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Thursday, January 27, 2011

 12:09 PM 

Senate is adjourned

The Senate has finished up its floor calendar.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said the only floor session planned for next week will be Wednesday. Senate Org will meet Monday to set the agenda.

 11:57 AM 

Senate passes job creation tax break bill

A bill to create a tax break for businesses that create jobs passed the Senate with bipartisan support, though Dems were dubious about how effective it will be.

The bill passed 25-8. The Assembly passed the bill last week.

Sen. Terry Moulton, R-Chippewa Falls, said the bill will give employers incentive to hire more people.

The bill would create a $4,000 tax deduction for each job created by businesses with less than $5 million in annual gross receipts, while those companies with gross receipts of more than $5 million would receive a $2,000 deduction for each job created. Dems said that deduction will have an actual value to employers of between $92 and $316, which Dem Sen. Bob Jauch called "very small and insignificant."

The bill will cost state coffers about $67 million over the biennium.

Jauch said Republicans passing tax breaks without disclosing where state government spending will be cut in the next budget, which has a gaping structural deficit of $3 billion. He said Gov. Scott Walker will introduce a budget "that's going to slash and burn education" and other essential social programs.

"This is the political version of don't ask, don't tell," Jauch, D-Poplar, said. "Don't ask me where the cuts are going to come, I'll tell you later."

 11:24 AM 

Huebsch, Jadin appointments pass unanimously

Gov. Scott Walker's appointments to lead the departments of Administration and Commerce have been confirmed unanimously by the Senate.

Sen. Dan Kapanke, R-La Crosse, called Mike Huebsch, a former Republican Assembly speaker from West Salem, "a great family man" with "great knowledge of Wisconsin government." Huebsch will lead the DOA.

Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, had kind words for Paul Jadin, a former Green Bay mayor.

"We haven't always agreed, but I do believe he is a great choice to lead the Department of Commerce," Hansen said.

 11:19 AM 

Senate is in session

The Senate session is underway. First on the agenda are the appointments of Mike Huebsch as DOA Secretary and Paul Jadin as Commerce Secretary.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

 6:24 PM 

Assembly adjourns

After approving omnibus changes to the joint rules and signing off on the legislative leadership of the Joint Legislative Council, the Assembly has adjourned until Thursday.

 6:15 PM 

Assembly backs supermajority requirement for tax increases

The Assembly passed a bill requiring a supermajority of both legislative houses to enact tax increases by a 57-36 margin.

Republicans turned away four Dem amendments, including measures to include fees in the bill and to require consideration of the state's deficit. Democrats charged that the bill would handicap future legislatures and state budgets.

"We'll have to finance our operating budgets with debt. We'll have to raid segregated funds and transfer funds," said Rep. Louis Molepske, D-Stevens Point. "Don't budget by gimmick."

Rep. Chris Danou, D-Trempealeau, said he would love to have a discussion about the state's tax burden, but that the bill would prevent lawmakers from making even minor adjustments in the future.

"These kinds of supermajorities lead to an inability to govern in the long term," Danou said.

The bill's author, freshman Rep. Tyler August, R-Walworth, said Dem calls for fiscal responsibility were "laughable."

"They want it harder to raise taxes in this building," August said of his constituents.

"It's time to stop feeding the beast, and taxes feed it."

 5:45 PM 

Job creation tax break passes

The Assembly has passed a tax break for companies that create jobs in Wisconsin on a 60-33 vote.

The bill would create a $4,000 tax deduction for each job created by businesses with less than $5 million in annual gross receipts, while those companies with gross receipts of more than $5 million would receive a $2,000 deduction for each job created.

Republicans turned away a series of Dem amendments amid complaints that the bill had undergone sweeping changes throughout the committee process, moving from a tax credit geared toward small businesses to a tax deduction for all businesses. Dems also said the tax impact wouldn't be enough for businesses to create jobs.

"Instead of spending $67 million on initiatives that have very large question marks, I think we should be looking at areas that we know will create jobs immediately," said Rep. Donna Seidel, D-Wausau. She offered an amendment to expand the refundable tax credits for small businesses passed last session that was among four tabled Dem measures.

Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, called replacing a tax credit with a deduction "baffling," saying Republicans could have chosen to give businesses $4,000 instead of the roughly $120 he said they'd end up with.

Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said the bill is unlike the measures Dems are used to supporting, ripping them for billions in tax increases and a heightened regulatory environment in past sessions.

"This is a small, simple way to say the state of Wisconsin is here to help," Vos said.

 4:48 PM 

Assembly approves resolution commending Priebus

The Assembly has approved a resolution commending Reince Priebus on his election as chairman of the Republican National Committee, but not before a protest from Rep. Christine Sinicki.

Sinicki, D-Milwaukee, said the resolution should be withdrawn, saying it was too partisan to consider as a joint resolution. She was among a scant number of audible "no" votes in the voice vote to approve the resolution.

Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester, countered that Priebus' election was unprecedented for any Wisconsin party official, and noted that a number of Democrats have joined in commending the Kenosha native. John Steinbrink, D-Pleasant Prairie, was among the Democrats voicing support for the resolution on the floor.

 1:03 PM 

Assembly expected to head to caucus

Roll call is underway in the Assembly, but the chamber is expected to break into caucus shortly thereafter.

UPDATE: The Assembly is now in caucus after passing resolutions honoring the victims of the recent shooting in Tucson, Ariz., and honoring retiring legislative photographer Brent Nicastro.

 12:21 PM 

Senate approves another $25 million for development tax credits

The state would add another $25 million to the Commerce Department's economic development tax credit program under legislation the Senate approved today.

The 25-8 vote sends the bill to the guv's desk, the fourth of his seven special sessions bills to clear both houses of the Legislature so far this session.

The Senate rejected an amendment that would have redirected the money to another jobs program that Minority Leader Mark Miller would provide immediate relief. He pointed to Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo that suggested it was unlikely companies would claim the additional $25 million in credits in 2010-11 or the 2011-13 biennium. The memo pointed out $73.1 million of existing credits in the program had not been allocated as of January.

"There's already money in the bank," Miller said of the credits.

But Sen. Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, countered part of the problem was the Commerce Department was not focused on jobs under the Doyle administration. In contrast, Lazich said the Walker administration plans a laser-like focus on jobs through the Commerce Department.

She also pointed to an entrepreneur in her district who was trying to persuade his investors to set up shop in Wisconsin for his latest project and that steps like this would send a message to them.

"I hope in six months that I'm back here asking for more, that this isn't enough," Lazich said of the additional $25 million.

 12:10 PM 

Senate approves two-year tax break for companies that move here

The Senate today approved giving companies that relocate to Wisconsin a two-year break on their corporate taxes, a move that some Dems dismissed as meaningless.

The 24-8 vote clears the way for the bill to head to the guv's desk.

Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, complained the tax break was too small to be meaningful and that lawmakers should instead be putting their efforts into changes that would make a difference for Wisconsin's flailing economy.

"What the people of northern Wisconsin want are serious proposals to create real jobs, not tokens that create a nice headline," Jauch said. "This bill does noting."

Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, countered the change was part of a bigger effort to improve the state's economy.

"This is just a piece of the puzzle," he said. "If there was a silver bullet that we had to cure this, we'd all stand up and vote for it."

UPDATE: Sen. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, missed the vote, but was added as a "no" through unanimous consent.

 11:39 AM 

Dems push support of SeniorCare as Senate confirms Smith

The Senate voted 25-8 today to confirm Dennis Smith as the secretary of Health Services as Dems questioned whether his selection was a sign Gov. Scott Walker is not committed to SeniorCare.

Minority Leader Mark Miller complained Smith had not made the rounds with Senate members to meet with them as has been the tradition so some lawmakers weren't sure on his positions. But he pointed to writings from Smith that he said raised questions about his commitment to Medicaid and charged he was part of a Bush administration attempt to quash SeniorCare and instead push Wisconsin seniors to Medicare part D.

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton and a member of the Health Committee, said Smith was non-committal during a public hearing on his appointment about the future of SeniorCare.

"That should be troubling to us, not so much a reflection of Mr. Smith because that's what he believes. It's more a reflection of Gov. Walker," Erpenbach said. "I can't imagine Gov. Walker wants to take Wisconsin seniors down the road of uncertainty when it come to their drugs."

Health Chair Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, praised Smith as a highly qualified appointee

She also countered criticism of Smith's writings, saying he only argued in a paper that states would be better off withdrawing from Medicaid because they could save money while having more flexibility to serve residents. She also said Smith argued during his confirmation hearing that some residents would be better off under Medicare part D than on SeniorCare.

"As a body, we should confirm him and look forward to having him in the position to guide our state in these times," she said.

 8:49 AM 

Legislature to take up tax credit bills

The Assembly and Senate will each take up two of Gov. Scott Walker’s special session bills today.

The Assembly’s calendar includes the special session bills to require a supermajority to approve a tax hike, along with a tax deduction for those companies that create jobs.

The Senate will take up the bills to create a tax credit for those companies that relocate to Wisconsin and an expansion of the available economic development tax credits.

The Senate also plans to vote on the appointment of Dennis Smith as secretary of Health Services, which Dems may use the vote to raise questions about the Walker administration’s commitment to BadgerCare.

Dems argue Smith was part of the Bush administration’s effort to end the program and switch Wisconsin seniors the Medicare part D.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

 8:58 PM 

Walker praises HSA bill

Gov. Scott Walker has weighed in on the HSA vote in both houses today.

"The passage of a tax deduction for HSAs is an important step to saving taxpayers’ money and making healthcare more affordable for employees and small businesses," he said in a statement. "Lowering costs and increasing flexibility for employers will help create an environment where the private sector can create 250,000 jobs."

 8:05 PM 

HSA tax break clears Assembly, headed to Walker

The Assembly tonight signed off on a state tax break for health savings accounts 66-28, clearing the way for the bill to head to the guv.

It's the second of Gov. Scott Walker's special session bills to clear both houses, following the tort reform the Assembly approved earlier in the evening.

Dems complained the $49 million price tag on the legislation was too high considering the looming deficit and questioned how the change would create jobs considering the guv called the special session to deal with what he called a jobs emergency.

State Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, questioned GOP priorities when the money could be used to fund local services and prevent property taxes from going up, to attract $75 million in matching federal funds to help fund BadgerCare for needy children or provide job training for tech school grads.

"The fact that we're taking this bill up before the budget is even introduced is crazy," Hintz said. "We're in a special session to address an economic emergency. We've had not a single comment about how this creates jobs."

Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, countered the money belonged to the taxpayers.

"It's their money," he said. "It's a tax deduction they can use to lower their health care costs."

 7:10 PM 

Walker praises tort reform passage

Gov. Scott Walker was quick to praise the Assembly vote on the liability bill.

"Improving our state's legal climate is important to creating an environment that allows the private sector to create jobs," he said in a statement released minutes after the vote. "The lawsuit reform package passed by the legislature will bring much needed reforms to our legal system, so we are no longer known as the 'Alabama of the North.'"

 6:59 PM 

Assembly approves tort reform

The Assembly voted 57-36 to approve the guv's tort reform bill this evening, clearing the way for the first special session bill to go to his desk.

Republicans turned back some 20 amendments seeking to pull out caps on damages for sexual assault victims, remove changes in standards for expert witness testimony and other provisions.

Dems also complained frequently that the special session was called to deal with job creation, but the overhaul of the state's liability laws would do nothing to accomplish that goal.

"Nobody is going to go to work tomorrow because this bill passes," said Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha.

Republicans largely allow Dems to propose their amendments without much debate before tabling them. But Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon, took the microphone to chide Rep. Joe Parisi, D-Madison, for what he said were over-the-top attacks on Republicans.

He also knocked Dems for failing to pass more job creation efforts while they were still in charge last session.

"This is about changing the culture here in Wisconsin," Fitzgerald said. "It's about getting people back to work."

 5:16 PM 

GOP rejects amendment on nursing home records in liability bill

Republicans turned back an amendment to the liability package that Dems said would ensure incident reports at nursing homes would be available to the families of victims of neglect or to prosecutors filing criminal charges.

Dem members recounted a series of horror stories families told during a public hearing about the abuse and even death their loved ones had suffered at nursing homes, questioning why Republicans would want details of those incidents kept secret from families and prosecutors.

"Unfortunately in this bill we put many of our most vulnerable at risk and shield criminals and abusers from liability," said Peggy Krusick, D-Milwaukee.

To back up their contention, Dems pointed to a line from an analysis of the legislation that states, “The bill requires that any record or incident or occurrence report that is disclosed to another, properly or improperly, remains confidential and may not be used in a civil or criminal action against any health care provider.”

But Rep. Jim Ott, R-Mequon, said there is a difference between reports on such incidents that he insisted would still be available to families and prosecutors and peer review reports that are shared among health care providers in an effort to improve practices. He said the peer review reports are the records that would be kept secret.

"This is not going to stop lawsuits when there is egregious action by nursing homes or anyone else," Ott said.

The amendment was tabled 55-38.

 4:28 PM 

Assembly approves economic development tax credits

The Assembly has approved adding $25 million to the amount of economic development tax credits available from the state.

Dems tried amending the bill to redirect the money to transportation projects, pointing to a Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo that found it was unlikely companies would claim the credits in 2010-11 or during the 2011-13 biennium. Of the existing economic tax credits allocated, $73.1 million had not been allocated to eligible projects as of this month, according to the analysis.

But Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said that was largely because the Doyle administration did not take full advantage of the money.

"They are full speed ahead, and the hope is they use this money and come back to us for more because that would mean they are aggressively courting jobs all across Wisconsin," Vos said of the Walker administration.

Republicans also turned back other Dem amendments, including one requiring employers pay at least 150 percent of the federal minimum wage to qualify for the credits.

The body signed off on an amendment to require passive review by the JFC of the Department of Commerce's plan for allocating the funds.

 3:40 PM 

Assembly approves tax break for companies moving to Wisconsin

The Assembly has overwhelmingly approved a two-year tax break for businesses that move to Wisconsin.

The Assembly voted 82-12 to approve the bill after turning back several Dem amendments. Proponents of the changes said there were designed to protect businesses in border communities, but they were tabled along with an amendment that would have required the Department of Commerce to report back on how many jobs the tax break created.

 3:35 PM 

Senate passes HSA bill

The Senate passed the second of Gov. Scott Walker's special session bills this afternoon, approving a new state tax deduction for health savings accounts on 21-12 vote.

Dem Sens. Jim Holperin of Conover and Kathleen Vinehout of Alma joined the majority for the vote. Republicans approved an amendment from the Joint Finance Committee to create a deduction rather than a tax credit, as originally proposed by the governor.

The GOP turned away four amendents as well as a Dem substitute amendment that would have increased the tax deduction for employer health coverage.

The Senate has now adjourned until Jan. 25.

 2:02 PM 

Dems rip HSA exemption

Democrats criticized the HSA bill as another example of deficit spending in the special session, adding that it's expected to add some $48 million to the deficit to benefit a scant population of the state.

Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville and a former health care executive, said Wisconsinites who aren't already attracted to HSAs and the current federal tax break won't be convinced to acquire them for a state tax exemption.

"It just is not reality and I'm 100 percent certain of that," Cullen said.

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton and the author of several potential amendments to the bill, said the notion that companies would come to Wisconsin to take advantage of the new HSA deduction "lunacy."

"This could or could not cost $48 million," Erpenbach said. "This absolutely, positively will not create one job."

Sen. Joe Leibham, R-Sheboygan, read testimonials from business owners in his district advocating HSAs, and said he was disappointed by the "continued disconnect" between health care costs and job creation in the chamber.

"We all understand that the cost of health care has a dramtic impact on businesses in this state," Leibham said.

 1:29 PM 

Senate debates HSA bill

The Senate has started debating SB 2, which creates a tax deduction for health savings accounts.

Democrats have offered four amendments to the substitute amendment of the bill. Debate was briefly stalled by a discussion of the Senate rules for making floor statements beyond the scope of the bill under discussion.

 8:58 AM 

Legislature, JFC to take up special session bills

The Assembly, Senate and Joint Finance Committee will all be in today.

JFC goes first at 10 a.m. with votes planned on the special session bills to create a small business tax cut.

The Assembly is set to hit the floor at 11 a.m. with four special session bills on the agenda, including the health savings account tax break and tort reform.

The Senate is scheduled to convene at 1 p.m. to take up the HSA bill.

Follow the sessions on WisconsinEye.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

 6:01 PM 

Senate Org approves calendar for Thursday session

Legislation to make health saving accounts tax deductible is the only bill on the agenda for Thursday's Senate session. The Senate is scheduled to take the floor at 1 p.m.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said floor sessions are also planned for next Tuesday and for Feb. 1 prior to Gov. Scott Walker's State of the State address.

Fitzgerald said his plan is to have the Senate meet more frequently this session with fewer bills bills on the docket each day.

 5:27 PM 

Tort reform bill passed

The Senate has passed legislation to reform Wisconsin tort laws on a party-line 19-14 vote, with all the Senate Dems voting no.

The bill is the first piece of legislation in Gov. Scott Walker's special session on the economy to pass either house of the Legislature.

Republicans said the changes will improve the job creation climate in the state, but Dems say there's no proof it will create any jobs and will only make it more difficult for victims of faulty products or other negligence to recover damages.

Walker said in a statement that Senate passage sends a message that Wisconsin is creating "a job friendly legal environment."

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said in a press release the bill allows businesses to focus on job creation instead of "frivolous claims and tort lawsuits."

"We want to help Wisconsin’s businesses grow and look forward, instead of always having to look over their shoulder," Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said. "I think the last few years have proved we can’t sue our way into prosperity. And no amount of the Democrats’ talking points and political games will change that."

An amendment from Sen. Neal Kedzie, R-Elkhorn, was adopted to modify the criteria that must be met in order for a plaintiff to hold a party responsible for damages.

The amendment also stipulates that the law will take effect 10 days after it is signed by the governor. The amendment passed 19-14. See a Legislative Council memo describing the amendment here.

Democrats offered 19 amendments to the bill, among them an amendment calling for an audit of the law and its impact on courts and prosecutors after six months, amendments to maintain current transparency standards for records filed with the Department of Health Services and Department of Licensing and Regulation, and allowing police officers, sexual assault nurses and social workers who work with sexual assault victims to testify as experts in court cases. All the Dem amendments were denied.

Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller said in a statement, “Under the guise of ‘jobs’ and ‘business climate’ the Senate Republicans voted to approve changes to state law that create no jobs but could result in great harm to our seniors, families and the ability of law enforcement to keep our streets safe. By voting to defeat amendments to specifically fix these flaws, we can only conclude that’s what they want to do.”

 5:17 PM 

Assembly splits wind, wetlands provisions from regulatory bill

Assembly Org today voted to break off from the guv's administrative rules bill provisions related to wind energy and Brown County wetlands.

The 5-3 party line vote means the committee will consider those provisions separately from the bill to reform the administrative rules process.

Immediately following the vote, the Assembly Rules Committee approved the calendar for Thursday's floor session, which includes special session bills on tort reform, a tax credit for health savings accounts, increased economic development tax credits and a tax credit for businesses relocating to Wisconsin.

The Senate’s proposed calendar for Thursday includes legislation creating a tax break for health savings accounts.

The Joint Finance Committee is also slated to meet Thursday to take up a bill creating a tax cut for providing jobs. The bill was pulled from today's JFC agenda and is getting some final tweaks, the co-chairs said.

 2:47 PM 

Dems blister tort reform bill

Senate Dems today attacked the guv's liability law overhaul, saying it would make it harder to prosecute crimes, shield bad actors and burden the state's court system. They also complained it had nothing to do with creating jobs.

Sen. Fred Risser complained Republicans were trying to rush through the bill. Following a 10-hour public hearing last week, Republicans only had a half-hour executive session on the bill and were already moving forward on a final vote with a proper airing.

"I tell you this is a gamble of legislative malpractice if there ever was one," said Risser, D-Madison.

The Senate amended the bill to limit punitive damages to $200,000 or twice any compensatory damages, whichever is greater, to ensure the cap on punitive damages does not apply to drunken drivers, change state standards for expert witness and to limit application of the new standards to any suits brought after its passage.

But Republicans turned back Dem amendments that would have maintained current standards for witness testimony in court cases and increase the cap on punitive damages at $750,000 instead.

Sen. Julie Lassa, D-Stevens Point, complained the changes for witness testimony would prohibit rookie police officers from testifying in a criminal case because they would not be considered experts as well as nurses who examine rape victims.

"How does prohibiting a police officer from testifying in a court case involving a drunk driver create jobs in this state?" she asked.

 12:14 PM 

Joint Finance passes expansion of development tax credit

The JFC passed a bill to pump $25 million into the state Department of Commerce's economic development tax credit program, one of the proposals under Gov. Scott Walker's special session on the economy.

The proposal passed 12-4, with committee Democrats voting against it.

An amendment from Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, to require passive review by the JFC of the Department of Commerce's plan for allocating the funds. The amendment passed 16-0.

 11:20 AM 

Substitute amendment for relocation credit passed

The JFC is now taking up a substitute amendment to the proposal to give a tax credit to businesses relocating to Wisconsin.

The sub includes technical suggestions from the Department of Revenue to make the bill more airtight.

Among the provisions is a mandate that a business move either 51 percent of its workforce payroll or at least $200,000 in wages to be eligible for the credit. It also creates a definition for what doing business in the state means.

The substitute amendment passed unanimously.

Under the original proposal, a person could not claim the credit if that person had done business in Wisconsin during any of the previous 10 tax year. A simple amendment reduced that requirement to two years.

The LFB said the amendment will increase the fiscal estimate of the bill from $280,000 to $500,000. The amendment passed 13-3, with Sens. Taylor and Jauch, and Rep. Grigsby voting no.

A second simple amendment, to make businesses relocating from outside the country eligible for the credit, passed unanimously.

The bill as amended passed 12-4 on a party-line vote.

 11:14 AM 

JFC passes HSA bill

On a 12-4 vote, a bill to create a tax deduction for health savings accounts passed the Joint Finance Committee. The four Democrats on the committee voted no.

The commitee is now taking up the tax credit for businesses relocating to Wisconsin.

 10:57 AM 

Assembly committee advances tort reform bill

The Assembly Committee on Judiciary and Ethics this morning approved an amended version of Gov. Walker's special session tort reform bill.

The bill moved forward by a 5-2 margin. Committee Chairman Jim Ott, R-Mequon, vowed over the weekend that one his amendments would explicitly ban a cap on punitive damages against drunken drivers.

The full Senate is scheduled to vote on the bill later today.

 10:46 AM 

Contrast apparent on HSAs

JFC co-chair Robin Vos said positions on the tax deductibility of HSAs shows a "clear difference" between Republicans and Democrats, Vos said.

Dems said the bill, which would increase the structural deficit by $49 million over the biennium, does little to stimulate hiring and adds to the state's budget woes. Rep. Tamara Grigsby, D-Milwaukee, said average working people can't afford to set money aside for health savings accounts.

Rep. Jen Shilling, D-La Crosse, said Republicans are putting "the cart before the horse."

"If you don't have a job you can not afford HSA payments at the end of the month," Shilling added.

Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, said HSAs are a "selective tax cut for a certain segment of our society" that will be paid for by reducing spending on programs like health care for the poor and on education.

But Vos said Dems are interested in "defending the government and how government needs more money," while Republicans are "defending the taxpayer."

Vos scoffed at the Dems' argument that HSAs will only benefit the wealthy.

"Everyone in Wisconsin has the ability to benefit from an HSA," he said.

The HSAs will allow business owners to keep more of their own money and spur job growth, Vos said.

"Keeping $49 million in the pockets of the private sector will create jobs," he vowed.

 10:22 AM 

Merit of job creation bills debated

The new co-chairs of the Joint Finance Committee, GOP Sen. Alberta Darling and GOP Rep. Robin Vos, opened up today's session with a positive message about what they believe is an aggressive job creation agenda. Committee Dems were less positive in opening remarks.

The committee today will take up special session bills on health savings accounts, a tax credit aimed at businesses who relocate to Wisconsin, and an expansion of the economic development tax credit. A proposal for a tax credit aimed at small businesses will not be taken up today.

This is the first meeting of the JFC under the new Republican legislative majorities.

Darling, R-River Hills, said the bills today are just the start of a plan to bring jobs to the state.

"This is just the beginning. We have a lot more to do when it comes to the economy and jobs" she said.

Vos, R-Rochester, said Gov. Scott Walker has a "very aggressive" job creation agenda, and he is excited about pursuing it.

Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, urged the committee to slow down on the special session bills because they will increase the state's debt and do little to actually create jobs. She said Walker is already going back on campaign promises.

"Walker has broke the first rule of his brown bag movement -- don't spend more than you have," she said.

Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, said the job creation agenda is "blank, expensive and symbolic," and a "rush to pander to WMC."

Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, countered that the bills today are just meant to prime the pump for job creation.

 9:39 AM 

Senate to consider tort reform legislation

The state Senate hits the floor this afternoon to take up the first of Gov. Scott Walker’s special sessions bills, an overhaul of the state’s liability laws.

The session is set to kick off at 1 p.m. Watch the proceedings on WisconsinEye.

In addition, Assembly Committee on Judiciary and Ethics will vote on the tort reform bill this morning.

And the Joint Finance Committee is expected to take up four special session bills this morning. They include the tax break on health savings accounts, a tax incentive for companies that relocate to Wisconsin and an additional $25 million for economic development tax credits.

The committee is also expected to revamp Walker’s bill to give small businesses a tax break and instead create a $1,000 tax deduction per job created by businesses of any size.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

 11:27 AM 

The Senate has adjourned

The Senate has finished its work for the day.

An amendment to Senate rules changes that would have required a fiscal estimate for corrections-related bills was rejected.

Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, said the amendment she authored would be fiscally responsible.

"We should look at the fiscal consequences when we choose to legislate," she said."We can not ignore the trajectory we are on that will send us into bankruptcy."

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said he appreciated the work Taylor did on the amendment and recognizes her concern, but he wasn't comfortable with approving it at this time. He pledged to work with her on a solution.

The amendment was rejected on an 18-14 party-line vote. (Sen. Frank Lasee, R-De Pere, was absent.)

The rules changes passed unanimously.

The Senate also passed a bill that would allow the Senate President and Assembly Speaker to decline to serve on the Joint Legislative Council and appoint a replacement.

 10:51 AM 

Senate heads to floor

The state Senate is headed to the floor to take up SB 1, which establishes the membership of the Joint Legislative Council, and the rules that will govern the chamber's operations this session.

See the calendar.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

 10:45 AM 

Special session bills circulating for co-sponsorships

Five of the special session bills are circulating for co-sponsorships through 4 p.m. today.

The two still missing are the legislation that would turn the Commerce Department into the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. and one to overhaul the administrative rules process to place new limits on what state agencies can do and give the guv final say on any rules.

Here's the bill on tort reform.

And a supermajority for tax hikes.

Repealing the state tax on HSAs.

An income and and franchise tax credit.

Tax credits for companies that move to Wisconsin.

Monday, January 3, 2011

 10:06 PM 

Walker asks supporters to 'spread the message' of job creation at inaugural ball

Gov. Scott Walker joked at his inaugural ball that he was "preaching to the choir," but still urged supporters to help spread his message of creating 250,000 new jobs during his first term to their neighbors and communities.

"You're going to help us show that Wisconsin is open for business," the new governor, surrounded by his family, told a crowded room of supporters at Madison's Monona Terrace.

"In the world of putting people to work, it's not always about the process. It's about the mentality."

But Walker also said that the state would see the tangible effects of his job creation initiatives tomorrow with his official call of the Legislature into a special session on jobs.

He also joked that he kept busy today by walking across the East Wing of the Capitol to authorize Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen to join a multi-state lawsuit over federal health care reform. Walker said health care decisions should be left to states and the people -- not Washington, D.C.

"With that lawsuit, we're going to make that change," Walker said. "We're going to lead the way."

The governor and new First Lady Tonette Walker then led the ball's first dance to Frank Sinatra's "The Best is Yet to Come."

Walker was preceded by a video showing highlights of his 2010 campaign, as well as a speech by new Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch.

"We are here tonight on this stage and celebrating because of you," Kleefisch said, flanked by husband and Oconomowoc state Rep. Joel Kleefisch.

"Wisconsin is about to experience lean government ... a government that functions at the pace of business."

Walker transition chairman Mike Grebe served as master of ceremonies for the program, which also featured the Pledge of Allegiance -- led by former Veterans Affairs Secretary John Scocos -- and the national anthem.

Eleven members of the University of Wisconsin marching band also paraded through the reception hall to "On, Wisconsin" and several other "Fifth Quarter" standards.

Outside the hall, Walker supporters crowded each floor of the expansive Terrace and into several side rooms. Walker's inaugural committee estimated the total number of attendees at 3,500.

Listen to Walker's speech here.

Listen to Kleefisch's speech here.

See photos from the inaugural ball:

 5:16 PM 

Walker calls special session

As promised, Gov. Scott Walker today called a special session on jobs to take up legislation that include requiring a supermajority in the Legislature to approve tax hikes and limiting damages in suits against a host of businesses.

Walker's call for the special session, to begin tomorrow morning, did not include details of the proposals. But it listed seven items for the Legislature to consider.

The limits on awards would apply to “noneconomic damages awarded in actions against long-term care providers; actions against manufacturers, distributors, sellers, and promoters of certain products; confidentiality of health care services reviews; use as evidence of information regarding health care providers; reporting of quality indicators identifying individual hospitals; homicide or injury by negligent handling of a dangerous weapon, explosives, or fire; criminal abuse of individuals at risk; criminal abuse and neglect of patients and residents; evidence of lay and expert witnesses; damages for frivolous claims; and punitive damage awards.” The call did not list what the proposed caps would be.

Walker also called for:
- creating the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation to replace the Commerce Department.
- an income and franchise tax credit for small businesses.
- income and franchise tax exemptions for new businesses.
- eliminating the state tax on health savings accounts.
- limiting the ability of state agencies to promulgate administrative rules and requiring his approval for any rules they create.

Read the order.

Read the release.

 5:14 PM 

Departing Assembly members say goodbye

The three Republican Assembly members who'll resign tomorrow to join the Walker administration said their goodbyes to the chamber as the day's inauguration festivities drew to a close.

"I love this institution. This is a great place," said Rep. Mark Gottlieb of Port Washington, who's set to take over the Department of Transportation. "You're all lucky to be here."

Gottlieb said he hopes his colleagues develop just as deep an appreciation for the chamber as he had over his four terms in the 60th District.

Rep. Mike Huebsch wrapped up 16 years serving the 94th District -- including a session as speaker from 2007-2009 -- and told members the opportunity to serve "is something that I've cherished every single day I've been here."

Huebsch, of West Salem, will take over as Walker's Administration secretary.

And Rep. Scott Gunderson also concluded 16 years in the Assembly. He'll leave to serve as executive assistant in the Department of Natural Resources.

Gunderson, of Waterford, got emotional when talking about admiring the Capitol building on his drives into work on East Washington Avenue.

"To think that I, Scott Gunderson, was privileged enough to work here."

 4:12 PM 

Sen. Fitzgerald promises change to status quo

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said at the Senate swearing-in ceremony the there will be a lot of changes in how government operates.

"If you’re expecting more of the same, you’re going to be disappointed," Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald said under Walker and the new legislative leadership, "the phrase ;that’s the way we’ve always done things' is no longer a valid reason.

"There are going to be some disappointed lobbyists. There are going to be some disappointed bureaucrats. And there are going to be some very real changes to the status quo," he said.

See a draft of Fitzgerald's prepared remarks here.

Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller, D-Monona, vowed to work to meet the level of integrity Fitzgerald show when he was leading the minority caucus.

Miller said the workers, businesses and families of Wisconsin are counting on state government to do its job.

"Forward is the direction Democrats will move," he said.

In a brief interview following the ceremony, Sen. Fitzgerald said the change in status quo he referred to in his floor speech is already in evidence in Walker's proposal to revamp the Department of Commerce.

"It's a major shift," he said. "I think you'll see the Legislature work with the governor's office to mold it into something we think is workable."

On Walker's proposal to give the governor final approval on administrative rules changes, Fitzgerald was cautious in talking about the potential shift of power.

"We should be always concerned with that. There's got to be a separation of powers there ... we'll see what members have to say about that," he said.

Fitzgerald said he will bring his caucus together on Wednesday to talk about the bills slated for the special session.

The Senate will be on the floor Jan. 11 to take up some joint rules changes. Fitzgerald said the Senate will also be on the floor on Jan. 18, and he expects committees to begin working through the special session bills between Jan. 5 and 18.

"The State of the State is the 25th so he'll probably want to include some victories in that as well. Hopefully he can get that done," Fitzgerald said.

Listen to the interview here.

 4:08 PM 

Speaker Fitzgerald advises lawmakers to prepare for 'wild two-year ride'

Rep. Jeff Fitzgerald this afternoon said lawmakers must change the way of doing business in Madison after being sworn in as Assembly speaker for the 2011-2012 legislative session.

"On Nov. 2, the silent majority spoke," the Juneau Republican said after the chamber's 99 members were inaugurated today. "They aren't thrilled with Republicans, they aren't thrilled with Democrats.

"What they are demanding is that we put our differences aside and move this state forward."

Fitzgerald said his emphasis will be on putting people back to work and bringing "fiscal prosperity" back to the state. But he also cautioned members that the upcoming session could be the most difficult, but ultimately most rewarding, session of their careers.

"There is no single bill that will jump-start this economy," Fitzgerald said.

To the 30 freshman lawmakers being sworn in today, Fitzgerald advised them to enjoy the day with their families, "then fasten your seatbelts."

"It's going to be a wild two-year ride," Fitzgerald said.

The speaker also noted that his mother -- "the driving force behind the Fitzgerald boys" -- attended the Assembly ceremony while his father watched brother Scott Fitzgerald sworn in as majority leader in that chamber. He joked that when he's asked how his parents split up the brothers' official functions, "I always tell them it's very simple: I've always been my mom's favorite."

See Inauguration Day photos:

 2:19 PM 

VIPs at the ceremony

Those seated around the podium for today's swearing in included five past guvs and a good chunk of the state's congressional delegation.

The former guvs included the most recent Jim Doyle, and Scott Walker made a point to walk across the stage and shake his hand during the ceremony. Also there were Scott McCallum, Tommy Thompson, Tony Earl and Martin Schreiber.

From the House delegation, there was U.S. Reps. Gwen Moore, Tom Petri, Jim Sensenbrenner and Paul Ryan. Sen. Sen.-elect Ron Johnson, who got a quick ovation when Walker introduced him, was also there.

Leggie leaders included Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller, Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca and Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder.

Other constitutional officers included Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, AG J.B. Van Hollen, Treasurer Kurt Schuller and DPI Superintendent Tony Evers.

Five of the state Supreme Court justices were there: Chief Shirley Abrahamson, who administered the oaths, and Justices Ann Walsh Bradley, Michael Gableman, Dave Prosser and Pat Roggensack.

 2:15 PM 

Walker folks happy with turnout

It's clear the new Walker administration was happy with today's turnout for the swearing in ceremony.

A Walker spokesman reported the administration printed up 1,500 programs for the ceremony and ran out of them 30 minutes before it started.

 2:12 PM 

Dems accuse Republicans of bait-and-switch

Dems quickly jumped on GOP state Rep. Joel Kleefisch today for circulating 15 bills for co-sponsorships that included repealing same-day voter registration and creating a property tax credit for manufacturing and biotechnology, except for those facilities engaging in embryonic stem cell research.

Rep. Dean Kaufert, R-Neenah, also offered a proposal to implement "castle doctrine" legislation regarding defense of an individual's home and property.

"During the November elections, Republicans promised they’d focus their agenda on jobs and the economy," said Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison. "Clearly, with the first 16 bills out of the gate we are seeing a blatant bait-and-switch that ignores job creation and focuses on right-wing social issues."

But Kleefisch said the bills were left over from last session, when they were introduced but went nowhere because Dems were in charge.

"The jobs agenda is first," he said.

 12:53 PM 

La Follette out of state for swearing in

Secretary of State Douglas J. La Follette, a notable absence at today's inaugural ceremony, is in West Virginia for a family get-together.

Reached by phone, La Follette said he took the oath of office from Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson about 10 days ago.

La Follette was elected Secretary of State in 1974. After an unsuccessful lieutenant governor campaign in 1978, he was again elected as Secretary of State in 1982, and has been re-elected since.

 12:41 PM 

Walker calls on lawmakers to pass special session legislation in inaugural speech

Gov. Scott Walker today called on lawmakers to approve by the end of February legislation he wants as part of a special session to kick start the state’s sluggish economy.

Walker pledged a “new and better Wisconsin that we build together” during his inaugural address in the Capitol rotunda, while promising to balance the state’s budget without raising taxes, raiding segregated funds or “excessive” borrowing.

Walker didn't go into specifics on any cuts he would offer to balance the budget, promising “tough, but compassionate decisions.” After finishing last year in a war of words with state employee union officials over their 2009-11 contracts, Walker invited his “fellow state workers” to join him in an effort to ``right-size government."

“Under our administration, state government will do only what is necessary – no more, no less,” he added later, according to prepared remarks.

Walker has previous pledged to propose an end to the state’s tax on health savings accounts, an overhaul of the Commerce Department, a small business tax cut and tort reform as part of the special session that he was to call today. His office said this morning the specific bills weren't yet ready for public release.

During his address, attended by ex-governors, family members and other dignitaries, Walker frequently cited the Wisconsin Constitution and its history as he pledged to rein in the size of state government.

He also offered five pledges to the public:

- working to restore economic growth and vibrancy to the state.

- right-size state government so it only provides essential services. “My fellow state workers, I invite you to partner with me in this necessary work,” he said.

- improve the education system to make students competitive in a global marketplace.

- protect the state’s natural resources.

- honor and respect the foundational role of the family in our society.

At one point, Walker highlighted a section of the state constitution that reads, “The blessings of a free government can only be maintained by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality and virtue, and by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles."

“Today, in this inauguration, we affirm these values and fundamental principles,” Walker said. “It is through frugality and moderation in government that we will see freedom and prosperity for our people.”

Read his prepared remarks here.

Watch video of the ceremony.

See Inauguration Day photos:

 11:47 AM 

Doyle, Walker meet

Outgoing Gov. Jim Doyle met with his successor for pictures outside the governor's office in the Capitol this morning.

 11:45 AM 

Protesters call for jobs in Milwaukee

Hundreds of protesters met outside the State Street entrance to the Capitol just an hour before the inauguration ceremony.

The rally, which followed a prayer vigil organized by Citizen Action of Wisconsin this morning, called for greater attention to creating jobs in Milwaukee. Speakers vowed to "not settle for anything less" than the 250,000 jobs promised by Walker during his campaign last fall.

Following the rally, protesters marched around the Capitol to the Martin Luther King Street entrance, where Walker was expected to arrive for the ceremony.

See photos from the rally and this morning's prayer vigil:

 11:26 AM 

Walker tells of his faith at prayer breakfast

Telling the crowd he is "proud to say I'm a born-again Christian," Gov. Scott Walker told a prayer breakfast this morning that "it is not freedom from religion, it is freedom from the state religion we celebrate."

Several religious leaders addressed the inaugural breakfast at Monona Terrace this morning, including leaders from the Buddhist, Hindu and Jewish faiths. Also offering a prayer was the pastor from the church Walker attended in Wauwatosa, Meadowbrook Church, and Rev. Jerome E. Listecki, Archbishop of Milwaukee.

Walker said one of the pleasures of his tenure as Milwaukee County exec has been to get to know leaders from different faiths.

"The great Creator, no matter who you worship, is from where our freedoms are derived, not from the government," he said.

Walker's wife, Tonette, spoke to the crowd about one of the initiatives she will support as Wisconsin's First Lady, the Christian-based drug and alcohol treatment mission Teen Challenge. Three young women who have participated in the program told the gathering about their experiences.

About 600 people attended the event.

Listen to Gov. Scott Walker's speech here.

Listen to First Lady Tonette Walker's speech here.

 10:27 AM 

Walker already guv

Scott Walker will publicly take the oath of office at noon today. But he officially became guv just after midnight.

Walker's office said he took the oath of office Thursday during a private ceremony so he would become guv early this morning right after the term of Jim Doyle expired. Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen administered the oath to Walker last week.

 9:36 AM 

Protesters rally outside Walker prayer breakfast

Dozens of protesters welcomed incoming Gov. Scott Walker to Madison on Inauguration Day, demanding job access for Milwaukee outside a scheduled prayer breakfast for Walker at the Monona Terrace.

The protest, organized by Citizen Action of Wisconsin, featured a host of speakers asking for Walker to explain his job creation initiatives to unemployed Milwaukeeans in his home county. Protesters carried a number of signs -- many referring to Walker's refusal to accept more than $800 million in federal high speed rail funding -- and chanted "no jobs, no peace."

State Rep. Barbara Toles, D-Milwaukee, said she looked forward to working with Walker on his job creation promises, as long as they account for the needs of struggling families in her district.

"No true recovery can be achieved without shared prosperty," Toles told rally-goers. "Wisconsin cannot move forward without Milwaukee."

See photos from the vigil here.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

 6:02 PM 

Walker kicks off inauguration festivities

Scott Walker kicked off his inauguration festivities Saturday with a party on Madison’s east side to watch the Wisconsin Badgers play in the Rose Bowl.

Walker called it a “down to Earth” gathering that epitomized the tone he hoped to set with his administration. In addition to mingling with supporters at the East Side Club along Lake Monona, Walker invited the families of National Guard troops that he planned to speak with via video conference call during halftime.

“This is very much a family affair,” Walker said.

Those in attendance paid $20 to attend the event, which included a cash bar and the Rose Bowl on a projection screen at the front of the room. Backers clad in Badger red packed the room and waited in line to speak with the governor-elect.

Walker, who will be sworn in Monday, said it finally sunk in on Friday that he was about to become governor when he practiced the oath with Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, who had him recite the pledge during a run through.

“Until now, we’ve just been so busy,” Walker said.

Walker said he planned to move into the executive residence midweek after some cleaning and painting was finished. But his family will remain in Wauwatosa through the spring as his sons, one a junior, the other a sophomore, finish the school year. He said he was not sure which high school they would attend once they made the move to Madison.

Walker previously announced he planned to cover the employee share of his state pension following his election as he moves to require state workers to pick up a greater share of their retirement and health benefits. But he said he does not plan to return a portion of his salary.

“We’re not looking to do pay cuts. We’re looking to put employee benefits more in line with the private sector,” Walker said.

Walker planned a fundraiser Sunday night at Milwaukee's Pfister that was closed to the media.

- By JR Ross

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