Rep. Leon Young is urging fellow Milwaukee Dem Peggy Krusick to voluntarily leave the caucus, saying an amendment she offered this week to bar the use of race in handing out college grants to poor students was counter to the party’s core values.
But Krusick shrugged off the suggestion last night during a brief interview outside the Assembly chamber while most of her fellow Dems were in caucus.
Krusick’s amendment was approved early Wednesday when Republicans joined her in supporting it. But it turned out to be a moot point because the Higher Education Aids Board stopped using race as a factor in awarding Talent Incentive Program grants more than a year ago.
“Standing up for minorities is a core value of the Democratic Party and Rep. Krusick’s amendment is counterproductive to our objectives,” Young said. “While I continue to respect her independent voice, her actions have undermined the Caucus and its goals.
“Since Rep. Krusick has already indicated that she has no intention of altering her maverick voting behavior, I believe that the only recourse is for her to remove herself from our Caucus.”
The blow-up over Krusick’s amendment prompted some Dems to even talk of trying to expel her.
Asked last night if she remained a member of the caucus, Krusick just shrugged her shoulders. She pointed out her amendment was approved and that the vote speaks for itself.
“I’ll always vote my district first,” Krusick said.
A number of Dems objected to taking up Senate messaging of a bill creating an elected comptroller for Milwaukee County, but the chamber overwhelmingly overrode that objection on an 82-11 vote.
Opponents said the issue was one of local control and complained that the legislation was rushed.
“We have unfairly put this before Milwaukee County without due process,” said Rep. Elizabeth Coggs, D-Milwaukee.
Rep. JoCaste Zamarripa, D-Milwaukee, countered that the legislation would “ensure that the people of Milwaukee will have a truly independent comptroller” not beholden to the county executive or county board.
After a voice vote to message SB 86 -- allowing school districts to fire or refuse to hire convicted felons -- to the Senate with most Dem lawmakers still off the floor, Dem leaders admonished Republicans and sought to return to caucus.
Rep. Kelda Roys, D-Madison, said the caucus is working as expeditiously as possible to resolve ongoing issues, and that she “strenuously object(s) to being called out here” before their business is completed.
Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, then berated Republicans, promising that they would be in the minority someday in the future.
“This abuse of power has got to stop,” Barca declared. “We do not behave like this. We do not treat each other like this.”
Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon, responded that he's trying to work with Dems, but that they've been in caucus for hours without a hint of a timeline.
“Don't punish the rest of us here because you can't control your caucus,” Fitzgerald said.
After one protester in the gallery yelled an expletive during Fitzgerald's remarks, Speaker Pro Tempore Bill Kramer ordered the gallery cleared.
The Assembly is now back in caucus; lawmakers intend to reconvene at 2:30 a.m.
The Assembly has passed two of the special session bills litigation bills.
The first bill limits interest rates on civil actions for consumers who win judgments to 1 percent plus prime rate. The bill passed 59-36 and will head to the governor.
The second bill says that a real property owner is not liable for injury or death of a person trespassing on their property. This does not apply if the owner willfully, wanton or recklessly caused the injury. It also does not apply in certain conditions if the trespasser is a child. The bill passed 80-15.
Currently, the Assembly is taking up the bill that would force judges to presume that reasonable attorney’s fees do not exceed three times the compensatory damages awarded. The court could overcome this presumption, however, with proper justification.
Democrats argue that the bill would make it impossible for certain residents, such as students, to sue landlords and businesses under the consumer protection act, because lawyers would no longer take cases for small amounts.
"Were picking the winners and that’s the unscrupulous businesses who screwed them over," said Rep. Tony Staskunas, D-West Allis.
Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester, responded to a question from Dem. Rep. Brett Hulsey, D-Madison, as to whether he would pay less in attorneys fees under a pending case. Vos said he would not, as the bill wouldn't apply retroactively.
UPDATE: The Assembly voted 55-39 to approve the limits on attorneys fees.
Minority Leader Peter Barca complained the legislation would gut Wisconsin's "lemon law" and be detrimental to consumers.
"It's all about the little guy," Barca said, repeatedly calling the bill "terrible."
Vos countered the bill would not impact the "lemon law" and said Republicans doubled to $10,000 the size of a case that could go to small claims court. He also said Dems were misinterpreting the bill because it does not establish a hard cap, but rather sets a statewide standard that judges should consider.
He also rebuffed criticism from Dems about his own case dealing with attorneys' fees, saying about a fourth of the Dem caucus are attorneys who would be impacted by the legislation as well.
"Well, no, it's not," Vos said, responding to Barca's criticism. "It's about the trial attorney."
On a unanimous vote, the Assembly passed a bill that would expand the range for loan amounts for the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority agricultural production loans.
The bill takes the current range for loans, $30,000 to $100,000, to between $2,000 and $150,000. It also extends the time in which the loans can be used.
On a separate note, the body also referred the bill creating the Next Generation Reserve Board, which is intended help growth in the bio-science industry, to the Joint Finance Committee. JFC co-chair Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said the bill may come back from JFC along with venture capital provisions.
"No bills go to Joint Finance Committee to die, its where bills are given life," Vos said to much laughter.
In the middle of the special session, Rep. Fred Kessler, D-Milwaukee, pushed to bring up a bill that would allow signs in the Assembly galley, but Rep. Evan Wynn, R- Whitewater, said he would not introduce the bill after getting only a few co-sponsors.
Wynn, in response to a question, said the bill was only co-sponsored by eight Democrats and three Republicans.
Rep. Mark Pocan said such legislation was necessary tonight, given that some of the gallery observers have been removed during the session for, according to Pocan, holding signs with Jesus, the American flag and Mother Teresa.
"I know those are all highly revolutionary and cause problems, but that’s what’s happened tonight," Pocan said.
Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford, said that while they might take up the issue at some point, it was not the time.
Democrats tried to push a bill for tech college grants relating to advanced manufacturing skills, arguing that the bill would actually create jobs. The motion to withdraw and take up the bill failed in a 40-55 vote.
Democrats argued that the bill, which would increase the grants given for tech college training for advanced manufacturing skills, would immediately benefit an economy looking for skilled labor. They also criticized Republicans for not bringing up the bill, which has already passed the Senate on a nearly unanimous vote. (Cowles was the only senator to vote against it.)
Joint Finance Committee co-chair Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and other Republicans argued the potential lapses in revenues and gap in Medicaid funding means there needs to be a defined source of funding for each bill, which he said the Democratic proposal didn't have.
Currently, Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca is arguing for the Assembly to take up another special session bill making tax credits for angel and early stage seed investments refundable.
UPDATE: The Assembly failed to take up the bill.
They've also passed SSS SB 3, relating to the the film production service tax credit application fee.
The Assembly passed a bill that expands the small business loan guarantee program in a voice vote. The bill now heads to the governor’s desk for his signature.
The bill would expand eligibility for the program by redefining small businesses as those with 250 or fewer employees rather than 50 or fewer, increasing the capital that can be provided by the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority and removing the requirement that a business owner receiving the grant must be actively engaged in the business.
Democrats offered several amendments to the bill, each of which was voted down. Rep. Chris Danou, D-Trempealeau, offered an amendment that would ensure some of the funds go to businesses in rural communities, something other Democrats asserted might harm those in urban communities who are also vying for the loans.
Barca said Democrats supported the proposal, but pushed Republicans to take up a Democratic special session bill first, namely SSS SB 16, which would provide a system through the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation that would award entrepreneurial tax credit access grants.
The bill was moved to the foot of the special session calendar.
The measure would enact the “castle doctrine,” providing immunity to property owners using lethal force against an intruder.
But the chamber approved Dem Sen. Jon Erpenbach's amendment to add EMTs and firefighters to language exempting peace officers on a voice vote, meaning it must return to the Assembly for concurrence.
Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, said Wisconsinites should not have to consider their liability when defending their home and family.
“This is about protecting life, not property,” Wanggaard said.
But several Dems said the proposal went too far, with Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, lamenting that the National Rifle Association had more sway in the chamber than the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said staff is currently in discussions with Assembly Republicans over Sen. Erpenbach's amendment to AB 69. The chamber has recessed for half an hour while those talks continue.
The Senate has moved AB 69, which would enact the “ castle doctrine,” to the foot of its calendar after some confusion over a Dem amendment.
The chamber originally approved the amendment -- which author Jon Erpenbach, D-Waunakee, said would add EMTs and firefighters as “public safety workers” exempted from the bill's provisions along with police officers -- before voting to reconsider.
“If this (amendment) doesn't pass, this day in the state senate is truly bought and paid for by the NRA,” Erpenbach said.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said there was concern about that provision of the bill and that “we're going to try and move through this by the end of the day.”
The Senate has concurred in Assembly changes to SB 116 on a voice vote, clearing the way for the state's fall primary to move from the second week in September up to the second week in August.
The bill fulfills the state's requirements under federal law to provide 45 days for military and overseas voters to return absentee ballots.
A Dem amendment allowing clerks to send absentee ballots to all voters via email was tabled on a 17-16 vote.
After some initial hesitancy to reject the amendment among his caucus, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said he was concerned about the security of emailed ballots in addition to the constitutional issues raised by Sen. Lazich.
Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Waunakee, called that “the weakest excuse I've heard, ever.”
“You have to verify who you are with ... a photo ID,” Erpenbach said.
The Senate is in a 15-minute recess so Republicans can caucus over a proposed change to a bill moving up the state's fall primary.
The Assembly version of the bill eliminated the capability of local clerks to distribute absentee ballots to state residents via email. Dems sought to allow emailed ballots within the state, charging that the current bill amounted to voter suppression.
“I don't know, this sounds like a good amendment,” said Sen. Mike Ellis, R-Neenah. “So I wish somebody on my side of the aisle should tell me why I shouldn't vote for it.”
Sen. Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, said lawmakers decided to exclude in-state email because clerks in some areas of the state don't have the capacity to adaquately email ballots.
“Right now, to keep this constitutional, to keep it consistent, we do not use email ballots,” Lazich said.
Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville and the author of the amendment, asked, “Is it our job to make our election process easier for the clerks, or is it our job to make the elction process easier for the voter?”
The Assembly Committee on Organization passed an amended version of the Assembly policy on concealed carry along party lines, which would allow concealed weapons on the floor or in the gallery.
Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca attempted to amend the proposal to include signs in the gallery as well. Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald said while there is a valid discussion to be had on cameras in the gallery, signs don't make sense for an "observation deck."
During the debate, Fitzgerald once again raised the possibility of reinstating metal detectors and security in the Capitol as an alternative to allowing concealed carry.
"I wouldn't mind seeing a discussion on both sides of the aisle on that," Fitzgerald said. "I just know that a lot of your folks feel that things should be open."
The Assembly did amend the policy slightly to add the word "concealed" before weapon, after Barca raised concerns about people openly carrying rifles into the gallery.
Another amendment from Barca attempting to prohibit the loading and reloading of weapons was shot down after Assembly Majority Leader Suder pointed out such an action would likely conflict with a prohibition on brandishing a weapon to cause fear.
The Senate has confirmed a slew of gubernatorial appointments, including that of Reggie Newson as Secretary of Workforce Development.
Newson, appointed last week after the departure of Scott Baumbach, becomes Gov. Scott Walker's third DWD secretary. He was confirmed 31-2, with Dem Sens. Bob Wirch and Julie Lassa voting against the nomination.
The state Senate has moved through its special session calendar for the day, passing two measures dealing with legal liability.
SB 14, which would limit the interest rates on monetary judgments in certain civil cases to 1 percent more than the prime rate, passed 17-16 along party lines.
Sen. Rich Zipperer, R-Pewaukee, said the current rate limits were set more than 30 years ago, during a time of “historically high interest rates,” and that the bill's adjustment would put the state “well within the mainstream” nationally.
But Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, said there would be less incentive to pay civil judgments under the bill.
“If we're going to pass this bill, let's make it realistic.,” Risser said. “Let's not make it the lowest in the country.”
The other special session bill would stipulate that property owners are not liable for trespassers on their property. It passed on a voice vote, but not before Dems and Republicans traded shots over the special session's job creation potential.
Sen. Jim Holperin, D-Conover, charged that the bill was included simply to get around the regular committee process.
“This has nothing to do with what our charge is as legislators,” added Sen. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee.
Republicans shot back that the bill was part of creating a tort environment that would help attract jobs, ripping Dem jobs proposals from last session as “cobbled together” before re-election bids.
The Senate began its session today by observing a moment of silence for Legislative Fiscal Bureau analyst Darin Renner, who passed away last night at age 40 according to JFC Co-chair Alberta Darling, R-River Hills.
Darling said Renner was playing basketball with friends. She praised his work at at the bureau and the contributions of all LFB staff members.
Fellow Finance member Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, added that Renner's death had "shaken" the Legislature, asking members to “strive to be a better place” in his memory.
The Senate is now informal for 10 minutes while the legislative leaders go over today's agenda.
UPDATE - 1:05 p.m.: The Senate is back in session.
Today’s Senatecalendar includes legislation to allow school districts to again teach abstinence-only sex ed. But it doesn't include two controversial recall-related bills.
One bill would move up implementation of newly drawn Senate district boundaries; another would require those circulating recall petitions submit a notarized affidavit attesting to their identity.
Sen. Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, authored both bills and put off committee votes on them yesterday, saying she wanted the GOP caucus to discuss them first. Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, came out against the bill to move up implementation of the Senate lines on Monday, leaving backers at least one vote shy of the supported needed to pass the bill.
Assembly committee on rules met briefly during the Assembly break to special order the remaining bills, excluding the Krusick bill, for Thursday. Under that scenario, the Democrats could object to messaging if the bill is brought up on and passed Thursday, delaying final passage until early next year.
We're back in session and debate on the amendment has resumed. Democrats have resumed their criticism of the Republicans and the amendment in general, which was brought force by Democratic Rep. Peggy Krusick. Rep. Janey Bewley, D-Ashland, made some rather explicit metaphors of Republican's time as majority party.
"If you can sense from this side of the aisle what it was like to see the glee in their eyes," Bewley said. "It was like a dog on raw meat."
Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald has taken the opportunity to rip Democrats for what he labeled their "obstructionist" tendencies.
"Your side of the aisle brought this amendment up but we planned this racist agenda,” Fitzgerald said. “You guys might be evil geniuses right now, because this is the craziest political move I’ve ever seen.”
He also said that debate would continue until the bill is passed and that Republicans would continue on with their agenda.
Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, attempted to end the stalemate over an amendment cutting out minority status as a criteria for the Talent Incentive grant, which provides up to $1,800 for academically and economically disadvantaged students to attend a Wisconsin college.
Pocan's motion to adjourn failed, but Rep. Peggy Krusick, D-Milwaukee, voted yes.
A motion to table the amendment just failed, and we're now onto adoption of the amendment.
A bill that would allow non-consecutive enrollment for recipients of talent incentive grants for students attending college prompted debate over an amendment regarding minorities was introduced by Dem. Rep. Peggy Krusick.
The amendment would prohibit the Higher Educational Aids Board from writing a rule that makes membership in a minority group a criterion for the grant, which can range between $600 and $1,800 per year. The grant is intended to aid students who have been "educationally disadvantaged" and have demonstrated need.
Democrats took issue with an amendment to the bill that would not allow the board to make membership of a minority group a criteria for the grants.
“This is very much not where you want to be as a body," Rep. Louis Molepske Jr. "Specifically, were going to take a vote on 'if you’re a minority…tough luck.'”
Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, said the amendment was micromanaging of the board and “blatantly discriminatory.” Pocan said the amendment would push debate into late hours of the night.
Republicans, however, said if the grants are based on economic need, there's no reason to consider whether a student is a minority.
“I think it’s a reasonable idea,” said Rep. Robin Vos. “All we are saying is that race should not be a factor, it should be based upon socio-economic status.”
Update: After a 15 minute break to stand informal, Democrats have spent nearly an hour and a half attacking the amendment.
The Assembly has passed a bill that would allow municipal employers to enter into a memorandum of understanding to reduce fringe benefits and costs for employees. The memorandum must be entered into within 90 days of passage. The bill was passed on a voice vote.
Democrats are back from break and we're onto a bill on talent incentive grants.
The previous bill, which would allow an educational agency to fire or refuse to hire anyone convicted of a felony who has not been pardoned, did not get the necessary two-thirds to suspend the rules for a third reading.
Democrats said the bill went too far blocking employment to individuals who are now trying to be productive members of society. Crimes referenced included theft of cable, graffiti on certain buildings and adultery. The last suggestion provoked chuckles from members of both aisles.
“Do you really want to lock the door to those folks and make sure they never work in an educational setting again?”
Democrats offered an amendment that would exempt non-violent felony convicts from the provision. The amendment was tabled.
After some quick work, the following bills have been passed:
-SB 49, which would add viewing of pornography at public schools as "immoral conduct" grounds for revocation of a Dept. of Public Instruction license -SB 48, allowing a tax check off for the Special Olympics -SB 45, changing the definition of a school nurse and relating to regulations of administration of medication to pupils
Meanwhile, a senate bill on changes to the DPI, has been moved to the foot of the calendar.
We're now moving on to the regular session bills, with the Assembly passing a bill that requires the Board of Regents to have at least one member from each congressional district on a voice vote. The bill is now on its way to the governor.
The Assembly has passed a bill that negates local ordinances placing certain regulatory limits on landlords, 59-36. The bill will now head to the governor.
As a result, landlords could no longer be prohibited from using a tenants conviction record, income or other information when considering tenancy. Municipalities could also not place limits on when landlords can rent or show properties while another tenant lives there.
Democrats said the bill would have adverse impacts on university students and low-income residents.
Republicans said that information such as income and conviction records ensure that landlords will have tenants that can pay rent and maintain the property responsibly.
The Assembly quickly passed a bill that would move the September Primary to the second week in August, 67-28. The move was required for Wisconsin to be in compliance with federal regulations mandating that federal ballots be mailed to overseas military personnel within 45 days.
The amended version of the bill would also allow electronic transmission of an absentee ballot only to military and overseas residents, as opposed to current law where clerks are required to transmit the ballot electronically to any resident that requires it.
Shortly after the Assembly passed a bill making doctor's apologies inadmissible in civil suits for malpractice, Rep. Alvin Ott, R-Forest Junction, demanded that one particular protester be escorted out of the gallery for holding a sign.
Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, used it as an opportunity to suggest the Assembly should take up a bill from Rep. Evan Wynn, R-Whitewater, that would allow some signs and cameras in the gallery.
The Assembly has passed a bill that establishes the so-called “castle doctrine,” which would allow property and business owners to defend that property from an intruder using lethal force without criminal and civil immunity. The bill passed 71-24. Reps. Hebl and Ziegelbauer were paired.
An amended version of the bill includes in the definition of property places of business, residential property and vehicles.
The bill also states that a judge or jury may not consider whether the owner had the opportunity to flee from those gaining entry. The immunity would not apply if the person was engaged in a criminal activity or uses force on a police officer.
Democrats claimed that the amended version of the bill extended the state’s current self-defense statutes in a way that, in the words of Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, “makes it easier for us to kill each other” and was another example of Republicans lack of focus on jobs.
“[This amendment] extends this now to include your driveway, your front lawn, your patio, your swimming pool and expands this way beyond what was contemplated in past versions of this bill.I am deeply troubled with the whole trend,” Rep. Fred Kessler, D-Milwaukee, “I’m troubled by the fact that in this jobs session today, we’re not dealing with jobs.” Democrats introduced an amendment that would have taken automobiles out of the bill. It was defeated.
Republicans put forward an amendment that would make clear the bill would not cancel out other state statutes relating to self-defense. Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder said he could not point to an example of when this might happen.
“This is to make absolutely, 100 percent sure, that those other statutes are not negated by what we’re doing here,” Suder said.
Assembly Speaker Pro Tem Bill Kramer ordered the gallery cleared during debate on the 'castle doctrine" bill when several members of the audience clapped in reference to a statement made by one of the Assembly Democrats.
The gallery had been making loud "shhh" noises throughout debate.
"It was even harder to hear the former judge [Rep. Fred Kessler] with all the “shhhhhh” going on," Kramer said.
Rep. Tony Staskunas, D-West Allis, asked Kramer to reconsider, which was followed by the decision to stand informal.
UPDATE: Kramer rescinded the order but said if a similar outburst occurs, he will clear the gallery.