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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

 5:04 PM 

Dems object to third reading of Milwaukee County Board bill

After the Legislature adopted three GOP-authored amendments and tabled three Dem amendments, Dem lawmakers objected to third reading of a bill making sweeping changes to the Milwaukee County Board bill.

Following a 57-39 vote -- falling short of the two-thirds margin needed to override that objection -- we're onto adjournment.

UPDATE -- 5:11 p.m.: The Assembly has adjourned.

 4:28 PM 

Dem substitute amendment tabled

Republicans shot down a substitute amendment to the Milwaukee County Board bill on a 58-39 vote.

The proposal from Rep. Christine Sinicki, D-Milwaukee, would subject the entire bill to a county-wide referendum instead of only the provision on supervisor pay.

Rep. Fred Kessler, D-Milwaukee, said the money to pay supervisors wouldn’t be there even if voters rejected the referendum.

“You’re putting before the voters a meaningless referendum,” Kessler said.

“The people who many of you do not represent should have a choice to make a decision that you all are trying to make,” added Rep. Mandela Barnes, D-Milwaukee.

 4:17 PM 

Milwaukee Dems hammer county board overhaul

Debate began on a measure to curtail the Milwaukee County Board with Milwaukee-area Dems seeking to refer the bill back to committee, saying the bill had been fast-tracked with little input from county residents.

“This isn’t a conservative bill; this is a radical bill,” said Rep. Fred Kessler, D-Milwaukee, saying it would set a bad precedent for state lawmakers to cut local officials’ authority, budget and salary.

Rep. Jon Richards, D-Milwaukee, said hearings in the county on the issue are still ongoing.

“This body could care less what the citizens of Milwaukee County think, unfortunately,” Richards said.

Richards added that it would give the county executive’s office “more power than the governor of Wisconsin.”

Rep. Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee, said he had “full faith that the Milwaukee County Board can reform itself,” noting the current composition of the board, like the state Assembly, skews toward new members.

“We’re slow, we’re inefficient, we argue. That’s good when we are debating serious policy issues,” Goyke said.

“We’re bad at micromanaging.”

The motion fell 39-58. We’re now onto amendments; there’s a sub and six simple amendments in the queue.

 3:07 PM 

Dems move to pull CDFI tax credit bill

Before getting to the Milwaukee County Board bill, Rep. Amy Sue Vruwink, D-Milladore, moves to pull AB 63, an income and franchise tax credit for investments in a community development financial institution, to the floor.

Dems said the bill was a job creation measure, adding that identical language passed overwhelmingly last session before expiring in the Senate.

“Let’s demonstrate that being 44th in the country in job creation is unacceptable,” Vruwink said.

Rep. Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford, called the motion a “stunt,” and said the more appropriate avenue would be to ask the committee chairman for a hearing.

“We’re open to talking. We have been talking. We’ll continue to do so,” Suder said.

Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, countered that supporters wouldn’t “get a fair shake” on the bill since the committee chair -- Dave Craig of Vernon -- was one of just a handful to oppose the bill last session.

“Clearly, the intent is to let this bill die,” said Rep. Gary Hebl, D-Sun Prairie.

The pulling motion was turned away on a 39-58 vote. With that, we’re now onto the bill seeking to overhaul the Milwaukee County Board.

 2:11 PM 

Assembly moves through first four bills

The Assembly has quickly moved through the first few bills on its agenda, including legislation making changes to regulations of fees for dental services on a 89-8 vote.

The chamber also concurred in three Senate bills passed earlier today, including a measure to allow for veterans to be designated on their driver’s licenses or state ID cards.

 1:28 PM 

Senate approves legislation allowing electronic proof of car insurance, showing vet's status on ID card

The state Senate made quick work of its agenda today, approving every bill on the agenda either on voice vote or unanimously.

The bills approved include legislation that would allow veterans to have their status shown on a drivers license or state ID card as well as allowing motorists to use a smart phone to show proof they have car insurance.

 1:22 PM 

Assembly informal

Lawmakers are greeting the families of the fallen soldiers honored today.

Update -- 1:41 p.m.: We're back in session.

 12:52 PM 

Sanfelippo: Milwaukee Co. negotiation flap 'further evidence that helps my case'

Rep. Joe Sanfelippo said today he's not shocked by the controversy over allegedly improper negotiations with employees by Milwaukee County, saying it's "further evidence that helps my case" as the Assembly prepares to take up a bill to overhaul the county board.

"I think we see a pattern here where the board sees themselves as above the law," the West Allis Republican -- and former county board member -- said in a press conference ahead of today's floor session.

Sanfelippo reiterated that the reforms he's proposed are more than a decade in the making, and dismissed concerns about issues of local control and checks and balances between the board and county executive.

"Milwaukee County is the exception, not the norm, when it comes to the way counties operate throughout the state,” Sanfelippo said.

Rep. Joan Ballweg, R-Marksan, also touted legislation regulating fees for dental services as the result of months of negotiation between the Wisconsin Dental Association and insurance companies.

"Dentists shouldn't be footing the bill for things that ... insurance companies aren't paying for,” Ballweg said. She said the bill would prevent the shifting of unnecessary costs onto patients, and is necessary since individual dentists have no way to band together to address needed changes.

"Sometimes it's up to the government to step in to make sure that the playing field is fair," added Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester.

 11:56 AM 

Senate recesses until 1 p.m.

The Senate has recessed until 1 p.m. after approving a several resolutions honoring fallen soldiers.

Those honored include: U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Joseph James Altmann, U.S. Army First Lt. David Andrew Johnson, U.S. Army Sgt. Chester G. Stoda and U.S. Marine Cpl. Michael Conrad Nolen.

 9:13 AM 

Assembly to consider Milwaukee County Board bill

Both houses of the Legislature will be on the floor today.

The highlight of the Assembly calendar is legislation to make the Milwaukee County Board part-time.

Assembly leaders have set aside five hours for debate on that Republican bill, fiercely opposed by the board but backed by County Exec Chris Abele.

Debate on AB 109, which relates to fees for dental services, can go for up to an hour, while the other bills are limited to half an hour each.

In the Senate, the calendar includes legislation allowing veterans to have their status indicated on a drivers license or ID card, along with a resolution honoring former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

 2:32 PM 

Assembly debates FoodShare trafficking penalties

The Assembly is debating a bill that makes trafficking of FoodShare benefits a specific offense under state law.

The bill, authored by Rep. Samantha Kerkman, R-Powers Lake, would add trafficking to the list of offenses relating to improper use of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. That would include anyone who buys or sells SNAP benefits for money, guns or ammunition, or anyone who resells food purchased with SNAP benefits.

Democrats assailed the bill during debate as unnecessary, saying that the fiscal note from District Attorneys showed no additional costs as a result of the bill and that DAs can already prosecute the crime. Other Democrats called the bill "mean-spirited" when considering those facts.

"There is nobody here who supports FoodShare fraud, but when is the discussion going to arise to get people back to work and lift them out of poverty," Rep. Corey Mason.

Kerkman said that she received support on the bill from Waukesha DA Brad Schimel and argued that audits and reports from local newspapers showed that this sort of fraud needed to be addressed. Kerkman also said during an earlier press conference that the bill simply codifies a set of recently passed federal rules so that they can be enforced by DAs.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, argued that "we don't go after fraud like we should" especially in Milwaukee County.

"What we are suggesting is simply follow federal law and give prosecutors more tools to go after fraud," Vos said. "If you don't want to give them more tools, feel free to go back to your districts and tell them why FoodShare fraud is OK."

The body voted down one amendment that would have added $25,000 for DAs to prosecute the offenses. Democrats argued the amount was needed if already strained DAs across Wisconsin were going to be able to prosecute the offenses. JFC Co-Chair and Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, said that the Assembly was already addressing the pay issues of the DAs in the next budget and would address the understaffing issues in the future.

The Assembly also passed a bill on CPA examination requirements on a quick voice vote.

 1:31 PM 

Oak Creek temple shooting first responders honored as "hometown heroes"

The Assembly has given Hometown Hero awards to Oak Creek Lt. Brian Murphy and Officer Sam Lenda for their role in responding to the shooting at the Oak Creek Sikh Temple last year.

Murphy and Lenda accepted their awards on behalf of their department, and added condolences for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing.

"What we did is the same thing that you do, which is to put yourself aside for the greater good," Murphy said.

The Assembly also passed a resolution expressing condolences to victims of the Boston Marathon bombing Monday. Both Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, and Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford, asked for a show of bipartisanship in a time of tragedy.

"These victims and individuals who were hurt, be them family members or the victims themselves- they weren't Republicans or Democrats, they were Americans,"  Suder said.

 1:08 PM 

Adam Neylon sworn in as 98th AD representative

Justice Patience Roggensack delivered the oath. Neylon was elected to the 98th AD seat after a five-way primary, where he narrowly beat former Pewaukee Police Chief Ed Baumann.

"The only thing I have to say is thank you and I look forward to working with all of you," Neylon said in a short speech.

"If all of your speeches are that short, you will definitely be in line for speaker," Vos joked.

 12:59 PM 

Quorum call underway

The Assembly is getting underway. Only two bills on the docket in addition to a few resolutions: The bill imposing specific penalties for FoodShare benefits trafficking and another altering the degree requirements for those looking to take a Certified Public Accountant licensing exam.

Some resolutions include one honoring the first responders to the Oak Creek Sikh temple shooting and another that will express condolences to those affected by the Boston Marathon bombing yesterday.

In addition, Justice Pat Roggensack will be swearing in Adam Neylon as the new 98th Assembly district representative.

 8:58 AM 

Assembly on the floor today

The state Assembly will convene the first of two floor sessions this week, beginning with a brief calendar today that includes a measure to ban trading food stamps for anything of value.

The chamber will also hear from Oak Creek police officers Brian Murphy and Sam Lenda, who responded to last summer’s shooting at the city’s Sikh temple, and Adam Neylon, R-Pewaukee, will be sworn in as the representative from the 98th District following the special election earlier this month.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

 7:54 AM 

Kramer acknowledges walking out of State of Tribes address

Speaker Pro Tempore Bill Kramer acknowledged he walked out of the Assembly chamber during the address, saying it was disingenuous for Thayer to be “talking about collaboration but continually telling us everything we did wrong.”

“To talk about how important a pristine environment is when the Bad River Band is the worst polluter in the country?” Kramer said. “That sounds like they’re talking out of both sides of their mouth.”

Kramer, R-Waukesha, added he believes he’s the only legislative member who belongs to a tribe -- the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

“I don’t think my walking out was any more disrespectful to the speaker than the speech was disrespectful to us,” he said.

 3:28 PM 

Assembly Dems call for greater attention to economy

Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca called on lawmakers to refocus on the state’s economy in the wake of new national job statistics, saying, “We are not succeeding at all.”

He said a bill to cut the Milwaukee County Board -- which is likely to take up much of the time during next week’s Assembly sessions -- likely shouldn’t be taken up even during the best of times.

“I think we should worry about the agenda in this house,” said Barca, D-Kenosha.

Rep. Andy Jorgensen, D-Fort Atkinson, criticized the governor for “packing his bags” for fundraisers outside the state.

“It’s time to stay here, Gov. Walker,” Jorgensen said.

“Enough with the clinking of glasses in other states.”

 3:10 PM 

Assembly quickly moves through calendar

The state Assembly has completed its agenda for the day, including concurrence in two Senate bills that now head to the governor.

The chamber passed SB 35 to allow American Transmission Company on invest outside the state, along with SB 55 to adjust laws governing municipal water utilities.

AB 58 was also approved; it would increase the services that can be offered through an agreement between two or more banks.

All three were passed on voice votes.

 3:08 PM 

Work-share bill passes

The main vote on concurrence was also along party lines -- 18-15. The bill now heads to the governor's desk.

That's going to conclude the business of the Senate today. Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, has started adjournment by dedicating adjournment this time to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

 3:01 PM 

Senate back in session

We're in the midst of a motion to refer the work-share bill back to the committee on Senate Organization.

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, said that the lack of union approval language in the bill could cause lawsuits because of disputes over work-share programs. He also said that the legislation is only a precursor to a debate down the line on right-to-work legislation.

"This is right-to-work lite," Erpenbach said.

 2:20 PM 

Assembly in brief recess

The Assembly has recessed for a brief reception following the State of the Tribes Address. Speaker Robin Vos says the chamber will reconvene no later than 2:45.

UPDATE -- 2:37 p.m.: Another quorum call is underway.

 2:19 PM 

Lac Courte Oreilles chairman hits fishing controversy, mining bill in address to lawmakers

Gordon Thayer, chairman of the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin, told a joint session of the Legislature today that he hopes for improved communication between the state’s tribes and elected officials in the wake of controversies over spearfishing and mining in the state’s northwoods.

Thayer dubbed the controversy over the proposed increase in the Chippewa’s fish harvest a “political ploy” by the state Department of Natural Resources to “embarrass” the tribes into taking fewer fish.

He added that “inflammatory press clippings” have only served to provoke the state’s sportsmen, and that he had flashbacks to the controversy over treaty rights in the 1980s. He said the tribes would work with the administration to ensure the enjoyment of all who want to fish the state’s lakes.

“The Wisconsin DNR leadership must recognize it’s not the ‘80s,” Thayer told lawmakers.

Thayer also reiterated that all the state’s tribes stand behind the Bad River Band in their opposition to changes in mining regulations passed earlier in the session, asking lawmakers to consult with tribes before major decisions on resources are made.

He said all citizens of the state want to protect the state’s environment and create jobs.

“We cannot cash in our natural resources for corporate profit,” Thayer said.

“We should never let outsiders make our laws for us.”

Thayer also said the state should consider making other changes to bolster the tribes -- mentioning the potential of adding tribal law enforcement officers to the state’s pension plan, and noting that tribal community colleges receive comparatively lower state aid despite a lingering skills gap.

Thayer thanked lawmakers for their understanding of the importance of treaty rights -- and urged officials on all levels to collaborate on the many issues facing the entire state. He said the tribes’ economic development, law enforcement and education efforts are a complement to the state.

And while he commended Gov. Scott Walker and his administration for meeting regularly with tribal officials, he was discouraged at what he saw as a lack of acknowledgement from the governor during his State of the State Address.

“We can’t be dismissed as a subgroup of people in the state of Wisconsin,” Thayer said.

“All of us, Republican, Democrat, independent, whatever -- we’ve got to begin working together. We’ll have our differences, yes. But when we talk, we can work through them.”

UPDATE: DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp quickly responded that the state and tribes have a solid foundation to address issues such as the walleye limits.

She also said while the Chippewa tribes are acting within their treaty rights, the one-walleye daily bag limits on 197 lakes is a “dramatic increase” considering a maximum of 10 lakes have had such a limit over the past 15 years.

“As we have stated publicly, the reduced bag limit has the potential to drive down angler participation throughout the summer, decreasing tourism to the lakes of northern Wisconsin, and impacting local economies,” she said. “These are economies that are already suffering the impacts of reduced winter recreation and summer visits.”

 12:52 PM 

Vos: Assembly in line with governor's budget

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said prior to session today that while his caucus is “pretty united on the governor’s budget,” larger decisions about the details of the budget bill won’t be made until after the four JFC public hearings are completed.

“The Assembly is more in line with where Gov. Walker is,” the Rochester Republican said. “I don’t want to speaker for the Senate.”

Vos and JFC Co-chair John Nygren, R-Marinette, also added that budget decisions would have to wait until details of a proposal to raise per pupil K-12 funding from GOP senators is unveiled. Both lawmakers deflected questions about the level of debt, but said there’s largely agreement on proposals to change Medicaid enrollment.

Vos also said he hopes details of a plan to reform the state’s tax structure from Rep. Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfield, would be announced soon. And he dismissed talk of a plan to expand school choice throughout the state as a “rumor.”

The speaker added he does not get involved in primary races after Rep. Howard Marklein’s announcement that he would challenge Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, next year. He praised Marklein, R-Spring Green, as a “fantastic member of the state Assembly” and said the party has already started talking to candidates about running to succeed him.

 12:51 PM 

Lassa work-share amendment tabled

Lassa's amendment to add the union approval language to the work-share bill has been tabled on a 17-15 vote.

Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, is now moving to send the bill back to Senate Org.

 12:09 PM 

Senate debating union approval in work-share programs after approving smaller bills

The Senate is onto debate over a bill that would allow employers to participate in work-share programs that reduce workers hours in order to prevent layoffs.

The Democrats have objected to the lack of a provision in the bill that would require any work-share program to be approved by the collective bargaining unit for that work place. Sen. Julie Lassa, D-Stevens Point, drafted an amendment that would restore that language saying that since the bill deals with negotiation of wages and other worker considerations, it should be included.

"Over the last session or so, my colleagues have talked about the importance of certainty for business," Lassa said. "By approving this amendment it makes sure that there is certainty for business that have union employees by making sure that they are able to work together."

Lassa and other Democrats also said the Unemployment Insurance Advisory Council sent a letter urging the language to be added in order to avoid unnecessary legal action.

Republicans have said Lassa's provision is redundant given federal guidelines that direct employers to work with their employees on work-share plans.

Sen. Paul Farrow, R-Pewaukee, asked whether those employers would have to negotiate with unions regardless of the current language of the bill. Jauch countered that the UIAC letter indicated that there could be additional legal "confrontation" without the provision. Farrow then said that these programs are still subject to National Labor Relations Board standards and that they'd have to follow those standards.

"So, I fail to see how were trying to single-handedly change collective bargaining," Farrow said.

Lassa said that DWD does not follow up to see if private employers are complying with those federal regulations.

"If you say that you are in support of collective bargaining for private sector unions, then you should adopt this amendment, it's crystal clear," Lassa said.

Among other bills passed already was SB 35, a bill that would allow American Transmission Company to invest in out-of-state projects. Only Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, voted against the measure.

 11:49 AM 

Rhoades confirmed as DHS Secretary

Kitty Rhoades, the former Deputy Secretary of the Department of Health Services, was confirmed in a unanimous roll call vote.

Afterward, Sen. Jon Erpenbach raised to ask the chair what Rhoades real first name was, joking that he didn't want the vote to take "place under false pretenses." A woman, presumably Rhoades (who was out of sight), in the audience for the vote, responded to Erpenbach by saying to laughter "Even my brothers don't know that."

 11:47 AM 

Senate is back in session

We're back from the break and we're taking up appointments. Kitty Rhoades' appointment as DHS Secretary has been set aside for separate consideration.

 9:07 AM 

Lawmakers to hold floor sessions, hear tribes address

The Assembly and the Senate will be on the floor today for brief calendars and to hear the annual State of the Tribes address.

The speech comes amid rising tensions between the tribes and some state lawmakers over spearfishing, mining and other issues.

The Senate plans to begin its calendar prior to the speech, with legislation allowing businesses to cut the hours of employees to avoid layoffs on the agenda. The Assembly has already approved the bill.

The calendar also includes the appointment of Kitty Rhoades to the secretary’s post at the Department of Health Services, where she has been deputy.

If the Senate hasn’t finished its business by the time the 1 p.m. speech begins, it is expected to recess and then reconvene after the speech.

The Assembly, meanwhile, will take up its agenda following the tribes speech.

The chamber plans to take up two bills on the Senate calendar if they’re ready. SB 35 relates to high-voltage transmission lines, while SB 55 deals with the safe drinking water loan program.

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