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Thursday, February 10, 2011

 6:35 PM 

Fitzgerald: Keep your calendar open next week

Upon adjournment, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald warned members to be flexible with their schedules next week.

"The governor will be expanding the call on special session which will include the budget repair bill," Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said.

 6:32 PM 

Administrative rules rewrite passes Senate

The Senate passed the overhaul of the administrative rule-making process proposed by Gov. Scott Walker as part of his special session package.

The bill passed on a party-line 18-14 vote. The bill will have to go back to the Assembly for a vote on concurrence because the Senate adopted a technical amendment.

Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, said the bill will foster job creation in the long term by allowing people to more easily contest "overly burdensome" rules. She said the bill will actually strengthen legislative oversight by directing all rules to JCRAR, and will cut down on marathon hearings like Wednesday's 10-hour public hearing on a wind turbine siting.

"Hopefully we'll be catching bad rules before we get to a hearing," she said.

Sen. Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, said the bill is "one of the best we've done this session." She said the bill puts another set of eyes on the rules process and increases transparency.

"The public is going to be much more participatory," she said.

Dems tried and failed to pass amendments to the bill to exempt the Government Accountability Board, the Department of Justice and the Department of Public Instruction from the sweeping changes of the bill. They railed against Republicans for ceding legislative authority to the governor's office.

Dems also proposed an amendment to require the governor's office to maintain a record of all people they meet with to discuss the scope of a rule. Another amendment would have sunset the bill in 2015. All were rebuffed by Republicans.

"So far I haven't seen anything that remotely resembles independence from a governor who is grabbing too much," Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Waunakee, said.

"Once you give up power to the governor it's extraordinarily difficult to give it back," Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller, D-Monona, said.

Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, gave a lengthy, impassioned speech toward the end of the debate, prompting Senate President Mike Ellis, R-Neenah, to pound his gavel.

"Shut her off, she's out of order," Ellis said to the staffer who controls the microphones.

"No Mr. President, this majority is out of order," Taylor shouted.

 5:37 PM 

Dems taking caucus

Senate Democrats have left the floor for a caucus. They said it will be about 15 minutes.

The body has moved through 11 of the 12 amendments on the calendar.

 4:45 PM 

Senators back to debate on rule-making bill

The Senate Republicans are back from their budget repair bill briefing and the discussion on the legislation to overhaul the administrative rules process has resumed.

The body is currently debating the seventh amendment to the bill.

 2:04 PM 

Senate Republicans break to get briefing on budget repair bill

Senate Republicans are off to get briefed by Gov. Scott Walker on his budget repair bill proposal. It's a closed caucus.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said the break would continue until "an undisclosed time."

Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller moved that the Senate would adjourn until Tuesday and resume debate on the rule-making bill then, but Republicans derailed that effort.

Miller objected to the caucus, saying he wanted Fitzgerald to give a certain time when they'll be back on the floor. He said the rule-making bill is important and "should be debated in the light of day."

"Are you kidding?" Fitzgerald asked, asking the Senate President if there is a precedent for objecting to a caucus.

"Over the course of 40 years I've been here it's never been objected to," Senate President Mike Ellis, R-Neenah, said.

Miller lifted his objection, and the Republicans went to caucus.

 1:30 PM 

Senate debating rule-making overhaul

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said the bill is necessary because the rule-making process has been handled sloppily by legislators.

"When we write bills ... we were doing a poor job of articulating exactly what we wanted our bills to say and what the scope of the legislation should be," Fitzgerald said.

Because of the inexact drafting of bills by lawmakers, the fine details were left up to agency employees, Fitzgerald said.

"Bureaucrats had more power and the legislative intent was not being met," he said.

Sen. Fred Risser said the bill raises a fundamental question about the separation of powers and the role of the Legislature in writing new laws.

"It's really a dictatorial takeover of the rule-making process by the governor," Risser, D-Madison, said.

Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller, D-Monona, said the bill is a "power grab" by the guv.

"If we pass this bill we might as well rename the governor's mansion the governor's castle," Miller said.

Fitzgerald disagreed, saying the bill corrects problems in the current system "sets a course to bring back strong rules that ultimately will protect the integrity of this body."

Sen. Jim Holperin, D-Conover, said the bill continues the trend of "governing by symbolism and brand management" that has run through this special session.

He said if rules were not being promulgated to meet legislative intent, it is the lawmakers' own fault for "a lack of interest or lack of assertiveness" in ensuring they go through the process correctly.

"There is nothing wrong with the administrative rules process we have on the books today," he said.

 11:15 AM 

Republicans are headed back to caucus

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said he expected the caucus to last about an hour.

The Senate dispensed of the regular session calendar and is going to take up the special session calendar when it returns.

The only bill on the special session calendar relates to giving the governor more power over the state agency rule-making process. The Dems have already offered 10 amendments to the bill, and there may also be amendments from Republican members who have concerns about the scope of the bill.

The Assembly passed the legislation last week.

 9:11 AM 

Senate to take up administrative rules bill

The Senate will be on the floor today to take up two appointments and the guv’s overhaul of the administrative rules process.

Senate committees unanimously backed the appointments of Pete Bildsten as secretary of Financial Institutions and Rick Chandler to head Revenue.

See the Senate calendar here.

 2:42 PM 

"Supermajority" bill passes Senate

A bill requiring a two-thirds or "supermajority" vote of the Legislature to increase the state sales, income or franchise tax passed is headed to the guv's desk.

The Senate today passed the bill on a 20-12 vote. Sen. Julie Lassa of Stevens Point was the only Dem to vote in favor of the bill, which was introduced as part of Gov. Scott Walker's special session on the economy.

Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, said taxpayers are demanding a higher threshold to increase taxes.

"This sends a clear message to the people of Wisconsin that we're serious about our commitment to not raise taxes," she said.

Democrats derided the bill as disingenuous and unenforceable.

Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, said it as a "waste of time."

"This is a meaningless, useless piece of legislation not worth the paper it's written on," he said.

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Waunakee, said the bill would be more sincere if it included a similar standard for increasing fees, which he said have steadily risen while taxes have not. He said the bill is unnecessary.

"If you don't want to vote for tax increases, then don't," he said. "This is nothing but pure campaign material."

A handful of Dem amendments were defeated, including amendments from Sen. Tim Carpenter, D-Milwaukee, to include increasing gas taxes, decreasing school aids, raising property taxes and other components in the bill.

The Assembly passed the bill in January on a 57-36 vote. The bill would only apply to the current Legislature, though Vukmir said a constitutional amendment will follow.

"You either starve the beast or you feed the beast. And we've been feeding the beast for far too long," Vukmir said.

 12:46 PM 

Senate passes auto insurance changes

Legislation to roll back most of the reforms made to automobile insurance under the Doyle Administration passed the Senate on a bipartisan 25-7 vote.

The Senate approved amendments making mandatory minimum underinsured coverage optional in automobile insurance policies, and to allow policies to include "reducing clauses" which allow insurance companies to reduce coverage following an accident by subtracting the amount of the other driver's policy.

The bill does not eliminate the mandate that Wisconsin drivers carry insurance.

Sen. Frank Lasee, R-De Pere, said the bill improves choice for Wisconsin consumers by eliminating changes to auto insurance passed by Democrats in the 2009-11 budget.

"This gives people more choices. I think that's a good idea," Lasee said.

But Democrats like Sen. Tim Carpenter, who worked for years to get mandatory insurance passed, said the bill puts the state on a path to repeal mandatory auto insurance.

"People are going to get hurt," Carpenter, D-Milwaukee, said.

Carpenter said the insurance industry is pushing for the repeal of the changes passed last session.

"The only people in favor of it is the insurance industry and believe me they're not hurting," he said.

Lasee said Dems have their own interest group they're protecting.

"They want to put more money in trial lawyers pockets on the backs of citizens," Lasee said.

The legislation was passed last week by the Assembly, but was blocked from moving forward by a Dem procedural move. The Assembly will take a final vote when it next meets for regular session later this month.

 11:12 AM 

Senate session begins

The floor session has begun. The body will first take up the regular session schedule of cabinet appointments and a bill to repeal some auto insurance requirements Dems approved in the 2009-11 budget.

 9:23 AM 

Senate to take up auto insurance, supermajority bills

The state Senate will be in session today to take up a repeal of some auto insurance requirements Dems approved in the 2009-11 budget, as well as a bill to require a supermajority vote to approve a a tax hike.

The Senate calendar also includes confirmation votes for Gary Hamblin as Corrections Secretary and Ted Nickel as Insurance Commissioner.

See the Senate agenda here.

 8:34 PM 

Assembly sends wetlands bill to Walker

A bill to grant an exemption to wetlands requirements for a Brown County property near Lambeau Field is headed to Gov. Scott Walker following a 56-35 vote in the Assembly.

Walker had originally proposed the measure as part of his administrative rules bill, but it broken into separate legislation by GOP lawmakers. After details of the bill broke, Bass Pro Shops said it will not build in a wetland.

The project stalled following the appeal of the DNR’s approval of the wetland permit last year by a citizen group.

Rep. Chris Danou, D-Trempealeau, said the legislation tramples on the constitutional rights of that citizen group to petition their government. Dems also charged that the Walker administration put the bill in the special session to benefit a donor to his campaign who is developing the tract.

"We're not here to do special favors," Danou said.

Republicans said passing the bill and developing the site could create as many as 300 jobs.

"There is a mom and a dad in the Green Bay area eating mac and cheese (with their children). And they wish they could put some hot dogs in the mac and cheese but they can't afford it," Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, said.

Kleefisch said the fact that Dems can't grasp that is why they were drubbed so badly at the polls last November.

 6:46 PM 

Assembly passes changes to rule-making process

Wisconsin's governor will have more say in how administrative rules are promulgated under a bill approved by the Assembly today.

The Assembly approved the bill on a party-line 58-34 vote despite Dem protests that it abdicates too much power to the executive branch.

Rep. Tom Tiffany, R-Merrill, said the rule process is currently convoluted and a hindrance to business. He said it will free business from excessive regulation and put more people back to work.

"We need these jobs and economic growth here in the state of Wisconsin," said Tiffany, adding the bill "creates an environment where job creators are going to say 'I want to be in Wisconsin.'"

Rep. Kelda Helen Roys, D-Madison, scoffed at the idea that the bill had anything to do with jobs. She said the bill opens the door for corruption, and allows from more uncertainty for businesses because a governor can stall new rules under the proposal. She said the bill will "give away our power as a Legislature to a governor who already has tremendous power."

The Assembly is now taking up a bill exempting a plot of land near Lambeau Field from wetland protection.

 5:37 PM 

Commerce overhaul heads to governor's desk

The Assembly has passed Gov. Walker's proposed overhaul of the state Commerce Department, sending the bill to the governor for signature.

The bill passed 59-33 after Republicans turned away Dem 12 amendments, as well as a motion to table the overall bill from Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha. Among the amendments rejected by the majority Republicans was a motion to give the WEDC employees civil service protection.

The legislation creates the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, a public-private entity led by a CEO, the first will be Commerce Secretary Paul Jadin, and ruled by a board of directors. Republicans laud the plan as a positive change in the way the state recruits and retains businesses, saying the current Department of Commerce has become bogged down in regulatory responsibilities and bureaucracy.

Barca blasted the bill, calling it an "$80 million blank check to a corporation that doesn't exist." He said the plan for the WEDC was woefully inadequate.

"What they have isn't even half-baked. It's not baked at all," he said.

The chamber has moved on to the bill to overhaul the state administrative rules process.

 4:01 PM 

Dems put brakes on auto insurance repeal bill

Democrats were able to stall a bill to repeal a trove of changes to auto insurance that were passed in the last state budget.

Rep. David Cullen, D-Milwaukee, stopped the bill in its tracks by objecting to the third reading of it, a procedural move that blocks a final vote. Republicans fell short of meeting the two-thirds vote required to override the objection.

Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon, admonished the Dems, saying they already paid a price at the ballot box for passing the increase in mandatory minimums in the first place. He characterized the changes to auto insurance passed by the Dems as a gift to trial attorneys.

"Admit you were wrong," he said, predicting that there will be Dem votes for the bill when it comes back to the floor.

Cullen said Republicans used the issue to distribute "lies and distortions," and said the predicted rate increases never came to be.

The bill can come back to the floor for a vote in the next Assembly regular session day. The next regular session day is set for Feb. 22.

 3:40 PM 

Amendments targeting reducing clause tabled

Democrats were unsuccessful in trying to get two amendments to the auto insurance bill that would have changed the use of reducing clauses in insurance policies.

An amendment to eliminate reducing clauses from auto policies was tabled on a 58-34 vote. Dems said the clauses give consumers a false idea of how much their policy will cover in case of an accident. Republicans said consumers are free to shop around to find a policy that doesn't use reducing clauses.

Also tabled was an amendment to require agents to disclose to consumers that their policy contains a reducing clause. Dems said it's only right to notify the consumer about what's in their policy, while Republicans said if Dems felt so strongly they could have proposed the change in prior sessions.

Rep. Kevin Petersen, R-Waupaca, said the intent of this bill is to roll back changes to the required minimum amount of car insurance coverage the Dem-controlled Legislature and Gov. Doyle made in the last session. The changes, passed in the last state budget, also made auto insurance mandatory in Wisconsin. The mandate is not repealed in the new legislation.

Petersen claimed the changes caused his car insurance rates to increase by $400.

Democrats said the Office of the Commissioner Insurance conducted a study that showed the changes last session did not effect rates. Rep. Any Jorgensen, D-Fort Atkinson, asked Petersen if, after the new bill is enacted, insurance rates will drop correspondingly, and said the bill does nothing to create jobs, which Republicans say is their top priority in this session.

Petersen bristled at the suggestion rolling back the minimum coverage mandates would have no economic impact.

"Tell that to the waitress who doesn't get a tip because my insurance went up $400," he said.

 3:24 PM 

Senate passes Brown County wetlands exemption

The Senate today passed a bill 20-11 to grant an exemption to wetlands requirements for a Brown County property believed to be targeted for a Bass Pro Shops store.

Gov. Walker had originally proposed the measure as part of his administrative rules bill, but was it broken into separate legislation by GOP lawmakers.

Dems said that Republicans should have brought forward a bill to deal with the DNR permit appeal process rather than target one particular project. The project stalled following the appeal of the DNR’s approval of the wetland permit last year.

“It is better for us, as a body, to facilitate conversation and problem-solving rather than impose these solutions and prevent citizens from being involved,” said Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar.

Republicans, however, charged that the project’s difficulty was indicative of the problem with burdensome regulations throughout the state. They also said the wetland in question shouldn’t be the subject of complaints from environmental groups.

“This isn’t mother nature’s work here. This is man’s creation. … We’re not talking about some pristine place on the edge of a nice trout stream,” said Sen. Robert Cowles, R-Green Bay.

After details of the bill broke, Bass Pro Shops said it will not build in a wetland.

 2:50 PM 

Assembly stalls

After approving two quick amendments (here and here) to the auto insurance bill on voice votes, the floor session has hit a snag after a Dem amendment to remove the reducing clause from the bill.

The chamber has been informal for about 15 minutes.

UPDATE: 3 p.m. -- Assembly resumes debate on the amendment.

 2:40 PM 

Senate takes up wetlands bill

The Senate has voted 19-12 to recall Special Session SB 10 -- a bill to create an exemption to wetlands regulations for a Brown County property thought to be geared toward a Bass Pro Shops store -- from the Organization Committee.

The chamber is now debating amendments to the bill.

 2:34 PM 

Senate backs Commerce overhaul

The Senate voted 21-10 today to approve the guv’s overhaul of the Commerce Department over Dem complaints the entity that would replace it lacks needed details that would provide accountability and transparency.

The legislation next goes to the state Assembly.

Republicans turned back a series of Dem amendments that supporters said were intended to create more accountability with the new agency.

Though the legislation establishes the WEDC, various details of how it will operate remain to be worked out in the state budget.

Some of the amendments included requirements that the WEDC report in which communities it funded projects and requiring those who serve on the board to file ethics reports to ensure there are no conflicts of interest. Dems charged the legislation created too few details considering the taxpayer money that would soon head its way.

“There are no details,” complained Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton. “There’s no accountability in this legislation. It’s just this new entity with $87 million dollars.”

But Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, cautioned some of the Dem amendments represented a worst-case scenario for the agency if lawmakers are allowed to stifle it with a series of requirements to hand out grants to certain projects or businesses that they deem desirable.

“We’re going to have to be on the ball to make sure this is not what becomes of this agency, that we prefer a free market approach that the best, most successful businesses are helped, not somebody who has a political connection,” Grothman said.

GOP leaders negotiated several changes to the bill to give them more oversight of the agency, including giving themselves six appointments to board overseeing the new entity. The guv would chair the board and have six appointments, while leggie leaders would get six appointments, including four lawmakers.

But Dem Sen. Tim Cullen argued the board should be changed back to its original form in which the guv appoints all of the board members.

“They (lawmakers) bring a political input to the board, which I think all of us really don’t want to have happen,” Cullen said.

Sen. Randy Hopper, R-Oshkosh, said he agreed with Cullen that lawmakers did not belong on the board and should not be allowed to interfere with economic development decisions. But he moved to table the amendment anyway, and it was shelved.

 12:28 PM 

Erpenbach rips guv decision requiring state employees to come in following blizzard

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, said it was irresponsible and reckless for the guv to require state employees to report to work today even as he closed their offices to the public because of the blizzard that swept across Wisconsin.

Erpenbach recounted the warnings from various public officials for the public to stay home and off the roads as they tried to clean up from the storm. He then questioned the logic behind having state employees come into work under those conditions when their offices weren't even open in the 29 counties covered by Walker's emergency order.

He also said they had a much more difficult time getting into work than the guv did.

“Gov. Walker woke up to a plowed driveway, a warm Suburban, security and he's not going to get stuck in a ditch today,” Erpenbach said. “If he does, they’ll just call another truck.”

Walker's order allowed state employees to stay home if they took the appropriate leave, though they were not allowed to use a sick day to stay home.

 11:22 AM 

Assembly heads to caucus

Republicans and Democrats are both headed to caucus to mull over today's calendar. Members from each side said they hoped to keep their caucus short, but some in the chamber are predicting a late night.

Ninety-one members were present at the roll call. Two members, Rep. Christine Sinicki, D-Milwaukee, and Rep. Keith Ripp, R-Lodi, were given leave of absence for the day.

Prior to going to caucus, Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, thanked public employees for making today's session possible despite the blizzard that inundated Madison and most of the southern half of the state.

Rep. Gary Hebl, D-Sun Prairie, reported that Jimmy the Groundhog did not see his shadow this morning, a prognostication of an early spring. He also said Jimmy predicted "the Packers will win without a doubt."

 11:07 AM 

Assembly session starting

The "Blizzard of 2011" isn't stopping lawmakers from forging ahead with today's session.

The Assembly is holding a quorum call and should be underway shortly.

The Assembly is slated to take up the administrative rules overhaul that Walker touted in the speech last night, while the Senate's calendar includes the revamp of the Commerce Department. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said earlier this week he also hopes to take up today some of the legislation on the Assembly calendar.

See the Assembly calendar here.

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