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Thursday, February 20, 2014

 11:38 PM 

Assembly adjourns

Following the rejection of a final Dem pulling motion -- on AB 778, which would prohibit mining activities that damage lake beds -- the Assembly has adjourned.


 11:22 PM 

Assembly concurs in youth baseball exemption

The Assembly has concurred in the Senate version of legislation providing a property tax exemption for youth baseball associations. The chamber had passed its own version earlier in the day.

Following the vote, Dems move to take up AB 604, which would allow for civil damages in cases of employment discrimination based on military service. The pulling motion fails 36-57.


 11:17 PM 

Living wage bill passes

The Assembly voted 56-37 to pass the bill preempting local living wage ordinances.

GOP Rep. John Klenke of Green Bay countered Dem criticism of the bill, saying the measure in fact embraces local control.

“If it comes out of your pocket, you can do whatever you want,” Klenke said.

Speaker Robin Vos, meanwhile, argued the bill isn't about local control, but rather about the ability of local officials to pass increased labor costs onto the state.

"They can't automatically inflate the state of Wisconsin's costs, because that's what's happening all across the state of Wisconsin today," said Vos, R-Rochester.

Dems, meanwhile, fired back that Republicans had restricted local officials' ability to raise the revenue needed to fund their own projects with living wage standards.

“I don’t see how you can claim that you are really the conservatives that represent the conservative philosophy of limited government,” said Rep. Fred Kessler, D-Milwaukee.

"This bill doesn't let local communities do what's best for their constituents," added Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison.


 9:04 PM 

Dems slam minimum wage preemption

Debate remains ongoing on legislation to limit local “living wage” laws, but, thus far, its been just Dems speaking, calling the measure another attack on local control.

The bill would prohibit minimum wage requirements for employees that are funded at least in part from state or federal sources.

“Don’t penalize Milwaukee and Madison,” said Rep. Gary Hebl, D-Sun Prairie, after Dems moved to refer the bill back to committee -- a motion that was rejected 37-56.

Dane County Dems also sought to grandfather in already existing ordinances -- most notably the one in their home county -- but that amendment, along with three others, was tabled by Republicans.

“The living wage works for Dane County,” said Rep. Dianne Hesselbein, D-Middleton, estimating that some 3,500 county residents would be affected by the measure.

Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, opened the debate by joking that he’d go along with an adjournment motion to save “three hours of our lives that we’re never going to get back,” adding that the chamber should take its cue from the Senate and go home.

“This bill is dead on arrival,” Barca said. “This is going nowhere in the Senate.”

Retiring Rep. Pat Strachota, R-West Bend, took a turn in the speaker’s chair during debate of the amendments.


 8:11 PM 

Assembly passes student data bill

The Assembly has passed legislation limiting the scope of data that can be collected by school districts about students 57-37.

Rep. Fred Clark, D-Sauk City, said the bill had undergone important changes but that he hoped in the future that lawmakers would focus on “problems that are real,” deriding concerns addressed in the bill as conspiracy.

The chamber also passed a bill altering reporting requirements for local election officials via voice vote, as well as a bill limiting liability in agricultural tourism by a 85-9 margin.

We're now onto legislation that would preempt local minimum wage requirements.


 8:02 PM 

Assembly backs bill authorizing sales of Milwaukee school buildings

The Assembly voted 56-39 to pass legislation authorizing the sale of certain underused public school buildings in the city of Milwaukee.

Qualified buildings could be sold to other educational entities after filing a letter indicating interest with the city’s common council.

Dems slammed the measure, with Rep. Mandy Wright arguing that although a free market approach would sell to the highest bidder, the bill mandates the sale of “publicly built buildings to private educational operators.”

“If we’re looking to fan the flames of fear from public education supporters, this is one of those bills,” said Wright, D-Wausau.

Rep. Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee, noted that the bill originated due to a single disagreement between the Milwaukee Public Schools board and a choice school operator looking to buy a vacant building.

“I don’t understand why the state government needs to get involved,” Goyke said.

“You are saying that the locally built schools aren’t going to be controlled by the local community, and you can sell them out from under them,” added fellow Milwaukee Dem Fred Kessler.

Rep. Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfield, responded that Milwaukee should be looking to help successful private schools acquire MPS property.

“We know what this is about ... it’s about market share,” Kooyenga said.

"I am proud that we are taking control from someone who is failing the kids so often," added Rep. John Klenke, R-Green Bay.


 6:09 PM 

Utility measure stalls; phosphorus bill passes

SB 517, which relates to municipal utility arrearage collection, has been stalled after a member objected to third reading of the bill.

The chamber then passed SB 547, which would delay compliance with regulations over phosphorus discharges, 76-19 with little debate.

With that, we're onto special orders of business that were originally scheduled for the wee hours of Friday morning.


 5:55 PM 

Marklein takes over gavel

Rep. Howard Marklein, the Spring Green Republican who's leaving to seek a seat in the Senate, is in the speaker's chair for the time being. The chamber passed a bill altering funding for snowmobile trails and a measure requiring the establishment of regional centers to treat opiate addiction on his watch.


 5:38 PM 

Emergency heating bill passed

After roughly an hour of debate on a bill designed to alleviate the state's propane shortage for middle-income households, the measure passes 94-1. Rep. Josh Zepnick, D-Milwaukee, was the lone vote against the bill.


 4:34 PM 

Assembly back on the floor; taking up emergency heating assistance bill

After about 10 minutes of standing informal, we're back on the floor, now taking up a bill from Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, that directs WHEDA to create an emergency heating assistance loan guarantee bill.

Nygren has made the point that the bill is "not a hand out" but merely something to help people get through the tough winter and obtain propane.

Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, says she's disappointed Dems were unable to cosponsor the bill and that it moved too quickly through committee.

"It's incumbent upon us to stand shoulder to shoulder when crises hits," Shankland said.

Most Democrats were then added as co-sponsors.

UPDATE: We're still debating the bill, for some reason. Rep. Penny Bernard Schaber, D-Appleton, and Rep. Brett Hulsey, D-Madison, asked clarifying questions on the loan program, with Bernard Schaber saying at one point that she wasn't sure that many people in her district used propane. Hulsey asked a question about how it might pertain to alternative heating sources. It seems like everyone is on board, but we are still talking about it.

Rep. Janet Bewley, D-Ashland, has now stood up and is pulling apart the bill for not helping enough Wisconsinites and saying there aren't enough WHEDA lenders to make it happen easily.


 3:42 PM 

Dems debating clean jobs committee resolution on Assembly floor

After moving quickly through the non-controversial legislation, we're on to a special resolution being pushed by Dems to create a special committee on clean energy jobs.

The resolution tasks a committee with producing recommendations on how to reduce dependence on foreign fossil fuels, reduce pollution and create clean energy jobs.

Democrats made a joking reference to the John Doe records released yesterday when Rep. Andy Jorgensen, D-Ft. Atkinson, said he wanted to discuss "John Doe" before making clear plenty of "John Does" in his district want jobs.

"This has incredible potential, incredible potential," said Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca. "And I have to say that Wisconsin is on the leading edge in many categories of clean energy."

The original resolution was being taken up by the Assembly, but the Dems had to swap out a revised resolution because the original deadline on the committee's work was Feb. 1, 2014.

UPDATE: The revised resolution was deposited in Senate Organization. A vote to pull it to the floor failed on a 39-56 vote.


 3:04 PM 

Assembly approves property tax exemption for youth baseball

The Assembly is quickly moving through some of the less controversial bills on today's calendar.

It just voted for a property tax exemption benefiting youth baseball associations covering land up to six acres, buildings and personal property. It would kick in on assessments as of Jan. 1, 2015.

The Senate approved its version of the bill earlier this week, but the Assembly had to take up its legislation since JFC took both the bills up yesterday.

The Assembly has also signed off on AB 655, which establishes the shoreline of Lake Michigan in Milwaukee. The backers have pushed for the bill to help a project near the lakefront.


 2:50 PM 

Assembly gets started on calendar

After a series of resolutions and a break for some cake, the Assembly is now on to the calendar.

First up is a constitutional amendment to make the Milwaukee County treasurer an appointed position.

Update: The amendment is approved 88-9. It next goes to the Senate.



 1:34 PM 

Quorum call underway in the Assembly

A quorum call is underway in the Assembly.

Ahead of hitting the floor, Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, told reporters Republicans hope to pull four bills to the floor that are not on the calendar.

They are:

AB 407, related to snowmobile registration.

AB 668, providing grants to counties that offer substance abuse treatment and diversion programs.

AB 701, relating to opioid treatment programs.

AB 770, which creates a loan program to help some families purchase propane.

The Joint Finance Committee signed off on all four yesterday.

Rep. Erik Severson, R-Star Prairie, and Speaker Pro Tempore Tyler August, R-Lake Geneva, are absent for the full day.

Vos is in the chair and led the chamber in a round of "Happy Birthday" for chief clerk Pat Fuller, who is turning 60.


 8:17 AM 

Assembly to take up 'living wage' preemption, UW classified research

The state Assembly will be on the floor today with a calendar that includes legislation to preempt some local “living wage” ordinances.

The amended version of AB 750 would bar such ordinances only when state or federal money is involved in covering those salaries.

Other bills on the agenda include a property tax exemption for youth baseball associations, allowing Marquette University to create a police force and allowing classified research at UW System schools.

AB 729, which authorizes the Board of Regents to accept research grants for classified research, was amended in committee to remove a provision that would have exempted that work from the state’s Open Records Law.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

 9:41 PM 

Assembly adjourns

The Assembly has adjourned for the day. The chamber will return to the floor for its final scheduled day of the 2013-2014 session Thursday, though GOP leaders expect to return for a day or two in March to address any remaining business.


 9:10 PM 

Assembly backs criminal search bill

The Assembly has voted to back AB 556, which would allow for more intensive searches of certain inmates at county jails, on a voice vote.

The chamber is currently informal for a meeting of the Rules Committee.

UPDATE -- 9:23 p.m.: With the Rules Committee approving the calendar for another marathon session Thursday, the chamber is back in session.


 8:00 PM 

ShotSpotter funding approved

The Assembly has voted 95-1 to fund an expansion of ShotSpotter technology in the city of Milwaukee, with Speaker Pro Tempore Tyler August, R-Lake Geneva, as the lone vote against.

The $175,000 included in the bill would match an allocation by Milwaukee County to expand the program, which uses microphones to almost instantly locate the sites of nearby gunfire, to 10 square miles.

Dems offered an amendment to expand the program by $222,700 instead, matching the amount cut by lawmakers during the state budget process last year. It was tabled 59-37.


 7:11 PM 

Assembly backs call for constitutional convention

The Assembly voted 58-38 with one paired vote to back a convention that would add a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Under AJR 81, the Legislature would officially call for an Article V convention to craft the amendment; a total of 34 states would need to take a similar step to trigger the convention.

Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, questioned “who put this in your mind, that what we really need to do is change the United States Constitution?”

“We’ve had a lot of people serve in this body over the years, but I haven’t seen one Thomas Jefferson. I haven’t seen one James Madison,” Barca said.

Rep. Terese Berceau, D-Madison, added that “ALEC is getting its money’s worth today,” arguing that Republicans would have to raise taxes if a natural disaster or other calamity hit the state.

Rep. David Murphy, R-Greenville, said the Constitution is the most appropriate place to address the debt issue as a “framework” for the states to take concerns to the federal government.

“This is federalism. We both hold power. … That’s how this was designed,” added Rep. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield and the author of the resolution.

The chamber then passed AB 635, which would establish a process for sending delegates to an Article V convention. Under the bill, the chamber’s five delegates would be selected by the governor, Assembly speaker and Senate president; a Dem amendment to require minority representation was rejected.


 5:19 PM 

Dem Sen. Hansen tries to pull equal pay enforcement bill to floor

Right before adjournment, we have Dems with a pulling motion, this one focused on bringing an equal pay enforcement bill to the floor.

The bill would allow someone who feels they were unfairly discriminated in the workplace and received less pay based on their gender to sue for punitive damages in circuit court. 

Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, said the bill is a necessary step to ensure the state's working women get the same pay as their male counterparts.

Senate President Mike Ellis said the Democrats from the 2009-11 session had their own "war on women" in the form of tax and fee increases that hurt female "breadwinners" of Wisconsin.

"I've got this notion that I'm going to hear about the war on women," Ellis said. "There was a war on women. Howitzers and big guns blasting their economic dependency back into the dark ages."

Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson reiterated the Democrats' point.

"We're talking about moving forward, to be clear, the year is 2014, and I want to make sure we're looking forward and not dwelling on the past," he said.

UPDATE: The Senate voted down the pulling motion.


 5:08 PM 

Senate passes utility bill

So, after some further debate, the Senate shot down a Dem amendment to this municipal utilities bill and passed the legislation.

For those wondering, the main debate was over a part of the bill that took out a mandate that municipal utilities offer a payment plan for tenants who are behind in their utility bill payments. Dems wanted that mandate restored, but that didn't happen. Democrats then asked the bill be sent back to committee, which also failed. The Senate then passed the full bill, 22-10.



 5:03 PM 

Assembly backs health care apology bill

The Assembly approved a bill making statements of apology of condolence by health care providers inadmissible in medical malpractice cases.

Rep. Dana Wachs, D-Eau Claire, called the measure “yet another chapter” in the Legislature’s "assault on the court system."

“You’re carving an exception in the evidence code that's been in existence for hundreds of years,” Wachs said, adding that exception would only apply to medical professionals.

“This usurps the truth. This undercuts the courts seeking truth.”

Rep. Erik Severson, R-Star Prairie, argued that the bill would not preclude such statements from leading to an investigation of the doctors involved.

"It will open up communications between physicians and their patients," Severson said. "It is good for health care."

The bill was approved via voice vote.


 4:40 PM 

Assembly concurs in injunction bill

The Assembly has concurred in AB 161 by a 60-36 margin. As originally passed by the Assembly, the bill would have curtailed the ability for circuit court judges to enjoin newly enacted laws for lengthy periods of time. The Senate, however, passed the bill with an amendment that toned down that language, instead specifying that injunctions are immediately appealable as a matter of right.


 4:39 PM 

More Assembly pulling motions turned away

Dems have offered a slew of additional pulling motions. They include:

*AB 336, bolstering Wisconsin higher education grants;

*AB 304, providing funding for farm to school grants;

*AB 365, eliminating changes to the state's Medicaid program;

*AB 526, requiring employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant women;

*AB 529, prohibiting employment discrimination based on family status;

*AB 48, setting goals for governments to purchase products from Wisconsin-based businesses.

All were rejected with little debate.


 4:28 PM 

Senate moves (not as quickly) through non-controversial bills

It's been fairly quiet in the Senate chamber. The chamber has had some debate on a few bills that drew objections from the Dems, but aside from a bill from Sen. Frank Lasee, R-De Pere, that deals with collecting on municipal utility arrears, all Senate bills have been passed by the body and we're on the Assembly bills. Up soon should be the four anti-heroin bills from Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette.

The last bill on the calendar is that Lasee bill, which was moved to the foot of the calendar after legislators had questions about the bill and current statute.

UPDATE: The Senate has passed the four anti-heroin bills on voice votes.


 4:18 PM 

Assembly moves through non-controversial bills

Bills moved through the Assembly on quick voice votes, among others, include:

*AB 24, allowing boards of canvassers to conduct recounts by hand;

*AB 249, reducing the hourly requirement for training nurse aides;

*AB 464, which would require law enforcement officers to record weapons surrendered as part of a court order; and

*AB 689, transferring maintenance of the state’s voter list to the Government Accountability Board. The GAB had largely taken over the practice from municipalities following November elections in recent years, but had also exceeded the statutory deadline to notify inactive voters to avoid confusion with the spring election.


 3:49 PM 

Assembly Dems offer pulling motions on education bills

Democrats opened today’s regular Assembly session with a pair of pulling motions.

First, Dems sought to take up AB 377, a measure introduced last fall to establish standards for schools participating in private school choice programs.

They then moved to pull 650, which would overhaul the state’s school funding formula, to the floor.

Both failed on 38-59 votes.

In between the pulling motions, the chamber approved AB 683, which would alter licensing for electricians, by voice vote. We're now onto the day's "zoom calendar" bills.


 2:28 PM 

Assembly backs bill tweaking employer requirements

The Assembly has voted 63-34 to back AB 712, which exempts employers from requirements that they record the hours of employees who are not compensated on an hourly basis.

Dems had objected to third reading of the bill last week, and Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, urged rejection of the measure today, calling it an erosion of worker protections.

With that, we’re onto today’s regular calendar.


 2:25 PM 

Senate passes aircraft tax exemption

The Senate has passed a bill creating a sales tax exemption for aircraft maintenance, 25-7, with several Dems joining the Republicans in favor of the legislation.

Bill author Sen. Mike Ellis, R-Neenah, said the legislation was merely "leveling the playing field" with other states with sales and use tax exemptions for aircraft companies and said the bill would likely create 300 jobs statewide.

The house also defeated two amendments to the bill offered by Sen. Tim Carpenter, D-Milwaukee.


 2:07 PM 

Senate passes minimal school accountability bill

A bill that would provide performance report cards for all publicly funded schools has passed the Senate, 29-3.

Sens. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, Robert Wirch, D-Pleasant Prairie, and Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, voted against the legislation.

The bill is a sharp reduction from earlier versions, which called for sanctions on failing schools. A version along those lines is still moving through the Assembly.

Dem Sen. John Lehman, D-Racine, hammered the bill for taking out most accountability measures included in the original version and passing something that he said was "very innocuous."

"This bill started out as one thing and turned into a no-consequences bill, or a bill that changes the timing of some reporting of something that was already in the state budget," Lehman said.

"It's a disappointment, because as I said in committee, I have a fear that this is going to be sold as some kind of accountability bill, which it is not."

Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, said the bill he put forth is an accountability measure because it forces students at publicly funded schools, including voucher schools, to take the same test and ensure their scores are reported.

"I guess if the word accountability is consequences, that's a little shift in definition," Olsen said.

Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, said the report cards were a start, but chastised legislators for portraying the extreme scenarios of what the bill would do or not do when Milwaukee students are still struggling. She argued that they're not going to address failing schools if everybody is "perched in their corners."

"I don't care if you're on the Democratic or Republican side, you should be disgusted that 85 percent of the kids in Milwaukee cannot read at grade level," Taylor said.

Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, said that she wished the other senators from Milwaukee would take note of the failures of the public schools in Milwaukee as well, rather than just focusing on voucher and charter schools.


 1:37 PM 

Assembly getting started

A quorum call is underway in the Assembly. Speaker Robin Vos told reporters prior to the session that he hopes to finish today's agenda by midnight.


 1:21 PM 

Senate moves quick; passes drone bill

We've only been in session for a few minutes and the Senate is giving quick approval for SB 196, which restricts the use of unmanned drones. We're now on the stripped-down School Accountability bill, which now only relates to voucher and charter data being included in the student information system.


 8:12 AM 

Assembly, Senate to hold floor sessions

The Assembly and Senate will be both be on the floor today with lengthy calendars.

For the Assembly, this is the last week that GOP leaders plan to be in session for sure this year, though they’ve said they may be back a day or two next month to tie up loose ends. Today’s calendar includes 45 bills, one constitutional amendment and five joint resolutions.

Most of those bills passed out of committee with little or no opposition. Those that did not include an effort by some states to put a balanced budget amendment in the U.S. Constitution, barring the use in liability suits of a statement of apology or condolence from a doctor, and bills to limit liability for those whose land is used for noncommercial aviation or agricultural tourism.

The chamber will also take up a revised bill that was originally intended to undercut circuit court decisions holding up enforcement of state laws. The bill was amended in the Senate to only guarantee the state the ability to immediately appeal such a decision.

The Senate, meanwhile, has more than 40 bills on its calendar, including four written by Rep. John Nygren to combat heroin.

Others include a sales tax exemption for aircraft maintenance, a property tax exemption for nonprofit youth baseball associations and an effort to limit the use of drones.


 6:49 PM 

Dems pull student loan bill

Dems offered another pulling motion this evening, seeking to take up AB 498.

The bill would allow lenders to refinance their student loan debt, among other provisions, and was the subject of a contentious public hearing in the Assembly Colleges and Universities Committee earlier this week.

“It has become a millstone around people’s necks economically,” said Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine.

Rep. Michael Schraa, R-Oshkosh, reiterated his criticism from earlier in the week that backers of the bill were promising impossibly low interest rates.

“It’s a bogus bill,” Schraa said.

He then said the issue “really shows the financial illiteracy and ignorance of the other side,” drawing an outcry from the Dem side of the aisle and a demand for an apology from Rep. Andy Jorgensen, D-Milton.

“It was way over the top,” Jorgensen said.

We’re now informal.

UPDATE -- 6:58 p.m.: We're back in session.


UPDATE -- 7:17 p.m.: After Rep. Michael Schraa concedes he “got a little worked up” by the discussion of AB 489, he apologized to the chamber for using the term “pants on fire” in his floor speech on the pulling motion, but says he wasn’t attacking the other side with comments about “financial illiteracy.”
Schraa said he was simply frustrated by continued Dem claims on the bill and said he was worried that the issue of student loan debt was becoming political.
“All of us on this side of the aisle are just as concerned about student loan debt,” Schraa said.
After 25 minutes of debate, the pulling motion has failed on a 38-60 vote.


 6:28 PM 

Dems stall employee hours bill

Dems objected to third reading of AB 712, putting off a final vote.

The bill would exempt employers from a requirement that they record hours worked by employees not compensated on an hourly basis. It had passed the Workforce Development Committee unanimously.

The chamber has also passed AB 500, a bill from the chamber's mental health task force that would create an emergency detention pilot program in Milwaukee County.


 6:11 PM 

Dems attempt to pull infant mortality bill

Ahead of legislation aimed at screening infants for fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, Dems attempted to pull AB 754, which attempts to address infant mortality issues in the state.

Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine and the bill’s author, called the issue “a public health crisis” and that “we know how to solve it.”

The measure, introduced this week, would require the Department of Health Services to seek a federal waiver for providing MA funding to “pregnant women who face an increased risk of having a low birth weight baby, a preterm birth, or other negative birth outcome.” It would target Milwaukee, Dane, Rock, Racine and Kenosha counties, as well as an area outlined by the Great Lakes Intertribal Council.

Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, said Wisconsin is one of “the worst in the nation” for infant mortality.

“It is a blight on our state,” Barca said.

The motion failed 38-59.

The chamber then passed the fetal alcohol disorder screening bill by a voice vote.


 5:38 PM 

Assembly backs adoption, human trafficking bills

The Assembly continues to slog through its calendar, unanimously passing legislation to prohibit online advertising for adoptions and backing, via voice vote, a measure to allow for vacating of certain court actions for victims of human trafficking.


 4:36 PM 

Assembly backs small claims bill; Dems object to town zoning measure

The Assembly voted to pass AB 523 via voice vote, which would set the interest rate on monetary judgments in small claims actions at 12 percent.

Current law places that limit at the prime rate at the time plus 1 percent. Dems argued the bill was not fair to the state’s low income residents, saying it differentiated between those who could afford an attorney and those who cannot.

“This is dangerous,” said Rep. Dana Wachs, D-Eau Claire. “This kind of a precedent is nothing to set.”

Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt, R-Fond du Lac, countered the bill would help hundreds of small businesses by encouraging debtors to pay their claims.

Prior to consideration of this bill, Dems objected to third reading of AB 512, preventing a final vote. The measure would expand the requirement that county boards approve town zoning changes.


 4:14 PM 

Dems mock rubber duck bill

Several Dems chided Republicans for AB 422, which would enable raffles determined by racing rubber or plastic ducks.

Rep. Sandy Pasch, D-Shorewood, called the bill “one that will go down in Assembly infamy.”

Rep. Andy Jorgensen, D-Milton, added that an earlier attempt to pull “a jobs bill … didn’t make the cut.”

“Democrats are for jobs, Republicans are for ducks today,” Jorgensen said.

The bill passed via voice vote.


 4:05 PM 

Assembly backs eliminating exemptions for aiding felons

The Assembly has passed AB 274, which eliminates exemptions in law for family members harboring or aiding felons, on a voice vote.

Rep. Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee, praised the principle of the bill, but that he could not support it because “it goes too far.”

“We are inevitably going to be faced with examples of parents … who answer the front door to law enforcement seeking their child,” Goyke said, arguing that parents could be dragged through the criminal justice system over their natural inclination to be protective.

“There are some bad actors out there … but not every parent deserves to be charged with a crime,” Goyke said.

Dems also moved to pull AB 521 to the floor, a measure establishing a WEDC grant for small businesses to hire new employees.

“This bill fundamentally would help those small employers,” said Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha. It was shot down 37-60.


 3:25 PM 

Assembly starts fast

The Assembly is quickly moving through the non-controversial items on today’s agenda. Bills passed so far include:

*AB 288, tweaking library service payments to adjacent counties;

*AB 429, which would set standards for marriage officiants;

*AB 536, prohibiting law enforcement from tracking cell phone locations without a warrant; and

*AB 710, establishing an alert program for vulnerable adults.


 2:48 PM 

Assembly in session

Following a reception for the state of the tribes address, lawmakers have been called back into the chamber and we're about to get underway.


 2:10 PM 

New Menominee chair urges state officials to find new solution on race-based mascots, nicknames

The new chair of the Menominee Tribe urged state officials in today’s State of the Tribes address to find a new solution to the use of race-based mascots and nicknames, urging a stronger alliance to celebrate “our distinct backgrounds.”

Still, Chairwoman Laurie Boivin did not address a proposed mine in northern Wisconsin and the off-reservation casino her tribe wants to build in Kenosha, two of the most high-profile issues impacting state-tribal relations over the last two years. The casino proposal has also split the tribes with the Forest County Potawatomi and Ho-Chunk opposed to the project, which is awaiting a decision from Gov. Scott Walker.

Boivin told the Assembly chamber she would be “remiss” if she did not bring up the mascot and logo issue and the negative social impacts it has on tribal people, especially children, drawing standing ovation from Dems and tribal members in the audience.

Lawmakers recently overhauled the process for challenging race-based mascots and nicknames to make the process harder for those seeking their elimination.

Boivin noted backers of the new law believe it’s a fair and equitable standard for school districts. But she said opponents argue the new standard “actually promotes discrimination, pupil harassment and stereotyping of our Native American culture and heritage.”

“In a court of law, victims of discrimination are not required to circulate a petition to garner support to prove the action occurred. Why is it that our children are not afforded the same consideration?” she said, referencing a provision in the new law requiring those seeking to overturn a nickname or mascot to submit a petition signed by 10 percent of the district population.

She urged lawmakers to work with the tribes to find a better solution.

“Our children should not be subjected to inaccurate representations of their cultural identity,” she said.

Much of Boivin’s speech focused on the challenges facing the state’s 11 tribes, including unemployment, drugs, education, health-related issues, gangs and economic prosperity. She stressed positive developments in state-tribal relations and urged lawmakers to approve two bills: AB 31, allowing tribes to insure property under the local government property insurance fund and; and AB 32, relating to tribal treatment facility participation in the intoxicated driver program. She also appealed to lawmakers for help in improving the tribes’ health care systems.

While she did not mention the proposed mine in the Penokee Hills, she referenced “public clashes with the state on a number of high-profile natural resource issues.” She also stressed how some tribes rely on natural resources to survive. While touting tribal beliefs on preservation, Boivin also said she’s no stranger to economic develop.

“It is only with the continued dialogue that a door remains open,” she said. “In the end, we all live in this great state and we all want to do what is best for our people, both those here today and those who will walk after us. There are no boundaries for environmental impacts.”

She also mentioned the tribes’ gaming compacts in the context of the funding they produce that help deal with various issue on the reservations while also providing the state money. But she also said more money was needed to improve the health, welfare and safety of tribal communities.

“We need a continual dialogue to get more funding back to the tribes," she said.

Read her prepared remarks.


 8:15 AM 

Assembly to hold floor session following tribes speech

The Assembly will convene at 1 p.m. today for the annual state of the tribes speech.

Following the address from newly elected Menominee Chairwoman Laurie Boivin, the chamber will break before taking up a calendar that includes more than three dozen bills.

Assembly leaders have agreed to a maximum of 11 hours debate.


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

 9:06 PM 

We are adjourned

The Assembly has adjourned. It will be back in session Thursday.

State Rep. Nick Milroy adjourned in honor of state Sen. Bob Jauch, who he said was undergoing gall bladder surgery.


 8:46 PM 

Republicans reject pulling motions

Republicans have turned back a series of pulling motions, including those to take up legislation related to sand mining, judicial recusal, applying the state's Open Records Law to the state Legislature, eliminating unclassified positions and redistricting.


 8:29 PM 

Now to pulling motions

The Assembly has wrapped up work on the legislation that was on its special and regular calendars for the day.

We're now on pulling motions from Dems.


 8:28 PM 

Assembly signs off on $43 million for highway rehabilitation projects

The Assembly unanimously signed off on a bill to direct $43 million to the highway rehabilitation fund.

The guv requested the legislation to use about half of a surplus in the transportation fund through the end of this biennium to speed up more than a dozen road projects.

While the fund has a surplus in this biennium, it faces a structural deficit for the 2015-17 biennium.


 7:07 PM 

Assembly approves amendment requiring supermajority for tax hikes

The Senate voted 60-39 to support an amendment that would require supermajorities in both houses of the Legislature to approve future tax hikes.

The amendment, which would apply to the income, sales or corporate taxes, would have to pass both houses of the Legislature in back-to-back legislation sessions before it could go to voters in a referendum.

Dems complained the amendment was anti-democratic because it subverts majority control. They also argued it would embolden special interests to deny spending on key programs by influencing just one-third of either the Assembly or Senate to reject a needed increase in funding.

Rep. Sandy Pasch, D-Shorewood, said lawmakers should be worrying about making it harder to hurt the environment and infringe upon voting rights instead.

“The narrow, single-mindedness of this side of the aisle that the only thing you care about is protecting the wealthy is really making me sick because we have a responsibility to everyone,” Pasch said.

Rep. John Klenke, R-Green Bay, complained the people paying taxes should be given the opportunity to say enough is enough and force lawmakers to make tough choices. He also complained the state and federal governments has socialistic tendencies constantly taking money from one group and giving it to another.

He mockingly told his GOP colleagues to approach the bill carefully because Republicans re-took control of the state Capitol in the 2010 elections after Dems decided to raise “taxes on everything.”

“If we make it a two-thirds majority and they can’t raise taxes, how are we going to get back into power?” Klenke joked.

Author Dean Knudson, R-Hudson, said if the supermajority amendment became law, it would impact the idea the guv floated of increasing the sales tax to eliminate the income tax.


 6:20 PM 

Amendment to eliminate treasurer's office passes

The Assembly voted 67-32 to approve an amendment to eliminate the state treasurer's office.

The amendment would have to clear both houses this session and the 2015-16 session before it could go to the voters for a referendum.

Author Michael Schraa, R-Oshkosh, said if approved by voters, it would eliminate the office in January 2019, which would be the end of the term for whoever wins the office this fall. Treasurer Kurt Schuller, who ran on a platform of seeking to eliminate the office, is not seeking re-election.


 5:58 PM 

Assembly passes Walker's workforce training bill

The Assembly passed a bill that would provide $35 million for workforce training on a vote of 77-22.

Democrats criticized the plan, saying the plan was mere "crumbs" when placed against the cuts made to the Wisconsin Technical College System at the beginning of Gov. Scott Walker's term.

Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, said it made no sense to give more money to the Wisconsin Fast Forward program given its lack of action up to this point. The Wisconsin Fast Forward program was established last year with $15 million in grants for "employer-led" worker training.

"Not a single grant has been awarded for job training," Mason said, referring to the Fast Forward program. "So what do we have in front of us today? You want to give $35 million to the same people who can't figure out to give out $15 million for worker training."



 5:34 PM 

Assembly approves guv's tax plan

The Assembly voted 62-37 for the guv's plan to use almost half of the state's projected $1 billion surplus to cut property and income taxes.

Two democrats, Rep. Amy Sue Vruwink, D-Milladore, and Rep. Stephen Smith, D-Shell Lake, joined Republicans in voting for the bill.

The bill calls for cutting property taxes by pumping $406 million into the tech college levy and reducing income taxes $98.6 million by dropping the lowest bracket to 4 percent from 4.4. percent. Separately, the guv moved to change withholding tables to provide $322.6 million that taxpayers would otherwise have had to wait for in their annual refunds. 

The Assembly also added some smaller tax tweaks to the bill, including one exempting local government and non-profits from paying the sales tax on building projects.

But the bill's prospects were uncertain with continued concerns among some Senate Republicans over the $807 million structural deficit Walker's proposal would create. The bill is expected to next go to the Joint Finance Committee, where a possible compromise could be reached.

Dems portrayed the projected surplus as speculative, arguing the state should save more of it, pay off existing debts and use the bulk of it to provide property tax relief through the first dollar credit. They also denounced the changes to the alternative minimum tax as a break for the wealthy rather than helping those who most need the relief. The cost of the AMT changes is some $37.5 million in this biennium before rising in future years.

Rep. Andy Jorgensen, D-Fort Atkinson, accused Walker of an election-year gimmick meant to make a name for himself on the national stage. In doing so, he said, Republicans were intent on turning a surplus into a long-term deficit.

“If you ask me, that is irresponsible,” Jorgensen said. “That’s not how businesses run, that’s not how families budget.”

Republicans countered Dems raised taxes when they were in charge, forcing the GOP to make the tough decisions needed to balance the state budget. That work laid the groundwork for the tax cuts Republicans have already approved and are now proposing. They rejected Dem concerns about structural deficits, arguing the string of positive revenue growth reports will continue thanks for their work.

They also charged their counterparts wanted to spend the money rather than give taxpayers relief.

“We are guilty. We are guilty. We believe it’s their money, not our money, Mr. Speaker, and it’s up to them to decide what to do with it, not us here in Madison,” said Joint Finance Co-chair John Nygren, R-Marinette.


 3:58 PM 

Republicans reject Dem alternative

The Assembly voted along party lines to table the Dem alternative to the guv's tax plan.

The amendment, and several others proposed by Dems have been turned aside this afternoon as Republicans have tabled each of them.

The chamber is now on several amendments to the bill that were added in committee last week.


 1:50 PM 

Guv's tax bill up

The Assembly is now in special session and is beginning discussion on the guv's bill to cut property and income taxes.

First up is a substitute amendment from Rep. Brett Hulsey, D-Madison.


 1:21 PM 

Assembly roll being called

And away we go. Sort of.

As the roll call was poised to begin, the chamber went informal for a moment.

Heading into today's vote on the guv's tax bills, some new questions were raised about the cost of an amendment added in committee last week that would exempt from the sales tax construction components for municipal or nonprofit buildings.

Backers estimated it would cut state sales tax collections by $6 million with another $500,000 coming out of county and stadium district sales taxes. 

But the Legislative Fiscal Bureau yesterday pegged the cost at $20 million annually starting in 2015-16.

Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said the amendment would be tweaked to its original intent, which was to exempt local governments and nonprofits from paying the sales tax on those projects. He argued it was a form of property tax relief by lowering costs. The amendment removes state government from the list of those that would be exempt from paying the sales tax on components for those projects, which would take the price down to $7.5 million annually.

But the amendment and two others added in committee last week will remain as the bill moves to the Joint Finance Committee, where it is expected Assembly and Senate Republicans will work out a possible compromise.


 1:02 PM 

Senate wraps up today's calendar

After quickly passing a slew of Assembly bills, the Senate has passed the final bill on today’s docket, SB 203.

The measure would require that municipalities pay health insurance premiums for the family members of first responders killed in the line of duty. Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, had sought an amendment allowing children up to age 26 to receive premiums regardless of whether or not they are enrolled in school, and that proposal was then tweaked to apply to those not already covered through an employer.

Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, was the lone vote against the bill.

With that, the Senate has adjourned.


 12:19 PM 

Senate backs injunction legislation

The Senate has concurred in Assembly Bill 161, relating to injunctions on state laws, 18-14.

But the chamber approved a substitute amendment that would substantially water down the original legislation, instead making injunctions or other orders suspending statutes immediately “appealable as a matter of right.”

Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, called the original Assembly bill “a crazy idea which I think is totally unconscionable and unconstitutional,” but said the amendment made the measure “meaningless.”

“I don’t really know what we’re doing here other than restating the law,” Risser said. “Anything is appealable.”


 12:12 PM 

Senate moving quickly

The Senate is moving quickly through its agenda thus far, including passage of legislation allowing the Department of Health Services to approve any form of blood test for congenital disorders in newborns.


 12:01 PM 

Senate passes Fox Cities RTA bill

The Senate today voted 25-7 to pass a bill authorizing the creation of a regional transit authority in the Fox Valley.

All the no votes came from Republicans: Glenn Grothman of West Bend, Neal Kedzie of Elkhorn, Frank Lasee of De Pere, Mary Lazich of New Berlin, Joe Leibham of Sheboygan, Tom Tiffany of Hazelhurst and Leah Vukmir of Wauwatosa.

Sen. Mike Ellis, R-Neenah and the bill’s author, said the measure simply allows the citizens of the Fox Cities to vote to fund mass transit, allowing an elected board to levy taxes and accrue debt. Ellis equated the measure to other pilot projects in specific areas of the state, and said the proposal could alleviate a loss of federal transportation funding due to the region’s population.

“This will help us,” Ellis said.

Dems, meanwhile, called on senators to lobby Assembly members to move forward with the bill. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, has said the chamber will not consider the measure.

“What fairer way is there?” asked Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay. “It’s democracy in action.”

Editor's note: This post has been updated to add Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, to the list of no votes on the bill.


 11:32 AM 

Senate underway

Senate President Mike Ellis, R-Neenah, has called senators into the chamber to begin today's session.

Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, is absent, but Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, is here. Vinehout had missed previous sessions days while recovering from injuries sustained in a December car crash.


 9:29 AM 

Assembly Dems unveil details of alternative to Walker's tax plan

The Assembly Dems' alternative to the guv's tax plan would save the owner of a typical home $100 more while reducing the structural deficit by $342 million, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

Assembly Dems released the overview of their plan today ahead of the Assembly vote on Gov. Scott Walker's proposal. The guv called for cutting property taxes by pumping $406 million into the tech college levy, cutting income taxes $98.6 million and updating withholding tables for regular paychecks by $322.6 million that taxpayers would otherwise have to wait for their annual refunds to see.

The Dem plan would instead put $500 million into the first dollar credit program, which offsets school property taxes. It would also improve the state's closing balance at the end of the 2013-15 biennium to $576.5 million, which would leave a structural deficit of $465 million for the 2015-17 budget. The guv's plan would result in a structural deficit of $807 million, according to LFB.

The Dem plan would save the owner of a median-valued home, worth $151,000, $231 compared to current law; Walker's plan would knock $131 off that property tax bill.

Walker has also proposed putting $35 million into worker training programs, but Assembly Dems say their plan would triple that.

"Democrats believe we should take a balanced approach to the projected surplus -- training people for available jobs, saving more for the future and targeting more tax relief to the middle class and those struggling to become middle class,” Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, said.









 8:14 AM 

Assembly to take up tax cut proposal; Senate to consider Fox Cities RTA

The state Assembly is scheduled to take up the governor's tax cut plan today with a new estimate showing one provision lawmakers added would cost three times what they originally estimated.

Rep. Andre Jacque, R-De Pere, proposed an amendment in committee last week to Walker’s income and property tax cut that would exempt from the sales tax construction components for municipal or nonprofit buildings. Backers estimated it would cut state sales tax collections for contractors by $6 million with another $500,000 coming out of county and stadium district sales taxes.

But the Legislative Fiscal Bureau yesterday pegged the cost at $20 million annually starting in 2015-16.

Today’s special session calendar includes two bills: Walker’s tax cut, which originally carried a price tag of $504.6 million, and his proposal to pump $35 million more into worker training.

The regular session calendar includes the governor's call to speed up $43 million on state highway rehabilitation projects along with two constitutional amendments. One would eliminate the treasurer’s office, while the other would require a supermajority in the Legislature to approve tax hikes.

The state Senate, meanwhile, will also be on the floor with a calendar that includes the creation of a regional transit authority in the Fox Cities.

The Senate will also take up a watered down bill that was originally intended to create a way to place on hold injunctions circuit court judges issue knocking down state laws. The Senate substitute amendment to AB 161 instead would make any injunction or other order suspending enforcement of a statute immediately “appealable as a matter of right.”


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