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 12:00 PM 

Senate passes bill changing enactment process

The Senate today approved legislation altering the publication process for new acts of law on a 17-14 vote.

The bill would require the Legislative Reference Bureau to publish acts on the day after enactment, establishing that date as its official date of publication. Unless otherwise specified within the law, published bills would then take effect on the subsequent day.

The bill largely removed the publication responsibilities of the secretary of state's office, which became an issue during a lawsuit over collective bargaining legislation in 2011. The secretary typically waits 10 days before publishing notice of the act in a newspaper, which left Act 10 in limbo as a lawsuit over the state's open meetings law proceeded in Dane County court.

Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, said the 10-day provision helps alleviate the burden on officials after session days where potentially hundreds of bills are passed. He also charged that it would "gut the opportunity of the secretary of state" to participate in the legislative process.

"Basically, it's a bill aimed at the one Democrat left in state elected office," Risser said. "So much for bipartisanship."

Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, added that the first bill of the new session would not create jobs, but would compromise "accountability, transparency and, most importantly, the public's right to know."

Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend and the bill's author, said the measure was needed because "right now, the secretary of state believes he has a role ... in the legislative process."

He said Secretary of State Doug La Follette shouldn't have been able to delay implementation of Act 10 two years ago because he disagreed with it.

"The people who run to enact public policy are the state senators, the state assemblymen and the governor," Grothman said.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitgzerald, R-Juneau, added that the bill aims to preserve the secretary's ability to inform the public about newly enacted legislation.

"Just because it hits the newspaper doesn't mean all this other stuff didn't happen," Fitzgerald said.

 11:17 AM 

Corrections, PSC appointees approved

The Senate has confirmed three gubernatorial appointments.

Ellen Nowak's reappointment to the Public Service Commission passed 30-1, with Sen. Tim Carpenter, D-Milwaukee, the lone "no" vote.

Corrections Secretary Ed Wall, along with Employee Trust Funds Board appointee Victor Shier, were approved 31-0.

Sens. Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, and Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, are absent from today's session.

 8:57 AM 

Senate to take up measure altering bill publication

Today’s Senate calendar includes legislation that would require the Legislative Reference Bureau to publish acts on the day after enactment and would make that the official date of publication.

The bill was approved in committee 3-2 yesterday along party lines. In addition, bills that do not specifically state an effective date would become effective the day after publication.

The timing of bill publication by the secretary of state's office became an issue in 2011 during a lawsuit challenging the passage of Act 10, which curtailed collective bargaining powers for public employees.

The calendar also includes the appointments include Edward Wall as Corrections secretary and the re-appointment of Ellen Nowak to the PSC, along with several resolutions.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

 9:09 PM 

Mining hearing adjourns

The public hearing on the mining bill adjourned shortly after 9 p.m. following 12 hours of testimony on an overhaul of the regulations.

Just before 9 p.m., Dem Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa asked Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, how many people were still waiting to testify.

"Not many," was all he said.

Two opponents to the bill testified after that before the hearing was adjourned.

 2:47 PM 

WMC VP says timeline is long enough to permit mine

WMC VP for Government Relations Scott Manley told the committee the GOP bill's 480-day permitting timeline will be enough time to properly permit a mine and that most of the concerns about sulfides and environmental damage are overblown.

Manley told the committee that the timeline of the GOP bill won't be an issue because if the mining company and the DNR are talking before the application is submitted, they will make sure they've prepared the right information before submitting an application and starting the clock.

Manley also batted back against allegations that the bill would allow wholesale exemptions to the new mining statutes, saying that requires a "cynical view" of state regulators. He said that the DNR would likely never approve an exemption to large scale requirements such as how to dispose of waste rock.

 2:09 PM 

Former DNR Sec. Meyer hits GOP bill for contested case hearing, mitigation

Former DNR Secretary George Meyer, who has opposed past versions of the mining bill, said to the committee that he takes significant issue with exemptions to the permit process and what he characterized as a weakened contested case hearing process.

Meyer, speaking as executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, said that the contested case process has been switched to put the burden of proof on an objector and can't stop the company from mining once they have a permit in hand.

Meyer also said that the wetlands provision, aside from possibly running into issues with the feds, doesn't seem to address the problem of filling in or destroying wetlands because it doesn't focus on nearby impacted watersheds.

"There's going to be an impact to that [Bad River] waterway," Meyer said. "Not to mitigate in that watershed is hard to understand. Why would you want to mitigate in Spooner or Rhinelander when the damage is in Ashland County?"

Meyer also said that the timeline provided in the bill might be long enough to permit mines similar to the one in Jackson County, but that it would be problematic for a mine of the size GTAC is proposing.

Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Falls, asked whether the DNR would knowingly approve a mining project that would pollute the environment. Meyer said the agency wouldn't willingly do it, but that the bill as written may force it into that position.

Meyer clarified after a question from Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, that the bill does not change air or water standards, but did weaken protections for navigable waters and wetlands.

 12:55 PM 

Rep from Army Corps of Engineers testifies, other residents of Northwoods weigh in

Rebecca Graser, a representative for the Army Corps of Engineers, essentially repeated her previous assertion that the corps' timeline can't be dictated by state deadlines.

"We don't have hard time frames to complete those reviews," Graser said. "What is more important than meeting those time frames is to make sure we have good information."

Graser dodged most questions about the corps' role in permitting the GTAC mine specifically, but did say that the extended timeline in the new GOP bill would make it easier for the corps to work with the DNR.

However, she couldn't say whether the bill would make it more or less likely that the corps and the DNR could work together on an Environmental Impact Statement and permitting, saying that it would be dependent on the proposal that would come forward from a permittee.

Graser also said that she did not have oral testimony prepared because there "was some mix up" and she was not invited to testify by the committee.

In addition to Graser, a handful of residents of the area around the mine have testified. They've included a member of the Northwoods Tavern League supporting the mine, a member of local Indian tribes saying they would support a moratorium on mining in the Penokee Range and a group of high school students saying they won't be able to return home after college because there are no opportunities there without something like mining.

 11:18 AM 

Williams says no date set for vote on mining bill

Chair Mary Williams said that she has no idea when an executive session might be scheduled for the iron ore bill, after she was asked by Rep. Penny Bernard Schaber, D-Appleton.

Right now, Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, is answering questions and told the committee that he hopes "bipartisanship prevails" on the mining bill. He also asked the committee to hold another hearing in northern Wisconsin.

 11:12 AM 

GTAC on iron prices

An addendum to the testimony of GTAC: The last few questions from the committee have focused on the volatile price of iron ore on the open market, with Rep. Fred Clark asking if the company would be able to continue operating the mine if the price hit as low as $50 a ton, as one market expert has projected.

GTAC President Bill Williams said that while those decisions always have to made based on market forces and that they'd have to look at it if it happened, he emphasized optimism that an investment targeted at the Penokee deposits would be able to survive such price swings.

"Yes, there's going to be ups and downs in all industries," Williams said. "But we feel confident that this ore body allows us to come in and weather any storm, should it come."

 10:52 AM 

GTAC grilled on job potential, hearings, need for environmental regs

Representatives from Gogebic Taconite said the mining company would focus on Wisconsin workers and would pay for most of the infrastructure surrounding the mine.

Bob Seitz, a spokesman for the company, said GTAC plans to pay to build its own roads, water, natural gas lines, rail lines and "would provide their own EMS and fire services."

In addition, Seitz expressed incredulity at a question about whether Wisconsin workers would be hired instead of mining professionals from around the country, saying the company prefers to train the workers in the area.

"If you were to bring in workers from someplace else that didn't get 30 inches of snow, that didn't have solid weeks below zero, you'd be paying to train a lot of people that wouldn't stick around very long," Seitz said.

Rep. Fred Clark, D-Baraboo, asked why the company did not proceed with exploratory drilling to see the composition of the minerals in the Penokee Hills. Seitz said that taking on something like exploration itself could result in a huge investment and that the company didn't want to proceed without some certainty about the process. However, GTAC engineer Tim Myers said he believed a study from Lawrence University at least indicated the area is mostly ferrous rock.

Seitz also said the company did find all the changes to more specific aspects of the permitting process -- such as the waste sites boundaries and regulations on disposing of waste -- were needed to give certainty to the process.

Rep. Tod Ohnstad, D-Kenosha, also asked the company whether they believe there should be more hearings on the measure. Seitz said that while they're happy to meet with any legislators and offer their comments when needed, he also pointed out that most of the hearings they've had up to this point have lasted at least nine hours.

 10:14 AM 

DNR says mitigating fill-in of streams is new provision; leg council says provision "untested"

Questioning of the DNR focused mostly on whether the bill allows the DNR to collaborate with the Army Corps of Engineers and if certain provisions of the bill will end up violating the state's Public Trust Doctrine.

Several Republicans asked point blank whether the bill would hamstring the department in maintaining environmental standards. Rep. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, said that several of his constituents have asked whether the bill would harm air and water quality standards.

"I don't think the bill does anything to air and water quality standards on the mine site," said DNR representative Ann Coakley.

Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, focused his attention on a provision that would allow a mining company to fill in navigable waters and mitigate elsewhere. Jauch asked the DNR representatives whether the DNR had handled this before.

"From just a standard mitigation concept, no," said DNR representative Russ Rassmussen.

"The answer is no," Jauch repeated. Legislative Council staff also made clear that the provision is untested under the Public Trust Doctrine.

 9:47 AM 

Amid Dem objections, authors defend aspects of iron mining bill

In brief testimony and a limited question-and-answer period, the authors of the mining bill said the legislation allowed for further collaboration with the Army Corps of Engineers and would not change environmental standards.

Sen. John Lehman, D-Racine, accused the authors of crafting a bill that did not achieve the goals of certainty and streamlining.

"The main consideration that seems to come up in criticism of the bill last time is that we're not really doing certainty," Lehman said. "We're not really aligning with the corps of engineers and their timeline but we're doing a lot of other things."

Rep. Mark Honadel, R-South Milwaukee, said that the new bill did add in a provision that requires the permittee to coordinate their mining permit efforts with the Army Corps of Engineers. Tiffany then said that other states, such as Michigan, don't even collaborate with the Army Corps of Engineers in some cases and that Wisconsin's efforts to link up on mining issues is ahead of the curve.

As for the exemptions highlighted by Democrats in the bill, Tiffany said it provided an exemption from the mining statutes but not for environmental standards elsewhere in state statute.

"There are exemptions in this bill, but there are also exemptions in current law," Tiffany said.

Because the question period for each committee appearance is limited, Democrats have repeatedly objected, saying that they're not getting appropriate time to ask their questions.

"This is a kangaroo court, madam chair," said Rep. Brett Hulsey in response to the limited time frame.

Williams and Rep. Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford, emphasized that the authors are open to questions and suggestions posed to their offices.

 9:23 AM 

Williams: We only planned one hearing

Rep. Fred Clark, D-Baraboo, used some of the questioning time for the authors of the bill to ask Chair Mary Williams if this is the only committee hearing they've planned.

She responded that it was the only committee hearings they've planned at this time. Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, also said that the state has already heard "52 hours" of testimony on this issue.

"This issue has been thoroughly vetted and continues to be thoroughly vetted and we'd be happy to hear other comments after this hearing," Tiffany said.

 9:13 AM 

Hearing on mining bill underway

Rep. Mary Williams, R-Medford, is chairing the meeting and made the standard comment about having no outbursts or "interpretive dance."

However, as Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, started his testimony on his bill, one of the Democrats attempted to raise a point of order beforehand. Williams said they had discussed the point before the meeting and told Tiffany to continue with his testimony.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

 11:42 AM 

New iron mining bill uses JFC version, updates wetland regs, adds contested case options

new version of the iron mining bill will stick to many of the provisions included in the Joint Finance Committee's version crafted last year, but will add regulatory changes made in two bills last session as well as tweaking the contested case process.

Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, and Rep. Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford, said the bill would hold up Wisconsin's environmental standards and would focus on providing certainty for applicants. Tiffany also said that the bill could provide a "resurgence" in the state's manufacturing industry.

"This piece of legislation is going to be 21st Century mining legislation," Tiffany said.

The new bill, which is being put out today for co-sponsorship, would still retain the 420 day window for approval of a mining permit and the 12 month pre-application period that existed in JFC's version of the mining bill. However, the bill updates language to incorporate regulatory changes made in Act 118 and Act 167, which reworked wetlands and navigable waters regulations respectively.

In addition, the bill also retains the post-permit contested case hearing, but adds additional opportunities for contested case hearings in subsequent DNR decisions.

The bill still retains the 60/40 split between locals and the state on net proceeds tax revenue, but the 40 percent designated for the state will go into an economic development fund rather than the state's general fund. Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, said that mining-related projects will get priority in receiving that money.

A full summary of the bill can be found in this Legislative Council summary.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

 2:50 PM 

Senate adjourned

The Senate has concurred in an Assembly resolution -- honoring the 50th anniversary of the Eagle River World Championship Snowmobile Derby -- and adjourned.

Lawmakers will return tonight for a joint session to hear the governor's annual State of the State address.

 2:40 PM 

Senate approves rules

The state Senate approved its rules for the 2013-2014 session this afternoon on an 18-14 vote.

The resolution was changed slightly from the version unveiled Monday. GOP lawmakers removed a provision that would have allowed the Senate president, with the consent of the Senate Org chairman, to withdraw a proposal or appointment from committee.

The president had also needed the consent of the referring committee's chair in the last session. Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, raised concerns with that change yesterday.

Dems also sought to make a slew of other changes, including removing provisions dealing with behavior in the gallery.

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, said the previous gallery policy worked well in the last session and that "we had no problem removing people" -- before adding, "Granted, we needed a locksmith every once in a while."

"Where is it written that we only have the right to petition our government three times?" asked Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, referring to a provision that could lead to disruptive members of the public being banned from areas delegated to the Senate for the remainder of the session.

Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said his concern was about law enforcement in the galleries, calling the removal of disruptive individuals during floor sessions "unacceptable."

"We have always been proud of the access that the public has to this building," Fitzgerald said.

"I think there's an acceptable level of reaction by this body to what we saw over the last two years."

Minority Leader Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, also sought to remove the penalties enacted last session when Democrats left the state to stall a vote on controversial collective bargaining changes.

"This harkens us back to some decisions that were made when we were a bitterly divided state," Larson said. "So why not move on?"

Fitzgerald said he was willing to discuss that provision with Larson, and that he was open to alternative ways to compel senators to attend floor sessions.

"A lot of this stuff was developed very quickly in response to the senators that left the state, and if there's a better way of bringing a member back to this body ... it needs to be part of the rules," Fitzgerald said.

"I understand why you did what you did," Erpenbach said to Republicans. "But we don't need to do that anymore."

All nine Dem-authored amendments offered were turned away.

Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, was absent from today's floor session. Erpenbach said during the debate that Jauch was in Hawaii for his daughter's wedding.

 11:26 AM 

Senate delayed

The Senate is now set to convene at 12:30 p.m., according to an announcement from the chief clerk.

UPDATE - 12:32 p.m.: We're now delayed until 1 p.m.

 10:14 AM 

Senate to take up new rules for 2013-2014 chamber

The Republican-controlled state Senate will be on the floor today to consider new rules that would allow leaders to ban members of the public from the gallery for the session if they violate chamber policies three times.

The proposed rules include a prohibition on signs in the gallery as well as a requirement that those observing Senate hearings to remain seated and quiet. The Assembly passed similar rules last week.

The session is set to begin at 11 a.m.

Monday, January 14, 2013

 12:09 PM 

Proposed Senate rules include new punishments for those who interrupt proceedings

The Senate would ban people in the gallery from displaying signs or other objects and impose new punishments for those who fail to follow chamber requirements under proposed rules for the session.

The proposal, to be taken up by the full chamber tomorrow, includes new measures to address protesters who interrupted floor sessions and hearings last session.

That includes requiring those who attend Senate meetings such as a public hearing to remain seated and quiet while barring them from displaying signs or other objects.

Those who violate chamber rules or policies can be removed from a Senate “space” for 24 hours on the first offense. The second violation calls for someone to be removed and barred until the first roll call day of the next regularly scheduled floor period. A third violation would result in removal and being banned from Senate “spaces” for the remainder of the session.

The proposal defines Senate spaces as the chamber, Senate offices, hearing rooms and “any other space in the capitol that is traditionally reserved for the conduct of senate business.”

The proposed rules also include a change in case two parties have equal representation in the Senate. That occurred last session when the body was temporarily split 16-16. It calls for the former majority leader to chair the Committee on Senate Organization.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

 2:49 PM 

Assembly adjourns

The chamber has now adjourned. Lawmakers are scheduled to be back in session Tuesday ahead of the governor's State of the State Address.

 2:41 PM 

Assembly passes second rules resolution

The chamber has passed the second, more contentious rules resolution after debate on one more Dem amendment dealing with the Assembly galleries.

The resolution, which established rules on paper ballots, behavior in the galleries and a dress code for lawmakers, passed 59-37. Rep. Chris Danou, D-Trempealeau, joined the majority in supporting AR 4.

Dem lawmakers decried the rules governing the galleries, telling Republicans that the First Amendment to the constitution is just as important as the Second -- a reference to the chamber's permitting of concealed weapons.

The gallery rules would ban expression of support or opposition to a matter that could come before the chamber, as well as taking photos or video of the proceedings.

In addition, the rules would apply standards for removing offenders from the galleries for a one day, one session calendar or, in the case of a third offense, a ban for the entirely of the Assembly session.

"We have to use common sense," added Rep. Andy Jorgensen, D-Fort Atkinson, who said a girl from his former district was kicked out of a controversial 2011 session for "doing her homework."

Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, countered the First Amendment does not protect interrupting lawmakers.

"We have to have reasonable limits, and that's what this amendment does," Vos said.

"You are making a mountain out of a molehill. There is nothing here."

Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, added that the old rules had mechanisms for limiting all-night sessions without resorting to limiting debate or amendments, saying previous majorities had simply insisted on moving forward in the wee hours of the morning.

"I don't think we should hurt ourselves patting each other on the back with what we've got here today," Mason said.

 12:35 PM 

First Dem rules amendment tabled

We're informal after tabling of the first amendment under the newly agreed-upon rules.

Minority Leader Peter Barca sought to change a provision that would have allowed the use of paper ballots by the Assembly Organization committee. He was cut off after two minutes of debate on a motion to table the amendment. The chamber now features timers on the boards showing members' names and districts to keep track of times per speaker and per tabling motion.

After two other speakers, Barca resumed his argument and the measure went to a vote after some six minutes. The amendment has been laid on the table.

UPDATE -- 12:56 p.m.: We're back in session.

 12:27 PM 

First rules resolution passed

The Assembly has unanimously passed the first of two resolutions dealing with the chamber's rules for the 2013-2014 session.

The first proposal, AR 3, includes a number of changes agreed to by leadership in both caucuses.

Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, thanked Dems for their help with the rules despite the dilemma that always faces the minority caucus -- having to stay respectful while debating the issues.

Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, reciprocated those thanks and joked that this session is already off to a better start than the last one since he's using a microphone and not a megaphone.

Other members joined in, frequently calling it "a new day" for the chamber.

"People are sick of the fact that we can't get along, and that we can't work in their best interest on a consistent basis," said Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette.

Rep. Sandy Pasch, D-Shorewood, added that lawmakers were "part of history" in the last session, "but it's time to move forward."

The chamber is now onto debate of the second rules resolution, AR 4, on which Republicans and Democrats still have disagreement.

 11:25 AM 

Assembly leaders announce deal to avoid all nighters

Assembly leaders announced a deal today designed to avoid all-nighters that includes meeting prior to session days to agree on time limits for debate and limiting the number of contentious bills brought to the floor each day.

Speaker Robin Vos and Minority Leader Peter Barca said two rules resolutions will be brought to the floor today. One includes provisions both sides agreed upon in their negotiations. A second includes proposed rules for the galleries that includes a three strikes policy that could lead to some members of the public being banned for the remainder of the session.

A third resolution will not be debated. Barca called it the "nuclear option" because it includes stricter time limits for speeches than what the two sides agreed upon. Vos said Republicans reserve the right to bring that resolution up later if the deal does not accomplish the goal of avoiding all-night sessions.

The deal leaders reached calls for things such as the Rules Committee setting a limit on debate per bill. For example, today's debate on the rules will be limited to five hours. It also calls for enforcing rules that limit tabling motions to 10 minutes of debate total with up to 2 minutes per speaker as well as agreeing to a hard start time for debate each session day. There is also a new dress code for members. If they violate it, they would not be allowed to speak on the floor that day.

Other provisions outlined in a memorandum of understanding include:

-Amendments submitted to the chief clerk by 9 a.m. on a session day will receive priority consideration by each caucus.

- There will be objections to breaking for caucus "except under extenuating circumstances" and extending debate limits.

- A minimum of 30 minutes will be set aside for debate on final passage.

- If a Rules Committee meeting has to be convened, the time it takes will not be counted toward the limit agreed for a bill under consideration.    

 9:00 AM 

Assembly to take up rules changes today

The state Assembly will be in later this morning to take up a package of rules changes that could prove contentious.

Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, spent a second day in talks on the package yesterday.

But they declined to release details of the proposals, some of which are geared toward avoiding all-night sessions in the chamber.

 3:58 PM 

Barca asks new Assembly members for a fresh start and "real bipartisanship"

Assembly Minority Leader Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, told the members of the 2013-14 session that he hopes the new members of the Assembly will be able to put old disputes behind them to tackle issues like job training and education.

Barca compared members of the Assembly to characters in Charles Dicken's "Great Expectations," sayings "we're all sort of like Pip" and that "our benefactors are the constituents." He also said that the voters of Wisconsin are looking for lawmakers to finally work together on issues they campaign on.

"We recognized that people really wanted us to truly work together and reach across the aisle," Barca said. "Bipartisanship means you start from the beginning and erase the past."

He said that he hoped the freshmen legislators brought new ideas and a "new culture" to the Assembly in hopes of putting the contentious debates of the past behind the body. As for members who came in for the first time last session, he had a slightly different wish.

"I hope you have amnesia," Barca said.

 3:36 PM 

Speaker Pro Tem Kramer asks for civility in 2013-14 session

Newly reelected Speaker Pro Tempore and Rep. Bill Kramer, R-Waukesha, told the Assembly that while diverse ideas should be encouraged, each member should be treated with respect and emphasized his role in maintaining order in the chamber. He warned against members using "theatrics and personal invective."

Kramer cleared the Assembly gallery several times last session after members of the audience disrupted proceedings by chants or protests.

"If we cannot have honest, structured, efficient debate, we do a disservice to the good people who sent us here," Kramer said. "There are nearly six million people who need us to do their work and not serve our own personal agendas."

 3:29 PM 

Vos officially elected Speaker of the Assembly

Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester, has been formally elected speaker of the Assembly via unanimous consent.

Following his election, Vos said he hoped this would be the session in which the Legislature approved mining reform, an across-the-board tax cut for all taxpayers, regulatory reform and improved schools. He also asked the new Assembly members to put last session aside and work together.

"What we must also do is continue to respect each other regardless of party or policy," Vos said.

Vos also thanked those in attendance for their influence on his life, including his mother, father and 6th grade teacher, saying she was a good example of the "positive impact teachers can have" on their students. 

Vos also introduced several of the last few Assembly Speakers, including former Speaker Scott Jensen. 

Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder, nominating Vos, said Vos' character hasn't changed in the last 20 years he has known him. He also praised his quick rise through the Assembly's ranks without "maneuvering or cutting deals."

"No, he did it by working hard and earning respect from Republicans and Democrats," Suder said. 

Suder also read a letter from U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, that congratulated his election and praised Vos for his trustworthiness as a leader while noting he disagreed with him on issues "90 percent of the time."

 3:12 PM 

Larson wants more bipartisan tone

Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson urged lawmakers to strike a more bipartisan tone and to address what he called a values deficit that has led to cuts in education funding.

Larson, D-Milwaukee, said Wisconsin has struggled on the job creation front while other states have seen significant growth.

"Starting today, we have a choice between more extreme ideology or real bipartisan solutions," Larson said. "Extremism has cost Wisconsin dearly."

Larson said putting an "open for business" sign up was not enough to create real jobs.

"Wisconsin needs honest change, not just talk and political gimmicks," Larson said.

He challenged his fellow senators to visit their school districts to witness the impact of funding cuts. He said he's seen educators struggling to teach in overcrowded classrooms and schools that no longer teach art and music.

"By continuing to steal from our children's piggy bank, we're robbing them of their opportunity to live up to their full potential," he said.

Larson also said lawmakers have a chance to shed the "light of accountability and transparency" on state agencies, particularly the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. Larson said the hastily created agency was given $85 million in taxpayer money, but no rule book, and ended up losing track of $50 million in loans.

"With Wisconsin still struggling economically, it is unacceptable to allow our jobs creation corporation to continue to play fast and loose with our tax dollars," Larson said. "Wisconsin citizens will not allow us to double down after finding out that the deck is stacked against them."

 3:09 PM 

Fitzgerald calls on senators to 'transcend bitterness of the recalls'

Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald today called on his fellow senators to “transcend the bitterness of the recalls” and work together to move the state forward.

Fitzgerald, who returned today to the post he held until Dems won the majority last year through two waves of recall elections, touted the reforms lawmakers pushed through in the last session to put the state in a better spot now than it was two years ago with a balanced budget and an improving climate for business owners.

Fitzgerald noted some of his former colleagues paid a price for refusing “to put their jobs ahead of what they thought was best for our state” in approving those changes.

“But those days are behind us, and my hope for this session is to transcend the bitterness of the recalls and move forward together with a renewed spirit of bipartisanship and cooperation,” Fitzgerald said.

He called on lawmakers to build upon the reforms of the last session and to make Wisconsin “better and more prosperous for all.” To do that, he said one of the chamber’s top priorities will be legislation that “opens the door for safe and environmentally sound mining.”

He also pledged to make the state a friendlier place for jobs and to keep the spending in “line with taxpayers’ ability to pay.”

“As members, we may be defined by districts and party affiliation, but we are united by the desire to make our state a better place,” Fitzgerald said.

 2:25 PM 

The 2013-14 Assembly session is sworn in

The new Assembly representatives are now moving toward the front of the chamber to sign the oath of office book. (As they are accompanied by "On Wisconsin" and a variety of other traditional patriotic songs playing in the background.)

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

 10:54 AM 

Vos, Suder announce mining overhaul will be first bill they introduce for 2013-14 session

Assembly Speaker-elect Robin Vos and Majority Leader Scott Suder announced today an overhaul of the state’s mining laws will be the first bill they will introduce in the 2013-14 session.

The announcement came the same day Gov. Scott Walker made three stops around Wisconsin to tout mining legislation. He was to be joined by GOP lawmakers at the stops.

The statement from Vos and Suder did not include details of what will be in the bill.

The Assembly approved mining legislation last session, but it bogged down in the Senate. The legislation was eventually amended by the Joint Finance Committee, but it did not clear the Senate in the final days of the session as GOP Sen. Dale Schultz joined Dem Sen. Bob Jauch in proposing an alternative bill.

During an appearance on “UpFront with Mike Gousha” last month, Vos said he hoped to at least start with the JFC version of the bill and move forward with some potential tweaks.

Environmentalists have raised concerns the Assembly and JFC bills did not include adequate protections for the environment.

“Mining reform is a top priority in the state Assembly,” said Vos, who is expected to become speaker Monday after lawmakers open the 2013-14 session. “I’m hopeful all the interested parties can come together to protect our environment and make mining reform happen.” 

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