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Monday, July 25, 2011

 11:15 AM 

Senate to convene Aug. 1 on unemployment extension

The Senate will convene Aug. 1 to take up the Assembly version of legislation that would use federal funds to extend unemployment benefits an additional 13 weeks.

A spokesman for Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said Senate Republicans will vote to concur with Assembly bill, which maintains a one-week delay before unemployed workers can begin collecting benefits.

The Senate last week accepted a Dem amendment to end that delay, which was inserted into the budget. But the Assembly kept the delay in its version of the legislation.

"If the Democrats hadn’t played their political games, the bill would have passed both houses and been sent to the governor last Wednesday, so to hear them criticize their own delay is the height of hypocrisy," Fitzgerald said in a statement. "Frankly, it was shameful to see such transparent partisanship on such a bipartisan issue."

Thursday, July 21, 2011

 9:25 AM 

Senate won't meet today

The Senate will not meet today as GOP leaders try to reach an agreement on extending unemployment benefits.

The Senate had adjourned until today in case it had to deal with any Assembly action on bills from the extraordinary session.

The Senate approved a bill Tuesday that had 13 weeks of additional benefits but the bill also repealed a one-week waiting period before the unemployed could begin collecting checks.

The Assembly on Wednesday approved the extended benefits but stripped out the provision that killed the one-week waiting period.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said talks continue between legislative leaders on reaching an agreement.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

 9:16 PM 

Assembly adjourns

The Assembly has adjourned.

Republicans rejected motions to recess and adjourn from Minority Leader Barca that would have brought lawmakers back at 2 p.m. tomorrow to take up any lingering issues with the unemployment extension.

 9:05 PM 

Assembly strikes Senate change to unemployment extension

The Assembly has passed a 13-week extension in unemployment benefits, but not before restoring a one-week delay in benefit payments.

A Dem amendment passed Tuesday by the Senate removed that delay, which was originally passed in the state budget.

Rep. Christine Sinicki, D-Milwaukee, cautioned that passing the legislation with changes could kill the extension if the Senate doesn't come back into session tomorrow.

She charged that GOP senators didn't want to take the vote against the amendment yesterday because of impending recall elections, and that 40,000 families in Wisconsin can't afford to wait until lawmakers reconvene in September.

"They don't have the votes to concur with your amendment," Sinicki said. "You are killing this bill."

"Once again, you're sticking to what should be the hard-working middle class," she added.

Rep. Joan Ballweg, R-Markesan and the author of the amendment, said her measure simply corrects the Senate's action, and that she's not interested in delaying the benefit extension.

"In the course of the year ... this will save the UI account somewhere between $41 and $56 million," Ballweg said.

The amendment restoring the delay passed 58-39; the final vote on the bill was 81-16.

 7:57 PM 

Redistricting challenge changes approved

The Assembly has concurred in the third Senate redistricting bill -- a measure requiring the state Supreme Court to appoint a three-judge panel to hear any redistricting challenges -- by a 58-39 vote.

Republicans tabled an amendment to retain current law offered by Rep. Tony Staskunas, D-West Allis, along with seven other Dem amendments.

Dems once again chided Republicans for remaining quiet during the floor debate.

"This bill is so bad that I understand you don't want to say a word about it," said Minority Leader Peter Barca.

 6:40 PM 

Dems seek to cap redistricting legal fees

Rep. Jon Richards, D-Milwaukee, offered a joint resolution that would cap legal fees for redistricting to the hourly rates paid to attorneys that contract with the state public defender.

That measure was referred to committee, and a motion to pull it to the floor failed 38-59.

 6:17 PM 

Assembly passes redistricting bills

The Assembly has concurred in both the legislative and congressional redistricting bills, sending them to the governor's desk.

If signed, the maps would take effect for the 2012 general election.

The legislative maps were approved on a 57-40 vote. Reps. Samantha Kerkman, R-Powers Lake, and Bob Ziegelbauer, I-Manitowoc, voted with the minority. No Republicans addressed the legislation on the floor.

Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, asked them to debate, saying he couldn't wait to hear their explanation of the process this year.

"Democracy is literally on life support in Wisconsin, and you want to give it a lethal injection," Pocan said.

The chamber turned away two Dem amendments: a proposal from Rep. Brett Hulsey to have the GAB and LRB draw the new boundaries, and one from Rep. Peggy Krusick to require the posting of legal and consulting fees involved in redistricting. Krusick's amendment was tabled 96-1.

The congressional redistricting bill was concurred in on a 59-38 vote. Hulsey's amendment was also tabled on the congressional version.

 5:51 PM 

Assembly moves slowly on redistricting

The Assembly is informal pending a Dem point of order on redisticting legislation.

Rep. Tony Staskunas, D-West Allis, argued that the bill was not properly before the body due to violations of the Voting Rights Act.

"This map 'cracks' ... the minority populations of Beloit and Racine," Staskunas said, urging Speaker Pro Tempore Bill Kramer to rule in favor of his point of order.

"We cannot ignore federal law and federal statute."

Prior to the measure, the Assembly rejected a motion to refer the bill back to committee 38-59.

Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, called for Republicans to slow down, alleging that they've moved the new maps through quickly because "trajectory lines are going the wrong way for your side of the aisle" ahead of next month's recall elections.

Barca said the maps would create fewer competitive districts, in contrast to the direction most states are moving.

"It's an insult to our constituents," Barca said.

Rep. Fred Kessler, D-Milwaukee, predicted that the proposal wouldn't survive a court challenge. He also charged that the maps violate the federal Voting Rights Act, particularly with regard to the Hispanic community in the 8th AD, and said many African-American constituencies in GOP seats are removed under the new districts.

Kessler said the maps reflected "classic gerrymandering," arguing that under the proposed seats, George W. Bush would have won 59 Assembly districts in 2004 even though John Kerry took the state in a 50-50 election.

"This is the most vicious abuse of partisan power that I have ever seen in the Wisconsin Legislature," Kessler said.

UPDATE -- 6:05 p.m.: The Assembly is back in session. Speaker Pro Tempore Kramer has ruled the point of order not well taken, and an appeal fails 39-58.

We're now onto Dem amendments.

 3:32 PM 

TIF bills passed

The Assembly has concurred in SB 55, which would expand the number of TIF districts that can be designated as distressed, and SB 144 to exempt a Pleasant Prairie TIF district from some tax incremental funding district requirements.

Each passed on a voice vote. The Assembly is currently informal.

UPDATE - 3:36 p.m.: Democrats have requested a caucus and the chamber is now in recess.

 11:02 AM 

Assembly session kicks off

A quorum call is underway for today's Assembly extraordinary session.

Lawmakers are expected to head to caucus once the opening formalities have been completed.

UPDATE -- 11:30 a.m.: The Assembly has recessed for partisan caucuses.

Chris Taylor of Madison is in the chamber today after winning last week's Dem primary in the open 48th Assembly District. She faces no opponent in the Aug. 9 special election to replace Dane Co. Exec. Joe Parisi.

 8:21 AM 

Assembly up next on redistricting, unemployment extension

The Assembly is scheduled to take up a GOP remap of legislative districts today, along with a measure to extend unemployment benefits by 13 weeks.

Both passed the Senate Tuesday. The chamber voted yesterday to OK a Dem amendment to eliminate the requirement Republicans had put in the budget forcing a one-week wait before jobless could collect the first check.

No word yet from Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald's office whether the Assembly would agree to the change.

Asked about his position on the proposal, governor's spokesman Cullen Werwie said, “Governor Walker has consistently expressed his support for a 13-week extension along with starting benefits after a week.”

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

 3:34 PM 

Senate adjourns

The Senate has adjourned the extraordinary session until 11 a.m. Thursday.

The Senate would likely only come back if the Assembly makes changes to the redistricting maps.

"We never know what the Assembly is going to do tomorrow," Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said.

 3:29 PM 

Senate approves new process for challenges to redistricting legislation

The Senate voted 19-14 to approve legislation laying out a new process for legal challenges in state court to redistricting legislation.

It would require the state Supreme Court to appoint a three-judge panel to hear any challenges. No party make seek to substitute any of the judges.

The original bill would require any appeals of the panel’s decision to be heard directly by the Supreme Court. The legislation was amended to say the court may decide to hear any appeals.

Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, questioned who would hear an appeal of the panel’s decision if the Supreme Court declined to do so.

Some had raised constitutional concerns about the Legislature ordering the Supreme Court to hear an appeal, suggesting it violated the separation of powers. Risser said the amendment appeared to try addressing that, but said it still raised separation of powers issues.

 3:12 PM 

Senate approves redistricting plan

The state Senate voted along partisan lines this afternoon to overhaul Wisconsin’s political boundaries amid Dem cries that Republicans were rushing the new maps through ahead of next month’s recall elections because they fear losing control of the chamber.

The chamber first voted 19-14 to approve redrawing the Assembly and Senate’s boundaries as well as those for the state's eight congressional seats.

Dems complained the maps split up communities that had long been in the same district, diluted the influence of minority voters, particularly Hispanics, and were gerrymandered in a way to decrease the number of competitive districts and strengthen the GOP’s hold on their legislative majorities for the coming decade.

But Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, rejected the arguments, charging Dems had failed to comprehend the population shifts in Wisconsin that necessitated the changes in the map.

He acknowledged Dem complaints that various communities were being moved around to different districts, saying he’d heard similar gripes from his own members. But he said Republicans had little choice as they stuck to three principles: equal population, sensitivity to minority concerns and compact districts.

He also defended the process, saying Republicans took power in January with an agenda for this year that included redistricting and said the legislatures in most states around Wisconsin have already approved their maps.

“You can’t make a change in northern Wisconsin that doesn’t have an effect in southeastern Wisconsin or vice versa,” Fitzgerald said. “You’ve got to adhere to the principles that will ultimately render the map constitutional, and that’s what we did.”

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, complained Republicans were ignoring past precedent in which local governments finished their maps and then state lines were built upon that foundation. Instead, Republicans are passing a map that will force local governments to start over.

He also derided some of the moves, noting he had significant population growth in his district that necessitated him losing 25,000 votes. But in doing that, Republicans put some 60,000 new voters that he had not represented before into his district.

“This is a huge power grab by a party that’s worried about losing the majority in a couple of weeks,” Erpenbach said.

 12:56 PM 

Senate approves extension of unemployment benefits

The Senate today approved using federal funds to extend unemployment insurance by 13 weeks after signing off on an amendment to repeal a budget provision requiring those who lose their jobs to wait one week before beginning to collect the benefits.

The bill was approved 30-3 on final passage. GOP Sens. Glenn Grothman of West Bend, Mary Lazich of New Berlin and Rich Zipperer of Pewaukee voted no.

The Joint Finance Committee inserted a provision in the budget requiring laid off workers to wait one week after their application for the benefits is approved before they can begin to collect unemployment checks. Backers said most of the rest of the country has a similar waiting period and the move would save the unemployment trust fund an estimated $41 million to $56 million annually. The fund is now some $1.5 billion in debt.

The extension approved today would not draw on the fund to cover the benefits.

Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said the one-week delay made sense to help preserve the trust fund.

“This is something that should have been done a long time ago and we wouldn’t be so far in arrears,” Fitzgerald said.

But Dems questioned how the move would save money considering it only delays the beginning of the benefits by one week, but doesn’t shorten the time they can be claimed.

"When you go to buy groceries, they cost just as much the first week you’re laid off as they do the second week,” Cullen said. “You’ve got to buy the groceries and provide for your family during that first week.”

UPDATE: Sen. Bob Jauch missed the original roll call, but his support was added by unanimous consent. The vote total has been updated to reflect that.

UPDATE: 1:34 p.m. -- Freshman GOP Sen. Pam Galloway originally voted against the extension. But she asked to change her vote to a yes.

UPDATE: 2:29 p.m. -- Lazich originally voted for the bill, but she just switched her vote to a no. That puts final passage back to 30-3.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This post has been updated to CORRECT that the elimination of the one-week waiting period was approved via voice vote.

 12:27 PM 

Nowak, 11 others confirmed

The Senate voted 26-7 to confirm former GOP legislative aide Ellen Nowak to the Public Service Commissioner.

Nowak most recently served as chief of staff to Waukesha County Exec Dan Vrakas.

No one rose to comment on the appointment.

The other 11 appointments on today's calendar were considered together and approved unanimously.

 8:41 AM 

Senate to take up redistricting

The Senate will be on the floor today to take up a redistricting plan from majority Republicans.

The calendar, set to begin at 11 a.m., also includes a dozen appointments and extending unemployment benefits with federal funds.

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