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Friday, March 16, 2012

 6:38 PM 

Speaker Fitz says good bye

Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon, bid farewell to the Assembly today as he leaves the body to run for the U.S. Senate.

Fitzgerald acknowledged that he's been known to "poke the hornet's nest every once in a while," he offered praise to members from all sides.

"I have the utmost respect of anybody who serves in this body," Fitzgerald said. "In this day and age, it is very difficult to put your name on the ballot and go through public service."

Fitzgerald said it's been a "wild ride," but it's the personal relationships that he'll remember as he leaves the body and offered an open invitation to anyone who'd like to grab a beer or lunch.

"I just want to say thank you to everyone because it’s been an amazing time in my life, and I’ll miss everyone dearly," he said.

 6:29 PM 

10 members retiring

The leaders of each caucus are paying tribute to their members who are leaving the body after this session.

On the Dem side, it's Mark Pocan of Madison, Kelda Roys of Madison, Donna Seidel of Wausau and Barbara Toles of Milwaukee.

On the GOP side, it's Jeff Fitzgerald of Horicon, Michelle Litjens of Oshkosh, Dan Meyer of Eagle River, Dick Spanbauer of Oshkosh and Karl Van Roy of Green Bay.

Dem-turned-independent Bob Ziegelbauer is also retiring.

 6:28 PM 

We're onto final speeches

Some 30 hours after first hitting the floor, the Assembly has wrapped up its work on legislatoin for the final regular session day of the two-year period. Now, it's time for final speeches before it's a wrap.

 6:25 PM 

The last bill clears

The Assembly approved legislation prohibiting a municipality from conditioning police or fire protection for police or fire protection.

The bill, the final one the Assembly considered today, was authored by Rep. Mark Pocan, a Madison Dem who is retiring to run for the 2nd CD.

The legislation, however, will not become law during the regular session because the Senate has adjourned and cannot take it up.

 6:04 PM 

The guest speaker pro tempores continue

Dem Rep. Kelda Roys is now in the chair as retiring members continue to line up for their moment in the sun.

Roys is leaving to run for the 2nd CD.

Others lined up include Rep. Donna Seidel, D-Wausau, who is leaving to run for the 29th SD in a recall election and Rep. Michelle Litjens, R-Oshkosh, who's leaving after one term to spend more time with her family.

Speaker Pro Tempore Bill Kramer is walking each retiring member through the process of moving a bill to a vote and then sending it to the other house. He prompted Seidel to ask the body is there were any objections to suspending the rules and sending a bill to the Senate.

"Any objection? The bill is in the Senate, and I hope to see you there," Seidel said, drawing cheers.

At the request of Rep. Gary Hebl, D-Sun Prairie, the body gave Kramer a standing ovation, saying the help the retiring members needed to move the bill showed just how difficult a job it is.

 5:59 PM 

Toles in the chair

You don't usually see a member of the minority party in the chair. But state Rep. Barbara Toles, D-Milwaukee, is there now.

Majority Leader Scott Suder says it a tradition for retiring members to be in the chair on the last day for at least one bill.

Toles, who originally won her Assembly seat in a 2004 special election, received a standing ovation when she first approached the microphone.

 5:25 PM 

Assembly moving along at a steady clip

The Dems and GOP leadership seem to be on the same page now, working to move bills along as fast as possible through the body. With about 15 bills left to go, the session may finally be ready to wrap up today.

Update: While it appears that Dems were ready to move forward on the bills, Rep. Fred Kessler, D-Milwaukee, is now speaking on a motion to refer a bill on the use of hearsay evidence in a preliminary hearing to committee.

 5:11 PM 

MATC bill looks to move forward

The Assembly withdrew all amendments to the MATC bill by unanimous consent. Following that motion (which got a good deal of clapping), the bill passed. And now we'removing on.

The bill now heads to the guv's desk.

 4:52 PM 

Assembly back from half-hour break

We're now back on track, with the Assembly taking up SB 550, relating to renewal of professional and occupation licenses for veterans.

UPDATE: That bill has passed and the Assembly is passing a series of minor bills now.

 3:22 PM 

Dems take up pulling motions again

Rep. Louis Molepske Jr, D-Stevens Point, attempted to bring AB 575, which would have established a trust fund for workforce training to the floor. Rep. Nick Milroy, D-South Range, then tried to pull SB 369, which creates a franchise and income tax credit for hiring veterans.

The motion on AB 575 was defeated, but the motion on SB 369 succeeded. The bill was the referred to Joint Finance Committee.

Right now, Democrats are attempting to pull the bill back out of finance and take it up.

Meanwhile, Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca said that they can't reach an agreement with GOP leadership on this legislative impasse, which has led to the pulling motions. Rep. Robin Vos, R-Burlington, said the believed the Dems agreed to the terms of an agreement on passing the MATC bill, but that Dems turned around and rejected it. They're hoping they'll "reconsider" after Rep. Sandy Pasch, D-Whitefish Bay, came back over to review the terms of the deal.

UPDATE: After some lengthy debate, SB 369 was passed by the Assembly. Since it was passed by the Senate on Wednesday, this bill will head to the governor's desk for his signature.

 2:53 PM 

Assembly back in session

And the Assembly immediately took up SB, 288, which eliminates statutory provisions for financial hardship in the Clean Water Fund. That measure passed on a voice vote.

Following that, the body intends to take up SB 297, dealing with assessments from the DOR on ambulatory service centers. Then it'll take up SB 388, which deals with the liability of ski hill operators and SB 441, which deals with voluntary contributions to the DNR.

 2:33 PM 

Zipperer cancels mining public hearing

Sen. Rich Zipperer, R-Pewaukee, chairman of the Committee on Judiciary, Utilities, Commerce and Government Operations, has canceled a public meeting on the mining bill scheduled for Monday.

In a statement, Zipperer said he was not aware of any senators who are willing to change their position on the legislation, so a meeting on the bill would not bring the Legislature any closer to passing a mining bill. He added he remains willing to work with any Senator to bring mining to the state.

Dems this week suspected the hearing was called to prevent them from attempting to pull mining legislation to the Senate floor. Under Senate rules, a bill can't be pulled to the floor seven days before or after a meeting is scheduled on it. Zipperer's public hearing included the Jauch-Schultz version of the bill that Dems supported.

 1:43 PM 

Dems back to pulling motions

After the DNR bill passed, Rep. Penny Bernard Schaber, D-Appleton, made a pulling motion to bring SB 179, which requires a private school to have a license if they're caring for children under the age of 3, to the floor.

UPDATE: That motion fails 50-33.

 1:39 PM 

Galloway's statement on her resignation

Here's Sen. Pam Galloway's statement on her resignation:

“Today I am announcing my retirement from the Wisconsin State Senate. After a great deal of thought and consideration, I’ve decided to put the needs of my family first. My family has experienced multiple, sudden and serious health issues, which require my full attention. Unfortunately this situation is not compatible with fulfilling my obligations as State Senator or running for re-election at this time.

It has been a tremendous honor to serve the residents of the 29th Senate District, and I want to thank them for the privilege of working on their behalf. I am proud to have sponsored a number of bills that passed in a bipartisan fashion and made this state a better place. Throughout my race for this seat, I promised to bring CPR to the Legislature. I’m proud to say that I accomplished all three in controlling spending, promoting jobs and reducing taxes.

I thank my colleagues for all their support, and I wish them all the best in their work to rebuild this state. For the sake of the electorate, I hope that better days are ahead for this institution.

To my supporters, family and friends, thank you for the encouragement and unwavering support to allow me to do a job that I absolutely love. Finally, to my constituents, I wish them my very best and again thank them for entrusting me to look out for their best interests.”

 1:18 PM 

Assembly passes DNR omnibus bill

The Assembly has passed a bill that would make it easier for piers and wharves to be erected on navigable waterways. The bill passed 54-29, with Rep. Peggy Krusick, D-Milwaukee, and Rep. Amy Vruwink, D-Milladore, joining Republicans to vote for the bill.

The bill was originally intended to be included in the special session. The authors argued the bill would remove unnecessary roadblocks to development near the waterways and create certainty by imposing a timeline for the permit process.

Rep. Brett Hulsey, D-Madison, argued the bill could violate the federal Clean Water Act and the "Public Trust Doctrine" of the Wisconsin Constitution. He also said the bill was needless, but the DNR grants the vast majority of the permits in less than 30 days.

"You sort of ask yourself what exactly the polluters want," Hulsey said.

Rep. Jeffrey Mursau, R-Crivitz, said nearly three-quarters of the concerns brought up in the bill were taken care of through amendments in the committee process. During that time, the bill was amended to remove similar permitting changes to high-capacity wells, oil and natural gas production and prospecting. Conservationists had used those provisions to argue that the bill was secretly "the" mining bill.

Mursau also said the bill was simply doing what it could to remove impediments to residents who wanted to erect piers and wharves to "enjoy their waterfront property."

 12:47 PM 

Assembly goes back to informal

As Speaker Pro Tem Bill Kramer said, "I know I just called quorum call but, smoke 'em if you got 'em."

The chamber is also only half-full at this point, which may a reason for the further delay.

 11:26 AM 

Senate has operated with split control before

GOP Sen. Pam Galloway's resignation from the state Senate will trigger chamber rules that call for split control until one side has a majority again.

GOP leader Scott Fitzgerald and Dem leader Mark Miller plan to meet next week to hash out the details. But the Senate was split equally four times in the 1990s.

Under rules hashed out the first time it occurred, committee memberships will be evened out, including Senate Org. Currently, Republicans have a 3-2 majority on Senate Org, which controls chamber operations. A Dem member will be elevated to even it at 3-3, for example.

The current chairs will hold onto their posts, and Sen. Mike Ellis of Neenah will continue as Senate president.

Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison and the longest serving member of the body, detailed the history of split control in the Senate during the 1990s in an article he wrote for Stateline in 2001.

Read it here.

 9:29 AM 

Dems press on with MATC bill amendments

After two substitute amendments offered by Dems were tabled, the Dems are now offering the first of 70 separate simple amendments to the bill changing the structure of the MATC board. GOP leadership was initially attempting to limit commentary to two minutes per person, but is now allowing them to finish remarks, but still limiting debate on each amendment to 10 minutes.

UPDATE: The Dems have been debating a motion to refer the bill to committee for the last 20 minutes or so.

 8:27 AM 

Dems rip first tabling motion on MATC Board bill

The first of many amendments to the MATC bill has been tabled.

Rep. Penny Bernard Schaber, D-Appleton, complained that she was in the queue to speak when the vote started, and moved to stand informal to consider another pulling motion.

When that request was denied, Minority Leader Peter Barca said the series of pulling motions all morning has been to prevent "what just occurred."

"Deja vu all over again," Barca said, referring to the votes on collective bargaining legislation last year.

The chamber is now informal.

UPDATE - 8:52 a.m.: We're back in session to take up the next amendment on the MATC bill.

 7:15 AM 

Assembly debating Capitol custodial staff

With daylight shining through the windows of the west wing, the chamber is now discussing a resolution from Minority Leader Peter Barca that would express the Assembly's support for state workers to continue serving as the custodial staff in the building and other executive offices.

The resolution states the Department of Administration is "planning to privatize custodial services at the capitol and executive office buildings."

Barca, D-Kenosha, raised concerns not only for the welfare of current staff who would be let go, but for the security of lawmakers' offices should the state contract with a private firm.

"We do not want to penalize these workers who have served us so well," Barca said.

Speaker Pro Tempore Bill Kramer, R-Waukesha, said state workers aren't necessarily more trustworthy than private sector workers, asking how many Dem members had received death threats from public workers during the debate over the budget repair bill last spring.

UPDATE - 8:11 a.m.: The resolution is voted down by a 54-33 margin.

 6:49 AM 

Campaign finance fund bill rejected

After more than an hour of debate, the Assembly has rejected the motion to bring up funding of the state's campaign finance system.

A slew of Dem members said they relied on the fund to run for office in the first place, saying they didn't have personal wealth or wealthy friends to rely on. They also noted the GOP members who had also used the fund.

"Campaigns and democracy should not be about money," said Rep. Sondy Pope-Roberts, D-Middleton.

 5:59 AM 

Adjournment motion rejected; Barca decries MATC bill

Things are getting a little more fiesty as dawn nears.

Rep. Peggy Krusick, D-Milwaukee, moves to adjourn until 10 a.m. and is rejected.

Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, says the vote on that motion shows Dems are ready to adjourn at any moment, but that "we're here at six in the morning because you made the decision to stick it to Milwaukee."

 5:36 AM 

Moving on -- almost -- to MATC bill

The latest Dem pulling motion to fall by the wayside is AB 697, to eliminate the authority of the state Health Services Department to modify the BadgerCare Plus and BadgerCare Plus Core Plan programs.

Shortly thereafter, the chamber moves on to a bill that would alter the membership of the Milwaukee Area Technical College Board -- a measure that currently has 3 substitute amendments and 70 additional amendments pending.

Before the first Dem sub can be taken up, however, Rep. Andy Jorgensen, D-Fort Atkinson, moves to pull a bill to restore a Wisconsin Election Campaign Fund.

 5:08 AM 

Dem pulling motions continue

We're now up to seven pulling motions, largely introduced in between votes on the previously scheduled calendar.

The latest proposals to be turned away:

- AB 445, repealing budget changes to the state's standards for child labor.

- AB 22, to exempt food purchases by UW System institutions from certain state bidding requirements.

- AB 672, which would redirect funding from the state's share of a national foreclosure settlement. Speaker Pro Tempore Bill Kramer ruled that the measure couldn't be taken up because it lacked a fiscal estimate.

- AB 137, to establish a process for mortgage loan modifications.

 3:23 AM 

Another pulling motion rejected

A motion by Rep. Janet Bewley, D-Ashland, to take up AB 392 -- a measure to eliminate tax deductions for moving expenses by businesses leaving the state -- was rejected 35-56.

 3:17 AM 

Partial veto amendment rejected

Rep. Gary Hebl offered a pulling motion to re-start the session early this morning, asking the chamber to take up second consideration of a constitutional amendment to restrict governors from vetoing part of a bill section without rejecting the entire section.

The measure passed both houses last session, but without much support from Republicans, who claimed it could restrict a governor's efforts to rein in state spending.

The Senate companion was not taken up by that chamber before adjournment; constitutional amendments require passage in both houses in consecutive legislatures and approval in a statewide referendum.

Hebl, D-Sun Prairie, said the state's governor has more authority to unilaterally change budget proposals than any other executive in the country, adding, "I can almost guarantee that the public of the state of Wisconsin will support this joint resolution."

The motion was rejected 35-56.

 10:31 PM 

Assembly informal

We're temporarily informal after moving quickly through a slew of special order bills.

UPDATE -- 10:32 p.m.: And just like that, we're back to take up a resolution on Motorcycle Awareness Month.

 10:05 PM 

Abortion consent bill passed

The Assembly has concurred in SB 306 by a 60-33 margin after some 2 1/2 hours of debate.

Dems continued to hammer the bill, with Rep. Sandy Pasch, D-Whitefish Bay, calling the measure "an abomination to women."

Fifteen Dem amendments were turned aside during debate on the bill.

Rep. Michelle Litjens, R-Oshkosh, countered that the bill was less about abortion than about protecting women in danger of being coerced into that decision.

"What were talking about here is making sure that a woman is making that choice on her own," Litjens said.

 8:39 PM 

Dems slam abortion bill

We're already more than an hour into debate on SB 306, which would make a number of changes to abortion laws.

The measure would require a physician to be physically present and perform an exam on patients before giving them an abortion-inducing drug.

It would also require a physician, rather than a physician's assistant, to confirm that the woman's request for an abortion is voluntary.

Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, kicked off debate by offering a substitute amendment that he said would subject men to similarly "intrusive" regulations of their reproductive health care. His floor speech included, among other things, listing the potential side effects of Viagra.

"This bill does not respect over half the population of the state, so let's go ahead and disrespect everyone equally," Pocan said.

Rep. Janet Bewley, D-Ashland, added that the bill assumes that Wisconsin women are incapable of making their own decisions about health care, while Rep. Kelda Roys, D-Madison, said the measure interferes with women's relationship with their doctors.

"It's about an inappopriate use of power," Bewley said of the proposal.

Dems spent a good deal of time touting an amendment to target infant mortality in the state. Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, questioned how anyone voting against that amendment could truly consider themselves "pro-life."

In the midst of that debate, a slew of Dems rose to recognize constituents in the gallery. The galleries are mostly full on two sides of the chamber, with most guests apparently awaiting a proposal that would alter the composition of the Milwaukee Area Technical College Board.

 7:24 PM 

Absentee ballot bill passed

The Assembly has concurred in SB 271 by a 59-34 margin.

The bill stipulates that a local election official may not return a cast absentee ballot to the voter, and that a person who votes absentee may not cast a ballot on Election Day.

Dems slammed the bill, saying it represents another obstacle to voting passed by Republicans this session.

We're now onto SB 306, which would alter regulations governing abortion procedures.

 6:38 PM 

Assembly approves guv's 'read to lead'

The Assembly has concurred in SB 461, which would establish the governor's Read to Lead Development Council and a related segretated fund.

Dems criticized the measure, arguing that the bill lacks accountability for voucher schools.

Rep. Fred Clark, D-Baraboo, said that while the bill does some good things, the final product "looks a lot like swiss cheese."

Rep. Steve Kestell, R-Elkhart Lake, countered the school accountability piece of the task force simply "wasn't ready" for this session. He said the rest of the legislation includes a series of excellent reforms and urged lawmakers not to kill the bill.

It was approved 80-14 and now heads to Gov. Scott Walker's desk.

 5:28 PM 

Dems attempt to pull GAB bill

Rep. Gary Hebl, D-Sun Prairie, moved to pull a bill to the floor that would exempt the GAB from gubernatorial oversight of administrative rules.

The motion was rejected 36-58. AB 355 would have also needed to clear the Senate, which has adjourned its 2011-12 session.

 4:53 PM 

Angel investment cap lifted

The Assembly has concurred in SB 463, which would, in part, lift the $47.5 million annual cap on angel investment tax credits available from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.

The vote was 90-3.

 4:14 PM 

Fitzgerald promises Republicans will run on records in recalls, fall during final floor remarks

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said Republicans kept their promise to change the status quo and pledged they would run on their records in both the recall elections and this fall.

Delivering his final floor speech of the session, reminded the chamber of the state’s fiscal picture when Republicans took over both houses and the guv’s office following the 2010 elections.

Since then, he said, Republicans have passed a host of bills that have turned the tide on taxes and jobs.

Fitzgerald also went out of his way to single out his fellow recall targets for accomplishments this session, mention the “Wisconsin Wins” jobs bill sponsored by Van Wanggaard of Racine, the small business jobs tax credit from Terry Moulton of Chippewa Falls and rural enterprise zones from Pam Galloway of Wausau.

Fitzgerald also ticked off a series of GOP accomplishments this fall, including the castle doctrine, concealed carry and voter ID in addition to legislation he said has positioned the state for an economic turnaround.

“That’s why I’m proud to run on my record and my plan for the future, in the recalls and in November,” Fitzgerald said.

The Juneau Republican said there was still work to do, particularly mining regulations.

He also tried to push back against the notion of an overly partisan Legislature, saying almost 93 percent of bills that have been signed into law this session had at least some bipartisan support in one house of another, while only nine of the 123 passed strictly on party-line votes.

“That might seem hard to believe, but it’s true,” Fitzgerald said. “And I think that’s a testament to the fact that there’s more that brings us together than brings us apart.”

 4:01 PM 

Middleton TIF bill stalls

The Assembly has temporarily withdrawn consideration of SB 440, which expands a TIF district in Middleton.

Rep. Kelda Roys, D-Madison, called the bill one of the only good things to happen for jobs in Dane County this session.

But fellow Madison Dem Mark Pocan said the bill amounted to an incentive to lure a company one mile away -- arguing that the proposal sets a bad precedent for TIF districts and doesn't provide any new jobs for the regional economy.

Independent Rep. Bob Ziegelbauer of Manitowoc called the bill "acutely terrible" for local property taxpayers, while Rep. Richard Spanbauer, R-Oshkosh, said it would be inappropriate to use the Legislature to resolve a dispute between municipalities.

Speaker Pro Tempore Bill Kramer then moved onto a different bill, saying that leadership had questions about how the vote would turn out and "wanted to get their ducks in a row."

The chamber is now informal.

UPDATE - 4:09 p.m.: We're back, moving on to a bill relating to the duties of the Department of Safety and Professional Services.

 3:41 PM 

Assembly concurs in W-2 violations bill

The Assembly has concurred 66-27 in a bill defining intentional violations that could result in bans from the W-2 program.

Although current law allows agencies to permanently deny benefits for intentionally violations, those violations aren't currently aren't defined in statute.

The bill would also establish six-month and twelve-month bans from the program for first and second violations, respectively.

 3:27 PM 

Livestock registration bill passes Assembly

The Assembly has passed SB 396, a measure to fund the livestock premises registration program.

Dems attempted to amend the bill to fund the measure through Joint Finance Committee appropriations instead of what Rep. Louis Molepske called a "raid" of the Working Lands Initiative. The amendment failed 36-57.

The bill passed 50-41. With the Senate adjourned, only bills or amendments requiring concurrence from the Assembly have a chance to pass in regular session.

 2:59 PM 

Dems, Republicans exchange final jabs as session comes to a close

Dems took some shots at Gov. Scott Walker and their GOP counterparts in their final comments of the legislative session, accusing them of dividing the state and needlessly making union employees scapegoats.

Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, countered the GOP reforms had put the state in much better shape financially compared to other states and would pay dividends in the long run.

Minority Leader Mark Miller, D-Monona, accused Republicans of failing to pass needed job measures to jump start the state’s economy, pointing to mediocre job numbers compared to the rest of the country. He also said Republicans unnecessarily divided the state with their policies.

“Instead of innovation, Gov. Walker and his Republican allies chose to go back, back to the polices of Herbert Hoover and George Bush, policies that led to the Great Depression of the 1930s and the Great Recession of 2008,” Miller said.

Darling said other states are beginning to emulate the changes that Wisconsin made and said the state’s credit rating is improving while other states are being downgraded. She compared Wisconsin’s successes to Illinois’ struggles and expressed disappointment that some teacher union locals tried to pressure the Milwaukee local not to support legislation allowing it to reopen the contract with the school district to negotiate changes in salaries and fringe benefits.

“They’re saying shame on you, Milwaukee,” Darling said. “I say good for you, Milwaukee, and I’m proud of our reforms.”

 2:40 PM 

DOT cost-benefit bill passed

The Assembly has passed a handful of additional bills, including a measure eliminating requirements for Department of Transportation cost-benefit analyses prior to starting engineering, consulting or surveying projects.

Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Pocan, said the state wastes money by contracting with private sector firms for DOT projects -- but that the only reason that waste became apparent was due to cost-benefit analyses.

"This is a 'do you want to waste taxpayer money or not' sort of issue," Pocan said.

"There is nothing smart about this," added Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine.

AB 522 passed 54-39.

 2:37 PM 

Senate confirms Regent confirmations -- again

The state Senate has approved the appointments of Regina Millner and John Behling as UW Regents.

The Senate earlier this week approved the appointments. But later expunged the vote after Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald told the body that the two couldn't be confirmed for procedural reasons.

 1:25 PM 

Dems hammer rent-to-own bill

In a lengthy floor speech, Rep. Gordon Hintz railed against legislation exempting rent-to-own transactions from the state's consumer protection law.

Hintz, D-Oshkosh, asked that the bill be referred back to committee, arguing that the measure before the chamber was rushed and did not have proper oversight at the committee level.

He added that those electing to buy products at rent-to-own stores pay three to four times more than their original value.

"It's not really capitalism if you're making you're money off people who are desperate and don't know any better," Hintz said.

UPDATE - 1:43 p.m.: Following a slew of additional Dem speeches, the motion to refer the bill is turned away 38-52.

We're now onto amendments to the bill.

 1:15 PM 

Assembly informal

We're informal after Rep. Peggy Krusick, D-Milwaukee, moved a resolution to extend the general business floor period beyond today's deadline.

UPDATE - 1:23 p.m.: We're back, and Krusick's motion is defeated 35-57.

 12:05 PM 

Dems rip GOP over Milwaukee school cuts

Sparring between the parties is underway -- and not even on a bill on today's calendar.

Rep. Dan Knodl, R-Germantown, rose to thank the chamber for an amendment to SB 315 earlier this week that allows the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association to negotiate concessions without triggering collective bargaining restrictions.

Gov. Scott Walker on Wednesday, citing a letter from four other district unions asking that MTEA withdraw its request, charged that Dems and unions were putting politics above teaching jobs.

"This will help young teachers ... stay in the classroom to teach our school kids," Knodl said.

A series of Dems rose to chide Republicans for past cuts to MPS, while Rep. Louis Molepske, D-Stevens Point, argued that the measure wouldn't have been needed without last year's budget repair bill.

"That should have been an issue between the board (and) the union," Molepske said.

 11:55 AM 

Home brewing bill passes

We're underway with bills on today's calendar as the Assembly concurs in Senate legislation loosening regulations on home brewing of beer and wine.

 11:37 AM 

Rules Committee adds four bills to calendar

The Assembly Rules Committee added four more bills to today's agenda, including a measure overhauling regulations of landlords and tenants.

The chamber will have to wait at least 12 hours to take up the newly added bills.

UPDATE - 11:50 a.m.: We're now back in session.

 10:46 AM 

Fitzgerald doesn't expect much action in Senate today

Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said this morning he does not expect many significant bills to make it through the Senate today, partly because legislation has been tied up in the Assembly.

Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, noted minority Dems can object to third reading and use other procedural moves to delay legislation. The Senate will not be in tomorrow, thus, anything that hadn't cleared the Senate earlier this week likely isn't going anywhere, he said.

There are a handful of bills that have been messaged by the Assembly that the Senate could take up. But that would require Dems to agree on doing so.

"We're kind of at the mercy of the minority," Fitzgerald said.

Senate GOP leaders had hoped the Assembly would move some bills this morning to get more things into their house. But the Assembly went to caucus this morning before getting to bills left over from previous calendars.

UPDATE -- 11:01 a.m. -- Minority Leader Mark Miller, D-Monona, said Dems are waiting to see what comes out of the Assembly. Then Senate Dems and Republicans will have to discuss what they can agree to finish.

"That's the mode we're in, waiting to see what comes over from over there," he said.

 10:35 AM 

Dems to caucus

The Assembly has recessed for half an hour for a "brief" Dem caucus.

The chamber is set to be back in at 11:05 a.m.; the Rules Committee is scheduled to meet at 11:15 a.m.

GOP leaders announced their party would not caucus, which was met with cheers from that side of the chamber.

UPDATE - 11:09 a.m.: We're starting another quorum call.

 9:08 AM 

Senate, Assembly to finish up 2011-12 session

The Senate and the Assembly will be in today for their final regular floor debate of the 2011-12 legislative session.

The Assembly has a lengthy calendar that includes changing the membership of the board governing the Milwaukee Area Technical College, an overhaul of wetlands regs and limiting liability for ski hill owners.

The Assembly is also expected to try tackling a number of bills that are still pending from the March 6 calendar that have yet to receive a vote.

The Senate, meanwhile, is expected to take up bills the Assembly has messaged already and could take up other bills that the Assembly finishes today. But Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, says he does not plan to have the chamber on standby late into the night to take up bills the Assembly sends over. He’s also ruled out coming in tomorrow.

 12:06 PM 

Senate concurs on bill allowing Milwaukee schools, teachers to reopen contract

The Senate concurred with changes the Assembly made to one of its bills that would allow Milwaukee Public Schools and the teachers union to reopen their contract on wages and benefits without impacting the rest of the deal.

SB 315 pertains to juvenile court records relating to student conduct. But an amendment was added in the Assembly to allow the district and teachers to negotiate on compensation and fringe benefits.

Without the provision, reopening the contract would then subject the teachers and the district to the guv's collective bargaining changes that were implemented last year. That would essentially void the contract that had been negotiated and agreed upon prior to Act 10 taking effect. A second law gave unions 90 days to negotiate changes on wages without triggering other provisions of the collective bargaining legislation.

The Senate signed off on the amendment via voice vote, clearing the way for the bill to head to the guv's desk.

Gov. Scott Walker earlier today slammed four teacher's unions for asking the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association to withdraw its support for the amendment. The unions wrote in a letter the change would be "detrimental to our members' best interests" and "have an adverse effect on all Wisconsin public employees" as well as giving Walker the ability to "claim victory of his policy to reign in public employee wages and benefits" ahead of the expected recall election this summer.

 12:02 PM 

Senate approves Millner, Behling as Regents, but then expunges vote

The Senate voted unanimously to confirm Regina Millner and John Behling as UW Regents, but later expunged the vote.

Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald told the body after the vote that the two couldn't be confirmed because of the status of their appointments without explaining further. He said the move had nothing to do with the appointees.

 11:52 AM 

Senate signs off on lifting FamilyCare enrollment cap

The Senate has concurred on legislation lifting the enrollment cap on the FamilyCare program.

The move signs off on the amendment the Assembly added to the bill early this morning.

The amendment would require formal JFC approval for any further expansion of Family Care to new counties. The original bill allowed expansion to fall under the committee's passive review process.

The bill now goes to the guv.

 11:44 AM 

Senate approves landlord-tenant bill

The Senate voted 17-16 to approve an overhaul of state laws governing the relationship between landlords and tenants.

Dems objected to a final vote on the bill last night, delaying action until today.

Dems complained this morning the legislation harms tenants and was a special interest bill sought by landlords to benefit landlords. Backers didn’t rise to talk about the bill ahead of the vote.

Among other things, the bill would change state law to prohibit local governments from enacting a moratorium on evictions.

It also would allow landlords who accept past due rent from a tenant while seeking eviction to continue the process despite accepting the money.

 10:43 AM 

Off to caucus

President Mike Ellis just announced the Dems have requested a 15-minute caucus. Republicans will caucus as well.

Ellis said first up on the agenda is a bill to overhaul regulations of the landlord-tenant relationship. Dems objected to a final vote on the bill last night, delaying it.

 4:02 AM 

One last note

The Assembly, during the course of the night, passed SB 315, relating to juvenile records used for discipline under a school's athletic code, included an amendment that hovered under the radar.

The amendment says Milwaukee school districts and employees may agree to further concessions in fringe benefits without modifying the collective bargaining agreement for the purposes of Act 10. The amendment also puts a 30-day window on these concessions, starting from the date of the bill's enactment.

The amendment was passed on a voice vote with no debate.

 2:39 AM 

Assembly passes wolf hunting bill

The Assembly has passed a bill that would create a wolf hunting season, on a 69-25 vote.

The bill sets a hunting and trapping season from October 15 to the end February.

Democrats offered a series of amendments, including that would cut the season shorter in an effort to protect pregnant wolves. That amendment, along with six others, were voted down.

 1:40 AM 

Assembly moves amended FamilyCare bill

The Assembly passed a bill that would lift the Family Care enrollment cap, but with an amendment that would require the Senate to approve the bill once more. The measure was approved on an 87-6 vote, with Reps. Vos, Kooyenga, Kapenga, Jim Ott, Severson and Craig voting against. (Note: Ott changed his vote to aye afterward.)

The amendment would require formal JFC approval for any further expansion of Family Care to new counties. The original bill allowed expansion to fall under the committee's passive review process.

Democrats attempted to vote down the amendment, saying they should approve the Senate version tonight to avoid the "ping-pong match" between the Senate and Assembly. Republicans say that the amendment is there to provide a measured expansion for the program. Democrats countered that new contracts could sit in JFC indefinitely if the amendment is attached.

The Assembly kept the amendment after the rejection vote failed.

 1:25 AM 

Assembly passes bill prohibiting recall 'bribery'

The Assembly has passed a bill that would make it a crime to bribe someone to sign a recall petition on a unanimous vote.

A Democratic amendment would have ended the unlimited campaign contributions those targeted for recall can collect while recall petitions are circulated and the GAB decides whether to certify an election.

That amendment failed.

 1:10 AM 

Rules passes calendar for Thursday; says they'll press on tonight

A few bills still in the Senate can't be special ordered, including the landlord-tenant bill from Sen. Frank Lasee, because they've not been passed by the Senate yet. Suder said those will be special ordered once they're passed.

Suder also said that the Assembly plans to get as much done tonight as possible. They'll then reconvene at 10 a.m. on Thursday.

It's not yet clear how many of the Thursday bills would require the Senate's approval after passage in the Assembly.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

 11:52 PM 

Assembly passes bill repealing sex education provisions

The Assembly passed a bill that repeals the so-called "Healthy Youth Act" passed last session by Democrats that provided "comprehensive sex education." The bill will head to the governor's desk for his signature.

SB 237 would require schools that offer a human development and growth curriculum to emphasize abstinence as the preferred method of birth control and emphasize the role and "socioeconomic benefits" of marriage.

The bill would also remove information on contraceptives and barrier methods approved by the Food and Drug Administration from the required curriculum.

Democrats argued the bill would neglected science-based teaching and would put children at risk for STDs and teen pregnancy.

Rep. Donna Seidel, D-Wausau, also called it part of a "war on women," and said struggling families should dismayed by the lack of focus on jobs.

"They feel let down and what are we doing in these last hours to get this important work done," Seidel asked. "We are arguing about advancing an extreme social agenda that is nothing about that."

Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt, R-Fond Du Lac, said that the bill is allowing school districts to teach human development curricula that is more in-line with their own choices and values of the community. He also said that local school districts wouldn't have to change anything about their human development curricula if they didn't want to.

"Moral, religious and cultural differences have made it very difficult to come up with a unified approach on this," Thiesfeldt said. "But a one-size fits all approach is unacceptable."

A series of Democratic amendments to the restore provisions of the current law and add language recognizing the sexuality of same-sex youth were tabled.

 11:32 PM 

Assembly passes 'double-dipping' prohibition bill

The Assembly passed a bill that would stop retired state workers from receiving pensions if they go back to work at least half-time for the state. The bill passed 67-26.

The bill would require those rehired annuitants to also pay into the retirement fund again while they are in covered employment. Under the amended version of the bill, upon retirement of that employee, those contributions would be paid in a lump sum to the annuitant.

The amended bill also requires a 75-day period of separation between the date of retirement and the rehiring of the annuitant under covered employment. The original bill required a 30-day period of separation.

Bill author Rep. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, said the bill was necessary for the "long-term health" of employee trust funds and that rehiring retired annuitants doesn't always save money, contrary to proponents arguments.

 9:59 PM 

Emotions run high as Assembly passes bill banning health care exchange abortion coverage

The Assembly passed a bill that would prohibit state health care exchanges from covering abortions, 61-34. The bill now heads to the governor's desk for his signature.

Dems Peggy Krusick and Tony Staskunas and independent Bob Ziegelbauer joined Republicans in supporting the bill.

Democrats argued that the bills are part of a Republican "war on women" and would necessarily impair women's health by limiting access to abortions for those who require them. A handful of Democratic representatives were wearing Planned Parenthood shirts.

The GOP turned away two Democratic amendments, including one which would have said health care exchanges could not cover vasectomies either. Those amendments were defeated 63-32.

"Why is every woman's ability to use her own judgement constantly up for debate?" asked Rep. Terese Berceau, D-Madison.

Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, said opponents were neglecting the toll taken on unborn children who are aborted.

"We've heard this is an attack on women, a war on women's rights," Kleefisch said. "What about the war on the rights of the women who are yet unborn?"

Democrats dismissed this suggestion, with Rep. Amy Vruwink, D-Milladore, telling a story of a constituent forced to abort due to her dying unborn child that was threatening the mother's health.

"Now under this bill, this woman's insurance would not cover this, and that's shameful and ridiculous," said Rep. Amy Vruwink, D-Milladore. "This isn't something she wanted to do, something she elected to do."

Republicans said the bill would allow (though, as Dems countered, not mandate) the exchanges to cover abortion in the cases of incest, sexual assault, or when the mother's life is threatened. They also said that the bill was just making sure taxpayers weren't forced to pay for those abortions.

Rep. Joan Ballweg, R-Markesan, then responded with a personal account of the premature birth of her daughter, who died shortly after delivery. Her next daughter was also a high-risk pregnancy but she gave birth regardless. She made the point that while both sides have entirely different views as to when life begins, she asked those members to respect the differences.

"It's not a war, it's what we believe, wholeheartedly," Ballweg said. "I would hope you respect that."

Democrats attempted to delay passage by objecting to third reading. Because the bill is on special order, it only requires a majority vote to approve third reading. As such, the bill moved forward.

 8:29 PM 

Assembly passes special needs voucher bill

The Assembly has passed AB 110, a bill that makes school choice vouchers available for special needs students on a 55-39 vote. There were two sets of paired votes.

The bill would make a $13,500 voucher available for special education students to attend private schools of their choice. The bill was amended last week on the floor, but was blocked by Democrats.

Rep. Sondy Pope-Roberts, D-Madison, decried the bill as lacking proper safeguards to ensure parents have enough information on the school's academic performance when looking at private schools under the voucher program.

"By creating this scholarship program to allow special ed students vouchers to attend any school, private school, they want to, we're creating a situation where we have zero control over those children," Pope-Roberts said.

Democrats said the program would not allow conflict resolution and would force the state to bus private school students without a limit on how far they could be bused.

After the four hour caucus, the bill's author, Rep. Michelle Litjens, R-Oshkosh, asked to move the bill back to the amendment stage. That motion was shot down with an objection. She then moved to suspend the rules to move the bill back to amendable stage, but that motion failed to achieve the 2/3 needed for an amendment.

Republicans argued that Democrats were using "overblown rhetoric" to attack something that gives parents the opportunity to find a better school for their child. They also argued that there are provisions in the bill that limit the program, including a provision in the substitute amendment that limits the number of scholarships to 5 percent of the number of total special needs students in the state.

They also said that parents have their student's best interests and mind and should be allowed to make that educational choice for their children.

"The parents who have nothing but care and concern for their child, they're not going to just into this decision lightly, I can tell you that," Rep. Dean Knudson said.

 8:29 PM 

Senate approves bill to give business community greater representation on MATC board

The Senate voted 17-16 to approve legislation to give the business community greater representation on the boards governing the Milwaukee Area Technical College.

Dems previously delayed a final vote on the bill, but could not stop it procedurally Tuesday.

They complained the legislation was originally designed to impact all 16 tech college board districts, but was amended to only target MATC and was being done over the objections of Milwaukee lawmakers.

Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, said it reinforces her belief that Republicans have decided repeatedly to “stick it to Milwaukee” this session.

No backers rose to defend the bill.

Now, each district board has nine members, two employers, two employees, one school district administrator, one elected state or local official, and three additional members.

The legislation would change members to six business people, one school district administrator, one elected state or local official, and one additional member.

The legislation would also give the power to appoint board embers to the Milwaukee County exec and chairs of the Milwaukee, Ozaukee and Washington boards of supervisors.

 7:33 PM 

Dems delay final vote on tenant-landlord bill

Dems used a procedural move to delay a final vote on legislation overhauling the state’s regulations governing landlord-tenant relations.

Dems complained the legislation would severely disadvantage renters, particularly those in college towns. Backers countered the legislation simply levels the playing field after years of it being tilted toward renters.

Republicans turned back a series of amendments that Dems said were meant to provide some protections for renters, including requiring landlords to hold for two days any property a tenant leaves behind and allowing local governments to ban evictions three days before or after a religious holiday observed by the tenant.

Dems then objected to a final vote, delaying action on the bill.

 5:05 PM 

Senate moves DOT bill down on calendar after Cowles joins Dems on amendment

Senate GOP leaders have moved down the calendar legislation to eliminate the requirement that the Department of Transportation do a cost-benefit analysis of any contract worth more than $25,000.

Sen. Rob Cowles, R-Green Bay, joined Dems in opposing tabling of an amendment to maintain the requirement. That prompted Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, to seek consent to move the bill lower on the calendar, saying members were working on a new amendment.

In addition to stripping the cost-benefit analysis, the legislation also would add a new requirement that the DOT annually submit a report to the Legislature for the preceding fiscal year on the total cost of engineering services done both by agency employees, contractors and by the two working together.

Dems complained the legislation ends a critical piece of DOT contracts that asks if it’s better to have work done by state employees rather than private contractors.

“We’re just going hand out contracts, period, and then we’re going to come back after the fact to see if it was worth it,” said Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton.

The chamber voted 17-16 against tabling the amendment from Sen. Julie Lassa, D-Stevens Point, to keep the cost-benefit analysis.

Bill sponsor Sen. Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, argued the cost-benefit studies are not needed because the DOT does not have good information to compile the estimates and the current requirement is an unnecessary burden on the agency that is costing taxpayers money.

Lazich noted the guv’s task force on waste, fraud and government abuse questioned their value in cutting costs.

“They are labor intensive, they’re expensive and they’re not accurate,” Lazich said.

UPDATE: The bill has been moved back to Senate Org.

 4:39 PM 

Landlord-tenant bill moved to foot of calendar

A Senate bill to overhaul state regs on the landlord-tenant relationship has been moved to the foot of today's calendar.

The bill had more than half a dozen amendments listed at the Senate's website and is expected to be one of the more contentious bills on today's calendar.

 4:29 PM 

Senate approves Assembly version of concussion bill

The Senate approved the Assembly's version of the youth sports concussion bill on a voice vote.

The Senate's version of the bill was amended in committee to weaken the requirements. But the legislation's authors opposed those changes.

The Assembly bill requires a youth sports participant suspected of a concussion or a head injury to be removed immediately and barred from competition until evaluated by a health care provider.

GOP Sen. Pam Galloway's amendment to the Senate bill includes changes such as allowing schools to develop their own concussion policies rather than creating a statewide standard.

The voice vote clears the way for the Assembly bill to head to the guv's desk.

 4:21 PM 

Ellis issues quorum call

President Mike Ellis has issued a quorum call with most Dems still absent from the chamber.

Ellis said he was originally told Dems would be done by now and said they'll eventually come out, so the chamber should get rolling.

 3:52 PM 

Assembly passes cougar damage bill

In a last minute move that drew a few chortles, the Assembly passed a bill that allows farmers and those in the agricultural sector to recoup damages caused by the cougars through wildlife damage plans through the county.

While roll call was called, Speaker Pro Tem Bill Kramer used the opportunity to crack wise.

"You want a roll call? I was just going to say all those in favor, say "meow," Kramer said to laughter.

 3:25 PM 

Assembly stands informal; returns quickly

We're informal after the GOP attempted to move the vocational diploma bill to the calendar. We're now back and taking up a few resolutions.

The vocational diploma bill (the Senate version) was placed at the foot of the calendar.

 3:04 PM 

Assembly back from break

While it seemed as if the Dems might break for caucus, after some heated words between GOP leaders and Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, it seems as if we're moving on with the agenda, at least for now.

 2:48 PM 

Assembly back in session

We're back. AB 518, a bill on designating local roads as scenic byways that was blocked last week by the GOP, was passed and is on its way to the Senate.

 2:33 PM 

Assembly resumes; moves on with normal business

Rep. Louis Molepske Jr., D-Stevens Point, withdrew his pulling motion on the intoxicated ATV operators bill, saying he'll try to bring it up later in the schedule.

Meanwhile, the Assembly has passed a bill that changed state terminology to remove offensive terms for those with mental disabilities.

 2:28 PM 

Assembly stands informal

The Assembly is standing informal for a couple of minutes, shortly after another drunken driving pulling motion, this one relating to ATV operators.

 2:02 PM 

Assembly Dems begin pulling motions; start with bill on ignition interlock devices

After about four bills were passed, Assembly Dems began pulling motions on the floor.

Rep. Tony Staskunas, D-West Allis, is now attempting to pull AB 434, which would require ignition interlock devices on first-time drunken driving offenders. Staskunas says that while he tried to "work through normal channels" on the bill, he was blocked by Republicans from moving the bill forward.

Staskunas says the interlock devices is already reducing drunken driving accidents and that it makes a difference in changing behaviors. He also urged the body to go Act 100, the law passed last session that imposed stricter penalties on drunken driving.

"Act 100 is working and we missed a golden opportunity to build on the progress of Act 100 and further reduce deaths and drunk driving accidents here in the state of Wisconsin."

Rep. Jim Ott, R-Mequon, said that while he'd vote on procedural lines with his own party on the motion, that he agrees with Staskunas on the need for tougher drunken driving legislation and takes responsibility for not advancing some legislation further in committee. He said that the fiscal cost estimate on another drunken driving bill, AB 208, was too large to make passage feasible.

He also said that if he is in the Legislature next session, he'll push to make sure the Assembly makes tougher laws on drunken driving a priority.

The motion failed on a 38-59 vote. Another pulling motion to take up AB 405, which would create a felony charge for the fourth OWI offense, also failed by the same margin.

 1:44 PM 

Assembly work underway; makes short work of two bills

So far, the Assembly has passed SB 321, which limits the number of tax checkoffs listed on individual tax forms, and SB 317, which allows electronic prescriptions for schedule II substances in non-emergency cases.

The Assembly is now debating a bill creating a vocational high school diploma, which was originally introduced as a bipartisan effort in the September special session.

Bill author Rep. Mark Radcliffe, D-Black River Falls, said the bill would allow students to learn a trade while still completing their high school coursework.

 1:37 PM 

Rep. Grigsby back on the floor

While each party was asking for temporary leaves for various representatives, Democrats welcomed back Rep. Tamara Grigsby, D-Milwaukee, to the floor.

Her full comments are below.

"I am very happy to be able to join this body again this morning. Approximately 3 months ago, I was in a situation in the emergency room where I was told that I would not be leaving the ER and that my chances for survival was slim to none.

"And what I got in the days following was an outpouring of love, of support, of kind wishes of thoughts, from both Republicans and Democrats. And it taught me that there is somethings that are bigger than partisanship. And I want to thank this body today. Because I stand here in recovery feeling very strong and very excited. Still ready to fight.

"And I am so deeply grateful to you all for extending support for the way that you did. It meant the world to me and I appreciate it. Everyone from my constituents to prison inmates, to people of commerce, to people who change our garbage, expressed their sincere thoughts and well wishes for me and for that I am truly truly grateful.

"So thank you for everything. I'm back, and I'm ready to fight. It killed me for so long screaming at my TV, not being able to participate. I started writing floor speeches in my recliner. And I'm happy to say I have genuine and true friends in this body. Thank you very much."

 12:45 PM 

Ho-Chunk president says relations between state government, tribes better, but need strenghtening

In the annual State of the Tribes Address, Ho-Chunk President Jon Greendeer said relations between the state government and Wisconsin tribes have improved in recent years, but still need strengthening.

Addressing state officials in the Assembly chamber, Greendeer called for a more direct dialogue between the two sides to strengthen ties and better understand each other’s viewpoints.

“We are different in many ways, but we do agree on a people to people approach,” Greendeer said.

Greendeer also spoke briefly about the mining legislation. He said he was confident job opportunities could be created without harming the environment, but added the area’s land, air and water must be protected at all costs.

“Good caretakers of the land will never find a level of contamination ... worth compromising,” Greendeer said.

Greender said Native Americans are always the first to feel the effect when budget tightens, forcing them to deal with increased poverty and poor health care and education. However, Greendeer said his people are not asking for a handout, but a chance to make their voice heard.

“The people I speak of are strong, and they are resourceful,” Greendeer said.

As for education, Greendeer said lawmakers need to seek “measurable change” to address the disproportionate achievement gap Native American student face.

“I ask that you keep education as a priority for all,” he said.

With Gov. Scott Walker calling 2012 “the year of the veteran,” Greendeer said legislators must not overlook returning and veteran Native American soldiers.

“Our communities must be ready to accommodate their needs,” Greendeer said.

In closing, Greendeer emphasized the need to continue the conversation between tribes and the government beyond his speech if they hope to resolve their differences.

“Our governments are progressing together,” Greendeer said.

By Adam Wollner
For WisPolitics.com

 11:00 AM 

Zipperer schedules Monday hearing on mining bills

GOP Sen. Rich Zipperer has scheduled a public hearing Monday for both the Assembly and Schultz-Jauch versions of the iron mining bill an attempt to keep the legislation alive.

"I think basically we can see that the bills are on life support," Zipperer said. "The rationale is to keep the bill alive and to have an opportunity to move forward if we can come to an agreement."

Zipperer, R-Pewaukee and chair of the Judiciary, Utilities, Commerce and Government Operations Committee, said there has not been any compromise yet, but that the meeting serves as a placeholder if a deal is reached that would move the bill forward.

If an agreement is reached, a special session would be needed to pass the bill, Zipperer said. Gov. Scott Walker said last night he was considering a special session on the mining legislation in the hopes of persuading those senators who voted against the bill last week to change their minds.

Andrew Welhouse, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, said that lawmakers still are looking for a way to find enough votes to pass a bill through the Senate and bring G-Tac back to Wisconsin.

 10:20 AM 

Senate recesses for State of the Tribes

After confirming the appointments on today's calendar, Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, asked to moved to the 13th order of business -- third reading of a bill stalled last week to alter the composition of the Milwaukee Area Technical College Board.

Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller, D-Monona, objected to that request, and after a brief conference among leadership, the chamber has recessed for the Tribes address.

The calendar will resume on the 8th order of business when we come back.

 10:10 AM 

Senate session underway

Senate President Mike Ellis has called the chamber to order.

The Senate is set to take care of its first few agenda items, then recess in time to hear the State of the Tribes address in the Assembly chamber.

 9:08 AM 

Assembly, Senate to start final week of session

The Assembly and Senate will be on the floor today as they begin the final regularly scheduled floor period of the two-year session.

The Senate calendar includes a few last-minute bills such as landlord regulations and another mandating policies on student-athlete concussions.

The chamber is also expected to take up a bill changing the membership of the Milwaukee Area Technical College board. The bill stalled on the floor last week after Dems objected to a third reading of the bill.

In the Assembly, look for a marathon session. The calendar clocks in at 26 pages after the chamber pushed off much of its agenda last week.

The calendar includes legislation banning double-dipping by state employees who retire to collect their pensions and then go back to work for the state, legislation to repeal sex ed changes Dems approved last session and banning coverage of abortion through health exchanges required under the federal health care law.

Ho-Chunk President Jon Greendeer will deliver the State of the Tribes address this morning in the Assembly chambers.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

 5:13 PM 

Senate passes variance bill, adjourns

After finally receiving a substitute amendment, the Senate has passed a bill relating to variances in zoning ordinances -- the final item on the chamber's agenda for the day.

The chamber has now adjourned, with the next regular session date set for Tuesday.

 3:13 PM 

Senate to caucus

The Senate is in caucus for 45 minutes while the body waits for an amendment to SB 300.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, also said Republicans would discuss whether the chamber would reconvene at midnight; Dems objected to third reading of the tech college bill earlier this afternoon.

 3:01 PM 

SB 526 messaged to Assembly

A bill making technical changes to the tax credit for qualified production activities has been messaged to the Assembly.

SB 526 was passed Tuesday but was held up following a motion to expunge the vote following adoption of a Dem amendment. That motion was not taken up before messaging.

 2:52 PM 

Waterways bill passed

The Senate has passed a bill to overhaul permitting for developments on state waterways on a 20-13 vote.

The bill was passed without debate.

 2:45 PM 

Milwaukee tech college board changes delayed

Senate Dems have objected to third reading of a bill altering the membership of the Milwaukee County Technical College Board, stalling the measure for today's session.

Under a substitute amendment backed by the chamber, the bill would specify that the nine-member board consist of five members affiliated with employers, one school district administrator, one elected official and two additional members.

Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend and the bill's author, said that the business community in Milwaukee had expressed concern about the direction of MATC and the progress of students graduating from the school.

Milwaukee Dems defended the school and ripped the proposal's change from a statewide tech college bill to a measure focused on MATC.

"I don't know if we're legislating on heresay today," responded Sen. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, saying the bill should have at least had a public hearing in the Milwaukee area.

His motion to return the bill to committee was rejected 16-17.

Sen. Spencer Coggs, D-Milwaukee, expressed concern about the impact of increased business representation on an entity that owns two TV stations.

"This is the epitome of a power grab," Coggs said.

The bill has stalled in the Assembly, where Rep. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, has announced the votes aren't there to move the bill through the Colleges and Universties Committee.

 1:05 PM 

Wind siting repeal referred to committee

The Senate has referred a bill from the Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules to repeal statewide siting standards for wind turbines back to the Org committee.

SB 50 was originally on the calendar for Tuesday's session but was delayed until today.

Sen. Frank Lasee, R-De Pere, cautioned that without action on the bill, turbines twice the size of the Capitol could be built in close proximity to people's homes, causing health problems.

"Twelve-hundred and fifty feet is simply too close to people's homes," Lasee said.

"I'm disappointed that we can't muster the votes to help these folks."

Sen. Mark Miller, D-Monona, responded that the process to craft the turbine standards was transparent and fair, and that the state has lost out on wind energy jobs due to the debate over the siting rules.

He urged senators to vote against referral so that the chamber can vote the bill down and "declare once and for all that we will support the PSC rules." The bill was referred on a 17-16 vote.

Lasee fired back that the effort to support green energy "at any cost" was hypocritical after the vote last night on a mining bill amendment that he said rejected thousands of jobs.

 12:10 PM 

Senate back on the floor

Just about 16 hours after last night's floor session concluded, the Senate is about to convene another session.

Chief Clerk Jeff Renk announced that today's session will begin at 12:30 p.m.

The chamber's calendar includes legislation on the membership of tech college boards, limiting the liability of ski hill operators, and overhauling permitting and other procedures for developments along Wisconsin waterways -- including boat piers.

UPDATE -- 12:45 p.m.: Roll call is underway.

 12:36 AM 

Assembly back in session -- scenic byways bill stopped in tracks

After nearly a half-hour break, the Assembly reconvened and stopped the scenic byways bill after a motion to suspend the rules failed. Rep. Dave Cullen made a point of expressing his distaste for the delay and Rep. Tyler August's objection to the bill.

"This simple little bill has to fail because the gentleman from the 32nd is having a temper tantrum," Cullen said.

 12:06 AM 

Assembly stands informal

Standing informal due to an objection from Rep. Tyler August on a bill by newly elected Rep. Jill Billings that would designate local highways as scenic byways.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

 11:45 PM 

Assembly jumps ahead of schedule

The Assembly ran into a road block on a bill that would prohibit so-called "double dipping" by retirees who've come to fill state positions after the Democrats objected to a third reading. Following that, the Assembly seemed to skip a raft of contentious bills on the calendar, including the DNR omnibus bill that would impose time limes on permits for piers and wharves, among other things.

Assembly Speaker Pro Tem Bill Kramer noted that they were skipping some bills whose companions had not yet been messaged over from the Senate.

 9:56 PM 

Gtac pulls plug on mine following Senate vote

Gogebic Taconite announced late Tuesday it is pulling out of a planned iron mine in northern Wisconsin after the Senate rejected legislation that would have made it easier to begin operation.

"Senate rejection of the mining reforms in Assembly Bill 426 sends a clear message that Wisconsin will not welcome iron mining," company President Bill Williams said in a statement released several hours after the Senate vote. "We get the message. GTac is ending plans to invest in a Wisconsin mine. We thank the many people who have supported our efforts."

 9:16 PM 

Assembly approves recall amendment

The Assembly voted 60-37 Tuesday to amend the state Constitution to limit recalls to those who have been charged with a serious crime or violated a yet-to-be drafted code of ethics.

Dems complained the amendment was “sour grapes” over the recall efforts that have been launched over the past year and noted Republicans didn’t complain over their ability to target three Dem state senators for recall last summer. All three won re-election.

Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, said the decades old recall provision in the amendment pushed by “Fighting” Bob LaFollette and the progressives was perfect for “Deceiving” Scott Walker after he pledged during the 2010 campaign to bargain with public employee unions only to strip those powers away after winning office.

Rep. Chris Danou, D-Trempealeau, said politics is a tough business and lawmakers are subject to the will of the people. If they’re not strong enough to be subject to those whims, they should get out of the Legislature.

“I trust the people. Do you?” Danou asked. “That’s what this is about, trusting the people to make up their own minds.”

But Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester, countered asking the public to weigh in on whether recall election should be reined in is the perfect example of trusting the will of the people.

He added people across the state are unhappy with the recall process currently allowed and lawmakers shouldn’t be subject to a recall simply because of how they voted.

“That’s what elections are for,” Vos said. “You’ll have every single opportunity when they go to the ballot box to talk about their record.”

 8:30 PM 

Constitutional amendment on Supreme Court chief justice tabled

The Assembly tabled a constitutional amendment that would allow the Supreme Court to elect the chief justice. Now, that position goes to the most senior member of the court.

As the Assembly began discussion on the amendment, a Dem amendment related to recusals was added to the legislation via voice vote.

After majority Republicans realized the mistake, the chamber went informal.

The Dem amendment seeks to force judges to recuse themselves if a reasonable person would question if they could be impartial on a case or party to the case has made a contribution of at least $1,000 to the judge or the judge's opponent.

To remove the Dem amendment, the body would have to give its unanimous consent to go back to the amendable stage. Dems oppose the amendment and are unlikely to agree to such a request.

With just more than a week left in the regular floor period, that impasse puts the amendment in limbo. It would have to pass consecutive sessions of the Legislature before it could to the public for a referendum.

 8:18 PM 

Senate adjourned

The Senate has adjourned until 12:01 p.m. Wednesday.

SB 526, which was held up on a motion to expunge a vote on it earlier this evening, was not messaged to the Assembly and remains before the chamber.

Two other bills that were not taken up tonight will be rolled over to tomorrow's calendar.

 8:11 PM 

Senate passes 'read to lead' bill

The state Senate has passed legislation to create the governor's Read to Lead Development Council and a related segretated fund, but not without Dems criticizing the bill over what they argue is a lack of accountability for voucher schools under the measure.

"How can this be partisan, when the only thing this says is, 'We're going to hold schools accountable?'" asked Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee.

Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, said a final accountability system would depend on the contents of a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law that's been requested by the state Department of Public Instruction.

"At the end of the day, boys and girls in this state will be a in a much better place educationally because of what we are doing tonight," Olsen said.

The bill passed 20-13.

 6:52 PM 

Senate returns, sans microphones

We're back in the Senate, but the microphones are still out.

Minority Leader Mark Miller says some of the microphones are working so senators should speak loudly so they can be heard on the WisconsinEye broadcast.

 6:25 PM 

Angel investment bill passed

The Senate has approved SB 463, which would, in part, lift the $47.5 million annual cap on angel investment tax credits available from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.

The bill passed 32-1, with Sen. Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, as the lone vote against the measure.

 6:01 PM 

Fitzgerald: Lawmakers will keep working on mining bill

In a statement issued after this evening's developments with the mining bill, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said lawmakers would keep working toward their goal of job creation in northern Wisconsin.

"A new mine in Northern Wisconsin has the potential to bring thousands of jobs and billions in economic impact to an area of Wisconsin that desperately needs it," the Juneau Republican said. “Creating jobs is our top focus, and we have made effort after effort to compromise and come to a bill that can pass both the Senate and Assembly. We will keep working toward that goal. Job creation should always come before politics.”

 5:54 PM 

JFC mining sub rejected; bill referred to Org committee

After the Joint Finance Committee's substitute amendment to AB 426 was rejected 17-16 -- with Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, joining Dems in the majority -- the mining bill has been referred to the Senate Organization Committee.

Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, said he had hoped for the chamber to take up his substitute amendment crafted with Sen. Schultz today.

He defended the legislation and challenged critics to point out which aspects of their plan would prevent mining company Gogebic Taconite from bringing jobs to northern Wisconsin.

"You cannot have responsible mining if you do not have a responsible mining law," Jauch said.

Schultz said he hoped discussions would continue and that the chamber would have the opportunity to take up a compromise mining bill.

He also said numerous aspects of the JFC sub lacked scientific credibility and needed further discussion.

"We're writing a law not just for mining at one particiular site in Ashland and Iron County," Schultz said. "We're writing a law for the entire state."

"This is bill is full of subjective, squishy langguage on public health, safety and welfare," he added.

 5:05 PM 

Senate endorses bill public assistance violation bill; onto the mining bill

The Senate has passed a bill to define intentional violations that could lead to individuals being banned from the W-2 program.

State law allows a W-2 agency to permanently deny benefits to anyone who intentionally violates W-2 statutes or related rules on three separate times, but those violations currently aren't defined in statute.

The bill would also establish six-month and twelve-month bans from the program for first and second violations, respectively.

Sen. Jon Erpenhach charged that the bill's authors don't have sufficient evidence of fraud in those programs, and that the state's poor would lose "everything" for just an allegation of fraud.

"We're getting tough on people who deliberately rip off taxpayers, and that sounds great," the Waunakee Dem said. "But this is a bazooka going after a very small problem."

Sen. Rich Zipperer, R-Pewaukee, charged that state agencies would make the determination and that they would have to determine intentional violations.

"To act like this is just being done indiscriminantly ... is, frankly, irresponsible," Zipperer said.

The bill passed 18-15, with Sen. Jim Holperin, D-Conover, joining Republicans in support.

We're now onto the Assembly mining bill, with a series of amendments pending.

 2:49 PM 

Senate backs change to bill publication dates

The Senate has moved through several bills already, including a bill that would restrict earmarks in the state budget process and a bill to change the official date of enacted bills signed into law.

Under SB 255, the date of publication would move from within ten working days of the governor's signature to the day after enactment.

Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller, D-Monona, reminded members that the publication date was a matter of controversy after passage of last spring's budget repair bill restricting public employee collective bargaining rights.

"The people need to have an opportunity to seek redress" in the courts, Miller said.

Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, remarked that as long as the state has an elected Secretary of State, lawmakers should give him something to do.

Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, said he brought the bill forward because he believes Secretary of State Doug La Follette "feels he has a vote in the Legislature."

The measure passed 17-16.

 1:54 PM 

Senate in recess

After passing a resolution to honor the late LFB anayst Darin Renner, the Senate is in recess for 10 minutes so lawmakers can meet with Renner's family.

UPDATE - 2:06 p.m.: The delay has been extended by 10 more minutes.

UPDATE - 2:06 p.m.: We're back in session.

 11:31 AM 

Assembly in brief recess

The chamber is in recess for five minutes after passing a resolution honoring Legislative Fiscal Bureau analyst Darin Renner, who passed away in November at age 40.

UPDATE - 11:39 a.m.: We're back in session.

 9:38 AM 

Senate, Assembly on the floor today

The state Senate will be on the floor this afternoon with an agenda that includes mining legislation. But it's expected to only come up for a vote if majority Republicans have the 17 votes needed for passage.

That looked questionable yesterday as Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, knocked a proposed compromise from Joint Finance Committee Co-chairs Alberta Darling and Robin Vos that would add contested case hearings to their previous proposal, but only allow them after a permit has been issued.

The JFC voted 12-4 along party lines to approve the Darling-Vos version of the legislation after first rejecting Dem Sen. Bob Jauch’s mining proposal that reflected his work with Schultz.

If the Senate takes no action on the mining bill today, the chamber may come back tomorrow to try again.

Today’s Senate calendar also includes the governor's “read to lead” legislation and defining what constitutes an intentional violation that could lead to someone on W-2 being barred from the program.

Meanwhile, the Assembly will also be in today to take up constitutional amendments to specify the conditions for recalling an elected official and to establish the Supreme Court chief justice by a vote of the justices.

Look for a lengthy floor debate today with a nine-page calendar that also includes a ban on providing anything of value in exchange for signing or not signing a recall petition, an overhaul of permitting near navigable waters, lifting the cap on the Family Care program and prohibiting so-called "double-dipping" by annuitants of the Wisconsin Retirement System.

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