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 4:49 PM 

Dems offer resolution on assistant DA furloughs

Assembly Democrats have brought to the floor a privileged resolution that the governor, administration secretary and Office of State Employee Relations director stop implementing unpaid leaves of absence or reducing FTE status for assistant district attorneys for the rest of this fiscal year.

Dems say forcing the prosecutors to take time off endangers public safety. Republicans say the problem was created by Gov. Doyle, and Gov. Walker is already working to address the issue.

Republicans objected to the Dems springing the resolution on them on the floor and not bringing it to Joint Finance. Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford, called it "gotcha" politics.

Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, said there has been no evidence that the majority will work with them. He said that's the reasons the Dems blocked earlier bills today, because their amendments aren't given consideration by Republicans.

"When we bring things to you, nothing happens," he said.

UPDATE: 5:25 p.m. -- The motion to take up the resolution failed on a 39-56 vote. The resolution is now referred to the Committee on Organization.

 4:23 PM 

Dems block two more bills

Dems objected to the third reading of a bill regarding bear hunt licensing and a bill allowing retailers to advertise that they will pay sales tax.

UPDATE: 4:45 p.m. -- Add two more bills to the blocked list. The Dems have also objected to the third reading of a bill regarding bass culling and a bill making changes to who can be covered under a county's blanket bond.

 3:50 PM 

Dems block rainy day fund measure

Democrats blocked the third reading of a constitutional amendment to set up spending restraints and push state revenues into a rainy day fund if tax collections exceed certain benchmarks.

The objection of the third reading delays a vote on the bill until the next session after the next scheduled floor day. The next scheduled floor day for the Assembly is May 10.

This is the first consideration of the constitutional amendment. To become law, it would need to also pass in the next legislative session and be approved by voters.

The measure would require state tax collections in excess of 6.5 percent of state wide personal incomes to be deposited into it. Any balance over a set maximum would have to be returned to taxpayers, and the fund could only be tapped in a recession or fiscal emergency with approval from two-thirds of the state Legislature.

Rep. Travis Tranel, the Cuba City Republican who authored the legislation, said the amendment was a common sense proposal and sets aside money when times are good so the state has a cushion in difficult fiscal times.

Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon, said the legislation was the brainchild of former Rep. Mark Gottlieb, who left the Assembly to serve as Gov. Scott Walker's transportation secretary. Fitzgerald said if this type of legislation was enacted in the 1980s it would have resulted in $9 billion less in spending.

The public was "clamoring for" this type of fiscal restraint, Fitzgerald said.

"I've been talking to people. They don't want any more government spending. They don't want to pay more taxes," he said.

The Republicans turned aside a half dozen Dem amendments, including proposals access the funds with a simple majority vote, and suspending the mandatory deposit into the fund in years when the state is making cuts to shared revenue or education funding.

Rep. Tony Staskunas, the West Allis Dem who authored the amendments, said there are flaws in the proposal and the bill has moved through the process at "greased lightning speed." He said it's still early in the current legislative session and urged that it go back to the committee stage for more work. His motion was defeated.

 2:36 PM 

Parisi honored as he exits Assembly

Joe Parisi was praised by Assembly Dems today as he resigns his seat to take over as Dane County Executive.

Parisi, a Madison Democrat, was elected to the county exec post last week. He beat conservative Eileen Bruskewitz 70 percent to 30 percent. Parisi was first elected to the Assembly in 2004.

Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, lauded Parisi as an effective leader, "the conscience of the Legislature," and lawmaker who always wanted to make sure things are done right.

"When you think of Joe Parisi you think of a consummate professional," Barca said.

Parisi called serving in the Assembly "a very rare honor."

 10:53 AM 

Assembly goes to caucus

The Assembly has recessed for partisan caucus.

Before heading to recess, the body passed a resolution honoring former Rep. Dismas Becker, D-Milwaukee. Becker, a former Majority Leader in the Assembly, died in September.

 8:52 AM 

Assembly to take up rainy day fund amendment

The Assembly will be on the floor today.

The calendar includes a constitutional amendment on first consideration that would try to fill the state's rainy day fund.

The measure would require state tax collections in excess of 6.5 percent of state wide personal incomes to be deposited into it. Any balance over a set maximum would have to be returned to taxpayers, and the fund could only be tapped in a recession or fiscal emergency with approval from two-thirds of the state Legislature.

Critics say while having a real rainy fund is good, this one would be too hard to tap into.

 6:27 PM 

Bill to override sick leave ordinance headed to governor

The Assembly has concurred in SB 23, which would pre-empt local governments from requiring employers to provide leave to deal with family, medical or health issues -- including the city of Milwaukee's sick leave ordinance.

Lawmakers voted 59-35 to back the bill, which now heads to the governor's desk. Gov. Walker said this afternoon he'd be inclined to sign it.

Democrats ripped the proposal as an assault on local control and a "slap in the face to the people of the city of Milwaukee."

"Who are we, as a legislative body, to question 69 percent of voters in the city of Milwaukee?" asked Rep. Christine Sinicki, D-Milwaukee, noting the margin that supported the binding referendum to enact the sick leave ordinance in November of 2008.

"We're questioning their ability to make decisions, we're questioning their ability to go to the voting booth."

Rep. Chris Danou, D-Trempealeau, noted that no co-sponsors of the bill reside in Milwaukee, while Rep. Cory Mason argued that lawmakers should be advocating for more referendums to directly hear from the public.

"You can't undo a local referendum just because you don't like the results," said Mason, D-Racine. "It's just wrong."

Rep. Richard Spanbauer, R-Oshkosh, countered that he supports local control, and that members of both parties voted to override local smoking ordinances in the statewide smoking ban bill.

Spanbauer said he supported the smoking ban in part because the wide variety of different local standards was hurting businesses in his district.

"I think the bottom line on this is that it is hurting business," Spanbauer said.

Rep. Terese Berceau, D-Madison, said voters are increasingly afraid of GOP proposals, likening the caucus to "a cult" and "Night of the Living Dead."

When Speaker Pro Tempore Bill Kramer interjected to ask if Berceau was calling the Republicans zombies, she responded, "That would be a compliment."

 5:10 PM 

Assembly passes bill creating Beloit development opportunity zone

The chamber has approved AB 13 by a 89-4 vote.

The proposal would establish a zone in the city of Beloit that would last five years and allow tax benefits of up to $5 million. The Department of Commerce would be able to extend the zone for an additional five years and $5 million.

Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, asked members to show that job creation could be supported on a bipartisan basis. But Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, said Republicans should have backed an amendment to include all of Rock County in the development opportunity zone.

"We can't predict where industry is going to want to go," Barca said.

Rep. Joe Knilans, R-Janesville, countered that the bill as written would benefit Rock County as a whole, saying he viewed Beloit and Janesville as "twin cities" in southern Wisconsin.

 5:06 PM 

Assembly passes bill extending tax credit for dairy, livestock investment

The Assembly passed a bill to extend an income and franchise tax credit for dairy and livestock farm modernization and expansion through the end of 2016.

The tax credit had been set to expire Jan. 1, 2012.

The bill passed 92-1.

Dems complained that Republicans wouldn't consider an amendment from Rep. Louis Molepske, D-Stevens Point, to include crop farmers in the tax credit program. Molepske said the amendment would allow cranberry, potato and other crop farmers to use the credit for irrigation equipment they purchase for their businesses.

Rep. Lee Nerison, R-Westby, chair of the Assembly's ag committee, said Molepske's amendment didn't come before the committee in time to be considered.

The amendment was tabled 58-36. Dems decried the decision as motivated by partisanship.

"The only bipartisanship I've seen in the first 100 days (of this session) was when I climbed into Representative Spanbauer's window so I could vote," Rep. David Cullen, D-Milwaukee, quipped, a reference to the March 10 floor session when lawmakers were locked out of the building.

 4:11 PM 

Assembly passes bill creating enterprise zones in rural areas

The Assembly passed legislation that creates two enterprise zones in locations with a population of less than 5,000, and two more zones in locations with populations between 5,000 and 30,000.

The bill passed on a 79-12 vote.

Under the bill, a business that retains jobs in a rural zone and makes a "significant capital investment" in property within the zones would be eligible for tax credits.

Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford, said the bill furthers the nonpartisan goal of job creation.

An amendment from Rep. Penny Bernard Schaber, D-Appleton, that she said would ensure that the program be maintained when the Department of Commerce transitions into the public-private hybrid Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation was defeated on a 58-35 vote.

 11:26 AM 

Tribal leader concerned about proposed mining operation

Michael Wiggins Jr. today urged legislators to find a balance between economic development and environmental stewardship in the annual State of the Tribes address.

“Our lands and water define who we are as Ojibwe people,” Wiggins told lawmakers.

Wiggins, chairman of the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians, voiced concerns about a proposed taconite mine in Ashland County. The proposed mine would be located just south of his tribe's reservation.

Wiggins told reporters following the address that he has concerns about sulfide components that are a byproduct of the mining process. He fears that the mine will affect the surface and groundwater for the tribe, calling the impacts potentially catastrophic.

"When I'm talking through the filter of negative impacts to the water my people drink and are going to drink for the next 300 or 500 years, it's hard to talk about it in terms of economic opportunity," Wiggins said. "There's lots of other opportunity out there other than mining."

Wiggins said he found it coincidental that a front page story appeared in Wisconsin State Journal touting the economic benefits of the mine, the same day the tribes address the Legislature.

"It's an indicator that there's a lot of support and a coordinated effort that's pushing mining initiatives," he said.

In his address, Wiggins said the tribes face the same challenges the state is facing -- budget deficits, economic development, rising health and energy costs.

Wiggins said tribes are among the largest, if not the largest, employers in their respective counties, and estimated that as many as 100,000 jobs in Wisconsin are positively impacted by tribal enterprise.

He commended the state on working with tribes on issues like health care and said he hopes to keep the lines of communication open.

--By Greg Bump

 8:55 AM 

Assembly to consider bill to override sick leave ordinance

The Assembly is set to be on the floor beginning at 11 a.m.

Included on its agenda is a Senate-passed bill that would pre-empt Milwaukee’s sick leave ordinance.

The chamber is also set to consider measures that would extend dairy and livestock tax credits, create additional enterprise zones in rural areas and establish a development opportunity zone in Beloit.

 3:39 PM 

Amendment offered to eliminate Commerce job held by lobbyist's son

The Dems tried to attach an amendment to the budget repair bill to eliminate an $81,000 per year Department of Commerce job held by the son of a prominent lobbyist.

The hiring came to light this week in a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel column.

Dems said the hiring was an example of cronyism because the lobbyist gave heavily to Gov. Scott Walker's campaign.

The amendment was tabled on a 55-39 vote. GOP Rep. Kathy Bernier voted with the Dems not to table the amendment.

 3:25 PM 

Assembly Dem amendment tabled

Dems offered an amendment they said would block a "raid" to the Employee Trust Fund in the latest version budget repair bill.

Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, said read statements Gov. Scott Walker and Assembly Republicans made during their campaigns vowing to end segregated fund raids. The bill proposes a $28 million transfer from ETF reserve accounts covering health insurance and pharmacy benefits for state employees.

Barca said the ETF may sue over the fund transfer, as the Medical Society did after $200 million was transferred from Patients Compensation Fund in 2007.

"If we pass this, I'll vote for the bill," Barca said.

The amendment was tabled on a 56-38 vote.

Barca did offer some positive words for this repair bill, saying it is truly a fiscal bill, unlike the earlier version that included changes to collective bargaining. Those changes continue to be tied up in a legal battle.

"It's a shame we didn't start with this," Barca said. "If we had started with a bill like this I think we could have had bipartisanship ringing out all over."

 1:05 PM 

Senate concurs on automobile changes

The Senate quickly concurred on AB 4, which changes the coverage requirements for automobile insurance.

The Assembly gave the bill final approval last month, and the Senate concurred via voice vote.

-- By JR Ross

 12:49 PM 

Senate approves second budget repair bill

The Senate voted 22-11 this afternoon to approve the guv’s second budget repair bill after Sen. Bob Jauch complained the state could have avoided the last six weeks of tensions if the legislation had been introduced in February without the collective bargaining changes.

The guv’s first budget repair bill included the fiscal measures in today’s legislation as well as the collective bargaining changes and various measures targeting public employee unions.

Jauch, one of the Dems who fled the state in an attempt to hold up a vote on the collective bargaining changes, called the original bill a ruse and a hoax that was used to disguise an attempt by the guv to “assault workers rights and try to manipulate the elections next year.”

Jauch said he did not want to debate collective bargaining powers, but he said they cannot be separated from the bill before the body today because they were put together in the same legislation in February.

“You can’t pretend that somehow we’re in this wholesome and pure environment and can ignore what this bill looked like when it was introduced on Feb. 13,” said Jauch, who voted for today's bill.

Jauch’s speech prompted a warning from Senate President Mike Ellis to stay on the bill at hand, which Jauch insisted he was.

Ellis later chided Dem Sens. Tim Carpenter and Lena Taylor. He first interrupted Carpenter when the Milwaukee lawmaker questioned the guv’s motives in the changes proposed. He then chided Taylor who ripped what she said was an “assault on low-income families.”

In addition to complaining the bill would hurt the poor, Dems said the legislation used the same tricks that Gov. Scott Walker had promised he would end.

Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, recalled speeches from GOP lawmakers warning of credit card financing and Walker’s promise to move away from those gimmicks to balance the budget. But he said the bill should be chalked up as “gimmick No. 1” for the Walker administration and that the refinancing amounted to borrowing $165 million to cover current obligations.

“It’s credit card financing, something the governor said he wasn’t going to do,” Risser said. “I was hoping we were going to enter a new era.”

But GOP Sen. Frank Lasee chided Dems for their claims of fiscal responsibility, saying they raised taxes and fees $4 billion in the budget they approved two years ago while still failing to take care of the state’s obligations.

Lasee, the only Republican who rose to speak on the bill, said the legislation was imperfect and he did not personally like the refinancing move. Still, he said Republicans were forced to take the step because of the various problems Dems created.

“We inherited these problems,” said Lasee, who was also chided by Ellis after Dems objected to his discussion of collective bargaining rights. “We’re here to fix them, and we have a very difficult problem to fix in the next budget.”

-- By JR Ross

 12:10 PM 

Ellis threatens to fine self

Senate President Mike Ellis, R-Neenah, has never shied away from a debate on the floor over state finances.

But he doesn't have the same leeway that he used to have now that he's in the president's chair.

As Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, knocked the bill, Ellis interjected in a little give and take.

After Risser finished his speech, Ellis apologized to the body and said he wouldn't refrain from doing that again while in the president's chair. Instead, he promised he would turn over the gavel so he could take his seat on the floor if he wants to engage in the debate.

"I think I’m going to fine myself, maybe 10 dollars a day or something," Ellis said, referencing the fines Republicans levied against their missing Dem counterparts last month and then withdrew.

-- By JR Ross

 11:38 AM 

Senate rejects Carpenter amendment on SeniorCare

The Senate twice rejected an amendment to the repair bill from Dem Sen. Tim Carpenter that he said would protect SeniorCare.

Carpenter, D-Milwaukee, said the amendment would require the Department of Health Services to get a waiver from the feds to continue SeniorCare and require that funds now allocated to the program are not transferred.

According to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, SeniorCare is expected to end the 2009-11 biennium with a GPR surplus of about $20.4 million and that money is expected to lapse into the general fund at the end of the fiscal year.

The guv's two-year budget also calls for eligible enrollees in SeniorCare to apply for the federal government's Medicare Part D program as well. That would save the state $15 million over the upcoming biennium.

“A lot of people are saying this ain’t fair," Carpenter said.

But Joint Finance Committee Co-chair Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, said SeniorCare will be protected in the two-year budget once lawmakers take that up and stressed today's vote is on the budget repair bill. She chided Dems that "you were not here to help us" and today was a chance to rectify that.

"We don’t want to confuse what’s happening in the budget and what’s happening in the repair bill," Darling said.

After the Senate voted 19-14 along party lines to table his amendment, Carpenter moved to have it pulled from the table. After some brief discussions over process, the Senate voted 19-14 to reject the request.

UPDATE: 12:02 p.m. -- The other three Dem amendments were all tabled 19-14 as well.

-- By JR Ross

 11:33 AM 

Assembly honors Hilgenberg

The Assembly passed a resolution honoring former Rep. Steve Hilgenberg, who died March 27 after a four-and-a-half year battle with cancer.

Hilgenberg, a Democrat from Dodgeville, served two terms in the Assembly before bowing out last fall. He was remembered today by his colleagues as a gentle man who worked across the aisle to serve his district.

Rep. Howard Marklein, the Spring Green Republican who won his seat, remembered Hilgenberg as a dedicated public servant with a great sense of humor.

"He was just a very good human being," Marklein said.

Rep. Fred Clark, D-Baraboo, called Hilgenberg "one of the most principled people I have ever had the opportunity to work with in any capacity."

Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca remembered Hilgenberg as a veteran, business owner and pubic servant who "brought each of those values to his job every day." Barca lauded Hilgenberg for "fairness, justice and fighting for Wisconsin values."

Hilgenberg's daughter, Molly Mayo-Hilgenberg Herr, said her father would have been humbled by the tribute. His family was presented with a citation and a U.S. and Wisconsin state flag.

UPDATE: 12:54 p.m. -- The Senate approved the resolution this afternoon as every member stood for a moment of silence to show their support.

 11:20 AM 

Assembly blooper

Today's Assembly prayer was offered by Rev. David L. Ricken, the Bishop of the Diocese of Green Bay.

Ricken began by acknowledging the legislators' for their dedication and service, and "for taking care of all the citizens of the state of Wyoming."

The legislators tittered for a moment, then corrected the bishop


"Did I say Wyoming? Whoops," Ricken said. "I guess that's one of those bloopers."

Ricken previously served as the Bishop of Cheyenne.

 11:06 AM 

Assembly in session

The Assembly is coming to order. A break for partisan caucus is expected before votes are taken on the budget repair bill.

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