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2015-16 Legislature: Printable directory | Leadership rosters | New faces

 8:19 PM 

Motion on referral of landlord tenant bill fails

We're on to the amendments from the Dems, starting with one from Rep. Janet Bewley, D-Ashland, that would remove the crime provisions included in Rep. Duey Stroebel's bill. An amendment from Rep. Stroebel, which does a few things -- including removing the "written notice" language relating to notifying tenants about code violations from the original bill -- passed on a voice vote.

UPDATE: Stroebel says that Assembly Amendment nine will clarify some of the issues brought up by Bewley on towing issues.

 7:58 PM 

Dems decry landlord-tenant bill as rushed

Democrats are arguing that a bill that would make numerous changes to landlord-tenant laws would weaken tenant protections and has been rushed through the committee process.

The omnibus bill does a number of things. Included in the list of changes:
*It exempts landlords from civil liability for providing references for tenants and the law presumes they provide those references in good faith.
*Infestation of pests or insects may constitute damage to the unit that tenants may have to pay for if it's found that the damage is caused by their inaction.
*A landlord must now disclose housing or building code violations only if the landlord has been provided written notice of that violation. Current law requires disclosure if the landlord has "actual knowledge" of the violations.
*Prohibits local ordinances that limit a tenant's responsibility for damages, among other things.
*Would no longer void landlords-tenant contracts that include provisions allowing eviction of a resident if a crime is committed on the property, even if the tenant could not have prevented the crime.
*Allowing the towing of a vehicle off of a rental property without requiring the notification of police.
*Allowing a court to authorize the serving of summons regarding an eviction action by mail.

Democrats argued that the bill would allow "eviction by mail" and that removing certain statutes from law would allow victims of crime to be evicted by an overzealous landlord. They also say the bill was rushed through the committee process without proper review or input.

"Another abuse of power, another attack on the little guy," said Rep. Gary Hebl. "You know, even the landlords are not asking for this. There must be a lot of money why this bill went through so fast without any input, without any consideration."

The bill, authored by Rep. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, was first introduced in late April. Stroebel says the bill's language mirrors similar requirements for rental agreements in section 8 housing regulated by federal law. He also said that the evictions will be heard in court and the reasons for eviction will be properly brought out there.

"Evictions go through the judicial process," Stroebel said. "There's going to be a judge that's going to hear the facts and there's evidence to back it up."

For what it's worth, Rep. Terese Berceau, D-Madison, says that the language Stroebel is talking about was about preventing a rental property from becoming a drug front, not allowing eviction for someone who is simply a victim of a crime.

Three representatives (Rep. Cory Mason, D-Kenosha, Rep. Chad Weininger, R-Green Bay, and Rep. Nick Milroy, D-South Range) have said they will abstain from voting on the bill, something attributed to their role as landlords. There was some rather tense debate following those recusals on whether they should have to state their specific reasons for recusal.

 7:25 PM 

Senate passes Milwaukee County Board bill

The state Senate concurred in Assembly Bill 85 by a 19-14 vote after making a series of changes this evening.

Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, joined with Republicans to support the measure, while all other Dems were opposed.

Under the bill, board staff would be curtailed, supervisors’ terms would be cut to two years instead of four, and salaries would be cut dramatically pending the results of a countywide referendum set for next spring.

The Senate also backed two amendments to the Assembly’s language today -- a technical change and a measure to, in part, establish research staff for the county. Six Dem amendments, meanwhile, were also tabled by the chamber.

“I rarely have seen a bill as vindictive as this,” said Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, predicting Republicans would regret “going this far” as the partisan pendulum swings back and forth.

Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, responded, “Milwaukee County is being targeted because it is out of control when you compare it to the other 71 counties.”

“County government is state created; therefore the state can regulate county government,” Vukmir said.

Taylor added: “Is everything in this bill perfect? No.”

“But in the end, I believe that what we have in front of us is a better bill … that creates a better balance.”

 6:20 PM 

Dems say legislative council memo shows GOP injunction bill unconstitutional

The Democrats are now on to debate of a bill that would allow an immediate stay of a court injunction on a law passed by the Legislature, saying a memo from legislative council shows the measure is unconstitutional.

Under the bill, if an appeal to an injunction is filed within 10 days, the injunction would immediately be stayed until a higher court restored the injunction.

Democrats say the bill interferes with the role of the judiciary, with Rep. Gary Hebl, D-Sun Prairie, calling the bill an insult to their oath to uphold the state and federal Constitution.

"So you didn't like some of the rulings of the lower court judges," Hebl said. "There's a process. You don't take your ball and go home."

A legislative council memo on the matter started it's review of the bill by saying "portions of the bill could be found unconstitutional under the Separation of Powers Doctrine."

Speaker Robin Vos came on the floor to debate for the GOP, saying that what he was hearing from Democrats was "so detached from reality" that he had to address the bill. Vos said that the bill only serves to make sure the Legislature has the right to pass its laws without a circuit court judge deciding to enjoin them based on political motivations. Vos cited the defeat of Walker appointees in Dane County -- despite support from local Democrats -- as evidence of the pressures of politics on those injunction rulings.

"At some point in the future, Democrats might be in charge of the state and you will have the exact same scenario and all you will want is a fair hearing," Vos said.

Currently, the Dems have made a motion to refer the bill back to committee. Under the agreement, they could debate this bill until about 8 p.m., when they'll move on to the landlord-tenant omnibus bill.

Also, since I neglected to mention this before -- Suder also intends to special order a few bills at the end of the day before leaving for the day.

 6:06 PM 

Resolution on British PM Thatcher draws Dem condemnation

Despite the fact that it looked like we were back on track to handling the remaining work of the Legislature, the Assembly just spent a few minutes debating a resolution honoring the late British PM Margaret Thatcher.

Some Democrats took issue with honoring the Iron Lady, saying that her approach to governing the British people was characterized by a lack of compassion and a warlike tendency marked by the Falkland Islands War.

"Here we have a resolution for a woman widely know for war," said Rep. Tod Ohnstad, D-Kenosha.

Speaker Robin Vos said that he couldn't understand how the Assembly could take issue with a resolution honoring a woman who stood for freedom.

 5:55 PM 

Agreement reached with Democrats on debate limits

According to Assembly Majority Leader Suder, there will be a two-hour limit on each of the Assembly bills left on the calendar and a half-hour debate max on the Milwaukee County Board bill, assuming that it makes its way over here without objection.

For now, we've got two more resolutions to take up off the message from the Senate.

 5:09 PM 

Senate in caucus

Dems have asked for a caucus until 5:35 p.m. to discuss the new amendment to the Milwaukee County Board bill.

The amendment was quickly passed on a voice vote shortly after the Senate returned to the floor. It would enable the board and the county executive to each employ a lobbyist, exempt the costs of board facilities from a spending cap, and establish four research staff positions in the county comptroller’s office.

The amendment was authored by GOP Sens. Alberta Darling and Scott Fitzgerald and Dem Sen. Lena Taylor of Milwaukee, who explained the amendment on the Senate floor.

Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, then asked to expunge that vote, saying his members want to discuss the changes. Senate President Mike Ellis says the chamber will weigh that request when it reconvenes following the Dem caucus.

 5:00 PM 

Senate amendment on Milwaukee County Board bill in works

The Senate is awaiting an amendment to the Milwaukee County Board bill that would allow one lobbyist each for the board and the county exec while creating four budget analyst positions in the comptroller's office.

Rep. Joe Sanfelippo, a former board member and the author of the Assembly bill, said he preferred making no changes to the legislation. But he was willing to accept the amendment to get the legislation passed.

Sanfelippo said the budget analysts in the comptroller's office would be independent and would work with the board.

 4:39 PM 

An update on the Assembly

The third amendment to the WEDC bill has been found to be not germane, and we're on to the fourth amendment, which is also being challenged. There's one more amendment after that, but it was recently added, so we might see more pop up.

Aside from debate on the WEDC bill, we still have the landlord-tenant omnibus bill up, which has 10 amendments that have to be voted on.

Then we have the bill that would allow parties to get an immediate stay of a court injunction on law created by the Legislature.

So, barring some agreement between both sides, we'll be here for awhile, to say the least.

 4:13 PM 

Senate informal

We've been informal for a few minutes in the Senate chamber as a new amendment to the Milwaukee County Board bill is still being drafted and distributed to lawmakers.

UPDATE -- 5:00 p.m.: We're back in session.

 3:52 PM 

Assembly back to the WEDC bill

We're still on the first amendment to the WEDC bill - trying to make the WEDC CEO a board appointed position. Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca is still trying to make the point that his amendment is germane.

He has also asked that it would be ruled germane "in the spirit of the Dalai Lama."

Speaker Pro Tem Bill Kramer isn't buying it and has ruled the amendment is not germane.

Rep. Jon Richards, D-Milwaukee, appeals the ruling of the chair.

"It's hard to square what you ruled on right now with what you ruled on last week on an almost identical question," Richards said.

That decision is upheld 58-38.


The second amendment, which basically requires WEDC executives to pass policy changes by the board prior to approve, is also being challenged on whether it is germane. The third amendment would make the chairperson of the board a position chosen by the board. Right now, the governor is the automatic chairperson.

 3:40 PM 

Dalai Lama promotes trust, lack of formality

In a brief speech to a joint session of the Legislature, the Dalai Lama recounted his appreciation of democracy and reminded officials "transparency, that brings trust, trust brings friendship."

The 14th Dalai Lama, the religious leader of many Tibetan Buddhists, spent time recounting his time in exile in India and his decision to retire from his political role as leader of the Tibetan government in exile.

Despite the formality of the occasion -- complete with security detail from the State Department -- the Dalai Lama made clear that he is no fan of such formality.

"I've been on throne and meeting with people. I have to sit on throne like statute," the Dalai Lama said to laughter. "I'm fed up with this sort of formality."

He made his point by referencing an event in which the Queen of England was standing next to Prince Phillip during a ceremony and had her skirt blown upward by the wind. Were it not for ceremonial protocol, Phillip would have probably fixed her dress.

In addressing the politicians in the chamber, the Dalai Lama made clear that all humans -- be it the speaker or a homeless person living in the streets -- are the same in the end, saying "We born, we die, same."

However, he made clear that all peoples were concerned with happiness and that they should try to treat each other with compassion and transparency.

Before he left, he stepped back from the podium, looked down and said to the audience that he has been to many Assemblies and many government bodies in his time.

"This is the first time there's been some shoes here," he said, referencing shoes left behind by one of the Assembly Clerk's staffers.

UPDATE: In case any one was concerned, another staffer made clear that the shoes were sneakers and that staffer was NOT walking around shoeless. No standards of style or decorum were broken on the floor of the Assembly.

 2:42 PM 

Assembly recessed for the Dalai Lama; Milwaukee County Board could still be in play for today

We're in recess for the Dalai Lama.

A note on the Milwaukee County Board bill -- while Democrats could still object to taking up the bill in the Assembly today if amendments are added to the bill, Speaker Robin Vos just said that he hoped they could handle it today if that occurs. That, of course, depends on whether Democrats decide push back the bill to June by objecting to taking the bill up off the message.

 2:34 PM 

Assembly back on floor, debating amendment to make WEDC CEO appointed by board of directors

We're back on debate of the bill regulating conflicts of interest by WEDC Board of Directors members.

Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder has moved to have an amendment -- which would make the WEDC CEO a board appointed position rather than a governor appointed position -- declared non-germane. The Democrats are arguing that it is clearly appropriate given the bill under consideration.

Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca said the bill is pointless unless the WEDC Board of Directors is given some power to manage the direction of the public-private corporations.

"There's only one person in this state that has any impact whatsoever on WEDC is the governor and that's because you yielded your authority to him," Barca said.

 2:20 PM 

Assembly back; debating Dem amendment on building code

We're back on the floor. AB 77, a bill on reviews of the one and two family building code, is on the floor and Rep. Janet Bewley, D-Ashland, is offering an amendment that the GOP has moved to table.

UPDATE: The tabling was withdrawn and the amendment was voted down on a voice vote. The bill has also been passed on a voice vote.

 2:15 PM 

Assembly standing informal

We might take up one more bill, which would enable motorists to provide an electronic proof of insurance, before breaking. Still waiting.

UPDATE: The Assembly passed the Senate version of that bill.

 2:07 PM 

Assembly makes short work of smaller calendar items

Just before we break to await the joint session for the Dalai Lama's address, here are a few bills that were quickly passed:

--A bill that would allow a private right of action by retailers against underage drinkers. The retailer can only bring a suit if they were not convicted of a retailer underage violation. If the underage drinker is under 18, the retailer can bring a suit against the parents of the underage drinker. The bill passed on a voice vote.
--A bill that would attempt to prevent so-called "stormchaser" situations in which contractors try to rush residents affected by inclement weather to sign a contract for repairs to their home.
--A bill that would clarify mandatory sentencing requirements for certain OWI offenders. That passed 95-1, with Rep. Fred Kessler, D-Milwaukee, as the lone no vote.

 2:01 PM 

Senate in recess to hear from Dalai Lama

Debate has been suspended on a bill to curtail the Milwaukee County Board’s budget, salaries and term length so senators can join the Assembly for an address by the Dalai Lama.

As the chamber waited for an amendment to AB 85 to be completed, Dems hammered the measure as an attack on local control.

Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, said the bill represented a pattern of the GOP believing they knew better than the state’s citizens.

“This bill is undemocratic,” Hansen said. “It undermines the very democratic process that our state was built on.”

Sen. Tim Carpenter, D-Milwaukee, charged the bill was motivated by the area’s largely Dem politics.

“I think Milwaukee County is being picked on ... and there’s a mentality that, ‘I’m from Madison and I know what’s best for you,’” Carpenter said.

Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills and the chamber’s lead author of the bill, insisted the measure was not an anti-Milwaukee proposal but had been designed to “make Milwaukee County function more efficiently.”

“The county board, as members, are not supposed to be managing the department heads, they’re not supposed to be managing the day-to-day operations of the department,” Darling said, saying it has effectively created a “logjam” in county government.

“On the ground, the business community’s saying it’s almost impossible to deal with the county board,” Darling said.

At the outset of debate, the chamber approved a technical amendment differentiating the measure from the language that passed the state Assembly last week.

 1:24 PM 

Assembly about to start -- a few notes

Few notes before we start to hit the bills up today:

--Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder says that the Democrats and GOP do not have an agreement on debate limits for three bills: The WEDC bill regarding conflicts of interest, the landlord-tenant bill and the bill that would allow quick stays on injunctions of laws enacted by the Legislature. They're still trying to come to agreement on those.
--The Assembly will likely not take up the Milwaukee County Board bill off the message if the Senate passes  an amended form today, according to Speaker Robin Vos. That's because it would require a 2/3 vote to take it up as amended and, as Vos said, "Some Democrats might have an objection to that." It wouldn't be back on the Assembly floor until June.
--As you all know, the Dalai Lama will address the Assembly today at 3 p.m. Lots of security outside in anticipation of his address.

 12:14 PM 

Senate in recess for caucus

The Senate has recessed for 30 minutes for partisan caucuses.

UPDATE -- 12:56 p.m.: The chamber is now set to come back in at 1:05 p.m.

UPDATE -- 1:09 p.m.: Make that 1:15 p.m.

UPDATE -- 1:14 p.m.: A quorum call is underway to call the session back to order.

 12:12 PM 

Senate begins debate on Milwaukee Co. Board legislation

The Senate has quickly moved through the first few bills on its agenda, but has moved a measure to exempt income taxes of military members who die in a combat zone to the end of today’s calendar.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, says the chamber will wait to take up the Assembly version later today.

In the meantime, we’re now onto legislation to overhaul the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors.

 10:52 AM 

Senate to convene at 11:30

The Senate will start a half-hour later than previously scheduled, according to an announcement from the chief clerk.

UPDATE -- 11:26 a.m.: We're delayed again -- this time, until 11:45 a.m.

 9:11 AM 

Dalai Lama to address Legislature

Both houses of the Legislature will be on the floor today, and the Dalai Lama will address a joint session of lawmakers.

The Assembly agenda includes legislation to change the way tenant evictions and the disposal of renters' property are handled and a bill to bar WEDC employees from negotiating a contract with a company in which they have a financial stake.

The Senate agenda is topped by legislation to cut the Milwaukee County Board’s budget and set a referendum on reducing supervisors’ pay. The Senate plans to add a technical amendment to the Assembly bill and send it back to that house. The Assembly then would have to sign off on the amended version before it could go to the guv’s desk.

 6:02 PM 

Assembly approves bill to switch to 'reasonable physician standard'

The state would switch to a “reasonable physician standard” in what doctors have to tell patients they’re treating about the benefits and risks of treatments under legislation the Assembly approved Wednesday evening 65-31.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court last year employed a “reasonable patient standard” in a decision last year that requires doctors to disclose the information necessary for a reasonable person to make an intelligent decision on choices of treatment.

The reasonable physician standard requires a doctor to only disclose what a reasonable physician in a similar medical specialty would know. Doctors also would not need to tell their patients about alternative medical modes of treatment.

Dems complained the legislation would tilt the doctor-patient relationship in favor of physicians while protecting those doctors who fail to adequately do their job.

GOP Rep. Erik Severson, an emergency room doctor rejected the suggestion and derided Dems as the “trial lawyer caucus.”

 4:46 PM 

Assembly votes to place limits on what lawyers can collect in contingency fees when representing state

The Assembly voted 60-36 to place limits on how much lawyers could collect in contingency fees if they represent the state.

The bill would prohibit allowing a state agency from contracting for legal services on a contingency fee basis unless the guv can justify it as cost effective and in the best interest of the state.

Dems tried to amend the bill to limit attorney fees in the ongoing redistricting suit, but were rebuffed.

 3:59 PM 

Assembly passes bill on personal injury trusts

The Assembly voted 58-39 to pass legislation that would set new standards for those seeking compensation from personal injury trusts.

Dems sought unsuccessfully to exempt veterans from the legislation, saying the bill would make it harder to collect on a claim for their injuries, particularly mesothelioma due to exposure to asbestos.

“You either are going to show your support for the men and women in uniform and exclude them from the harmful impacts of this bill or you’re not,” said Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha. “I implore you. Stand up for veterans.”

GOP Rep. Tom Weatherston rejected the argument, saying nothing offends him more than those who have never picked up a rifle to defend the country trying to speak on behalf of veterans like him. He said Dems were trying to confuse the true the intent of the bill, which is tort reform.

The legislation would affect trusts that are set up by companies to pay claims after they go bankrupt. They are often used by non-defunct asbestos manufacturers, and critics say it would make it harder for those victims to claim damages. Backers counter the legislation would help prevent fraud by preventing double dipping.

The bill would require anyone suing a Wisconsin company to first disclose if they’ve received payments from any personal injury trust.

Rep. John Spiros, R-Marshfield, called it a fair bill.

“I’m on this bill, and I’m a veteran,” Spiros said.

 2:36 PM 

Milwaukee County Board bill approved

The Assembly voted 59-39 to approve legislation that would cut the Milwaukee County Board's budget and reduce supervisors' terms in half to two years.

The legislation also would set an April 2014 referendum for voters to decide whether to cut supervisors' pay.

The initial roll call was 60-38, but Rep. Gary Hebl, D-Sun Prairie, said he voted against the bill but was listed as a yes. He received unanimous consent to have his vote recorded as a no. 

 1:56 PM 

Dems open Assembly session by railing on Milwaukee County bill

Assembly Dems opened today's floor period by railing on legislation that would cut the Milwaukee County Board budget and reduce supervisors' pay.

Dems delayed a final vote on the legislation the first time it was before the Assembly, requiring today's debate on passage.

Various Dem members acknowledged the legislation will likely pass. But they dismissed it as a needless intrusion in local politics and warned GOP members that some day the Legislature may go after counties in their own districts if they set a precedent by supporting today's bill.

"Today it is Milwaukee County, but who will it be next time? Who will be standing here next time trying to defend their county?" said freshman Rep. LaTonya Johnson, D-Milwaukee.

Rep. Fred Kessler, D-Milwaukee, complained the legislation sets an April 2014 referendum for voters to weigh in on the proposed pay cuts, saying the suburban communities in the county all have races on the ballot that spring. But Milwaukee does not have any significant races planned, and Kessler said that means fewer minority voters will turn out for that election and have their voices heard on the board issue.

"There is no other way to look at this but another attempt by the Republican Party, the majority party of this house to suppress minority votes," Kessler said. "I have absolutely no doubt about that."

 11:02 AM 

Assembly to take up Milwaukee County Board bill

The state Assembly will be back on the floor today with a calendar that includes a final vote on legislation to cut the Milwaukee County Board’s budget and supervisors’ terms and pay.

Dems objected to third reading of the bill last month, delaying a vote on passage. The chamber is also scheduled to take up a series of tort reform bills and a measure to alter the state's informed consent law for physicians.

 6:23 PM 

Wrapping up

Following passage of the second-to-last bill on today’s Assembly agenda -- a bill to increase the penalty for driving violations near sanitation workers -- we’ve recessed for a quick meeting of the Rules Committee.

UPDATE -- 6:26 p.m.: After the Rules Committee voted along party lines to special order a trio of tort reform bills, we're back on the floor.

 6:02 PM 

Food stamp bill passes

The state Assembly voted 68-26 to pass a bill that would require that two-thirds of purchases made with food stamps meet nutrition standards outlined in the federal government’s Women, Infants and Children -- or WIC -- program.

While Dems said the goal of the legislation was important, they slammed the current language as divisive and ineffective.

“This bill, just like the FoodShare trafficking bill before it, is press release politics,” said Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa, D-Milwaukee.

Fellow Milwaukee Dems Mandela Barnes and LaTonya Johnson said the foods qualifying under the bill are more expensive or, in some cases, unavailable in some areas of the city.

“If this was a perfect and fair world, I would be a co-author,” Johnson said.

Rep. Janet Bewley, D-Ashland, echoed those concerns, referencing “rural food deserts” in the state’s northern regions.

“This bill will force children to go hungry, mark my word,” Bewley said.

Rep. Dean Kaufert, R-Neenah, countered that while bill still provides one-third of food stamp benefits to buy “anything you want,” taxpayer funding should not be used for the types of products he’s seen from grocery and convenience store clerks.

“This bill ain’t the do-all, tell-all bill, but it is going to change some habits,” Kaufert said.

“Michelle Obama should be very proud of the state of Wisconsin right now,” added Rep. Kathy Bernier, R-Chippewa Falls.

The Assembly Org committee attached an emergency provision to the bill earlier today that would allow it to pass before the biennial budget despite having a fiscal estimate.

 4:50 PM 

Debate continues on food stamp legislation

We’re now onto final passage of the food stamp bill after the completion of the amendment process.

Lawmakers backed a substitute amendment adopted in committee that, in part, removed its status as a pilot program, provided for implementation costs and tied the nutritional standards to the federal Women, Infants and Children -- or WIC -- program.

Dems offered amendments to add the state’s farm products and some signature crops -- including cranberries and “all types” of cheese and milk -- to the list of acceptable foods. Both were tabled 57-39.

“Take the right vote on this one,” said Rep. Andy Jorgensen, D-Fort Atkinson. “The dairy farmers are watching.”

GOP proponents said that in addition to those foods already included alongside the WIC list, others could be added through the rulemaking process.

“If you look at the list, there’s plenty of Wisconsin products,” said Rep. Dean Kaufert, R-Neenah and the bill’s author.

 4:02 PM 

Assembly takes up food stamp legislation

After passage of two more bills -- measures to increase the road access of the Wisconsin Dells “ducks” and to restrict private information of municipal utility customers -- we’re now onto legislation requiring that two-thirds of food stamp purchases meet federal nutrition standards.

 3:56 PM 

WEDC resolution rejected

The state Assembly voted down a motion to take up AR 8 to convene a special committee on the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation 39-57.

Dems continued to hammer the agency this afternoon as “broken” and in violation of the law.

“It is the job of this body to make sure we do things the right way,” said Rep. Penny Bernard Schaber, D-Appleton, charging that lawmakers did not make needed changes to the bill that established the corporation in 2011.

Rep. Mary Williams, R-Medford, countered that Assembly Dem Leader Peter Barca had not voted in opposition to matters that have passed the WEDC board -- of which he is a member -- and said she’s concerned about the role of the Dems’ proposed panel.

“I think they work very well together,” Williams said of the current WEDC board.

Barca responded that the committee would not replace the board but would serve to “hold WEDC accountable.”

“The most important thing is that we hold them accountable and that they follow the law,” Barca said, arguing that Williams also “must have been stunned” at the problems outlined in the state audit.

Rep. Jeff Stone, R-Greendale, said the WEDC board is the appropriate venue to suggest changes to the agency, while Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said many of the concerns identified in the audit are already being addressed.

Vos also accused Dem lawmakers of attempting to “get the press story” rather than reform the agency.

“They have made some bad decisions, but ... they should be judged by the totality of their record,” Vos said.

 2:10 PM 

Dems move to take up WEDC resolution

After passage of two bills -- measures requiring registered sex offenders to notify school officials if they appear on school grounds, and expanding the definition of intoxicant in statute to include inhalants for driving while intoxicated offenses -- Dems have proposed their WEDC resolution on the floor.

“I have never seen an audit that suggests that (an agency is) not following the law,” said Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, about a recent state audit of the agency.

“We have been doing a lousy job as a Legislature at holding this agency responsible.”

Barca added that it would be “irresponsible” to vote on funding for the WEDC -- a motion scheduled for the Joint Finance Committee on Thursday -- given that “they have violated the law on a number of issues.”

“At what point are you going to call for some accountability?” asked Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, who slammed GOP lawmakers over their criticism the University of Wisconsin System’s reserves in recent weeks.

“It’s getting embarrassing, and the fact that none of you speak up drives me crazy.”

 12:57 PM 

Vos says he's open to WEDC changes

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said prior to today's Assembly session that while his caucus is committed to taking up the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation during the Joint Finance Committee process -- a vote currently scheduled for Thursday -- he's open to making additional changes to the embattled jobs agency.

"I am more than willing to include those in the budget," Vos, R-Rochester, said during a press conference, adding that taking up such changes in separate legislation could also be a possibility.

Vos conceded that the latest development with the WEDC -- the resignation of its spokesman over tax problems -- was "embarrassing" and that he hopes the agency improves its hiring and screening process. But he said many of the problems identified in a recent state audit came under different leadership or under the former state Commerce Department.

He also said, based on input from the economic development groups in his district, that the agency has been an improvement over Commerce.

 12:01 PM 

Assembly Dems to offer resolution on WEDC

Democrats are set to offer a resolution on the Assembly floor today that would, among other items, require the appointment of a special committee to "ensure that the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation ... follow state law."

The resolution, which comes in the wake of a state audit of the jobs agency, would require the Assembly speaker to immediately appoint an equal number of Dem and GOP members to the panel. The committee would then be required to deliver its findings to the WEDC by Sept. 1, with hearings to follow early next year.

 11:57 AM 

Senate appoves making it illegal to to sell or trade food stamps

The Senate voted 28-5 today to make it illegal to sell or trade food stamps for anything of value.

Some Dems decried the legislation as unnecessary, saying fraud is already illegal in the program

Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, also questioned the level of scrutiny Republicans are putting on the food stamp program while seeming to ignore the various problems uncovered in the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.

She also argued the legislation would penalize poor families who do things like trade a frozen lasagna for tampons, which she said they cannot buy with food stamps, or make it illegal for a child to sell lemonade if her parents bought the mix and sugar with food stamps.

“WEDC committed fraud. They broke the law. Where is the bill to punish WEDC?" Taylor said.

Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, dismissed the suggestion a district attorney would target a child running a lemonade stand and said the arguments against the bill were distorting its intent. She cited a media report on someone who scammed the homeless for their food stamp cards as evidence of fraud in the program and said the legislation would ensure its integrity.

“I think these conversations are distorting what this is about,” Darling said. “Program integrity is extremely important to taxpayers no matter what your income level is, no matter what color you are, no matter where you live across the state.”

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, dismissed what he described as over-the-top rhetoric on the legislation.

Erpenbach said he voted for the bill in committee because it is a “so what?” piece of legislation. He said it doesn’t do much and the state is simply taking it up now because the federal government asked it to do so.

He also dismissed the suggestion the bill was inspired by reports of “rampant” fraud in the program and that it would protect the integrity of the program
“This isn’t going to do this simply because the bill doesn’t do much,” Erpenbach said, adding, “the feds asked us to do it and so we’re doing it.”

The legislation cleared the Assembly and next heads to the guv’s desk.

 9:37 AM 

Assembly, Senate to take up food stamp legislation

Both houses of the Legislature will be in session today with Republicans taking up food stamp bills.

The Assembly is scheduled to take up legislation that would limit what people on food stamps could buy.

AB 110 was amended in committee to require 67 percent of food stamp purchases meet most standards of the federal WIC program.

Assembly leaders have set a two-hour time limit for debate on the bill, while the rest of the legislation on today’s calendar will have a maximum debate time of 30 minutes each.

The Assembly will also be on the floor tomorrow to take a final vote on legislation to cut the Milwaukee County Board’s budget and supervisor pay.

The Senate calendar includes legislation that would make it illegal to trade or sell food stamps for anything of value.

The Assembly approved AB 82 on a 73-24 vote last month, and it would next go to the guv if the Senate signs off.

The other bills on the calendar that received committee votes were passed out unanimously.

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