The Senate quickly disposed of a number of bills on the agenda, slowing down to discuss a series of amendments to a bill revising nursing home standards.
Lawmakers tabled two Dem-backed amendments, including one that would have restored funding for the common school fund transferred in the bill. Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, called the transfer an “unintended consequence” of an otherwise good bill.
The Senate has approved its first two special session bills of the day: a measure to change WHEDA agricultural production loans and another to revise the practices of the Department of Revenue.
The WHEDA bill passed on a voice vote.
Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, railed against the DOR bill, however, saying it amounts to encouraging tax cheats.
“Why shouldn’t those people that don’t pay taxes -- why shouldn’t they be penalized?” Risser asked.
Sen. Rich Zipperer, R-Pewaukee, responded that the bill simply shifts the burden in tax cases to the experts at the Revenue Department, adding that the measure would ensure that DOR keeps its word on liability levels.
“The department should be there as a friend to the taxpayer,” Zipperer said.
The bill passed 17-15. Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Waunakee, is not in attendance today.
The chamber is now onto SB 12, which would limit certain awards for attorney fees.
Rep. Mark Pocan proposed a resolution he said would protect free speech rights for the public in the Capitol -- particularly the Assembly gallery.
“People have a free speech right to be able to come and watch us, and to peacefully protest,” said Pocan, D-Madison.
Pocan, who's departing the Legislature to run for Congress next year, said he's enjoyed his tenure in the Assembly and that the chamber needs to get back to normalcy. He added that he feels for the freshman lawmakers in the current session.
“This year should in no way be representative of what this body's supposed to be,” Pocan said.
Several other Dems spoke at length in favor of the resolution.
Rep. Dean Knudson, R-Hudson, responded that no one is restricting anyone's right to come to the Capitol with a sign, but that the place for that expression isn't in the Assembly gallery.
Rep. Fred Kessler, D-Milwaukee, objected to third reading of SB 116 -- which would move the state's fall primary up from the second Tuesday of September to the second Tuesday in August -- delaying another bill on tonight's agenda.
The chamber approved a substitute amendment from Rep. Gary Tauchen, R-Bonduel, that would require the measure to go back to the Senate once it passes.
The legislation conforms to federal law requiring that military and overseas voters have at least 45 days to return absentee ballots in a general election. Federal officials denied a state request for a waiver last year, and election officials gave lawmakers until the end of this month to enact the bill in order to provide enough time to adjust for the 2012 elections.
A series of Dem amendments -- including a measure allowing clerks to send ballots to voters electronically -- were turned aside during floor debate.
Tauchen said the current bill simplifies the process for local election officials and that it's important to pass the bill now in order to conform with federal law.
Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, said the chamber should instead be focused on making it easier for citizens to access absentee ballots.
The chamber is now in recess for a Rules Committee meeting.
Concurrence in SB 107 -- which limits local ordinances regulating landlords –- has also stalled on an objection to third reading.
Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, had asked for lawmakers to protect Madison's tenant-landlord ordinances, saying the relationship has been positive for over 30 years and protects a large number of renters in the city -- many of whom have not rented apartments before.
An objection to third reading has also stalled a measure that would give the Joint Finance Committee oversight of federal funding from taxes on ammunition allocated for natural resource preservation.
Rep. Chris Danou, D-Trempealeau, called the bill “a solution in search of a problem,” saying JFC hadn't expressed concern about the funding and that the DNR hadn't reported any issues in its expenditures.
The chamber has been moving quickly of late, including passing a number of criminal justice-related bills and a bill allowing samples and sales of wine at fairgrounds -- a frequest target for Dems arguing that no jobs bills are on tonight's agenda.
Another Dem target tonight -- a bill to modify statutory standards for bicycling -- also passes 93-0, a result that draws cheers from some lawmakers.
A bill that would prevent the admission of condolences or apologies expressed by health care providers as evidence in a medical malpractice case will have to wait after Dems objected to third reading of the legislation.
Rep. Jon Richards, D-Milwaukee, suggested that the chamber could accomplish the goal of the bill by considerably narrowing its scope, noting that the state has existing caps on medical malpractice awards and the country's third lowest malpractice rate.
“It expands statements by the doctor to the family where there's an admission of guilt,” added Rep. Gary Hebl, D-Sun Prairie.
The Assembly has approved AB 104, which would change the eligibility requirements for the composition of the state Natural Resources Board.
The bill would stipulate that at least one member of the board must have a background in agriculture, and that at least three members have held hunting, fishing or trapping licenses in seven of the previous 10 years before their nominations.
Current law only requires that three members of the seven-person board reside in the northern part of the state, with another three from the southern part of the state.
The bill passed 80-13.
The Assembly also passed bills that would:
- change required closing hours for alcoholic beverage retailers
- expand the prohibition on providing tobacco products to minors, and
- make changes to standards dealing with motor vehicle manufacturers and dealers
The state Assembly resumed its floor session with a spat over a Senate joint resolution honoring pregnancy care centers.
The resolution recognizes October as Pregnancy Care Month and, in part, praises the centers' “important support and resources for women who choose childbirth over abortion.”
Dems took issue with the resolution, with Rep. Donna Seidel charging that “crisis pregnancy centers deceive women by being marketed as professional health care centers when, in fact, they don't provide comprehensive information.”
“Your side is using extreme policy initiative to distract from the fact that you have no real plan for jobs,” the Wausau Dem added.
Rep. Andre Jacque, R-Green Bay and the Assembly author of the resolution, derided the “vicous and false attacks” on the centers, saying they provide vital, free medical services to families in need.
The Assembly floor session began with Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca attempting to pull legislation on a tax credit for new hiring and wind energy regulations from the committee level.
The tax credit bill failed to reach the floor by a 34-61 vote, while the wind bill failed by a 34-60 margin.
Dems attempted to add the wind regulations -- which have been mired in the Public Service Commission process -- during a session last week on an amendment to a transportation bill.
“I can't imagine why, on a bipartisan basis, we cannot bring up these bills now,” Barca said, ripping the second week of sessions following a special session call on jobs issues.
“We owe it to the people of Wisconsin to do better than this.”
Rep. Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford, said he only agreed to work with Dems on the wind regulations issue last week -- not to take up a pulling motion at the start of session. And he suggested that the minority work with Republicans on forthcoming mining legislation.
Assembly Dems have now requested a recess for caucus.
Meanwhile, law enforcement officers have removed numerous protesters who were filming the session from the gallery.
The Senate approved five Assembly bills changing regulations for vehicles on state highways, clearing the way for them to head to the guv.
The bills were included in the special session on jobs call and include changing regulations on transporting crops as well as hay and straw, the maximum length of vehicles carrying poles and girders, the maximum length of vehicles operating without an overlength permit, and changing rules for three-vehicle combinations.
The Senate voted along party lines today to send back to Senate Org legislation to crack down on fraud in the unemployment insurance program and repeal a GOP provision inserted in the state budget to suspend benefits for workers who fail or refuse to take a drug test from their employer.
The legislation was proposed by the Unemployment Insurance Advisory Council, a body comprised of labor and management.
Dems complained such bills have traditionally passed the body on unanimous votes out of respect for the council and the compromises it reaches.
But Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said he wanted the bill sent back to committee to allow so he could work out differences with the Assembly on the bill. He hoped doing so would "ultimately preserve the council process that has served us well over the years" while also accomplishing some joint goals with the Assembly.
The Senate voted 18-15 to allow those suing the state to pick which county they want to file the complaint rather than having to go through the Dane County courts as now required.
Dems complained the legislation was crafted in retaliation against Dane County following this year’s court battle over the guv’s collective bargaining changes, would impose new expenses on local governments and encourage judge shopping.
Sen. Jim Holperin, D-Conover, said he supported the general idea behind the bill because he represents a largely rural area in northern Wisconsin and believed his constituents shouldn’t have to drive to Madison to file a suit. But he offered an amendment that would allow those suing the state to file either in Dane County or their county of residence.
He said allowing litigants to go to any county of their choosing raised suspicions.
“It kind o challenges common sense to say that litigants can choose any of Wisconsin’s 72 counties. That seems to promote judge shopping and kind of playing games with Wisconsin’s judicial system,” said Holperin, the only Dem to join Republicans in favor of the bill on final passage.
The amendment was tabled 17-16.
Co-author Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, complained Dane County has a monopoly over suits filed against the state and its employees. She argued the legislation would create more access to the courts and rejected Holperin’s amendment as too restrictive.
The legislation would also allow the appellants in such cases to pick which appeals court hears the appeal. The appeals court selected could not cover the district that includes the county where the case originated.
Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, also rejected Dem arguments about the legislation, saying they misunderstood its intent, complaining it never made sense to require all suits to be filed in Dane County. That’s particularly true if it’s a dispute over the Department of Natural Resources, for example, declaring a piece of property outstate a wetland and then having to litigate that disagreement miles away in Dane County.
“This is being an advocate for you constituents,” Fitzgerald said. “This is telling your constituents out state that you don’t have to drive to Madison to file a suit.”
The Senate has unanimously approve two special session bills, including one to change the application fee for the state's film production service tax credit to $500.
Now, the fee is 2 percent of a production's expenditures or $5,000, whichever is less.
The other bill changes WHEDA's small business development loan guarantee program. The tweaks include increasing the size of a loan that may be guaranteed under the program to $500,000 or 80 percent of the principal of a loan from the current $200,000 or 80 percent of the principal of the loan.
It also would change the definition of a small business to one that employs 250 full-time employees, up from 50 full-time employees.
The Assembly and Senate will both be on the floor at noon today.
It will be the only session day of the week for the Assembly, while the Senate plans to be back Thursday as well.
The Assembly agenda includes moving Wisconsin's September primary up to August and barring a health care provider's expression of condolence from being used in a liability lawsuit.
The Senate considers legislation to roll back a GOP plan to suspend unemployment benefits for those who fail or refuse to take a drug test from their employer. Proposed by the Unemployment Insurance Advisory Council, the bill also would toughen penalties for defrauding the unemployment program. The Senate also will take up a bill to allow those suing the state to pick the county in which they want to file the suit. Now, those suits are largely filed in Dane County, which Republicans complain is too liberal.
The Assembly began moving through a slew of transportation-related proposals, including voice votes backing Assembly Bills 248 and 252.
But things hit a snag with a Dem amendment to AB 253 -- dealing with pole and pipe permits for overlength vehicles -- that would have established rules for the state's wind energy sector according to Minority Leader Peter Barca.
Barca said Republicans were stalling the final phase in the state's wind siting rules and had an opportunity to put wind energy-related construction workers to work almost immediately.
"There is a lack of focus in this body," Barca said. "You have a lack of energy, a lack of imagination and certainly a lack of urgency."
Republicans responded that the amendment should have been brought earlier.
"This is great theater, but this amendment was brought up today," said Rep. Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford. "The gotcha tactics, the fun and games are just that. Everybody realizes that."
The amendment was tabled 36-60 after more than an hour of debate. The bill then passed on a voice vote.
The chamber previously approved a measure allowing state courts to take jurisdiction over restraining orders for out-of-state domestic abuse, child abuse and harassment on a voice vote.
The chamber has passed a bill allowing crime victims to seek relief for violations commited by public officials.
The authors of the legislation referenced the controvery over former Calument Co. DA Ken Kratz -- who resigned last year after his inappropriate text messages to a crime victim came to light -- upon circulating the bill earlier in the session.
An amendment to increase funding for state crime victims' programs by Rep. Louis Molepske, D-Stevens Point, was turned away by a 36-60 vote.
The Senate has passed a bill that, among other provisions, gives schools the ability to use standardized testing in teacher evaluation and the option to delay compliance on the SAGE program without losing their contracts altogether. The bill was passed 17-16.
One provision of the bill allows schools to evaluate teachers based on value-added analysis of Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination and also to allow the firing of teachers based on the results of the exam. The bill also allows schools to avoid compliance with the student achievement guarantee program in 2nd and 3rd grade without dropping the program altogether.
Democrats offered three amendments attempting to remove portions of the bill, such as the SAGE provision, for consideration at a later time. Those amendments were all tabled.
The Senate passed a bill banning plans offered under the federally mandated health care exchange from covering most abortions.
The bill, approved along party lines 17-16, exempts coverage of abortions in the case of rape, incest or life-threatening conditions.
The debate focused on whether the bill is simply extending the state's ban on public funding for those sorts of abortions to plans in the exchange or would prohibit private insurance plans from offering them.
Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, moved to refer the bill back to the Committee on Senate Organization because she said the bill would prohibit some private insurance plans from covering abortion. Other Democrats claimed the bill is limiting what type of insurance residents were allowed to buy with "their own dollars" That motion failed along party lines.
Vinehout also said the bill she's drafted establishing the health care exchanges would use no state dollars and therefore made this legislation an overreach by Republicans.
"We do not now, nor can we use tax dollars for abortions and I support that law," Vinehout said. "This bill goes much farther."
Sen. Rich Zipperer, R-Pewaukee, said the bill is simply extending the current ban on subsidies to plans covering abortion and that Vinehout's interpretation was incorrect.
"Federal law is clear that they [the states] do have have the option to opt out," Zipperer said. "All this opt out does is to ensure that this current prohibition is extended to those exchanges."
Aside from the more controversial aspects of today's agenda, the Senate made quick work of four other bills on the calendar regarding DPI standards on dismissing school employees for viewing pornography, changing definitions of merchandise in statutes on theft, another exempting employer prizes from the definition of a "lottery" and a bill regarding violations by auto manufacturers or distributors as it relates to automotive dealerships.
After Democrats initially asked to break for caucus to discuss a bill that would prohibit coverage of most abortions in the as-of-yet unestablished health care exchanges, the bill was moved to the end of the calendar.
Another bill relating to a series of changes to the Department of Public Instruction on teacher evaluations and other standards changes was also moved to the foot of the calendar.
The Senate passed a bill that will that will increase technical college grants for those seeking training on advanced manufacturing skills. Sen. Rob Cowles, R-Green Bay, was the only member to vote against the bill.
The bill was one of a series of special session bills that was expected to get bipartisan support from the Legislature. Sen. Julie Lassa, D-Stevens Point, said the bill was a way to provide "the most immediate impact" on the jobs picture by giving residents the skills that would lead to their employment by manufacturers that haven't shipped jobs overseas.
Assembly Republicans touted a slew of transportation-related bills set for consideration during today's session as a way to generate jobs in the agriculatural industry.
"We're going to get to market sooner, faster and cheaper, and that will create jobs," said Rep. Jerry Petrowski, R-Marathon, in a press conference prior to session.
The measures include bills to extend an exemption to transportation weight limits and increasing overlength requirements for certain vehicles.
"Our surrounding states have already done this," Petrowski said. "We're not just being an island."
Republicans couldn't say how many jobs would be created by the proposals, saying they're instead focused on improving the state's business climate as a whole.
"Not every single bill that we're going to pass has a set number of jobs attached to it," said Rep. Robin Vos.
Vos, R-Rochester, added that lawmakers are not close to an agreement on venture capital legislation, saying the bill would require "an investment on behalf of taxpayers" during a period of uncertainty for the state budget.
Vos said he believes legislators will be able to reach an agreement and pass a venture capital bill yet this fall.
The Assembly and Senate will both be on the floor today.
The Senate calendar includes legislation to ban coverage of abortion through health plans sold through the exchanges required under the federal health care law. The state hasn't established its exchange yet.
The calendar also includes legislation directing grants to tech colleges for advanced manufacturing skills.
The Assembly is scheduled to take up six bills that were included in the special session on jobs calls, including transpo regs and creating a tax exemption for reimbursements from employers to their workers for adult-dependent health care costs.
As the Assembly neared the finish line, Democrats were forced to take a brief break for caucus after one of the Assembly Democrats objected to a third reading regarding stronger penalties for those operating without a license. The caucus was called after Democrats got into an argument while the Assembly was standing informal.
Rep. Tamara Grigsby, D-Milwaukee, first motioned to refer the bill back to the Joint Finance Committee, saying the bill penalized those who have their licenses revoked because they cannot pay their tickets. Grigsby was joined in her motion by a few other Democrats, including Rep. Fred Kessler, D-Milwaukee. The referral failed by a large margin. Grigsby then objected to unanimous consent for a third reading. After some discussion an argument broke out between Democrats, prompting the break for caucus.
The Assembly approved 57-39 a bill that implements portions of the federal health care reform act.
The bill, which does not address the health care exchanges required under the law, would implement various requirements under the health care legislation. But it would also exempt insurers from any provisions found to be unconstitutional or unenforceable. The bill codifies some provisions that are already in place or will be implemented soon.
It would also give the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance the ability to create emergency rules relating to those provisions only after it provides proof that it is necessary for preservation of "public peace, health, safety or welfare." The original version of the bill did not require any justification for those emergency rules. That includes rate reporting requirements, extending dependent coverage to 26, prohibitions on pre-existing conditions exclusions for minors and many others.
Democrats put forth five amendments on the OCI's rulemaking ability. They also attempted to refer the bill back to the health committee, claiming it wasn't "ready for prime time." The bill failed, but with a closer vote than the amendments, 41-55.
"You are not exercising your responsibilities as legislators, you are giving it away. And that's wrong and it's irresponsible," said Minority Leader Peter Barca, R-Kenosha.
Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, introduced an amendment clarifying language on "unenforceable" provisions of the federal health reform bill. That amendment passed.
The Assembly has now passed a bill that would allow retail display of grass fertilizer containing phosphorus 55 to 41.
Democrats said the bill was also unrelated to jobs and would lead to contamination of local lakes and streams from runoff of the fertilizer. Two amendments to the bill offered by Democrats were tabled.
The Assembly has approved a Senate bill to eliminate the earn-a-buck program on a vote of 64 to 33.
Earn-a-buck required deer hunters to shoot an antlerless deer before shooting a antlered deer, which the Department of Natural Resources said was needed to control the deer population.
Democrats made clear that they strongly disagreed with the bill, saying it could lead to the spread of chronic wasting disease and could threaten the state's agriculture and forestry industry.
"We are advancing a bill along with the special session that has a potential to hurt jobs," Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca said.
Democrats introduced three amendments, all of which failed, attempting to limit or delay the prohibition on the DNR's earn-a-buck program. Rep. Fred Clark, D-Baraboo, said a delay would allow the recently appointed "deer czar" to consult with the state before the program is ended.
Rep. Thomas Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, said the bill does not prohibit deer control measures and is something that hunters across the state have demanded. He also said that it will have a large economic impact on hunting in the state.
"We had hunters leaving the field as a result of earn-a-buck and "T" zones," said Tiffany. "I challenge you to go back to your constituents to say we're getting rid of earn-a-buck and t-zones and if you put it to them that way, they will tell you that was the right thing."
The state Senate approved legislation ensuring the school choice program doesn't expand beyond Milwaukee and Racine without express legislative consent.
School choice advocates had hoped to include Beloit and Green Bay in the expansion of the program outside Milwaukee that was written into the state budget. But final negotiations resulted in the expansion being limited to Racine.
Still, the language crafted for the budget left open the possibility that other cities could eventually meet with standards to allow a choice program to be established there without legislative approval.
The state Senate voted 27-6 to confirm John Scocos as secretary of Veterans Affairs.
Scocos was fired from the post by the Vets Board not longer after returning from a tour of duty in Iraq. He sued the state, claiming wrongful termination, and that suit is still pending.
The Legislature changed state law to make the Vets secretary and gubernatorial appointment, rather than allowing the agency board to make the selection. Gov Scott Walker then appointed Scocos to the post.
Members of the Assembly GOP highlighted three specific bills that they said will create a "more friendly business environment," but said no one bill would be a catch all for job creation.
Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald said that while it appears that Wisconsin is "in for the long haul" when it comes to lowering unemployment, they will also need more help from Washington to improve the jobs picture.
"We haven't had any real leadership in DC," Fitzgerald said. "All weve seen is them doubling down on trying to spend more, trying to tax more."
Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder, R- Abbotsford, said they were highlighting three bills in today's session as job creators:
-A bill that will increase the amount of available tax credits in the Jobs Tax Credit. -A bill allowing the creation of Multijurisdictional TIDs. -A bill reintroducing a securities registration exemption for co-ops.
Suder was asked for his opinion on a bill in the special session call that would give immunity to drug companies whose products were approved by the FDA. Suder said he was waiting to see the caucus discussion on the bill and had not yet made his mind up on it.
Senate Dems today called on their GOP counterparts to drop bills like creating new immunity for the pharmaceutical industry and making it harder to crack down on tax cheats and instead focus this fall's special session on bills that they say will actually create jobs.
Minority Leader Mark Miller, D-Monona, and fellow Dems told reporters ahead of this morning's floor period that they were heartened Republicans had included some of their bills in the special session call. But they said too much of the legislation included either lacks details or won't create jobs.
Instead, they encouraged Republicans to focus on things like more aid to technical colleges to support training for more skilled workers to meet needs in areas like manufacturing.
Miller said the current special session seems to be following the same path of the one the guv called earlier this year, noting unemployment has risen since Republicans pushed through that agenda.
"The first one apparently didn't take," Miller said. "But much like the first, it seems that much of the focus is on anything except jobs.
"What do these bills do with helping people get jobs?"
UPDATE: Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, countered this morning's news conference by pointing to two bills the Senate approved during session. SB 5, approved 32-1, doubles the money available through the state's Jobs Tax Credit and moves up the payment date. The Senate also voted unanimously to approve SB 203, which creates a state tax exemption for the reimbursements employees receive to cover health care payments for adult dependents. It mirrors a federal tax exemption already on the books.
"We’re making real progress during tough times -– the decisions we’re making in Madison will have an impact in the real world," Fitzgerald said. "The Democrats are clearly in ‘attack mode,’ but political rhetoric simply doesn’t create jobs. We’re putting action behind our words, and all the Democrats are offering is more politics."
Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca said there will be some compromise on bills before the Assembly today, but that the Legislature lacks the focus and urgency needed to put people back to work.
Barca highlighted other bills on Tuesday's calendar such as a bill on property taxes and rewriting traffic violation penalties as marking a lack of action by Republican leaders.
"Does this sound like a laser-like focus on jobs to you?" Barca said.
Rep. Donna Seidel, D-Wausau, referred to the session as a "laser-light show."
Democrats highlighted a bill that would eliminate the Earn-a-Buck program as especially problematic, saying it could hurt jobs in the forestry and agricultural industries. They also expressed skepticism that a bill in the works to change the state's wetlands protections would help jobs, claiming that it might hurt the state's cranberry producers or be a "backdoor to mining."
Assembly Republicans are expected to hold their press conference shortly.
The Assembly agenda includes legislation to begin implementation of parts of the federal health care law, ending the DNR’s earn-a-buck program and authorizing the creation of multi-jurisdictional TIF districts.
The last bill was included in the guv’s special session on jobs call.
The Senate agenda includes two tax breaks and votes on John Scocos to serve as Veterans Affairs secretary and Jeff Plale as railroad commissioner.