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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

 7:15 PM 

Senate adjourns

The Senate has adjourned its final scheduled floor session for the 2013-2014 session.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, joked that he and Minority Leader Chris Larson would forego their partisan speeches in light of the calls for bipartisanship from the departing members.

 7:12 PM 

Departing senators deliver final remarks

After wrapping up its business for the day, senators took turns acknowledging the four members marking their final days on the floor.

Sen. John Lehman, who is leaving his now-GOP-leaning seat to run for lt. governor, addressed the chamber first as the “junior” of the group. He recalled that a former student in Racine asked him to run for city council following the death of an incumbent alderman, starting his path to serving as “one of the 33.”

“Doing this is really a delightful thing for a former social studies teacher,” Lehman said.

The other three retiring members called on their colleagues to work to improve the Senate and make it reflect the lives of ordinary Wisconsinites.

“There is a yearning outside this capital for cooperation, for common sense and compromise,” said Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, who noted he was first elected to the chamber 40 years ago, taking a hiatus between 1987 and 2011.

“In order to renew to the possibility of bipartisanship, members must be willing to sit down, differ with their own party and reach compromise with members of the other party,” added Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar.

And Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, said, "We have to quit asking ourselves, 'Which team are you on?'"

"For me, partisanship is a lens, not a straightjacket," Schultz said.

 5:46 PM 

Senate backs UW classified research bill

The Senate has concurred in AB 729, allowing classified research at University of Wisconsin campuses, via voice vote.

Backers say the bill would allow the state to compete for lucrative federal research contracts.

Other bills to move through the Senate include either unanimously or via voice vote include:

*AB 710, creating a “Silver Alert” program for missing, at-risk adults;

*AB 712, eliminating the requirement that employers to keep records of the hours worked by employees who are not compensated on an hourly basis; and

*AB 726, to allow the use of cannabidiol to treat seizure disorders.

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, praised the cannabidiol bill but said he would be remiss if he did not urge lawmakers to join other states that have allowed medical marijuana.

“There are thousands and thousands of Wisconsinites we are leaving behind today,” Erpenbach said.

 5:15 PM 

Senate backs heroin bills

The Senate has unanimously backed a pair of bills targeting opiate addiction.

AB 701 would require the establishment of opioid treatment programs in high-need rural areas, while AB 702 would establish short-term sanctions for certain parole violations -- which is intended to get addicts into treatment more quickly.

The chamber also voted 33-0 to fund an expansion of a program to track gunfire in the city of Milwaukee.

 4:58 PM 

Senate GOP to caucus

The Senate is taking a 10 minute break so Republicans can caucus.

Sen. Robert Cowles, R-Allouez, had asked to refer SB 644 to committee, saying it hadn't received the necessary scrutiny from lawmakers. The bill would allow for deductions or refunds for bad debt assumed by a private label credit card.

UPDATE -- 5:04 p.m.: Cowles removes his objection, and the bill is concurred in 19-14.

 4:13 PM 

Senate backs minimum wage exemption

The Senate has concurred in legislation that would exempt outside salespersons from the state’s minimum wage law 18-15.

Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, called the bill unnecessary, arguing that all workers subject to an employer should be provided benefits under state law.

“Why we should exempt employees -- anyone -- from the minimum wage law is beyond me,” Risser said.

Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, said the state is on the wrong side of the minimum wage debate happening at the national level.

"We are looking for loopholes to exempt professions from the minimum wage," Larson said.

Prior to debate on that bill, the chamber concurred in a slew of additional bills without debate, including legislation requiring outside investigations of deaths involving law enforcement officers.

 3:53 PM 

After a short break, Senate passes medical apology bill

The Senate went informal following an objection to third reading of AB 120, after which Taylor allowed a motion from Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, to move to third reading.

The chamber then passed the bill 19-14.

"Looks like a majority of this particular body wants to move this ahead," said Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison.

Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, also explained his opposition to the bill, saying lawmakers can get in a habit of assuming the plaintiffs in lawsuits are always wrong.

Grothman said he would support the bill if it were limited to apologies, but "we go beyond here, to include things like 'I am at fault' or 'I am liable.'"

"It's almost impossible to win a med mal case already in the state of Wisconsin," Grothman added.

 3:37 PM 

Medical provider apology bill stalls on third reading

Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, objected to third reading of legislation to prohibit expressions of condolence or apology by health care providers from admission as evidence in medical malpractice cases.

The move -- which was upheld when a 20-13 vote to move to third reading failed to reach a two-thirds majority -- would stall the bill for the day on the final scheduled floor day this session.

Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, said the bill aims to break down “the wall of silence” between providers and patients, saying medical professionals are afraid of being sued at the most difficult times in patients’ lives.

Vukmir, a nurse, said delivering bad news to patients is “a very difficult time” and that sometimes “things just come out of your mouth because of the emotions of that time.”

“This bill protects conversations, not bad acts,” Vukmir said.

Dems, however, argued those conversations could take place under current law -- and the bill would establish the most “extreme” standard in the country for evidence in such cases.

“Instead of protecting our most vulnerable citizens, we are giving an ‘out,’” Taylor said.

Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, also criticized applying the law to disciplinary proceedings for health care workers, saying that goes “far, far afield.”

 2:59 PM 

Senate essentially kills constitutional amendment on Milwaukee County treasurer

In a move that seemed to catch the Senate off guard, Sen. Tim Carpenter, D-Milwaukee, essentially killed his own constitutional amendment that would make the Milwaukee County Treasurer an appointed position.

Carpenter said he had concerns about the options available to appoint the Milwaukee County Treasurer under the current resolution, which prompted him to offer an amendment to the joint resolution. That amendment was approved by voice vote, though Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Leibham, called for a voice vote twice to ensure there wasn't some confusion on what had taken place.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald asked Carpenter afterward whether he truly wanted that amendment, considering it would likely sink the bill this session. Carpenter said he was and reaffirmed his concerns.

Because the Assembly has stated it won't come back in this session, the change effectively kills the resolution this session since they would have to concur on the bill. It takes two consecutive sessions of the Legislature to pass a constitutional amendment before it can be put to a referendum.

 2:35 PM 

Oral chemo bill passes Senate

The Assembly version was concurred in by the Senate, on a 26-7 votes. Dem Sens. Tim Cullen, Robert Jauch, Dave Hansen, Tim Carpenter and Jon Erpenbach joined GOP Sens. Dale Schultz and Leah Vukmir.

It now heads to the governor's office for his signature.

 2:25 PM 

Sen. Jauch withdraws his amendment

After an hour and 20 minutes of debate, Sen. Robert Jauch, D-Poplar, has withdrawn the amendment and says he won't put his colleagues through the political strain of the "rhetoric" that will come out against them should they vote against the measure.

So now we're back on the question of concurrence.

Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, said he would be voting in support of the measure, but wanted to look into sending a joint letter from Legislative leaders urging insurance companies not to take advantage of potential loopholes in the law.

"Something is better than nothing, I just hope the people put that letter forward and people do not take advantage," Larson said.

 1:56 PM 

Senate debating change to oral chemo bill, GOP fears change could kill measure

The Senate is debating whether to further amend the oral chemo bill with a clarification that insurers can't raise deductibles or co-insurance.

The original bill said the health insurance plans must not charge higher out-of-pocket costs -- either through deductibles, co-insurance or co-payments -- for oral chemotherapy than it does for IV chemotherapy. However, an amendment passed in the Assembly says insurers are in compliance with that provision if it limits co-pays on oral chemo to $100 per 30-day prescription.

Democrats have offered an amendment to the bill that would explicitly prohibit any increases to out-of-pocket costs.

Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, said he felt that passing the Assembly version of the bill would be a "bait and switch" and urged his colleagues to try and pass the compromise amendment.

"Here we find ourselves on the last day...with an opportunity to do something," Schultz said. "Now, I know we've been told that they're not coming back. I think we send a message to the Assembly that this will not stand, they will come in and they will pass a bill with a compromise, and I think that would be in the finest tradition of this body."

Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, called the Assembly version a "give-away" for insurance companies, saying the way it was written did not truly limit co-pays to $100. That, Cullen said, was because doctors may need to order multiple prescriptions at a time and language in the amended bill seems to allow insurance companies increase deductibles or co-insurance, unlike other states with similar measures.

"If we've heard stories of people paying two or three or four thousand a month or more for their oral chemo, why would the insurance companies be happy settling for $200 or $300 bucks," Cullen said "They're happy because in this amendment, they have an out."

Cullen also accused Assembly Majority Leader Pat Strachota of writing the bill at the behest of the insurance companies, saying that no advocacy groups were involved in the authorship of the amendment.

Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, said she didn't like the Assembly amendment either, but said she was happy that "we got this far." She also cited a memo from the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance saying the amended version of the bill indicated it would indeed result in $100 limits on co-pays and offers parity. Darling cautioned against possibly killing the bill by sending it to the Assembly.

"I have been working on this for two and a half years and I'm not willing to take this risk," Darling said.

Sen. Rick Gudex, R-Fond Du Lac, said even an imperfect bill would be better than nothing, given the current costs for oral chemo drugs.

"I stood with the cancer patients on March 18, I'm going to stand with the cancer patients today," Gudex said.

 11:27 AM 

Recess for one hour for partisan caucuses

The Senate has made its appointments en masse, though Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, reiterated a call for Gov. Scott Walker to appoint members to the Mining Impact Board. After that, we're now in partisan caucus for an hour.

 11:14 AM 

Senate roll call underway

So much for a later start. After a last minute "chick pic" of the Senate women -- Sen. Lena Taylor's words, not mine -- we should be getting started.

 11:04 AM 

Senate starting late

The Senate Chief Clerk said he was told they'd be "more or less" on time and Dems are starting to filter into the chamber. We'll see when the GOP members appear.

 8:03 AM 

Senate to take up bills on oral chemotherapy, medical malpractice cases

The Senate is set to concur in a long list of Assembly-passed legislation today as it wraps up the scheduled 2013-2014 session.

Tuesday is the only scheduled floor session for the Senate this week -- the last general business floor period of the session -- and the Assembly isn't expected to be in session at all.

The agenda includes legislation requiring health insurers to cover oral chemotherapy treatments in the same manner as IV treatments.

The Senate passed the bill earlier this month, but the Assembly then added an optional $100 monthly co-pay. Senate GOP backers of the original legislation, however, signaled their support for the amendment last week.

The calendar also includes legislation that would ban statements of apology or condolence by health care providers from being used in medical malpractice cases.

Other noteworthy bills set for votes include:

* AB 5, creating a sales tax exemption for property used by commercial radio and television stations;

* AB 409, requiring outside investigations of deaths involving law enforcement officers;

* AB 412, exempting outside salespersons from the state's minimum wage;

* AB 693, funding an expansion of the ShotSpotter gunfire tracking technology in the city of Milwaukee;

* AB 701 and AB 702, two bills targeting opiate addiction from Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette;

* And AB 726, allowing the marijuana derivative cannabidiol to be used to treat seizure disorders.

The Senate is also set to consider one proposed constitutional amendment: AJR 77, which would make the treasurer position in Milwaukee County an appointed post.

As expected, the final Senate calendar is missing a series of changes to drunken driving laws, a bill to pre-empt local living wage ordinances and several abortion-related bills.

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