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Thursday, March 27, 2014

 12:22 PM 

Guv partially vetoes early voting bill

Gov. Scott Walker today used his partial veto authority on legislation to set new limits on early voting, eliminating a provision that would have limited it to 45 hours a week.

Walker also nixed a provision in SB 324 that would have reimbursed local governments for hiring people to assist in the in-person absentee voting process ahead of Election Day. But he signed off on the new limits to only allow early voting between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.

His office said he signed 29 other bills into law while vetoing in full SB 628, which sought to regulate raffles, saying it threatened the rights of Native American tribes to conduct Class III gaming.

The bills he signed includes AB 19, which impacts asbestos lawsuits, and a series of election bills.

Monday, March 24, 2014

 10:37 AM 

Senate to vote on amended oral chemo bill April 1; Darling indicates support

The Senate will vote on the amended oral chemotherapy bill April 1 after finding “broad, bipartisan support” for the legislation, a spokeswoman for Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said this morning.

The announcement followed a statement from Sen. Alberta Darling, a co-author of the bill, saying the changes the Assembly made were “reasonable” and urging final passage by the Senate. She urged the Senate to concur on the amendment as soon as possible.

“Cancer patients and their families shouldn’t have to wait for help any longer,” Darling said.

Fitzgerald spokeswoman Myranda Tanck said the majority leader expects the amended bill to pass the Senate April 1 without any further changes.

 3:34 AM 

Assembly passes limits to DNA collection

The Assembly has passed a bill that would limit collection of DNA upon arrest to cases of violent felonies.

Rep. Dean Knudson, R-Hudson, said that while he understands the desire for law enforcement to use all the tools necessary to solve crimes, the recent revelations of sprawling government surveillance into the lives of private citizens lives means that some defined limits must be set. He drafted a second amendment that would increase the list of crimes considered as serious violent crimes by the Wisconsin Department of Justice.

"Really what this comes down to is solving cold cases is a very worthy cause, but we must hold even more dear the 4th Amendment rights of our citizens," Knudson said.

 1:56 AM 

Dems are ready for multiple pulling motions

We looked like we were getting closer to wrapping up business on the floor. Then Dems handed a list of 15 pulling motions they plan to make to GOP leadership. We have not yet seen what bills they plan to pull.

The reaction at 1:56 a.m., as one can imagine, was not one of unbridled delight.

UPDATE 3:13 - We're now on the last pulling motion. Then, we should probably get back to the main calendar.

 1:31 AM 

Assembly passes amended oral chemo bill; heads to Senate

The Assembly's oral chemotherapy bill has passed, 75-18, with a voting pair. It will now head back to the Senate for concurrence before it can head to the governor's desk.

The mix of Dem and GOP votes against the bill is a bit unusual, in part attributable to Barca's last-minute call for Dems to vote for the measure.

Dems voting no: Terese Berceau, Penny Bernard Schaber, Jill Billings, Gary Hebl, LaTonya Johnson, Andy Jorgensen, Fred Kessler, Sandy Pasch, Sondy Pope, Melissa Sargent, Leon Young, Josh Zepnick and JoCasta Zamarripa.

Republicans voting no: Dave Craig, Rob Hutton, Chris Kapenga, Joe Sanfelippo, Erik Severson

There was also a set of paired votes: Rep. John Klenke voting yes, Rep. Diane Hesselbein voting no.

 1:19 AM 

Assembly is informal

Basically, after lengthy debate and indications that Dems were going to vote against the bill because of the amendment, Minority Leader Peter Barca made a vague statement about how they can all feel good about passing this bill after some discussions with Speaker Robin Vos that indicated the Senate will pass the measure.

That led to an impromptu huddle between Dems who seemed a bit confused about what that statement meant.

UPDATE: Rep. Penny Bernard Schaber, D-Appleton, is now asking Barca to guarantee the Dem caucus that this bill will pass through the Legislature -- either as amendment through the Senate or coming back to the Assembly with further amendments.

"I'm sorry, but I do not have trust in the gentleman from the 63rd [Vos]," Bernard Schaber said.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

 11:51 PM 

Assembly approves GOP amendment on oral chemo

After some floor debate and a protracted argument (off the floor) between Rep. Mandela Barnes, D-Milwaukee, and Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, over the former's comparisons to the latter's opioid treatment bill, the vote to reject the oral chemotherapy amendment failed on a 40-55 vote.

Rep. Andre Jacque, R-De Pere, and Rep. Dean Kaufert, R-Neenah, joined Dems on the rejection vote, but the amendment was subsequently approved on a voice vote.

We're now on concurrence and Speaker Robin Vos is giving a speech on how they've approached the oral chemotherapy bill, while invoking the memory of a family member of his that died of cancer. However, he also repeated comments that members of the other side have used the bill to play politics.

 11:11 PM 

Dems pushing to reject GOP amendment on oral chemo bill

Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, has moved to reject the GOP amendment to the oral chemotherapy bill.

The amendment would say insurers must, at the very least, cap co-pays for oral chemotherapy at $100 per 30-day supply. That limit could increase at a rate tied to the Consumer Price Index starting in 2016. The original bill said insurers must treat oral chemotherapy drugs the same as IV chemotherapy drugs when it comes to out-of-pocket costs, and the amendment retains that option.

If the Assembly passed the amended version of the bill, it would be up to the Senate to concur and send the bill to the governor's desk.

Barca said Assembly GOP leadership was not trying to improve the bill but hoping the late change would hamper the bill's chances in the Senate.

"He wants to kill this bill," Barca said. "He doesn't like this bill. But the people like this bill. People who are desperately hanging on to hope that we'll do the right thing, that we're going to pass this bill and help people suffering with cancer."

Majority Leader Pat Strachota said she simply mirrored what the last seven states who passed similar legislation did and created a co-pay limit that was lower than California's $200 limit. She also said she chose a $100 cap because of the cancer patients who abandon their treatment when costs rise above that level.

 10:41 PM 

Single outburst in the gallery

Well, following the vote on the early voting limits, an individual started shouting at the body, calling them "white supremacists" and railing against "racist hypocrisy." Speaker Pro Tem Tyler August ordered the protester to be removed from the gallery. It's been taking a bit longer than expected, however.

The protester then said "I'm prepared to be removed" for Democracy.

"Well, then you'll be removed, that's for sure," August responded. That caused Speaker Robin Vos to tell Assembly freshmen "Welcome to the world of Act 10," referencing the numerous outbursts in the gallery during the 2011-13 session.

Said one notable GOP member from the back of the chamber: "Not even close."

And with that, we're on to the oral chemotherapy bill.

 10:37 PM 

Assembly passes limits on early voting

The Assembly voted 56-38 to set new statewide standards for early voting amid Dem objections that the legislation sought to suppress the vote in urban areas.

The vote clears the way for the bill to head to the guv's desk, where it faces an uncertain future. When asked about the bill, Gov. Scott Walker has said he will review it when it reaches his desk.

The bill would limit in-person absentee voting to between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday leading up to an election. A municipality would also be limited to 45 hours per week of accepting the in-person absentee ballots. 

AB 54 would set a statewide standard for in-person absentee voting of between 7:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. If a municipality offers 30 or fewer hours a week for it, the clerk or an election official can could conduct in-person absentee voting any time Monday through Friday if they witness it. 

Rep. Christine Sinicki accused Republicans of using the bill for partisan advantage at the polls. She charged the GOP drew new legislative boundaries ahead of the 2012 elections to guarantee themselves a majority in the Legislature for the next few years. But she noted Dems received thousands more votes than Republicans statewide that year and accused her GOP colleagues of rushing to approve a series of restrictions on voting to help Gov. Scott Walker win re-election this fall.

Ultimately, she said Republicans are trying to cut down turnout in urban areas.

“That’s your goal because that’s where Democratic votes come from. Let’s be honest about it,” Sinicki said.

Rep. Fred Kessler, D-Milwaukee, jabbed Republicans that they should have more lawyers in their ranks because their proposal so blatantly violates the federal Voting Rights Act that they would have counseled them to drop the bill. 

Kessler said the bill restricts the ability of minorities to vote in the state's population centers like Milwaukee, Madison and Racine, while predicting a federal judge will throw out the requirement if signed into law.

"You are placing barriers, barriers against minority voters from participating," Kessler said.

Rep. Kathy Bernier, R-Chippewa Falls and a former county clerk, charged Dems distorted the facts of voting. She said Wisconsin was one of the four states with the highest turnout in 2012 along with Colorado, New Hampshire and Minnesota. She said one allowed no early voting, one had absentee voting with a reason and one collected most of its ballots via the mail.

She said that showed there was no relationship between early voting and turnout.

“It has to do with political advocacy, and these four states were target states for the presidential election, and that is what turns out electors,” she said.

 8:20 PM 

Republicans reject amendment as debate begins on early voting

Republicans tabled 56-38 an amendment that sought to allow municipalities to offer multiple early voting sites as debate began on setting statewide standards for in-person absentee ballots ahead of an election.

Rep. Christine Sinicki, D-Milwaukee, complained large cities such as Milwaukee are limited to only one early voting site at City Hall downtown. She urged the body to approve the amendment to ease the congestion leading up to an election.

 8:16 PM 

Assembly signs off on Senate accountability bill via voice vote

The Assembly approved via voice vote the Senate's school accountability bill after Republicans dropped an amendment that would have overhauled the legislation to impose sanctions on failing schools, among other things.

Rep. Sondy Pope, D-Cross Plains, said the bill beings the much needed process of ensuring all schools that receive taxpayer dollars are accountable to the state. But she said much work needs to be done.

“It’s high time we take down the smoke screen being put up by the voucher lobby … and get to work making sure our students get the best education our schools can provide them,” Pope said.
No other lawmaker commented on the bill prior to the vote.

 7:01 PM 

Assembly passes poll worker bill; Dems go to caucus

The Assembly has concurred in SB 20 by a 56-38 margin.

The measure would allow residents of a particular county to serve as poll workers in any municipality within that country.

Dems said the bill would encourage voter intimidation, with Rep. Cory Mason of Racine speculating that it would allow "bad actors" that serve as election observers in the state's largest cities "to actually be poll workers."

The chamber then recessed for a Dem caucus. Speaker Pro Tempore Tyler August says the break will be "no more than an hour."

 6:46 PM 

Assembly passes bill on absentee voting at residential care facilities

The Assembly has concurred in a Senate amendment to AB 396 by a 56-38 vote.

The bill would require local elections officials to send special voting deputies for voters at residential care facilities to cast absentee ballots.

Dems accused Republicans of a pattern of voter suppression efforts, and said the bill was "insulting" to senior citizens.

“You guys will just make up anything to try to stop people from voting,” said Rep. Christine Sinicki, D-Milwaukee.

"I have little doubt this is a bill that will wind up in court -- soon," added Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine.

Rep. Kathy Bernier, R-Chippewa Falls, countered seniors could still request absentee ballots, vote early or head to the polls on Election Day, and that she hopes to prevent seniors from being "coerced, manipulated or treated disrespectfully in the electoral process."

"This bill helps the elderly and the disabled vote privately and independently, without the nursing home staff hovering, (but) with voting deputies that have taken an oath to uphold the election laws in Wisconsin," Bernier said.

 6:41 PM 

Assembly to pass Senate accountability bill

The Assembly intends to pass a “clean” version of a Senate school accountability bill this evening, but will convene meetings after the session adjourns to “lay the foundation” for a “workable and acceptable School Accountability bill in Wisconsin.”

Rep. Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, and Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, had indicated earlier that they hoped to reach an agreement to pass a different accountability bill -- which would include report cards for schools and sanctions for those that are failing -- with Vos calling the Senate version “watered-down.”

But both lawmakers have since signed onto a letter of agreement to the governor with Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and Sen. Paul Farrow, R-Pewaukee.

Steineke said Assembly Republicans will withdraw amendments to SB 286 and concur in the bill, then convene meetings with interested parties later in the year.

The lawmakers pledge in the letter to bring legislation that meets six accountability criteria to lawmakers in the 2015-2016 session.

 5:43 PM 

Assembly backs asbestos claims bill

The Assembly has concurred in Senate changes to AB 19 on a 55-38 vote -- with a pair -- sending it to the governor's desk.

The bill, which would alter the process for civil claims over asbestos exposure, has drawn the ire of veterans groups, which have argued it would prevent or delay the payment of damages through trusts set up by bankrupt asbestos companies.

Dems, meanwhile, charged that the bill was backed by ALEC and other conservative groups, and reflected a pattern of GOP lawmakers favoring corporations over the public.

“It’s the big guys against the little guys, and the little guys are going to lose,” said Rep. Janet Bewley, D-Ashland.

“I would hate to see the day when veterans bills get partisan, but that day is today,” added Rep. Dianne Hesselbein, D-Middleton.

Supporters of the bill, meanwhile, argue the bill increases transparency in the claims process and prevents “double-dipping” by attorneys.

Rep. Jim Ott, R-Mequon, said the bill aims to put "some control" on funds set up to provide compensation to victims, "which is not an endless pot of money."

 4:15 PM 

Assembly rejects Fox Valley RTA bill

The Dems’ first pulling motion of the day attempted to bring up a Senate bill that would authorize creation of a regional transit authority in the Fox Valley.

The bill passed the Senate despite a split GOP caucus, and has not come up in committee in the Assembly. The motion was rejected 38-55.

Rep. Penny Bernard Schaber, D-Appleton, charged that the Assembly speaker’s “personal philosophical opposition” to certain forms of transportation funding has been allowed to override the support on both sides of the aisle in northeastern Wisconsin.

 3:43 PM 

Assembly moving through non-controversial bills

The Assembly has started its long day of debate by moving quickly through some of the bills agreed upon by both parties.

Bills passed so far include:

*AB 232, creating an optional incentive programs for local governments that identify public assistance fraud;

*AB 767, prohibiting the use of a GPS tracking device without knowledge of the person being tracked;

*SB 196, restricting the use of drones;

*SB 348, a sales tax exemption for aircraft parts and maintenance; and

*SB 367, to prohibit distribution of a sexually explicit image without consent.

In addition, some departing members have taken their turns as speaker on the final scheduled session day. They include Jon Richards, D-Milwaukee, who’s running for AG; Janet Bewley, D-Ashland, who’s running for state Senate; and Fred Clark, D-Baraboo, who’s retiring.

 2:46 PM 

Assembly concurs in choice bill

After adopting a slew of joint resolutions, the Assembly is onto the bills on today's agenda.

The chamber first agreed to take up and approve SB 584, relating to accreditation for schools in parental choice programs, via voice vote.

Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, said the bill was “far from even coming close to what the governor has promised the people of this state,” and warned that Republicans would have a chance to vote a proposal to do so later tonight.

 1:56 PM 

Assembly getting started

We're a little later than usual, but a quorum call is underway in the Assembly.

Assembly GOP leaders rolled out an amendment to the oral chemotherapy bill on today's calendar in a press conference prior to session. The proposal would, according to Rep. Pat Strachota, R-West Bend, allow health insurers the option of parity between oral and IV chemotherapy or a $100 per month copay.

They also said they were still considering how to move forward on school accountability legislation. Rep. Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, said he continues to talk with Assembly and Senate members about a more stringent accountability bill, while Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said the Assembly hadn't decided about taking up a more lenient Senate version.

"It is really a weak, watered-down version of accountability," Vos said of the Senate bill.

 8:24 AM 

Assembly set to take up oral chemo, election bills during final scheduled floor session

The state Assembly is looking at a marathon debate today to wrap up the legislative session with a calendar that includes a series of election bills.

But the main focus today will be how Assembly Republicans approach legislation requiring insurance companies to treat oral chemotherapy treatments like they do those administered intravenously.

Gov. Scott Walker said yesterday he’d sign SB 300, which passed the Senate earlier this week 30-2. He added during a stop in Madison that he hoped any changes the Assembly makes to the bill would be agreeable to the Senate.

A spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said an amendment was being drafted to the bill that would mirror what the last six states to pass oral chemo laws have done on co-payments. That includes California, which limited maximum out-of-pocket costs for oral chemotherapy pills to $200 per 30-day supply prescribed.

 7:54 PM 

Assembly back in session

We're back in session. Rules has finished and, as promised, the oral chemotherapy bill has been scheduled for a floor vote Thursday.

Assembly has just signed off on a special order calendar for Thursday's floor period and is going to work on a series of non-controversial bills. (Mostly law revisions)

After these bills are moved through without debate, there's one bill left on the calendar to take up.

 6:23 PM 

Assembly refuses to take up minimum wage increase

The Assembly has voted 60-36 against taking up AB 686.

Dems argued the measure would give a pay raise to the state's most vulnerable citizens.

"If you work 40 hours a week, you should be able to make it without government assistance," said Rep. Andy Jorgensen, D-Fort Atkinson. "At the very least, you should be able to afford the basics."

"We are seeing people who will never be pulled out of poverty unless we do something about it," added Rep. Sandy Pasch, D-Shorewood.

The chamber then rejected similar pulling motions on Assembly Bills 233 and 542 -- also relating to the minimum wage. No Republicans spoke on the motions.

UPDATE: Another Dem pulling motion, this time on creating an optional holiday honoring Cesar Chavez, also failed along party lines. We're now on a bill pulled up by the GOP on building standards.

 5:29 PM 

Assembly Dems move to pull minimum wage bill to the floor

The Democrats are attempting to pull a bill to the floor increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

Dem Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, says constituents he's talked to all acknowledge the current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is not even for a family to live on. He said an increase in the wage would lift Wisconsin families out of poverty and that the public was ready for the move, citing polling data and recent comments from the CEO of Culver's calling for an increased wage.

Mason also said conservatives should embrace the concept of raising the minimum wage because of the money that could be saved on public assistance programs like food stamps.

"The question is: should this state provide an honest day's wage for an honest day's work," Mason asked. "Because right now, we don't."

 3:50 PM 

The Assembly is standing informal

That's because Dem Rep. Andy Jorgensen, D-Ft. Atkinson, has asked for a partisan caucus on the oral chemo bill. Republican leadership have gathered in the speaker's office to discuss the next step.

 3:11 PM 

Vos says oral chemo bill will be on Thursday's calendar, could be amended

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos just told the Assembly he would add the oral chemotherapy bill to Thursday's Assembly floor calendar and that it could be amended.

Vos chastised Democrats for what he said was a display of "theatre and politics" by attempting to pull to the bill to the floor. He said he has told his members they're going to put the bill on Assembly Rules Committee calendar for Thursday's floor session and discuss the bill in the GOP caucus to see if it can be improved.

He said a similar bill in California was vetoed by Dem Gov. Jerry Brown and tweaked afterward. He used that example as a reason why the bill may need to be amended before it could clear the Assembly.

The Wisconsin bill, SB 300, would prohibit insurers from charging a higher co-pay, coinsurance or deductible for oral chemotherapy than for IV chemotherapy.

Brown vetoed a similar bill in California, but eventually signed another bill that simply limited maximum out-of-pocket costs for oral chemotherapy pills to $200 per 30-day supply prescribed.

Vos' speech didn't seem to placate Dems, who are still debating a motion to suspend the rules and pull the bill to the floor for consideration. Most of those Democrats are taking offense to the idea the bill is about politics, with many raising personal stories of how chemotherapy treatment for cancer has impacted constituents and family members.

 2:58 PM 

Senate concurs on sex trafficking bill

The state Senate has signed off on legislation allowing the victims of sex trafficking to ask a court to vacate their convictions after being forced to work as prostitutes.

The Senate concurred on AB 620 on a voice vote, clearing the way for it to head to the guv's desk.

It would create a process under which someone who has been convicted of prostitution to ask a court to vacate the conviction or expunge their record.

"This bill is a giant step forward in helping young girls who are the victims of trafficking," said Sen. Nikiya Harris, D-Milwaukee.

 2:48 PM 

Senate approves 'In God We Trust' license plate

The Senate voted to approve a license plate declaring “In God We Trust” after Sen. Fred Risser raised concerns over the proliferation of tags that support veterans groups.

In addition to approving AB 244 29-2, the Senate also approved AB 208, which creates a license plate expressing support for law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty.

Risser, who served in the U.S. Navy, noted the state already had 92 specialty license plates with 65 geared toward veterans. The “In God We Trust” plate would also benefit veterans groups with those who want the tag required to pay $15 for the plate with that money deposited into the veterans trust fund. There would also be a $25 annual payment to help the Department of Veterans Affairs to care for residents of Wisconsin veterans homes.

Risser, D-Madison, said he’s not opposed to giving money to veterans groups through license plates.

“I just wonder where we should draw the line on these license plates,” he said.

Both bills now head to the guv's desk.

 2:33 PM 

Senate approves changing some drunken driving sentences

The Senate approved changing sentences for some OWI offenses after Republicans rejected an attempt to expand the bill to add other drunken driving changes.

Sen. Tim Carpenter, D-Milwaukee, sought to amend the bill to require those arrested for OWI to show up in court. He also proposed making a first offense a crime. Currently, Wisconsin is the only state in the country where a first drunk driving offense is a citation.

Both proposals were included in Assembly bills 67 and 68 that cleared that chamber, but have not yet been taken up by the Senate. Sen. Joe Leibham, presiding over the debate, ruled the amendments were not appropriately before the body, and GOP members upheld his ruling.

AB 180, approved via voice vote, requires a sentence of at least three years for a seventh, eighth or ninth offense and at least four years for a 10th or subsequent offense.

The bill, which now heads to the guv’s desk, also would set minimum sentence requirements for those who cause injury while driving intoxicated.

 2:33 PM 

Dems now trying to pull oral chemo bill to the floor

Almost immediately after that vote on Walker's tax plan was passed, Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca tried to take up the oral chemotherapy bill now that the Senate has passed the bill.

Barca has moved to suspend the rules to take up the bill.

"My point is this, we are messing with people's lives and I think that's why Sen. Fitzgerald finally relented," Barca said.

UPDATE: Assembly Majority Leader Pat Strachota came back onto the floor saying she's trying to work with her caucus to get a vote on the bill.

"I don't think anybody has had as much of a passion for this bill as I have," Strachota said. "It has come over now from the Senate on this bill, I am looking at the whole ... what are the ramifications, what are the opportunities for us. I will do whatever I can to make sure we get an opportunity to vote on it."

Barca then asked Strachota if they could take a brief break to discuss the matter in caucus for a half-hour, but signaled that he wants an assurance it will be taken up on Thursday.

"I would be shocked if there are more than five people in this body who would vote against this," Barca said.

Strachota seemed to raise the possibility of asking leadership if they could break to discuss this in a brief caucus, but Vos and other aides were waiting off to the side, repeatedly saying "no, no."

"I have always worked in good faith with you, Peter, and I would ask you to allow us to have that debate in our caucus on Thursday," Strachota said.

UPDATE 2: Dems are now debating the motion to suspend the rules and take up the oral chemo bill. Rep. Jon Richards, D-Milwaukee, said given all the last minute shuffling and dealing that happens on the last day of session, it would be problematic to bring it up on Thursday.

"The time for all the cloak and dagger and behind the curtains malarkey is over," Richards said. "We should take up the bill today and pass it."

Strachota is once again off the floor as debate happens.

 2:29 PM 

Assembly passes Walker's tax cut plan

The Assembly has passed a revised version of Gov. Scott Walker's tax cut plan on a 61-35 vote, with Dem Reps. Stephen Smith from Shell Lake, Nick Milroy from South Range and Amy Sue Vruwink from Milladore voting with Republicans. The bill now heads to Walker's desk for his signature.

Before passage, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said the $500 million in property and income tax relief would produce significant savings for Wisconsin taxpayers. 

"What a great day, because we finally get an opportunity to give the people of Wisconsin their money back," Vos said.

Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca and other Democrats said their substitute amendment provided more help to Wisconsin residents and that the GOP was not doing citizens a service with their version of the bill. Democrats also indicated they would attempt to take up the minimum wage increase on the floor.

"People on this side of the aisle care much more deeply than you do about the middle class and the home owners," Barca said.

Barca also spent his time talking about the oral chemotherapy bill, which passed the Senate today on a 30-2 vote. He said he believed the Assembly would support the bill by a wide margin and expose the "two or three extremists" who couldn't support it.

Barca said he waited for the bill's Assembly co-author, Assembly Majority Leader Pat Strachota, to return to the chamber. However, Strachota left the chamber following initial resolutions that were taken up in the Assembly.

 1:20 PM 

Senate approves WEDC governance bill

The Senate voted today to change the governance structure of the state's quasi-governmental economic development agency.

The bill, approved 30-2, would give the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. Board the power to appoint the agency's chief executive officer. The guv now has that power.

GOP Sens. Sheila Harsdorf of River Falls and Frank Lasee of DePere voted against the bill.

The legislation also calls for the board to hire a chief operating officer and chief financial officer with the CEO, COO and CFO all serving at the pleasure of the board.

The guv would be required to treat the CEO as a department secretary.

 1:17 PM 

Vos says caucus hasn't discussed details of chemo bill yet

While the Senate was debating the oral chemotherapy bill, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said his caucus has not discussed the measure at length, but will likely do so on Thursday.

Vos said he wasn't sure what the Senate would do to the bill, but said he would wait to see what version of the legislation emerges from that chamber before his house acts. While Vos said GOP members have brought up the bill at times in caucus, they have not had a prolonged discussions on its merits.

"But we didn't get into what their [Senate] bill does, what are the advantages or disadvantages of traditional chemotherapy over oral chemotherapy, what the mandate would cost, how much it would raise premiums, we didn't have any of those discussions," Vos said. "That's what we will do on Thursday."

Vos added that if Democrats attempt to pull the bill to the floor, it would be "nothing more than politics."

 1:05 PM 

Senate votes 30-2 to approval oral chemotherapy bill

The state Senate voted 30-2 to approve legislation requiring health insurers to treat oral chemotherapy the same as intravenous treatments in a sharp reversal after Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald had previously taken steps to bottle up the bill.

GOP Sen. Alberta Darling, the co-author of SB 300, said numerous people have approached her in recent days asking why the legislation was put on hold considering its bipartisan support. She thanked Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, for allowing the vote. Last week, he used a phantom hearing to prevent Dems from forcing a floor vote on the bill, and scrutiny of the move has ratcheted up in recent days.

"People can relate to it," said Darling, a 10-year survivor of breast cancer. "They know what’s involved for the family at a personal level. That’s why they’re driving it so hard."

GOP Sens. Paul Farrow of Pewaukee and Leah Vukmir of Wauwatosa voted no on the bill, which must pass the Assembly before it could go to the guv's desk.

The bill would require health insurance companies to cover treat oral chemotherapy the same as treatments delivered via IV. That includes prohibiting a higher copayment, deductible or coinsurance payment for oral chemotherapy.

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, called Tuesday the best day in the Senate in more than two years.

Erpenbach, who works part-time driving a shuttle for a hotel, relayed a story of a passenger he took to a UW hockey game recently who recognized him as a state lawmaker and relayed that he is a cancer patient who takes a chemotherapy pill. He told Erpenbach he was a Republican and did not understand why the legislation had become a political issue. But he had faith the Legislature would do the right thing after the bill passed out of committee 5-0.

Erpenbach said the chamber can debate the merits of placing a new mandate on insurance plans. But he insisted that is not the point of this legislation.

"If somebody in this state has cancer, we have to do whatever we can to help them with their treatment, help make them comfortable and help make them clear enough of thought so they can make their own decisions," Erpenbach said.

Several Dems spoke on the floor to put pressure on the Assembly to also take up the legislation, and Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, warned the Senate's vote would be hollow and shallow if the Assembly failed to pass the bill before adjourning. The Assembly was in session Tuesday and planned to be back on the floor Thursday.

"It will be the height of cynicism. Mr. President, for this Legislature to adjourn, leaving these people simply to wonder who to blame and who to hold accountable because the clock ran out," Jauch said.

Darling, R-River Hills, downplayed the role the Assembly's actions played in the significance of the Senate vote, insisting it was still a meaningful step regardless of what happens.

But Jauch insisted the Legislature should not adjourn until the bill has cleared both houses.

 11:15 AM 

Senate recesses for caucus

The Senate convened, but quickly broke for caucus.

Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said the chamber will vote on the oral chemotherapy bill during the 14th order of business and "we'll see where the votes are."

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, thanked Fitzgerald and withdrew the amendments he had drawn up to each bill on today's calendar. Each was written to force a vote on the chemotherapy bill.

"It's going to be a really good day for the Wisconsin state Senate," Erpenbach said.

The chamber recessed for a 30-minute caucus.

UPDATE:  Senate President Mike Ellis said the chamber will vote on the chemo bill during the 11th order of business rather than the 14th. 

 11:13 AM 

Dems call for passage of minimum wage, oral chemo bills

Legislative Democrats today accused Republicans of hostility toward workers ahead of efforts to pull a bill to the floor that would increase the minimum wage.

“If you work 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, you should not have to suffer … the indignity of standing in a food stamp line,” said Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, in a press conference ahead of today’s floor sessions.

Assembly Dems had previously announced plans to bring up legislation to gradually increase the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour and index it thereafter. Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, said the current rate of $7.25 per hour “is a wage that keeps people in poverty.”

Dem senators also said they could offer a similar motion during their floor session. A pulling motion on the bill was shot down along party lines last week.

“It’s time that the Senate take up legislation to finally do some good for Wisconsin,” said Minority Leader Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee.

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, also said he would be willing to reconsider a series of amendments designed to bring up debate on legislation requiring coverage of oral chemotherapy drugs.

The bill was stalled in a procedural move last week, and Erpenbach said he intended to offer an amendment to every bill on today’s agenda that would require such coverage. Amid reports that the bill would be offered today without amendments, however, Erpenbach said an agreement among Senate leadership wouldn’t require his amendments.

Still, Dems called for a clean vote on the bill, calling a potential amendment from Sen. Paul Farrow, R-Pewaukee, a “bailout” for insurance companies.

Assembly Dems, meanwhile, said they'd keep their eye on the vote in the Senate. Barca speculated, however, that a majority of the Assembly GOP caucus is also on board with the chemo bill.

"Republicans need to do the right thing by the people of Wisconsin and leave behind the special interests," Barca said.

 11:06 AM 

Senate to take up oral chemotherapy bill

Senate Republicans have agreed to vote today on legislation that would require insurance companies to treat oral chemotherapy the same as they treat IV chemotherapy.

Senate President Mike Ellis, R-Neenah, and Sen. Paul Farrow, R-Pewaukee, said this morning the bill would come up for a vote during the 14th order of business.

Ellis said Republicans will offer no amendments to the legislation before the vote.

 10:02 AM 

Fitzgerald's office says vote on oral chemo bill possible today

After bottling up the bill through procedural moves, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald is now indicating a vote may occur on legislation that would require health insurance plans to cover oral chemotherapy.

A Fitzgerald spokeswoman said the majority leader planned to discuss in caucus this morning whether to bring the bill up for a vote. The Senate is scheduled to hit the floor later this morning.

"He stressed that there is definitely still some uncertainty about this bill," said spokeswoman Myranda Tanck.

Fitzgerald's decision to hold up the bill has come under scrutiny over the last week, particularly since his brother, former Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, has been lobbying against the legislation. Scott Fitzgerald has acknowledged the bill likely has the needed support to pass the Senate, but has said he does not have the support of 17 Senate Republicans. That means it would require Dem votes to clear the chamber.

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, promised this morning a fight over the bill with the session winding down. Besides today, the Senate is only expected to be in April 1 before adjourning.

"I have drafted an amendment to add the Oral Chemo bill to every bill we have scheduled on the floor today," Erpenbach posted on his Facebook page this morning. "With only two days left in session, there is nothing more important. We have to get this done! #wipolitics #sb300"

Gov. Scott Walker suggested yesterday the bill could still receive a vote in the Legislature before session's end despite moves by Fitzgerald and Speaker Robin Vos to hold up the legislation.

"Just looking at the number of sponsors .. both in the Republican caucus and the Democrat caucus, I would not be surprised if it ultimately ...ended up on our desk," Walker said during a stop in Milwaukee.

A Vos spokeswoman said late yesterday the Assembly GOP also planned a discussion on the bill in caucus today; she added the guv's office hasn't lobbied Vos to take up the bill.

 8:21 AM 

Assembly, Senate to hold floor sessions

The Assembly and Senate will be on the floor today as the 2013-14 legislative session winds down.

The Assembly’s agenda includes final approval of Gov. Scott Walker’s $504.6 million property and income tax plan. The chamber will vote on that in special session.

The regular session calendar includes legislation creating a sales tax exemption for equipment used in fertilizer blending, feed milling and grain drying, as well as a bill that would allow cannabidiol oil extract to be dispensed to treat seizure disorders.

The Senate, meanwhile, is set to consider largely non-controversial bills. Sen. Neal Kedzie, R-Elkhorn, is on vacation, leaving the GOP with a two-vote majority and Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, sometimes voting with Dems.

The Senate's calendar includes Assembly bills that would eliminate an exemption for family members in the state's laws against harboring felons, prohibit online advertising for adoptions and establish a license plate reading, "In God We Trust,"

In addition, legislative Dems have already announced plans for a pulling motion on the Assembly floor today in an attempt to take up an increase in the minimum wage.

 11:55 AM 

Dems fail to pull minimum wage, redistricting bills

After wrapping up the bills pending from Tuesday's calendar, Dems offered a pair of pulling motions.

Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, moved to pull SB 505 to the floor, arguing that "it is way past time to give our hard-working, low-wage workers a raise."

The bill would gradually raise the state's minimum wage to $10.10 per hour and index it thereafter; it was rejected 15-18.

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, then moved to pull SB 163, which would establish a process by which the Legislative Reference Bureau would draw new political boundaries during the redistricting process.

Erpenbach said the current process "creates isolationism" between Dems and Republicans and has been abused regardless of who controls the Legislature. The motion was defeated 16-17.

Pulling motions require a two-thirds vote.

 11:19 AM 

Senate approves election observer standards

The Senate has concurred in AB 202, which would establish standards for observers at polling places on Election Day, 17-16.

The bill, under an Assembly amendment, would require election officials to designate an area for election observers between three feet and eight feet from the table where electors register to vote.

Dems argued the bill tacitly supports voter intimidation, particularly in urban areas and wards populated by college students.

"What we're doing is basically empowering people to be bad actors at these elections," said Sen Tim Carpenter, D-Milwaukee.

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, said the measure would lead to "profiling, tension, yelling, police -- in that order."

"The clerks should be deciding how far," Erpenbach said. "The clerks should be running the elections. That's what they do; not us."

Sen. Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, countered that the three- to eight-foot window "provides adequate flexibility" for clerks and that the bill retains their ability to eject unruly observers.

 10:53 AM 

Senate passes bill limiting asbestos claims

The Senate has passed AB 19, which would put limits on civil claims for asbestos exposure, 17-16. The measure now goes back to the Assembly after passage of an amendment Tuesday.

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.

Dems decried the bill, arguing it would change the rules for victims of asbestos exposure -- many of whom are veterans. Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, said many veterans affected by asbestos would simply like to have their day in court before they pass away.

"How can you be so cruel?" Risser asked.

Sen. Julie Lassa, D-Stevens Point, said the bill presumes that "somehow the corporations are the victims here, and not the men and women who were willing to put the lives on the line for their country."

Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, countered that Dems were attempting to "completely misconstrue a complicated bill," and that it was simply about "forcing plaintiffs to disclose if they have claims out there against other defendants."

"I don't know who could object to that," Grothman said.

 10:36 AM 

Senate backs bill expanding lobbyist contribution window

The Senate has passed SB 655 by a 17-16 margin.

The measure would make a series of changes to campaign finance law, including allowing lobbyists to contribute to lawmakers in April instead of June.

Sen. Mark Miller, D-Monona, said the measure would be "putting more power in the hands of those who already have undue influence."

 10:28 AM 

Senate votes to limit parents' responsibility for kids' driving

The Senate approved 17-16 legislation that would cap the immunity parents or an adult sponsor face for accidents caused by their kids. 

Under current law, the parents or adult sponsor of a minor driver are liable for the child’s negligent or willful misconduct.

The bill would cap their liability at $300,000 for all parents or adult sponsors to all parties arising from any one accident.

 10:22 AM 

Taylor denounces agreement on time limits

Debate on the absentee voting bill went over the 15-minute limit, prompting Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald to remind members he had reached an agreement with Minority Leader Chris Larson to keep discussion on each bill to 15 minutes.

Fitzgerald noted some bills on this morning's agenda have more interest than others, but reminded the body the goal is to be off the floor by 11:30 a.m. so members can make committee hearings and other commitments.

That prompted a sharp rebuke from Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, who said today's bills had a deep impact on constituents, particularly those in her Milwaukee district, and the time set aside yesterday and today to debate the bills was not enough.

"We can’t work until 5 o’clock? Really?" Taylor said.

 10:16 AM 

Senate approves new standards for early voting over Dem objections

The Senate voted 17-16 to impose statewide standards for early voting hours as Dems denounced the move as an attempt to make it harder to vote.

The bill would limit “early voting” to between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday leading up to an election. A municipality would also be limited to 45 hours per week of accepting the in-person absentee ballots. 

Sen. Mark Miller, D-Monona, likened the effort to trying to halt progress. He said people don't have the same family or work structures as they did 50 years ago and need more flexibility to vote considering their time demands.

"The point is when you can’t get to the polls, when are you going to have the opportunity to vote? Are we going to make it easy or hard? This bill makes it hard," Miller said.

Dems suggested Republicans were trying to drive down turnout ahead of this fall's election, when Gov. Scott Walker is up for re-election.

No Republicans stood to speak on the bill during the debate.

 9:36 AM 

Senate approves changes to residency requirements for poll workers

The Senate kicked off today's floor period by approving 17-14 legislation that would change residency requirements for poll workers.

Current law generally requires those serving as election officials to reside in the municipality or ward in which they’re working. The bill would expand that to residents of the county.

Sen. Julie Lassa, D-Stevens Point, complained the bill made life more difficult for local election officials.

"We should allow municipal clerks to choose the best poll workers … and not be forcing them to take partisan poll workers who are affiliated with one of the political parties from outside their municipality," Lassa said.

Sen. Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, said the legislation was prompted by the 2012 recall election in Racine. She said local officials were short on poll workers and hired some from a temp agency, which she said led to shortcomings in that election such as unsealed ballot bags that were found when the race went to a recount.

Her comments prompted a response from Sen. John Lehman, D-Racine, who won that election. He denounced the "myth" that Republicans have perpetuated about his race and said there is a "suppression effort" from those outside a community to dictate how elections are run.

Sens. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, and Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, missed the vote.

 10:21 PM 

Asbestos claims bill also held until tomorrow

The Senate worked through all amendments on a bill that would put limits on civil claims for asbestos exposure before Dems blocked a final vote through a procedural move.

The bill, AB 19, would require those seeking a claim against a personal injury trust to notify all parties of their claims filed against the trust within 45 days and certain disclosures of proof of injury within 60 days of a claim filed against the trust.

Democrats highlighted testimony from veterans groups, who are disproportionately effected by asbestos exposure, opposing the bill.

"Every vets group oppose this bill because it's unfair to vets," said Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison. 

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald noted that he "hates" this bill, but said personal injury trial attorneys are exploiting the veterans groups. He said they're using the issue for their own personal gain and looking to hit any companies that might have had anything to do with asbestos. 

He added that he wouldn't do anything to hurt veterans, citing his own military service. However, he argued there has to be some measure to ensure the claims that go forward against those trusts are legitimate.

"But that's really what's kind of disgusting about this is the veterans organizations have been used as a shield so the trial attorneys could continue to run their 30-second ads fishing for claimants," Fitzgerald said. "This is not a nice bill, this is not anything we're going to go home and feel good about, I think it's just something that has to be done."

 9:39 PM 

Senate holds off on another elections bill after Dems block final vote

Dems held off a final vote on an elections bill on that extends the window for lobbyist campaign contributions to legislative candidates, among other smaller elections changes.

Dems once again objected to third reading of the bill, meaning it could not be taken up until tomorrow.

Sen. Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, said that the most controversial parts of the bill have been stripped -- language regarding lobbyists "furnishing" gifts has been removed, and other language has been tuned down based on the GAB's recommendation.

"The bill, while it received a whole lot of attention when it came out and was portrayed as being something new in the session, what we did was size it down," Lazich said.

Dem Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, offered an amendment to the bill that would require disclosure for spending made by outside interest groups prior to an election.

"It's not a freedom of speech issue by any means. You are a coward if you don't put your name on something you're financially responsible for," Erpenbach said.

After some debate, that amendment was deemed not germane because it expanded the scope of Lazich's bill.

Another amendment was drafted to push back the date when lobbyists can donate to legislative candidates to June. However, Lazich cited a memo from Legislative Council saying they would likely not be able to receive contributions this year until May 21, when the veto review floor period ends.

 6:30 PM 

Senate enters lengthy debate on limited in-person absentee hours

The Senate has started a long debate on limits to absentee voting hours, as Democrats have offered several amendments to alter the bill.

The bill would limit “early voting” to between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday leading up to an election. A municipality would also be limited to 45 hours per week of accepting the in-person absentee ballots. 

The Assembly version of the bill would have set hours of 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. If a municipality offered 30 or fewer hours a week, the clerk or an election official could conduct in-person absentee voting any time Monday through Friday if they witness it; that would not be allowed under the Senate amendment. 

Democrats have argued during debate that the bill not only discourages young people from getting interested in voting, but was a needless provision that is only going to make lines longer at the polls.

Sen. Robert Jauch, D-Poplar, said the GOP was "arrogantly" using its powers to limit voting opportunities and said the bills on the floor were an attempt to suppress voters who don't share their views.

"This is not a government that belongs to the people, its a government that belongs to the special interests," Jauch said.

Jauch was warned on those comments that he is not to impugn members of the chamber with such allegations. He closed his remarks my saying that if he offended any GOP members, they should take comfort "that I didn't say what I really feel."

Republicans have argued they're trying to create a uniform system for in-person absentee voting, and that larger municipalities have an unfair advantage over smaller municipalities, who don't have the resources to offer the same amount of in-person absentee voting hours. Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, said they have to rein in larger municipalities rather than punishing small municipalities. 

"We are not going to have, in essence, polls open for weeks on end in rural townships that don't even have a full-time staffer right now," Grothman said.

UPDATE 7:30 p.m.: After about an hour and a half of debate, the Senate tabled a Dem amendment to the main GOP amendment to the bill on a party line vote.

Jauch made his vote after coming back onto the floor late, and asked if his vote was a privilege or a right, which got groans from GOP members and a "Come on" from one the senators.

Now we're on the second amendment to the main GOP amendment. This amendment, from Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, mandates the state reimburse municipalities for half the cost for additional help in administering in-person absentee balloting. It also encourages in-person absentee voting in statewide elections.

Fitzgerald has said the measure helps "put our money where our mouth is," though Dem Sen. Julia Lassa, D-Stevens Point, said it doesn't change the fact that the main bill limiting voting access.

UPDATE 7:53 p.m.: After a little more debate, the main amendment 1 and Fitzgerald's amendment are both approved, meaning they're incorporated into the bill.

 5:03 PM 

Senate debate on elections bill already getting heated

As we move on to the more controversial elections bills, we've already had one minor explosion on the floor between members.

While debating an amendment to SB 20 bill by Sen. Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, Sen. Tim Carpenter, D-Milwaukee, took aim at the author and suggested that she "hates blacks and Latinos." That prompted Lazich to spring out of her seat to decry the attack. Senate President Mike Ellis chastised Carpenter, saying that he "knows better" than to make a claim like that targeting members of the chamber.

Current law generally requires those serving as election officials to reside in the municpality or ward in which they’re working. SB 20 would expand that to residents of the county.

The bill also would change which party officials in the city of Milwaukee may submit a list of nominees who can be appointed election inspectors. That list could be submitted by county party committees rather than aldermanic district committeemen. The county chair would also have to sign any list of nominees submitted.

Dems objected to third reading on the bill, which means the bill can't be taken up until the next day. Given how late the Senate is expected to go, we could be back here at midnight to do just that.

 4:53 PM 

Senate passes TIF bill with GreenWhey amendment

Before we move on to the raft of election bills that are now going to be debated, the Senate just passed SB 338, which expands the authority of towns to create Tax Incremental Finance Districts.

However, one of the amendments to the bill attempted to fix an existing conflict with a 2013-15 budget provision that exempted bioenergy projects from property taxes. GreenWhey Energy operates a biodigester out of Turtle Lake, which is within a TIF district.

Locals want the company to abide by the existing terms of the TIF, while the company believes it would be at a disadvantage if denied the property tax exemption given to every other bioenergy project. 

An amendment adopted in the Assembly said the property tax exemption would not apply to those properties within TIF districts until the district terminates, meaning GreenWhey would not immediately benefit from that provision. 

While Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald authored a Senate amendment that would have removed that language, he asked for that amendment to be returned to the author, taking it off of the table. 

Jauch, who pushed for the Assembly amendment, thanked Fitzgerald and Sen. Jerry Petrowski, R-Marathon, and said he hoped the township and GreenWhey could avoid legal action and negotiate an agreement. 

"What this proposal does is it recognizes our responsibility to protect a community that seeks to create a TIF... and that they ought not be shortchanged," Jauch said.

 3:57 PM 

Senate starts debate on more elections bills

After moving through the non-controversial bills, Dems have started debating the merit of various GOP election provisions, though the most contentious provisions aren't even up yet.

Democrats started debating the merit of AB 396, which says special voting deputies must conduct absentee voting at certain nursing homes -- under current law, municipalities are given discretion as to when to dispatch those deputies.

Democrats argue the bill would cut out certain methods by which elderly residents of these homes receive can vote absentee -- such as by mail. They also had concerns about the change in notice for the absentee ballots, which increases from 24 hours to five days.

"By making this more difficult for elderly in the nursing homes...there will be cases where you are disenfranchising these people," said Sen. Julia Lassa, D-Stevens Point.

Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, argued the criticism is overblown and that the measure would likely increase voting by elderly residents given the increase in notice and mandate for SVDs.

That bill passed on an 17-16 vote, with Schultz joining the Dems on that vote.

We're now on to AB 419, which would say write-in votes are generally counted only if there are no certified candidates on the ballot or if a candidate has withdrawn or died before the election takes place.

 3:09 PM 

Senate approves creation of Milwaukee Country Mental Health Board

The Senate voted unanimously to create a Milwaukee County Mental Health Board.

The board would be charged with overseeing the provision of mental health programs and services in Milwaukee County.

Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, said the change would bring Milwaukee County in line with others across the state and said it fits in with an overall effort this session to improve mental health services in Wisconsin.

 2:02 PM 

Eight bills moved to foot of the calendar over Dem objections

The guv's suggestion that he may call a special session this summer to deal with voter ID played a role in Dems' objection to moving a series of bills to the foot of the calendar.

Such a motion from the majority is typically routine. But some of the bills dealt with voting, and Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, said Gov. Scott Walker's suggestion of a special session had the minority party on edge.

Erpenbach said if the guv intends to call a special session, "you're damn right we're going to fight you every step of the way" and use every power the minority party has to delay and bring attention to the issue. Moving the bills, he said, would mean many would be taken up well into the evening after the public has largely gone home.

“If we don’t, people are doing to wake up one morning and go to vote and wonder what happened," Erpenbach said.

Other Dems raised similar issues, but the body voted 18-15 along party lines to move the bills.

Those put at the foot of the calendar include:

SB 20, relating to residency of election officials.
SB 324, relating to limiting times for early voting.
SB 448, relating to sales tax exemption for some agricultural functions.
SB 577, relating to a property tax exemption for rented personal property.
SB 592, relating to the ability of an adult sponsor of a minor applicant for a motor vehicle operator's license.
SB 655, relating to changes in campaign finance and lobbying laws.
AB 19, relating to torts and personal injury trusts.
AB 202, relating to the certification of election observers.

 1:44 PM 

We're back

The Senate has reconvened.

It is now voting on the majority's motions to move bills to the foot of the calendar.

 1:42 PM 

Senate goes informal

Today's Senate debate ground to a halt when Republicans tried to move half a dozen controversial bills to the foot of the calendar.

Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said the move was intended to give lawmakers time to draft amendments and to work through less controversial bills first.

Members began to debate the move when the microphones cut out, prompting the chamber to go informal.

Despite the audio difficulties, the microphones remained on near the leaders, and Fitzgerald could be heard telling Dems, "Some of your guys are working on amendments. I thought I was doing you a favor."

 1:40 PM 

Kramer's conduct flares up on Senate floor

Members got in a little jousting this afternoon over the actions of Rep. Bill Kramer, who was removed from the Assembly majority leader's post following accusations he sexually harassed two women.

During discussion of AJR 100, proclaiming March 8 International Women's Day, Sen. Tim Carpenter, D-Milwaukee, chided Republicans for Kramer's conduct.

Carpenter pointed out the allegations against Kramer include that he inappropriately groped a legislative aide and said "when we say sexual assault in a resolution that people ought to mean it."

That prompted Sen. Paul Farrow, R-Waukesha, to stand and point out allegations against two Assembly Dems, saying the minority party has said nothing about the actions of Reps. Gordon Hintz and another lawmaker he did not name on the floor.

"We have heard nothing from their side on individuals causing the same problems," he said.

 1:33 PM 

Senate signs off on Assembly changes to requirements for those who register

The Senate today signed off on an Assembly change to legislation that changes the requirements for what election officials have to record detailing the proof of residence voters provide when they register.

The Senate previously approved SB 267, which would require clerks to record specific information about the type of document submitted as proof of residence. That includes the name of the entity or institution that issued the document.

The Assembly tweaked the bill so if documents used as proof of residence include a number that applies only to that voter, the last four digits of the number would have to be recorded. If that number has six or fewer digits, only the last two digits would have to be recorded.

The amended version of the bill would also require everyone who registers to vote except a military or overseas elector to provide proof of residence. Under current law, those who have previously voted and register prior to the third Wednesday preceding an election do not have to show proof of residence to register.

Sen. Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, said that provision sets a uniform standard for everyone who registers.

"It’s a good housekeeping bill that regardless of when one registers, the process is the same," she said.

Dems complained asking for those details was intrusive and would discourage some from voting.

"Frankly the legislation that is before us does not cast a net for allowing a larger sense of democracy," said Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee. "But instead we’re pushing legislation that disenfranchises voters."

The change was approved 17-16 with Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, joining Dems in opposition.

 11:23 AM 

Fitzgerald: Lawmakers could come back on voter ID after court decisions

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald today raised the prospect of lawmakers returning to the Capitol later this year in special session to take up possible fixes to the voter ID law after state and federal courts rule on the issue.

Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, told WisPolitics.com last month that he would consider taking up Assembly Bill 493 to address some issued courts have raised about the requirement if the courts had not ruled by the time the Senate plans to adjourn April 1.

But he noted the series of questions justices raises during oral arguments before the state Supreme Court earlier this year. That includes Justice Pat Roggensack, a member of the court's conservative wing, raising concerns over the costs associated with obtaining a birth certificate, which is needed to get a free state-issued ID.

"The Supreme Court oral arguments changed our mindset on that," Fitzgerald said of taking up the Assembly bill.

AB 493, which cleared the Assembly in November, allows those without an ID to submit an oath that they do not have one for one of three reasons: they consider themselves indigent and cannot obtain an ID without payment of a fee, they have a religious objection to being photographed or they cannot obtain the documentation required to get the needed proof of identification.

Fitzgerald said a possible special or extraordinary session would depend on being able to reach an agreement with Assembly leaders on legislation to address whatever decisions emerge from the courts. The goal would be to have something in place ahead of the November election.

The voter ID requirement has been on hold for nearly three years after a pair of Dane County judges found the law unconstitutional. An appeals court overturned one of those cases, but the state Supreme Court has now taken jurisdiction over both. It has not indicated when it will rule. There is a separate challenge pending before the federal courts.

Gov. Scott Walker also said today he'd seek to convene a special session on voter ID if legislative action was required so the law could "pass the test of the court."

"If the courts ... were to say, 'We think you can have it if not for this provision or that provision,' we want to modify that so that a law like that were in effect for the next election," Walker told reporters in Madison this morning.

 11:10 AM 

Senate recesses

The Senate has recessed to take a group picture and then caucus before tackling a lengthy calendar with a series of controversial elections bills.

 8:04 AM 

Senate to take up elections bills

The state Senate will be on the floor today for what could be a contentious debate on a series of elections bills.

Among them is an amended version of SB 324, which would limit in-person absentee voting to between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday leading up to an election. A municipality would also be limited to 45 hours per week of accepting the in-person absentee ballots.

Other elections bills on today's calendar include SB 655, a campaign finance bill that includes lengthening the window during which lobbyists may contribute to candidates; AB 202, which would establish distance requirements for observers at polling places; and concurrence in Assembly changes to SB 267, altering requirements related to the proof of residence offered by voters

The Senate is also scheduled to vote on AB 704, which would speed up $32 million in state highway projects, and SB 448, which would create a sales tax exemption for equipment used in fertilizer blending, feed milling or grain drying.

 2:39 PM 

Senate passes amended Walker tax cut plan

After about three hours of debate, the Senate has passed the amended version of Gov. Scott Walker's tax cut plan, on a 17-15 vote, with Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, joining Dems on the vote. Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, is not present for the vote.

The bill, which includes a 500 million in tax cuts, was amended in the Senate to include an extension of $38 million in agency lapses and movement of money to the statutory balance to pay down a portion of the structural deficit.

The bill now heads back to the Assembly for their approval.

We're now on to the second Walker bill, which includes $35 million for job training.

 1:19 PM 

Senate rejects first of Dem substitute amendments

After about an hour and a half of debate, the Senate has rejected the first of three Senate substitute amendment offered by the Dems, on a 19-13 vote, with Sen. Mark Miller, D-Monona, voting with the Republicans.

We're now on to Senate Substitute Amendment offered by Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, which would put $350 million money to the technical colleges system and two-year colleges University of Wisconsin and cover tuition and fees for the those resident attendees.

"If there's one thing we can all agree on its that growing our state's economy and creating job is our most pressing challenge,"Vinehout said.

"And putting money into tech colleges and two-year colleges it putting money into where we know it works,"Vinehout said.

UPDATE: That amendment was rejected 20-12, with Dems Sen. Nikiya Harris of Milwaukee and Sen. Julie Lassa of Stevens Point joining Republicans.

 12:48 PM 

Assembly GOP coming back at 1 p.m. to vote on Strachota or Williams for majority leader

The Assembly GOP will reconvene in open caucus at 1 p.m. and is expected to vote on making Pat Strachota of West Bend or Mary Williams of Medford the next majority leader.

Kit Beyer, a spokeswoman for Speaker Robin Vos, said nominations for both of them are expected after lawmakers reconvene and the position will be filled for the remainder of the session. Both lawmakers have announced plans to retire after this session, meaning they would only serve in the post through year's end.

 12:00 PM 

Senate Dems start debate by offering alternative tax cut plan

The Democrats have kicked off debate by offering an alternative plan for spending the state's surplus.

Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson said the plan would offer a $500 million "first dollar" tax credit, eliminate the structural deficit, double the rainy day fund and offer funding for tech colleges and rural schools. Their plan would also get rid of the withholding tax table change put forward by the governor.

Larson said the state needs to offer solutions that avoid "gimmicks."

"It's tempting to jump to something that would be gimmicky," Larson said. "It's tempting to throw something in front of citizens as an election year is pending. What were proposing as Democrats is to put something forward that has a long-term vision for the state of Wisconsin."

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said that regardless of the outcome, the fact that they're debating how to spend a state surplus shows it's a"great day for Wisconsin."

"To finally be out from what was a really dark time for this state in which there were many different gimmicks, many different tricks, a lot of things were were being accused of as a legislature," Fitzgerald said.

"When I think about this day and being able to address the state being able to move on from that period, it's really exciting to move on from that period."

However, GOP Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, said constituents want their taxpayer funds sent back to them rather than end up in the rainy day fund and chastised Democrats for thinking the worst of Wisconsin's economic future.

"There isn't a time that we get together where you don't predict doom and gloom for the state of Wisconsin,"Darling said.

 11:52 AM 

Kramer out

The Assembly GOP has voted unanimously to remove Bill Kramer as majority leader, Rep. Joan Ballweg said.

 11:51 AM 

Motion to remove Kramer as majority leader made, vote underway

Assembly Republicans have moved to remove Rep. Bill Kramer as majority leader, and the vote is now underway. 

Rep. Mary Williams, R-Medford, made the motion to remove him, and Rep. Dan LeMahieu, R-Cascade, seconded the motion. LeMahieu noted he has a wife, daughter, daughter-in-law and four granddaughters.

"We cannot accept that in our own families with the people we're responsible for, and we cannot accept those actions by anyone in this caucus or this Legislature," LeMahieu said.

He also expressed disappointment in Kramer, but defended the caucus.

"It's a disappointing day, but not a disappointing day for the caucus because we’re doing the right thing and we’re moving on," he said.

 10:56 AM 

Senate pushed back at least a half hour

The Senate will not be in until 11:30 now.

While the calendar is only handling Gov. Scott Walker's two tax cut bills today, the GOP caucus has a few remaining issues to deal with in the next few weeks, including how to handle a frac sand related bill pushed by Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, and a bill creating a Model Academic Standards Board supported by Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa.

 9:31 AM 

Assembly GOP caucus moved back to 10:15 a.m.

This morning's Assembly GOP caucus has been moved back to 10:15 a.m. due to the weather, according to the speaker's office. The caucus is expected to go into closed caucus after convening before re-opening caucus for the vote on removing Rep. Bill Kramer as majority leader and how members wish to proceed with the position for the remainder of the session.

 8:24 AM 

Senate to take up tax cut proposal

The state Senate will be in special session today to vote on the governor's tax cut and worker training bills.

Special session SB 1, the $504.6 million tax cut, and special session AB 2, the $35 million for worker training, are the only items on today’s calendar.

The Senate will take up the tax cut plan as amended by the Joint Finance Committee to direct more money to the state’s finishing balance and implement a lapsed in the next biennium to help drive down the structural deficit.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

 7:54 PM 

Pasch: Kramer allegations 'another reprehensible example' of GOP treatment of women

Assembly Assistant Minority Leader Sandy Pasch, D-Shorewood, called the allegations against Majority Leader Bill Kramer "yet another reprehensible example of Wisconsin Republicans’ callous treatment of women in our state." 

Pasch said it was equally shocking that Kramer's behavior is being spun by some Republicans as a "teachable moment" and has "an element of tragedy" for GOP politicians. 

"The ‘tragedy’ and ‘teachable moment’ here is that this disgraceful behavior has been a part of Wisconsin Republicans’ culture and actions for far too long," Pasch said. “Wisconsin must do better for women.”

 5:35 PM 

Assembly GOP to seek Kramer's ouster as majority leader Tuesday

Assembly GOP leaders will seek Rep. Bill Kramer’s ouster as majority leader on Tuesday, saying he has lost their “trust and confidence.”

The statement, released by the office of Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said Assembly GOP leaders were glad Kramer “recognizes the need to seek treatment” and hope “he will come to terms with his problems so that no woman will ever again be subject to this alleged inappropriate behavior.”

But the GOP leadership statement said the caucus will vote Tuesday to remove Kramer from his leadership post and then determine how to best fill the position. The Assembly GOP caucus already had a Tuesday caucus planned before allegations surfaced that Kramer sexually harassed two women during a trip to Washington, D.C., for a fundraiser. 

"We believe the serious nature of the alleged incidents require us to ask the Assembly Republican Caucus to remove Rep. Kramer from his position as the Assembly Majority Leader. It is clear he has lost our trust and confidence,” the statement read.

 3:53 PM 

Kramer checks self into treatment facility following allegations of inappropriate behavior

Assembly Majority Leader Bill Kramer has checked himself into a treatment facility, his office said this afternoon.

The brief statement said there would be "no further comment at this time."

The development follows allegations Kramer, R-Waukesha, acted inappropriately during a trip to Washington, D.C., with fellow Republican legislative leaders for a fundraiser benefiting the state GOP.

Multiple GOP sources told WisPolitics.com the allegations included sexually harassing two women during the trip, which was for a state party fundraiser. 

The statement does not include any comment on whether Kramer planned to step down from his leadership post or his Assembly seat. Kramer is facing pressure from some GOP colleagues to resign as majority leader, according to Republican sources.

Assembly GOP leaders met last night to discuss the allegations, according to a spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. 

Vos, R-Rochester, issued a statement last night saying he had recently been made aware of "serious allegations regarding inappropriate behavior by Rep. Kramer. Since I learned of those allegations I have been consulting with legal counsel and other legislators to understand what options are available." 

"The alleged behavior is reprehensible and won't be tolerated." 

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