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 3:25 PM 

'Upskirting' bill passes

A bill that would make it a felony to use a camera or recording device to take photos or video up a person's skirt or underneath other clothing passed on voice vote.

Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, who co-authored the bill, said the law banning "upskirting" was needed to protect people's rights and privacy. She said those who have been repeatedly arrested for such behaviour have faced light penalties and the bill would give law enforcement the tools it to prosecute such behavior.

An amendment by Rep. Fred Kessler, D-Milwaukee, to make the first offence a misdemeanor was shot down on voice vote. Kessler argued the change was needed because most who engage in upskirting are young people who could face problems for the rest of their lives if convicted of a felony for "immature" behavior.

Bill co-author Rep. Jim Ott, R-Mequon, emphasized the damage the conduct causes victims and said 18 and 25 years old offenders would be covered under provisions that allow for expungement of certain criminal records.

 2:55 PM 

Chief justice amendment passes Assembly, heads to voters

The Assembly has approved an amendment that would change the way the Supreme Court chief justice is selected.

The measure passed on a 62 to 34 party-line vote and will go before voters on the April 7th ballot.

The amendment would provide for justices to elect who serves as chief justice and replace the current seniority-based system.

Democrats argued that the move was simply an attempt to remove liberal-leaning Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson from her position, and thwarts the will of people who voted for her expecting she would serve as chief. They also said it takes the Assembly’s focus away from improving economic opportunities for citizens.

Rep. Dana Wachs, D-Eau Claire, called the move a "rush for retribution" against Abrahamson. He said if she was removed during her term, that would be a violation of her due process rights.

Rep. Andy Jorgenson, D-Fort Atkinson, said the amendment was intended to target Abrahamson.

"I wonder if there were a Chief Justice Prosser whether we would even be pondering this now," he said.

Jorgenson said the first legislation the body should take up should be about raising wages, creating jobs or expanding Medicaid.

Minority Leader Peter Barca pointed to another bill that will set a mandatory retirement age that would result in Abrahamson being forced from the court.

He said the moves amount to a "political power play" against Abrahamson, who he said was elected with the public expecting she would continue serving as chief.

Rep. Chris Taylor praised Abrahamson's performance as the first female chief justice and questioned what message approving the amendment would send to young women.

Republicans argued the amendment would bring Democracy to the selection of the chief and would bring Wisconsin in line with most other states.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said Dems were prejudging who members on the court would choose.

"You underestimate her ability to convince her colleagues why she should remain chef justice under a system of democracy," Vos said.

Vos said the members of the court electing their chief is the norm in other states.

"I've heard over and over and over the last couple of years what democracy is supposed to look like," Vos said. "Democracy is people voting for each other."

Rep. Adam Jarchow, R-Balsam Lake, said he was embarrassed by what he said was dysfunction and lack of leadership on the court.

Jarchow said the Supreme Court has tremendous power that relies on people having trust and faith in the court, which he said was at risk due to the "embarrassing and childish behavior of the court over the last few years."

He said the move would result in a less divided court and be a step in the right direction to restoring respect for the body.

Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee, responded that Abrahamson has shown "absolute leadership" and questioned how introducing politics into the court would reduce division.

Before the final vote, a series of Dem amendments were shot down on party line votes.

One would have changed the effective date of the amendment to the end of Abrahamson's current term. Another amendment would have changed the date for the public to vote on ratification to November 2016, and a final one would have had circuit court and appellate judges vote for the chief.

 1:00 PM 

Assembly called to order

The Assembly has been called to order and the roll call is under way.

Among legislation to be taken up today is the second consideration of a constitutional amendment to change the way chief justices are selected and a bill to ban "upskirting."

Members will also take up a bill that would eliminate a statutory provision made obsolete by Act 10 that references UW Hospital employees whose compensation was established in a collective bargaining agreement.

See the calendar: http://www.wispolitics.com/1006/150122AssemblyCal.pdf

 2:36 PM 

Senate approves amendment to change how chief justice selected

The Senate today signed off on a constitutional amendment changing how the Wisconsin chief justice is selected.

With 17-14 vote along party lines, the Senate sent the amendment to the Assembly, which plans to take it up Thursday. If it clears that house, it would go the voters April 7.

The post now goes to the justice with the most seniority, and Shirley Abrahamson has held it since 1996. The amendment would allow the court members to select the chief justice.

Dems warned of unintended consequences because of how the amendment was drafted. For example, they complained the amendment did not cover a series of factors such as how the election for a chief justice would be held and how the court would handle three justices seeking the post. They also circulated a memo from email from Legislative Council attorneys that if the amendment was approved by voters, the court would not have a chief justice after the results were certified until the justices held a vote.

At one point, amendment author Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, suggested the change could help the Supreme Court operate better after a “dust up” a couple of years ago, referencing a physical altercation between Justices Ann Walsh Bradley and David Prosser.

State Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, took issue with that characterization of the incident, which he noted involved Bradley accusing Prosser of placing his hands on her neck and choking her.

“A constitutional amendment won’t fix that,” Erpenbach said. “Counseling might, but a constitutional amendment won’t fix that.”

Tiffany acknowledged he didn’t have emails from constituents urging lawmakers to change how the Supreme Court justice is picked. But he said a number of them asked what was going on with the court after reports surfaced of the altercation involving Prosser and Bradley.

He insisted the amendment was not targeting Abrahamson and said he did not assume she would lose the post if the justices were allowed to vote.

“There is no effort here to try to deny someone their position,” he said.

 12:07 PM 

Senate called to order, roll underway

The Senate has been called to order, and roll is underway.

Dems have already distributed a couple of amendments to a constitutional amendment that would change how the chief justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court is picked. One would push back the referendum to November 2016. If both houses this week sign off on the amendment, which would allow justices to elect the chief justice, the amendment would go to voters April 7.

The second is a substitute amendment that would make the change effective in 2019, after Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson's current term expires.

Currently, the chief justice position is assigned via seniority, and Abrahamson has held the post since 1996.

 2:48 PM 

Senate approves rules

The state Senate signed off on the chamber's rules for the 2015-16 session 25-6 after shooting down two Dem amendments.

One sought to require a fiscal estimate for any bill that carries a criminal penalty before it could be given a third reading. The other sought to prevent committees from voting via paper ballot unless the ranking minority member agreed.

 2:36 PM 

Assembly approves rules along party lines

The Assembly approved new rules to govern the 2015-16 session along party lines after majority Republicans shot down several Dem amendments.

Dems sought to require two weeks before a bill that clears committee can be put on the floor calendar, require public notice of at least one week for a public hearing and allow the display of signs in the gallery that are no more than 8.5 inches by 11 inches.

The latter has been a point of contention with Dems after majority Republicans moved to ban signs in the gallery following the debates over Act 10 in 2011.

Freshman Rep. Lisa Subeck, D-Madison, complained guns are allowed in the chamber, but signs aren’t.

“If one values the Second Amendment, you must also value the First Amendment,” she said.

Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, told the chamber the rules are designed to build on last session, which he said was smoother and less rancorous than the previous one.

The rules were approved 62-36.

 1:31 PM 

Tweaks to proposed rules drop specifics on time limits, motion to refer

Assembly Republicans this afternoon announced tweaks to their proposed rule changes to govern the session, dropping a reference to specific minimum time limits for debates on bills.

GOP leaders last week began circulating the proposed rules, which included five changes. One called for allowing the Rules Committee to establish time limits on debate. The majority and majority would each be guaranteed at least 30 minutes for final passage and adoption unless leaders agreed to a different limit. Another provision called for creating a new rule that would limit debate to 10 minutes on any motion referring legislation to committee. 

The revised version released today dropped allowing the Rules Committee, which Republicans control, to establish time limits. Instead, the new proposal only calls for the majority and minority leader to meet and adopt "reasonable recommendations for time limits." The provision limiting debate on motions to refer was dropped.

Other changes include putting into rules a new procedure for ending debate if the time limits have expired. A member would be allowed to move that all pending amendments be tabled en masse. It would not be debatable and if approved, the body would have to move to the main question without further debate. The process was included in a memorandum of understanding Dem and GOP leaders reached for the 2013-14 session, but would be new to the chamber rules.

The new rules also give the speaker two more appointments to the Rules Committee and change the definition of a partisan caucus. Republicans said it would allow leadership from both parties to meet, including in private, for discussions. That has raised concerns that it would carve out a new exemption to the state's open meeting laws.

But Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, told reporters the Senate has operated that way for five years without complaints from the media and the Assembly should enjoy the same opportunity for frank discussion. He noted discussions over the rules were hampered by quorum rules that meant only three members of the Rules Committee could be in the room at any time to negotiate. He also said the change would allow leadership from both parties to get together for a retreat, which he said had been discussed.

"In any work place, you want to get together and you want to say how can the place work better and toss out ideas," Vos said. "Sometimes the ideas aren’t good. Sometimes they aren’t bad. But you will want to have an open discussion.

Vos said leggie leaders planned to continue meeting over the next week to reach a new memorandum of understanding that would address other details not covered in the rules. Speaker Pro Tempore Tyler August, R-Lake Geneva, said that agreement would likely deal with specifics on time limits.

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