businesses and homeowners and kill jobs.

The Assembly also is set to take up bills to establish standards for regional transit authorities both statewide and in the Fox Valley, overhaul voter registration and election standards, deregulate landline telephone providers, and establish so-called "Green to Gold" energy efficiency loans for businesses. The chamber will also take up Senate bills to regulate issue ads, increase the authority of the state superintendent in struggling school districts, regulate payday lenders and implement the BadgerCare Plus Basic state health insurance plan.

The Senate is set take up the "Green to Gold" bill, along with a bill to create a tax credit for businesses that pay for employees' post-secondary education tuition.

Both floor sessions are scheduled to begin at 11 a.m.

See the Assembly calendar here.

See the Senate calendar here.

Watch the sessions on Wisconsin Eye.


Monday, April 19, 2010

 4:42 PM 

Carpenter removed from committee chairmanship

State Sen. Tim Carpenter, D-Milwaukee, says he plans to continue fighting for his constituents despite losing a prominent committee post.

Majority Leader Russ Decker, D-Weston, removed Carpenter as chair of the Public Health, Senior Issues, Long-Term Care, and Job Creation Committee. Carpenter took to the floor last week to rip into Decker for denying a vote on a repeal of the prescription drug mark-up law, saying he was "disgusted" by Decker on the issue.

"Once again, Senate leadership will not allow bills that are very important to my constituents to come before the Senate for a vote," Carpenter said in a statement to WisPolitics. "They can take away my committee chairmanship, but my constituents expect me to stand up and fight for them, and I will continue to do so."


Saturday, April 17, 2010

 10:43 AM 

Speaker adds 'Clean Energy Jobs Act' to Tuesday's calendar

The "Clean Energy Jobs Act" has been added to Tuesday's Assembly calendar, according to Speaker Mike Sheridan's office.

The legislation passed the Assembly's Special Committee on Clean Energy Jobs Thursday on a 6-3 vote after one Democrat, Rep. Ann Hraychuck of Balsam Lake, was pulled from the committee following concerns she expressed about not having enough time to look over an amendment to the bill. Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker, D-Weston, has been critical of the legislation and said Friday that he didn't believe it had enough votes to pass the Senate.

The bill was not on the original calendar the Assembly Rules Committee approved early Friday, but Sheridan's office said the legislation was added to the calendar late yesterday.

The bill includes a goal of producing 25 percent of the state's energy through renewable resources by 2025 and reducing energy consumption by 2 percent. Proponents say the legislation will be good for the environment and create jobs in the burgeoning clean energy sector, while critics say it will raise utility rates on businesses and homeowners and kill jobs.


Friday, April 16, 2010

 10:43 AM 

Nass criticizes Wood, Dems

Rep. Steve Nass reacted strongly this morning to the pulling motion and comments on the floor by Rep. Pedro Colón, D-Milwaukee, criticizing the Whitewater Republican for not being present on the floor during debate.

Colón acknowledged Nass' loss, but said he should be there as the author of the expulsion resolution against Wood. Speaking as a lawyer, he said he's missed strong family commitments for his court responsibilities.

"In my 20 years in the State Assembly, I have witnessed some pretty lousy tactics by both parties," Nass said in a statement. "However, the cowardly and despicable conduct overnight by Rep. Wood and some Democrats is an all time new


 3:51 AM 

Wood motion to bring resolution to the floor fails

An effort by Rep. Jeff Wood to bring up the expulsion resolution against him failed to get the two-thirds vote needed to bring it to the floor. The motion failed on a 47-47 vote.

Republicans said the resolution was too important to take up with little notice and in the middle of the night. They said voting to expel or punish a member is a precedent-setting action.

"This may be the most significant vote I ever take in this chamber," Rep. Mark Gottlieb said.

Rep. Mark Pocan said to delay the vote any further would be for no other reason to hold the allegations over Wood's head.

"We should all have more respect for this institution than to play games," Pocan said.

Wood said he didn't know yet if he would try to pull the resolution to the floor again on Tuesday.


 2:52 AM 

Wood: Expulsion "about politics"

Rep. Jeff Wood said he wants to take up the expulsion resolution leveled against him tonight to get the matter behind him before a plea hearing Monday for one of his three driving under the influence cases.

Wood said he informed Democrats and Republicans that he planned to bring the resolution to the floor at about 9 p.m. He said that Republicans took hours to develop a "political strategy shows this has nothing to do with the facts or merits of this resolution. This is all about politics."

Wood was a Republican legislator before registering as an independent just before the filing deadline in 2008.

Wood said his decision to bring up the resolution tonight had nothing to do with the author, Rep. Steve Nass, being absent today.

"This should have a vote tonight and get it over with," Wood said.

Wood said the Assembly is the wrong place for him to be judged on the charges, that those charges will be determined in the courts.

"This is the wrong place for this," he said.

He also wanted the matter to be resolved before the final week of the session so the body could focus on other pressing issues.


 2:35 AM 

Debate begins on whether to take up Wood resolution

Rep. Jeff Wood, or any other member for that matter, has yet to make a motion to bring his expulsion resolution to the floor. But discussion on whether it should come up has been lively.

Assembly Minority Leader Jeff Fitzgerald said the majority Dems are letting Wood drive the agenda. Assembly Majority Leader Tom Nelson said Wood has the right to pull a resolution to the floor like any other member.

Fitzgerald said Nass should be given the opportunity to defend his resolution.

Rep. Mary Hubler, the Rice Lake Dem who chaired the ethics committe that heard the Wood case, said she will vote to bring the resolution to the floor if a motion is made.


 2:13 AM 

Republicans ask for Wood resolution to be delayed

Republican pleas that the resolution to expel Rep. Jeff Wood be delayed until Tuesday fell on deaf ears in the Rule Committee.

Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan said the resolution will come up tonight.

The Republicans made a motion to amend Tuesday's calendar to take up the resolution, saying that it was only right for the author, Rep. Steve Nass, to be there to argue its merits. Nass was absent today due to the death of his mother. The visitation was Thursday, and the funeral is today at 11 a.m.

"I had to call a guy who is at his mother's wake and I had to tell him what was going on," Assembly Minority Leader Jeff Fitzgerald said. "He was torn up."

It would take a two-thirds vote to bring the resolution to the floor.


 1:47 AM 

Assembly still bogged down

The Republicans returned from caucus a while ago. Whether the Wood expulsion resolution comes up still remains in question.

Things took a turn for the weird when a rumor was floated that Rep. Steve Nass was on his way to Madison. That turned out to be untrue.

The Rules Committee is now meeting.


 10:56 PM 

Wood likely to pull expulsion resolution to the floor

The Assembly looks to be coming back to the floor momentarily, and the word is that Rep. Jeff Wood is going to force the issue and bring his expulsion resolution to the floor.

Wood, an independent from Chippewa Falls, was arrested for driving under the influence three times within a year.

Rep. Steve Nass, the Whitewater Republican who authored the expulsion resolution, is not at today's session because of the death of his mother, Joyce. The visitation was today, and the funeral services will be held tomorrow.

An Assembly committee deadlocked last month 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.


 9:14 PM 

Schneider throws a wrench in the works

Today's Assembly session appeared to be moving toward a close until Rep. Marlin Schneider attempted to bring to a vote a bill that punishes the unlawful use of GPS devices.

The bill was introduced in March of 2009 and passed by the Personal Privacy Committee Schneider chairs in November.

Schneider's move forced the Republicans and Democrats into caucus.

Schneider said he was asked to change his vote earlier on a motion to table an amendment to a bill on school bullying. The Wisconsin Rapids Democrat said one good turn deserves another.

"If I'm going to be asked for a courtesy I expect a little courtesy in return," Schneider said.

"You either fix this now or don't ask me for anything else," he said. "I am not going to be snookered."

The GPS bill is authored by GOP Rep. Bill Kramer, and Dem Rep. Fred Kessler is a co-sponsor along with Schneider. Dem Sen. Jon Erpenbach is the Senate author.


 8:31 PM 

Assembly agrees to Senate changes to texting while driving bill

The ban on text messaging while driving will now go to Gov. Jim Doyle.

The bill passed earlier in the Assembly was amended in the Senate Tuesday to lower the penalty from the $400 to $800 range down to $20 to $400.

The Assembly concurred with the amended bill on a voice vote.

Doyle has indicated he supports the bill.


 7:19 PM 

Carpenter rips Decker over prescription drug mark-up

After returning from a brief Democratic caucus, Sen. Tim Carpenter ripped into Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker over denying a vote on a repeal of the prescription drug mark-up law in a speech on the floor.

"I am very disgusted in the actions of the senator, my majority leader, on this issue," Carpenter, D-Milwaukee, said after Decker moved to adjourn. "Apparently our Democratic leader doesn't care about allowing a vote on a bill that passed the Assembly on a voice vote."

Carpenter said the time is right to change the 71-year-old restrictions on prescription drug sales and said the bill would save Wisconsinites money.

"There's this phony argument that all of a sudden passage of this bill ... is going to drive small pharmacies out of business," Carpenter continued. "The question before us very simply is to allow us to have a vote."

"Can you imagine democracy breaking out on the senate floor?"

The Senate is now adjourned until Tuesday. The Senate Organization Committee will meet Friday morning.


 7:03 PM 

Gun control bill passed by Assembly.

The Assembly passed a bill punishing "straw buyers" who give false information and purchase a gun for someone who is known to be prohibited from owning a firearm.

The bill makes straw buying a gun a Class H felony. The legislation makes it a Class H felony for the individual who receives a stolen firearm.

The bill passed on a voice vote.


 6:34 PM 

Senate back in recess

Senate Democrats are in caucus after Sen. Tim Carpenter, D-Milwaukee, moved to pull AB 482 from the Senate Organization Committee for the subsequent floor session.

The bill -- which would end the minimum mark-up law for prescription drugs -- was voted down in the Senate Public Health, Senior Issues, Long-Term Care, and Job Creation Committee, but was nonetheless reported out by Carpenter, the chairman of the committee.

Under Senate rules, concurrence bills may still be taken up by the chamber despite a negative report. Senators have wrapped up the rest of their agenda for the day.


 6:13 PM 

Assembly returns to work; passes bill limiting broadcast of 911 recordings

Upon returning, state representatives passed a bill that stops the broadcast of 911 recordings. Media and the public may still listen to the recording and can receive a transcript, but the recording can't be played over the air.

The legislation originally only allowed for the release of a transcript, but an amendment adopted on the floor allows the media to listen to the recording but not copy it.

The amended bill passed 67-30.


 5:47 PM 

Senate passes education bill

Sen. Glenn Grothman's substitute amendment to the state superintendent bill has been ruled non-germane, and the Senate passed SB 437 by an 18-15 vote.

The bill must still pass the state Assembly before heading to the governor.

Other bills to gain Senate approval today include:

-- SB 585: A bill to prohibit employee discrimination against workers who decline to attend non-work functions was approved by a voice vote despite concerns over the bill's constitutionality from some Republicans.

-- SB 625: This bill, which makes technical changes to the streamlined sales and use tax, passed on a 18-15 party-line vote.

-- SB 656: The Senate votes 19-14 to offer $10 million in bonding for a new dental school in Marshfield, contingent on non-state matching funds from the Marshfield Clinic. Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, joined Democrats in supporting the bill.

-- SB 273: A bill to create an additional renewable energy credit for utilities to sell under the state's renewable portfolio standard hits a snag when some Dems propose an amendment to include additional fuel sources under the bill. The amendment is adopted while three other amendments by the bill's author, Mark Miller, D-Monona, are turned away. The Senate approved the bill 24-8.


 4:30 PM 

Assembly moves swiftly

The Assembly passed with bipartisan support legislation that allows employers to retain some withholding taxes for full-time employees. It passed 96-1, with Milwaukee Dem Rep. Peg Krusick the only "no" vote.

Also passing with support from both sides of the aisle, bill for a $710,000 grant program for the Wisconsin Workforce Development Association to install Web cams in 20 job centers around the state. The vote was 63-34.

Passing 87-10 was bill to increase the amount of wage subsidies to employers who hire participants in the state's Trial Jobs and Transitional Jobs programs. The funding for the program comes from a temporary assistance for needy families emergency fund created by the federal government in the stimulus bill.

A bill requiring a person to be 18 to consume alcohol in a tavern even if they are accompanied by a parent or spouse passed 56-41.

A bill modifying self-defense laws passed 68-29.

And a bill requiring insurance companies to provide coverage for mental health, known commonly has mental health parity, passed 57-40.


 4:13 PM 

Assembly floor session will begin momentarily

Roll is being called for the resumption of today's Assembly session. Members have been in caucus for nearly 5 hours.

The Assembly has 92 bills on the calendar today, including the C.O.R.E. Jobs Act, a mental health parity bill, and a bill to curb access to 911 recordings.


 4:01 PM 

Senate stalls superintendent bill

The state Senate has delayed SB 437, a bill to give the state superindent increased authority to intervene in struggling school districts, while another GOP amendment is crafted.

Two GOP amendments to the bill -- one to alter collective bargaining for teachers and one to break up Milwaukee Public Schools into eight smaller districts -- have already been ruled non-germane by Senate President Fred Risser, D-Madison.

Republicans have charged that lawmakers must do more to help failing districts, calling the revised bill unveiled this week "an empty shell."

"It's a bit of a negotiation bewteen parties that don't want to see radical change happen," said Sen. Ted Kanavas, R-Brookfield, about the bill. "It doesn't get us where we need to go."

But Democrats praised the measure as an effort toward reform after the original bill lagged behind the rest of an education reform package.

"This bill is absolute proof that the MTEA, the Milwaukee teachers, and WEAC and others have heard the message from the Race to the Top application," said Senate Education Committee Chairman John Lehman, D-Racine, said. "They really stepped up and came to the table and said, 'Yeah, we want this to work.'"

The bill will now be taken up after SB 604.

UPDATE: The amendment hasn't arrived as of the passaged of SB 604, so the education bill now moves to the foot of the Senate calendar.


 3:24 PM 

Senate backs raw milk bill

The state Senate has passed a bill legalizing the sale of raw milk by a 25-8 vote.

Sen. Judy Robson, D-Beloit, spoke against the proposal, saying that the bill presented a union between the extreme right and left -- what she dubbed the "teabag" and "granola" lobbies -- at the expense of the safety of Wisconsinites.

"Public health has been beleaguered for a long time. We don't take public health very seriously until we don't have it," Robson said, noting a number of medical and farm groups opposed to the legislation. "Government gets involved when they know there's a significant impact to public health."

But the bill's sponsor, Sen. Pat Kreitlow, D-Eau Claire, said the measure would allow farmers to "continue a tradition that has served them well."

"Let's not kid ourselves. Raw milk ... will have inherent risks," Kreitlow said. "And this bill, whether it passes or not, will not change that."

The bill must still pass the Assembly; Speaker Mike Sheridan said this morning that he would wait to hear from his caucus before deciding to move forward with the bill.


 3:02 PM 

Senate back on the floor

The state Senate is about to head back into session after partisan caucuses.

The chamber this morning passed a handful of bills, including unanimous approval of SB 304 -- which would alter veterans tuition reimbursement -- and SB 417, regarding the spending threshold for registration on influencing local referendums.

Debate has now moved onto the legalization of the sale of raw milk.


 2:43 PM 

Hraychuck: Not enough time to get feedback on clean energy sub

Rep. Ann Hraychuck, who dropped off the Assembly Special Committee on Clean Energy Jobs today, said in a statement she needed more time to talk to people and businesses in her district about the substitute amendment.

"This morning I raised some personal concerns to Assembly Democratic Leadership about the timing of this vote. Considering the announcement of the substitute amendment on Tuesday, and my legislative workload this week, I felt I did not have the appropriate amount of time to speak with my constituents about what the amendment changes. Per our conversation, Leadership removed me from the Special Committee on Clean Energy Jobs," Hraychuck said in the statement.

"There are many good provisions in this bill and I am committed to passing legislation that increases our energy efficiency, reduces our carbon emissions, creates jobs, and gets our economy back on track."


 1:19 PM 

Sheridan spokeswoman: Hraychuck needed more time to discuss clean energy bill with constituents

Rep. Ann Hraychuck's removal from the Assembly Special Committee on Clean Energy Jobs on the day the committee was to vote on the bill caused a buzz this morning. Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan's spokeswoman Rebekah Sweeney said the move was made to give the Balsam Lake Dem more time to talk to constituents on the issue.

"Recently, she voiced a personal desire for more time to reach out to her constituents on the Clean Energy Jobs Act, as her significant legislative responsibilities and her distance from her district have made gathering feedback more of a challenge," Sweeney said. "That factor combined with the concerns Speaker Sheridan has heard from some members over the partisan make-up of the committee led him to remove Rep. Hraychuck from the committee. It made no sense, at this late date, to add a new member."

Republicans and Capitol insiders are saying the move is a sign that the bill is dead and Dem leadership didn't want to put Hraychuck in the position of having to take a tough vote. Rep. Spencer Black, D-Madison and a co-chair of the committee, said Hraychuck's removal was due to Republican complaints about the make-up of the committee being too partisan.


 1:07 PM 

Dems tout more jobs legislation

Assembly Democrats lauded a series of four bills aimed at creating jobs as the legislative sessions continues toward its close next week.

Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan, D-Janesville, said Dems are poised to pass the C.O.R.E. Jobs Act -- which has languished since passing the Senate in January -- along with bills to expand transitional jobs, create tax credits for business with less than 10 employees and fund videoconferencing equipment at 20 job centers around the state.

Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, said the Small Business Jobs Investment Act in particular aims to bring the incentives that helped larger companies -- such as Mercury Marine, Oshkosh Corp. and Republic Airways -- to more small businesses. He said the bill could make a big difference to businesses who are weighing difficult expansion decisions.

"All of these combine to hopefully make sure we're doing everything we can," Hintz said.

Listen to the press conference here.


 12:34 PM 

Assembly committee passes clean energy bill

Democrats on the Assembly Special Committee on Clean Energy Jobs beat back eight Republican amendments before passing the "Clean Energy Jobs Act" on a partisan 6-3 vote.

Republicans on the committee bemoaned that there was no cost-benefit analysis done for the bill, and warned that the impact the changes in the legislation will have on the global environment will not offset the rising costs in energy Wisconsin residents will see.

Rep. Phil Montgomery, R-Ashwaubenon, commented on the absence of Dem Rep. Ann Hraychuck, who was taken off the committee today.

"You had to let a member off. You had to let a member take a powder. That tells you how bad a bill this is," Montgomery said.

Rep. Spencer Black, an author of the bill and a co-chair of the committee, said $16 billion annually leaves the state to buy energy. The legislation will allow some of that money to stay in the state, he said.

"We want to keep some of that money here," said Black, D-Madison.

Black predicted earlier that the bill will come to the Assembly floor for a vote next week. But after today's vote, Black indicated that whether the bill moves forward will depend on what the Senate does with it. The bill would also have to potentially go through the Joint Finance Committee before it could go to a vote in the Senate or Assembly.


 10:49 AM 

Hraychuck off Assembly committee as clean energy bill comes to a vote

Rep. Ann Hraychuck, D-Balsam Lake, was noticeably absent this morning at the executive session of the Assembly's Special Committee on Clean Energy Jobs, which met to vote on the sweeping energy conservation proposal.

Rep. Spencer Black, D-Madison and the co-chair of the committee, said Hraychuck was removed following requests from Republicans that the panel was too Dem-dominated. Without Hraychuck, there are six Democrats on the committee and three Republicans.

Black said he didn't agree with the decision to remove Hraychuck, which he said was made by Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan.

Rep. Mike Huebsch, R-West Salem, said he wasn't aware of any complaints about imbalance on the committee and suspected that the decision was made to get Hraychuck out of a tough vote on the "Clean Energy Jobs Act."

The committee met briefly this morning before the full Assembly went to the floor around 10:45 a.m. The executive session will continue when the Assembly goes to caucus.

Republicans assailed the proposal, saying it will cause utility rates to skyrocket for homeowners and businesses and cost jobs. Huebsch said the substitute amendment that scales back the proposal strips away parts of the bill that were "environmental statements," but did nothing to address cost concerns.

Black said the bill "will make Wisconsin a center of a new, clean energy economy that will keep jobs here instead of shipping them to China."

Republican members intend to offer eight amendments to the bill when the session resumes. The first would have the state follow the federal government's lead on renewable portfolio standards instead of setting new state goals, a central element of the bill.

The bill sets a goal of having 25 percent of the state's energy generated from renewable resources by 2025. The GOP amendment would instead tie the renewable portfolio standard to the level set by the federal government.

Another amendment would remove the mandate for a 2 percent reduction in energy consumption. Also proposed are amendments to eliminate the moratorium on the building of new nuclear power plants, and one to allow nuclear power generation to be counted toward renewable portfolio standards.

Black said he expects the legislation to pass the committee today and come to the Assembly floor for a vote next week.

UPDATE: Assembly Minority Leader Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon, said he didn't ask for a Dem to be removed from the special committee.

"I never complained to have anyone taken off a committee," Fitzgerald said. "That's what happens when there's a dead bill and they're trying to protect their member."


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

 1:57 PM 

Assembly calendar includes C.O.R.E. Jobs Act

Among the bills the Assembly will take up tomorrow is the C.O.R.E. Jobs Act, a bill to fund videoconferencing equipment at job centers around the state, and a bill to provide more money for individuals working transitional jobs.

Also on the calendar is mental health parity, a measure curbing access to 911 recordings, and a proposal regarding self defense in home invasions.


 12:36 PM 

Superintendent powers, raw milk on Thursday Senate calendar; Decker quotes Jagger

Senate Org today approved a lengthy calendar for Thursday that includes a bill to give the state schools superintendent the power to intervene in failing districts and a bill to allow the sale of raw milk.

Also on Thursday's Senate calendar is legislation to offer $10 million in bonding for a new dental school in Marshfield. The funding would be contingent on Marshfield Clinic providing non-state matching funds.

Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker said he hasn't had a chance to look through the language of the substitute amendment to the "Clean Energy Jobs Act."

"I understand there's a substitute amendment out but I haven't seen it yet," Decker, D-Weston, said.

Decker has said he has concerns about the bill raising consumer costs for electricity.

Decker also said a telecomm deregulation bill may have to go through the Joint Finance Committee before it could come to a floor vote in the Legislature.

On the payday lending bill that passed the Senate yesterday, Decker said he hopes the Assembly will take up the Senate version. The Assembly passed a bill earlier that includes regulations on auto title loans, an area the Senate bill doesn't address.

"I think what we put together is a good package and the Assembly, I would hope, would just concur and send it on to the governor," Decker said.

Asked about Assembly reservations about passing the Senate bill, Decker said, "In situations like this I always think of that great English philosopher/songwriter Mick Jagger, 'You can't always get what you want.'"


 11:40 AM 

PSC projects savings for consumers under CEJA sub

The Public Service Commission says in a new analysis that the revised "Clean Energy Jobs Act" would save consumers money in the long run compared to the status quo.

The analysis projects the substitute amendment, released yesterday, would shave between $1 billion and $3.7 billion off the projected culmulative cost of electricity compared to the original bill. The sub is also at least $1.4 billion less expensive than the status quo over the next 15 years even if greenhouse gases are not regulated.

If they are, the ratepayer savings could be $6.4 billion over the next 15 years compared to the status quo, according to the analysis.

See the memo:
http://wispolitics.com/1006/100414_PSC_Analysis.pdf


 10:55 AM 

Assembly committee will exec on CEJA

The Assembly Special Committee on Clean Energy Jobs will exec at 10 a.m. tomorrow on the Clean Energy Jobs Act. The meeting will be held at 415 Northwest in the state Capitol.

A substitute amendment introduced yesterday drops low-carbon fuel requirements, California vehicle emission standards, a non-severability clause in the section on nuclear power plants, and a boiler inspection and efficiency requirement that had been a concern for many industrial facilities.

It also tweaked language on the renewable mandates to allow energy efficiency projects to count toward the requirements and continues to include the 25 percent renewable energy standards by 2025 Gov. Jim Doyle has been pushing.

See a Legislative Council memo on the sub here.

State Rep. Spencer Black, one of the bill's authors and a co-chair of the Assembly committee, said the bill will create jobs, hold down utility rates and "clean the air."

"The substitute amendment will garner wide support because it will not only improve our environment but improve our economy," he said.

Critics of the bill said the most expensive pieces of the legislation remain.

Todd Stuart, executive director of the Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group, said it appeared negotiators pulled out the provisions that were "no brainers and non-starters." He was also disappointed no provisions were added to provide relief to consumers if the requirements prove more expensive than anticipated.

"I'm blown away by the fact there's really no cost containment safety valve in here, nothing," he said. "After months and even years of debate of costs, costs, costs, not to see a cost safety valve embedded in the bill is just stunning."

Black said he expects committee action in the Assembly and Senate this week and is still holding to his prediction that it will pass by the last day of the legislative session, April 22, which is Earth Day.


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

 8:28 PM 

Senate sends corporate spending bill to Assembly despite procedural snafu

The Senate ultimately messaged SB 540 to the Assembly this evening, but not without some procedural debate.

Senate Minority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, objected to messaging the bill after the conclusion of business, saying he wanted to keep it in the Senate while the Assembly irons out its version of the bill.

Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker, D-Weston, countered by proposing a motion to reconsider the original vote. Senate President Fred Risser, D-Madison, ruled that since the traditional delay between messaging bills serves to allow members to weigh reconsidering their votes, rejecting reconsideration would move the bill into the Assembly.

Sen. Mike Ellis, R-Neenah, disagreed, and asked again for unanimous consent to message the bill after reconsideration was rejected 15-18. The second time, Risser quickly gaveled the motion through, saying he did not hear any objections from GOP members.

Fitzgerald also attempted to pull SB 646 -- a measure to eliminate the budget's increased auto insurance liability requirements -- from committee. The motion to suspend the rules was rejected by a 17-16 vote; a two-thirds vote was required to take up the bill.


 7:01 PM 

Senate passes amended texting while driving ban

The Senate Tuesday evening passed Assembly Bill 496 to ban text messaging while driving.

The measure passed 30-3, with Sens. Neal Kedzie, R-Elkhorn, Joe Leibham, R-Sheboygan, and Jeff Plale, R-South Milwaukee, voting in opposition. Leibham proposed a substitute amendment to hike the fines for all inattentive driving, including texting, but the proposal was ruled non-germane by Senate President Fred Risser, D-Madison.

The bill was amended to lower the penalty from the $400 to $800 range down to $20 to $400. The state Assembly must accept that amendment before it heads to Gov. Jim Doyle, who supports the bill.


 5:56 PM 

Senate endorses bill to require shareholder approval of corporate spending

The Senate passed SB 540, which would require corporations to acquire the approval of their shareholders before spending money on Wisconsin elections.

Sen. Bob Wirch, D-Pleasant Prairie, proposed the bill in response to the Citizens United v. FEC decision allowing corporate political spending. The measure also deletes Wisconsin's longstanding law banning corporate campaign expenditures, which had been law for more than a century

Senate Minority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, proposed an amendment to include labor unions along with corporations under the bill. It was rejected by an 18-15 vote.


 5:15 PM 

Senate passes payday lender regulations

The state Senate has passed its version of a bill to place regulations on payday lenders after rejecting an amendment to place a 36 percent rate cap on the controversial lenders.

The bill passed by a 21-12 margin.

Two other amendments by Sen. Joe Leibham, R-Sheboygan, were shot down, while Sen. Tim Carpenter, D-Milwaukee, withdrew two of his amendments.


 5:14 PM 

Assembly goes to Rules Committee

The Assembly is in recess for a Rules Committee meeting. All the business on today's calendar has been completed, but the session will resume following Rules.

UPDATE: 5:40 PM -- Assembly Rules has wrapped up. The Dems special ordered the Thursday calendar, including some Senate bills that weren't yet sent to the Assembly. Republicans objected to the move, saying it was precedent setting to special order bills that aren't in the house yet. Lege Council will be asked to weigh in on the issue.


 4:21 PM 

Enterprise zone bill hits snag in Assembly

A bill to create two additional enterprise development zones has been sent to the end of today's Assembly calendar because Dem attempts to table and amendment failed.

The amendment, from Rep. Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford, would require that at least two enterprise zones be set up in places with a population of less than 5,000. The author of the bill, Rep. Phil Garthwaite, D-Dickeyvile, said the number would be arbitrary and exclude other small towns who could benefit from the program.

A motion to table the amendment failed 51-47.

Meanwhile, a bill to create tax incentives for businesses in enterprise zones to encourage them to create supply chains with in-state businesses passed 97-1.

UPDATE: The bill to create two more enterprise zones passed the Assembly 96-2, after a vote to reject the Suder amendment passed 50-48.


 4:08 PM 

Debate begins on payday lender bill

Senators have begun discussing a number of amendments to SB 530, which would enact regulations on payday lenders.

The first amendment -- proposed by Sens. Tim Carpenter, D-Milwaukee, Michael Ellis, R-Neenah, and Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend -- would in part implement a 36 percent interest rate cap on payday and auto title loans.

Carpenter said a rate cap is the only effective means of combating predatory lending, and that not including one in the bill amounts to "having basically no regulation on the payday lending industry."

The bill's author -- Sen. Jim Sullivan of Wauwatosa -- said the bill is stronger than both the Assembly version and the proposed amendments. He said the monthly limit included in the bill would come in under the 36 percent proposal.

He added that the bill is "32 pages of regulation that currently doesn't exist," and that the state shouldn't be responsible for setting interest rates.

"No one that I can find in this body is a fan of this particular industry," Sullivan said, arguing that adding the amendment would doom the bill in the Assembly.

Sen. Judy Robson, D-Beloit, said Sullivan's bill amounted to "a light touch," suggesting that payday lenders would be able to find a way around the bill's proposed limits.

"No matter what we do today, they're going to find a way," Robson said.

Sen. Grothman said despite his conservative leanings, he has no problem taking on an industry that "takes advantage of people's weaknesses."

Grothman also made his intentions clear with regard to the rate cap.

"This amendment does shut out the industry. Boom -- they're gone," Grothman said. "It'll be just like Minnesota. People in Minnesota get along just fine without this industry."


 4:02 PM 

Assembly approves rural hospital assessment

The Assembly approved with bipartisan support a bill that would allow the state to tax the gross revenues of rural hospitals the same as other hospitals are currently assessed. The measure passed on an 61-37 vote.

The Senate will also take up the bill today.

Under the bill, the state's 59 rural hospitals -- defined as a hospital located outside a metro area that is more than a 35-mile drive from another hospital and maintaining no more than 25 beds for acute patient care -- would be assessed approximately 1.6 percent of gross revenues, as other hospitals are. Also known as critical access hospitals, the rural facilities were excluded from the hospital assessment passed in a budget repair bill last year.

The assessment became necessary because the DHS previously reimbursed critical access hospital 100 percent of MA costs. That was cut by 10 percent at the beginning of this year to allow the agency to realize $600 million in savings required as part of the 10 percent spending reduction mandated in the state budget.

The assessment will increase MA benefits funding by $27.7 million in 2010-11, and increase SEG revenues by $10.6 million in 2010-11, according to the LFB.


 3:48 PM 

Tax incentives for biomass, dairy modernization passed

Tax credits for the purchase of equipment used to harvest and process woody biomass and to extend a tax credit program for dairy farm modernization through 2012 passed the Assembly with near-unanimous support. The former bill passed 97-1, while the latter passed 98-0.

A bill to create a tax credit for the food processing industry passed 92-5.

Also passed on a bipartisan vote was a bill raising the maximum forfeiture for littering from $500 to $1,000.


 1:53 PM 

Senate passes race-based mascots bill

The state Senate has passed a bill that would create a process for considering complaints over race-based mascots in Wisconsin schools.

The bill passed 17-16, with Sen. Tim Carpenter, D-Milwaukee, joining Senate Republicans in voting against the bill. Democrats turned away four amendments to the bill, including measures to restrict the complaints to local school district residents and to limit the mascots under the bill to Native American-based logos.

Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, said the latter amendment reflected his concern over one of his district's schools to remain the Oostburg Flying Dutchmen. Sen. Spencer Coggs, D-Milwaukee, responded that while the state has a long history of discrimination against Native Americans, "there is not against the Dutch."

Sen. Randy Hopper, R-Fond du Lac, noted that the state Department of Public Instruction -- which would be the final arbiter of complaints -- had already testified against the race-based mascots in committee hearings.

"The final say has been made," Hopper said. "This sets up a predetermined system."

Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, said that while the measure has been under consideration in the Legislature for 16 years, "it is a topic that Native Americans have lived with all their lives."

"Stand in the shoes of those who are offended, and those who are stereotyped and mislabeled," Jauch said.


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