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 2:49 PM 

Senate pulls and passes social media privacy bill

Despite finishing most of the items left on the calendar, the Senate has passed two other bills: SB 223, which would prohibit employers or potential employers from asking applicants or employees for their social media passwords, SB 594, which deals with the state's renewable energy portfolio, and SB 595, which deals with some telecommunications issues.

Those bills all passed on voice votes.


 2:42 PM 

Senate passes mental health bills

The Senate has passed a package of bills aimed at addressing mental health. Those bills now head to the governor's desk.

While some of the bills received voice votes, those with roll calls either passed unanimously or with a single no vote from Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend.

The bills include:

AB 450 to create crisis intervention grants to train law enforcement officers who deal with emergency detention. Passed unanimously.

AB 452, which would create a consultation line for primary care physicians to consult to help treat children who may have mental health issues. Only Grothman voted against the bill.

AB 454 to create grants for primary care and psychiatric care physicians who agree to work in rural areas. They would be eligible for up to $20,000 a year for three years in the hopes they would enjoy working in a rural setting and would stay on their own after the grants expire. Only Grothman voted against the bill.

AB 458, which would change rules for children who are required to seek outpatient treatment before being eligible for in-home treatment by allowing them to bypass the outpatient treatment. Backers argued it would save money by allowing those who know they will fail the outpatient treatment to move directly to in-home care. Passed on a voice vote.

AB 459, which would help extend care into rural areas by allowing those seeking treatment to go to a Medicaid clinic to speak with a mental health profession over the computer via a secure network. Passed unanimously.

AB 488, which would give families who seek emergency detention of a loved one another option if the county denies the petition by allowing them to go to court. Passed on a voice vote.


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

 4:12 PM 

Assembly adjourns

The Assembly has adjourned.

Members will reconvene in the chamber tomorrow evening with the Senate to hear the governor's State of the State address.


 3:58 PM 

Assembly passes Internet privacy legislation

The Assembly has concurred in SB 223, which bans employers, landlords and university officials from accessing the private Internet accounts of employees, tenants and students, respectively.

Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, called the measure a “very simple, but very necessary piece of legislation” to protect Wisconsinites’ privacy on social media.

“We as legislators must keep up with the pace of technology,” Sargent said.

The measure passed via voice vote.


 3:31 PM 

Assembly informal

The Assembly is temporarily informal as lawmakers wait for tweaks to legislation that would ban employers from seeking access to employees' private Internet accounts.

UPDATE -- 3:52 p.m. We're back in session.


 3:30 PM 

Dems seek to rescind request to AG

Rep. Andy Jorgensen, D-Milton, offered a second resolution that would rescind a request that the attorney general weigh in on limits on the purchase of foreign-owned land.

The Assembly Org committee approved the request via paper ballot late last week. A provision to lift that limit was removed during the state budget process last year, and Dems have alleged that Republicans are again seeking to upend the limit. It was quickly turned aside 39-59.

Jorgensen then moved to pull legislation that would increase the jobs tax credit from 10 to 15 percent of eligible full-time employee wages. The motion was rejected by the same margin.


 3:07 PM 

Assembly Dems seek funding from shuttered voucher school

After passage of a bill to alter the fees charged for election recounts, Assembly Dems offered a resolution that would direct the Assembly Organization Committee to seek the recovery of state funds from a former Milwaukee private school.

Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, said the measure would request that state agencies "recover any state funds that may be collectible from LifeSkills Academy," a participant in Milwaukee's private school choice program that Barca said "swindled the state out of $2 million," then shut down and departed for Florida "in the dead of night" last week.

"Who here doesn't want to recover these funds that these bad actors swindled us out of?" Barca asked Republicans.

Rep. Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee, also said it would direct the Department of Public Instruction to notify Florida of the track record of the school's administrators.

"This is what the reality of voucher schools can look like," Goyke said.

"I want this to stop right now. A school in my district closed in the middle of the night, and now they're living in Florida and they're doing it again."

Rep. Dean Knudson, R-Hudson, said supporters of choice programs "absolutely" want to see appropriate policing of such violations, not only from the Department of Public Instruction but from the Department of Justice and local prosecutors.

"They don't need to have resolutions from the Legislature telling them to go do their job," Knudson said.

He also said that while LifeSkills should not have closed in the manner that it did, the tragedy lawmakers should be focused on is "failing schools that aren't closed."

UPDATE -- 3:24 p.m.: The chamber rejected a motion to take up the resolution 39-59.


 2:28 PM 

Assembly backs civil service bill, controlled substances change

The Assembly continues to move quickly through its calendar, concurring in a number of Senate bills, including:

*SB 155, matching the state’s Do Not Call list with the federal database, approved unanimously;

*SB 224, making a series of changes to the state civil service system, which passed 59-39 without debate;

*SB 325, which would define controlled substances by their chemical structures in an effort to combat synthetic drugs, passed by a voice vote; and

*SB 370, to set a goal that 1 percent of state procurement expenses go to businesses owned by disabled veterans, also backed via voice vote.


 2:17 PM 

Assembly passes bill to alter prosecution of marijuana offenses

The Assembly has concurred in legislation that would alter the process for prosecuting a second or subsequent offense of marijuana possession.

Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt, R-Fond du Lac, said that currently, district attorneys often decline to pursue those charges after a first offense is addressed by a municipal court.

Letting those second offenses go, he argued prior to today’s session, is “a disparity in the law that should be fixed.”

Rep. Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee, countered the bill’s potential costs could outweigh any windfall for municipalities and that the change “gives government some power” that should give those Republicans with a libertarian streak “pause.”

Moreover, Goyke said, “Our national conversation (about marijuana) is going the other way.”

The bill was passed on a voice vote.


 1:58 PM 

Assembly backs renewable energy bills

The Assembly has approved a trio of bills from the Energy and Utilities Committee, including AB 594, which would exempt four small utilities in central and northern Wisconsin from higher renewable energy production requirements. Dems and Republicans alike noted those utilities are already far ahead of most others in the state in producing renewable energy -- and that the proposal would help paper companies in an economically hard-hit region of the state.

“Bottom line: it’s $400,000 every year for my paper mill in Wisconsin Rapids,” said bill author Scott Krug, R-Wisconsin Rapids.

AB 595, meanwhile, makes a series of technical changes to the Public Service Commission, while AB 596 would include qualified older energy sources under the renewable standard. All three were approved by voice votes.


 1:49 PM 

Assembly off to fast start

The Assembly has moved quickly through the initial bills on its calendar for the day, including a measure to allow the transfer of rifles and shotguns from other states, two administrative rule corrections bills related to the Department of Workforce Development and a slew of Law Revision Committee bills.

Dems offered amendments to two of the Law Revision bills, which are generally technical in nature -- including one that to stipulate that members of the Legislature are subject to the state’s Open Records Law. That amendment was tabled 39-59. The bill was then approved via voice vote.


 8:02 AM 

Assembly to take up renewable energy bills

The Assembly will be on the floor today with a calendar that includes several bills on renewable energy.

AB 596 would require that renewable energy credits be counted toward the standard regardless of when the source used to generate the qualifying power began operation, while AB 594 would modify renewable portfolio standard requirements affecting four small utilities in central and northern Wisconsin.

The calendar also includes SB 223, which would prohibit employers from demanding access to employees’ private Internet accounts.


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

 4:05 PM 

Assembly adjourned

The Assembly has adjourned for the day.

Legislation originally on the agenda to alter the fees for election recounts will instead be taken up during the second floor period of the spring session.


 3:51 PM 

Assembly concurs in state employee contracts

The Assembly has concurred in five contracts for state employee unions passed by the Senate earlier in the day.

The bills passed unanimously, but Democrats criticized GOP legislators for waiting for months to bring the contracts to the floor, saying the included pay increases could have been passed along to workers shortly after negotiations were completed in September.

“That money would have done somebody’s family a lot of good over the holidays,” said Rep. Christine Sinicki, D-Milwaukee.

Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, added that contract negotiations in the "new reality" of Act 10 have been "a struggle."

"I want to congratulate those who have managed to bring these contracts forward," Mason said.


 3:27 PM 

Assembly moving through bills on regular calendar

The Assembly has passed via voice vote the first eight bills on its regular Tuesday calendar, including AB 171, which would allow for restraining orders against out-of-state residents, and AB 560, a Law Revision Committee bill eliminating the use of six-person juries in misdemeanor cases. That provision was declared unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court in 1998.


 3:22 PM 

Dems try, fail to pull minimum wage bill to floor

Despite a thought that we were heading toward adjournment, Sen. Robert Wirch, D-Pleasant Prairie, asked for suspension of the rules to pull a bill raising the minimum wage in Wisconsin. That failed to overcome the 2/3 majority requirement, however.


 3:04 PM 

Assembly passes heroin bills

The Assembly has passed a package of four bills aimed at combating heroin abuse, each by 96-0 votes. The bills include:

*AB 445, which would require an ID to acquire certain prescription drugs;

*AB 446, allowing first responders to carry Narcan, which reverses the effects of opiates;

*AB 447, allowing for immunity from simple possession of controlled substances for aiding a person who has overdosed; and

*AB 448, allowing communities to establish sites to dispose of unused medication.

Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette and the author of the bills, said the problem of prescription drug and heroin addiction affects communities of all sizes and people of all socioeconomic backgrounds.

“We simply cannot arrest our way out of the problem we face as a state,” said Nygren, who has chronicled his daughter’s fight with opiate addiction during his advocacy of the bills. He also said the bills are “only a beginning” of the state’s fight against heroin.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said the proposals offer “real solutions” to a problem confronting communities statewide.

“This addiction is so strong that it turns good people into criminals,” Vos said.

Rep. Sandy Pasch, D-Shorewood, praised Nygren’s efforts but said lawmakers should not pat themselves on the back for initial steps. She said the stigma of addiction still remains in society, saying, “This is a mental health problem.”

She also said expanding BadgerCare could have bolstered access to primary care providers -- often a first step for addicts to get help.

“Addiction is on the continuum of physical and mental health,” Pasch said.

Rep. Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee, called the bills “the equivalent of Kleenex if you have a cold,” asking lawmakers to note that “none of them have an appropriation.”

“We need an absolute bold investment in treatment for young people suffering from addiction,” Goyke said.


 2:24 PM 

Senate begins debate on BadgerCare cleanup bill

Senate Democrats have begun debate on a bill to make technical changes to the BadgerCare program with an amendment that would move up the date when some poor residents will qualify for the program.

The current bill changes the dates for certain income standards for those applying for BadgerCare and makes other changes to prepare for the eligibility changes in BadgerCare set to take effect on April 1. At that point, those making more than 100 percent of the poverty level would be pushed off of Medicaid and pointed toward the federal exchanges. Those childless adults making less than 100 percent of the poverty level would be able to enroll in BadgerCare.

Gov. Scott Walker had originally planned that change to take effect Jan. 1, but pushed it back due to problems with the rollout of the Affordable Care Act. Dems have been pushing for the state to allow its poorest residents to go ahead and join the program now rather than waiting until April, when the other changes take effect.

Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, said the eligibility changes were necessary to ensure no one was left in limbo because of the timing and to ensure that the state's Medicaid program is in compliance with the feds.

However, Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, said the extra time could allow the state's poorest residents to find proper health care providers and ensure they have coverage as soon as possible.

"Because you become eligible for Medicaid on a certain date... does not mean you get a chance to see a provider on that day or the day after," Cullen said.

Darling said Cullen's amendment would alter the agreement with the feds and that such a change just isn't feasible.

When Cullen responded that the feds would want the state to make this change or accept Medicaid expansion funds, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald responded by tearing into Dems, saying the party was not facing up to the failures of Obamacare and its connection to the present Medicaid issues.

"And that's what this is today," Fitzgerald said, referencing the BadgerCare cleanup bill. "One more request from the Obama administration to tweak something to make sure people don't fall through the cracks."

"A little humility from the party that screwed this up would be very much welcome at this point," Fitzgerald said, which prompted an "ooh" from Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, who briefly stood up to challenge Fitzgerald's comment.



 1:49 PM 

Senate shoots down indefinite postponement of claim payment

After about an hour or so of debate, the Senate voted 20-12 to keeping moving on the $217,499 claim payment to J&L Steel and Electrical. Now we're back to debate over the bill. Dem Sens. Jennifer Shilling and Robert Wirch both voted against the indefinite postponement vote, while Sen. Nikiya Harris voted for it. All three of those Dems voted for the bill in committee.


 1:24 PM 

Skowronski sworn into office

Following a “Hometown Hero” ceremony to honor Brookfield World War II veteran Glenn Ehlers, Rep. Ken Skowronski, R-Franklin, has taken the oath of office from Supreme Court Justice David Prosser to serve the 82nd Assembly District.

The ceremony officially gives Republicans a 60-39 majority in the chamber, though three members have received leave for today’s session -- Erik Severson, R-Star Prairie, Gary Hebl, D-Sun Prairie, and Nick Milroy, D-South Range. The chamber is now in a "brief" recess for a reception in the parlor.

UPDATE -- 1:39 p.m.: We're back in session.


 1:11 PM 

Senate bogged down on bill to pay electrical company claim

The Senate is spending some more time on motion to refer SB 280, which would pay $217,499 to J&L Steel and Electrical Services for a claim made against the state.

J&L brought a claim to the State Claims Board in May 2013 to be repaid for "increased bid costs," expert witnesses and attorney's fees for installation of a nurse call system. The argument over the claim stems from whether The Department of Administration miscommunicated a bid for the type of nurse call system that would be installed or whether J&L did not follow specifications of the bid. The Department of Administration urged denial of the claim, while claims board had a tie vote on whether to accept the claim.

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, said since the claims board did not approve the claim, it should not be before the Legislature. He said the bill was merely an attempt to sidestep the recommendations of the claims board.

"If we're going to pass this, then we should see a bill to eliminate the claims board," Erpenbach said.

Bill author Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls, said the claims board did not side one way or the other and the company was only attempting to save the taxpayers money by installing an alternative nurse call system. J&L  Steel and Electrical is located in Hudson, which is in Harsdorf's district. Records from Wisconsin Democracy Campaign show J&L CEO Lou Anne Berg has donated $2,070 to Harsdorf since 2008.

"What we are sending out if we do not cover this claim, is we're basically discouraging companies from finding savings for taxpayers when they put in bids," Harsdorf said.

However, Harsdorf also said the Legislature needed to vote on the bill one way or another. She cited state statute to argue the company cannot begin legal action against the state until the Legislature rejects the bill handling the claim.

Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, motioned to refer the bill to committee, saying the Senate doesn't have enough information to pass judgment one way or another. Right now, Erpenbach is asking the chair whether referring the matter back to committee would constitute rejection by the Senate and allow legal action by the company.

UPDATE: For those curious, this bill was voted through on a 7-0 vote in the Senate Committee on Government Operations. Dems voting in favor of the bill were Sens. Nikiya Harris, Robert Wirch and Jennifer Shilling. According to the committee records, representatives from the company testified at a public hearing, but no one from DOA was present.


 12:53 PM 

Assembly quorum call underway

We're about to get started in the Assembly, beginning with the swearing in of new state Rep. Ken Skowronski. The Franklin Republican won a special election last month to replace departed GOP Rep. Jeff Stone.


 12:28 PM 

Senate signs off on union contracts

After a quick approval of the list of today's appointments, the Senate also moved to approval of five union contracts for 2013-14 with 1 percent pay raises and corresponding backpay -- with no opposition.

Those contracts are for the Professional Employees in Research, Statistics, and Analysis; Wisconsin State Attorneys Association; Service Employees International Union; Wisconsin State Building Trades Negotiating Committee; and the Wisconsin State Employees Union.

Now they'll head over to the Assembly.


 8:34 AM 

Lawmakers to consider state employee contracts; Assembly to take up heroin bills

Both houses of the Legislature will be on the floor today for the first time in 2014.

The Senate is up first at 11 a.m. with a calendar that includes five state employee contracts approved earlier by the Joint Committee on Employment Relations.

Other bills on the agenda includes the additional tweak to the guv’s BadgerCare plan, the composition of the State Capitol and Executive Residence Board and a series of bills that largely passed out of committee unanimously.

The Assembly plans to hit the floor at 1 p.m. with the five state employee contracts on its agenda as well.

The chamber also plans to take up SB 262, which would change how election officials mark damaged or overvote ballots, along with a series of bills that passed out of committee unanimously.

The Assembly also has a second calendar that includes bills to combat heroin use, the guv’s BadgerCare tweak and a bill to increase the fee for recounts to $25 per ward from the current $5 per ward when the margin is between 0.5 percent and 2 percent.


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