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2015-16 Legislature: Printable directory | Leadership rosters | New faces

 4:08 PM 

Senate signs off on union contracts

The Senate unanimously approved contracts the Walker administration reached with the Wisconsin State Attorneys Association and Wisconsin State Building Trades Negotiating Committee.

The contracts, which include 1 percent general wage adjustments with retroactive pay to June 29, now head to the guv’s desk.

Most state employees got pay increases of 1 percent in 2013 and 2014, though the Walker administration is not proposing raises for the next two years.

 4:01 PM 

Senate approves requiring annual reports on UW students taking remedial courses

The Senate signed off on legislation that would require annual reports from the UW System on the number of students on its campuses who were required to take remedial courses in English or math in the prior year.

The bill, approved via voice vote, has already cleared the Assembly and next heads to the guv's desk.

The bill would require UW to identify only those high schools with more than six students who were required to take remedial courses. The threshold of six students was added to the bill to minimize the possibility students could be identified from the reports.

 3:19 PM 

Senate approves repeal of 48-hour waiting period

The Senate approved via voice vote to sign off on repealing the state's 48-hour waiting period for handgun purchases.

Dems proposed several amendments that were found non-germane because they expanded the scope of the bill.

That includes one from Sen. Nikiya Dodd Harris, D-Milwaukee, to implement universal background checks on gun purchases. She said she was sick of watching the Legislature sit on the sidelines while people in her community die from gun deaths.

“If you have the power to prevent one senseless death, would you do so? How about the power to stop one, two, maybe even hundreds of homicides that have occurred across this state the last few years. I don’t think that’s asking for a lot,” Harris Dodd said, growing emotional as she named children who have died in Milwaukee as a result of gun violence.

Dems argued cooling off periods create a safety guard. Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, said a constituent called to say the 48-period helped save his mother’s life because it prevented a family member who was having mental health issues from getting a gun to harm his mother. In the two-day period, the family was able to intervene.

But Sen. Van Wanggard, R-Racine, said a Mt. Pleasant woman who sought a handgun to protect herself and her two kids from her estranged husband in 1991 was told she would have to wait two days for the firearm she wanted. The next day, her husband killed her and their two children.

Wanggard said waiting periods puts domestic violence victims at risk by making them wait to protect themselves and argued there was no evidence that a waiting period cuts crime rates.

 2:25 PM 

Farrow gets leave of absence for swearing-in ceremony

State Sen. Paul Farrow is getting well wishes from colleagues as he leaves the debate early to head for his swearing-in ceremony as Waukesha County exec.

Farrow, R-Pewaukee, was granted a leave of absence for the rest of the day. Appeals Court Judge Mark Gundrum, a former GOP lawmaker, is scheduled to administer the oath during a ceremony at the Waukesha County Courthouse.

 2:07 PM 

Senate starts debate on repeal of 48-hour waiting period for hand gun purchases

The state Senate has started debate on SB 35, which would eliminate the 48-hour waiting period for hand gun purchases.

Under current law, a federally licensed firearm dealer must submit a background request to DOJ as part of a handgun sale. The dealers must then wait 48 hours after receiving notice from the DOJ the customer is not prohibited from possessing a firearm to complete the sale.

The legislation would wipe out the 48-hour waiting period. It also would give the Department of Justice five days to complete the background check; the bill was amended after originally giving the state three days. 

On average, those checks take 4 hours, 13 minutes, according to DOJ numbers cited by the office of state Sen. Van Wanggaard, one of the bill's co-authors.

 2:04 PM 

Senate signs off on Uber bill

The Senate has signed off via voice vote on the Uber bill, clearing the way for it to head to the guv's desk.

Dems complained the legislation was giving special treatment to companies such as Uber and Lyft while treating traditional cab companies differently. Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, said he appreciated the new services companies like Uber and Lyft provide. Still, he questioned why Republicans were bowing to multi-billion-dollar companies located out of state while putting cab companies based in Wisconsin at a disadvantage.

"You are saying to them what they do doesn’t matter anymore,” Erpenbach said. “There’s a new sheriff in town.”

But Sen. Paul Farrow, R-Pewaukee and one of the bill's co-authors, countered the new service is a reflection of what young people want.

"The millenials want flexibility," Farrow said.

 1:07 PM 

Senate starts debate on Uber bill

The state Senate has begun debate on legislation that would create a state-wide license for ridesharing companies such as Uber and Lyft to operate in the state.

The companies, which hook up riders and drivers through smartphone apps, would be regulated by the state Department of Safety and Professional services under AB 143. The legislation would also prohibit local governments from imposing their own regulations of the company.

The Senate shot down a Dem amendment that would have eliminated the pre-emption provision. Madison's City Council three weeks ago approved an ordinance to allow the companies to operate in the city, but with stringent regulations. Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, complained Republicans used to back local control, but were bowing to a special interest.

Risser also sought to require ridesharing companies to fingerprint employees.

But Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, countered the amendment failed to recognize the drivers are not employees. They are independent contractors. He also argued the industry has changed from the old taxi model and the legislation was a matter of the government trying to catch up with the times.

"It’s a different experience, and that's what we’re doing here today," Fitzgerald said. "We’re trying to adapt to the new service and a new technology that I think is kind of changing the scene in the way that service is delivered."

Drivers for the companies are not employees but instead pay the company a fee to be a part of the digital network, and the state would not license the driver under the legislation. Ridesharing employees would not be classified in the same way as cab drivers under the bill.

Provisions in the bill include:

*requiring companies to do background checks on drivers and have them carry a $1 million insurance policy.

*imposing a zero-tolerance on drug and alcohol use by drivers.

*requiring disclosure of pricing methods.

*treating the drivers differently than taxi companies. For example, the companies wouldn’t have to provide service around the clock or in all areas of a community and could institute peak pricing.

 12:28 PM 

Senate confirms appointments, some Dems object to Huebsch move to PSC

The Senate approved all of the appointments before it today, though Mike Huebsch's move to the PSC drew opposition from a handful of Dems.

Most of the other appointments, including Ray Allen to head DFI, were unanimous, but the Huebsch vote was 28-5.

Gov. Scott Walker appointed Huebsch, who had been serving as his DOA secretary, to the three-member board that oversees utilities.

Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, knocked Huebsch over comments he made about climate change during a committee hearing that "the elimination of essentially every automobile would be offset by one volcano exploding."

Huebsch later acknowledged his statement was incorrect, and Hansen said the former secretary apologized for the comments in their meeting. 

"I'm concerned he is not the right fit for this position," Hansen said. "The role of a commissioner at the PSC is critical at a time when Governor Walker is doing everything he can to shut down the renewable industry in favor of coal."

Sen. Tim Carpenter, D-Milwaukee, used Huebsch's appointment to slam the PSC, which he called a joke, and a move by the Joint Finance Committee to eliminate a state subsidy for a group that advocates on behalf of ratepayers. He complained the agency has been biased on behalf of business.

"They're doing a great job of representing people who have power, businesses that go ahead and get better rates than consumers," Carpenter said.

New Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, voted against the appointment of Kevin Shafer or Fox Point to the Great Lakes Protection Fund. He did not explain his reasoning before the vote.

 12:08 PM 

Stroebel formally sworn in

New Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, was formally sworn in today, filling the 20th District that was left open when Glenn Grothman resigned the seat to join Congress.

Appeals Court Judge Mark Gundrum, a former GOP state rep, administered the oath of office.

Stroebel joining the Senate puts the GOP majority back at 19-14.

He thanked his family, friends and supporters who turned out, noting his new colleagues understand making a commitment to the state Senate is not "just about you."

"I certainly have such a great regard for all these people and the sacrifices they have made to see that I can be here, doing what I'm doing," Stroebel said.

 8:38 AM 

Handgun waiting period, rideshare licensing on Senate calendar today

The state Senate will be on the floor today to vote on legislation eliminating the 48-hour waiting period for handgun purchases and creating a statewide license for rideshare companies such as Uber and Lyft. 

The gun bill, SB 35, would next go to the Assembly. 

The rideshare bill, AB 143, already passed by the Assembly, would next go to the guv's desk. The bill would also preempt local ordinances regulating companies like Uber and Lyft while setting statewide standards for the insurance drivers would have to carry. 

There were two changes to the proposed calendar. Senate Joint Resolution 30, which designates May as Building Safety Month, was added to the calendar. While SB 73, which would tweak what registers of deeds have to do with plats and certified survey maps, was replaced by its Assembly companion. AB 82 cleared the Assembly last month. 

See the calendar: http://wispolitics.com/1006/_150420Senate.pdf 

 6:04 PM 

Rideshare bill clears Assembly

A bill that would create a statewide license for rideshare companies such as Uber and Lyft passed the Assembly, 79-19.

Under the bill, a transportation network company can purchase a license to operate in the state. The state Department of Safety and Professional Services would oversee the licensing.

Drivers for the companies are not employees but instead pay the company a fee to be a part of the digital network. The state would not license the driver.

The companies are similar to taxis except drivers hail the rides through cellphone apps and cannot pay cash for the service. The drivers, under the bill, would not be classified in the same way as cab drivers.

Some Assembly Dems sought more regulations, such as vehicle inspections, to ensure consumer protection and put those drivers more in line with cab operators.

"This is just basic stuff," said Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison. "It's not that hard."

The bill would require background checks on drivers and insurance coverage.

Bill author Tyler August, R-Lake Geneva, said he has worked on the legislation for a year, and it is a response to the market.

"I think the biggest thing we need to remember is these companies aren't going anywhere," he said.

 5:33 PM 

Rideshare bill debate continues

The Assembly is continuing debate over a bill that would create a statewide license for rideshare companies such as Uber and Lyft.

Republicans shot down multiple Dem amendments, such as one that called for the state to pay a portion of rideshare company licensing fees to communities where the businesses operate. 

Two amendments, proposed by Republicans, made the cut. The first related to how the rideshare companies would operate at airports, and the second dealt with, among other things, insurance payments for drivers.

The debate now has shifted to passage of the bill.

 3:19 PM 

Dems push anti-discrimination resolution

Assembly Republicans accused Dems of playing "gotcha" and politics today in introducing an anti-discrimination resolution.

The resolution stems from Indiana's so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act. That law has led to claims of discrimination based on sexual orientation and religion.

Assembly Dems, in the resolution, sought agreement that Wisconsin leaders would not approve or endorse discrimination and would protect all civil rights. And in seeking that agreement, Rep. Andy Jorgensen, D-Milton, went on the offensive, questioning multiple Republicans about whether they would bring forth legislation similar to that in Indiana.

"We can take comfort in the knowledge that that won't happen here, right?" Jorgensen said.

Several Republicans refused to respond to Jorgensen until Rep. Alvin Ott, R-Forest Junction, fired back, calling the resolution and Jorgensen's questioning "gamesmanship" and "immature." Ott said he does not know if Indiana-style legislation would appear in Wisconsin.

"But I do know you're making a mockery of the issue as you're presenting it today," he said.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, also took issue with the resolution and the Dems' approach, particularly what he described as "listening to you berate individuals about introducing a bill."

Vos said the state constitution already protects religious freedoms.

"In the end, it's not going to happen in Wisconsin," Vos said.

 2:44 PM 

Assembly signs off on employee contracts

The Assembly unanimously approved contract agreements the Walker administration reached with the Wisconsin State Attorneys Association and Wisconsin State Building Trades Negotiating Committee.

Both contracts include 1 percent general wage adjustments with retroactive pay to June 29.

Most state employees got pay increases of 1 percent in 2013 and 2014, though the Walker administration is not proposing raises for the next two years.

 2:32 PM 

Assembly unanimous in supporting ag vehicle bill

The Assembly passed with a 99-0 vote a bill that would redefine the statutory weight and size limits for certain agricultural vehicles on highways.

The bill, which clarifies previously passed legislation, would expand increased weight limits for many of those vehicles and allow for more of them to receive no-fee permits for traveling on highways in certain circumstances. The bill also would eliminate width limits for many of the vehicles.

“It’s basically just a cleanup trailer bill,” AB 113 author Rep. Keith Ripp, R-Lodi, said before the floor session.

 2:30 PM 

Variable interest-rate bill clears Assembly

Lenders can make variable-rate loans with lower, discounted initial interest rates under a bill the Assembly passed via voice vote.

Current law imposes on variable-rate loans several requirements, including that if rate adjustments correspond to an index, that index must be approved. Those adjustments, under current law, must correspond to the index’s upward and downward changes, except in certain circumstances.

AB 24 grants lenders an additional circumstance during which they can break from an approved index. During the initial interest-rate period, under the bill, provisions of the current law do not apply.

Large, federally sanctioned banks already have that freedom, AB 24 author Terry Katsma, R-Oostburg, said prior to the floor session.

“This levels the playing field for small, community banks,” he said

The bill also eliminates the provision that interest-rate decreases may be limited only if interest-rate increases are limited at least to the same extent.

 2:26 PM 

Assembly passes financial institutions bill

The Assembly approved through voice vote a bill that would prevent people from filing lawsuits against banks, credit unions or savings and loans over financial transactions without having a signed agreement laying out terms of the deal.

The bill, AB 23, would require, among other things, a commitment for a loan or a delay in repayment from a financial institution be in writing, with an authorized signature and terms and conditions laid out, before someone could bring a lawsuit. The Assembly amended the bill by refining the types of institutions and making it clear that the change does not apply to the issuance of credit cards.

But Rep. Gary Hebl, D-Sun Prairie, raised bill is a bad idea.

"It allows banks, financial institutions, to use predatory bait-and-switch tactics," he said.

But bill author Rep. David Craig, R-Big Bend, disagreed.

"There are a number of statutes at the federal and state levels that already govern and protect consumers," he said.

The bill does not apply to credit transactions that are subject to the Wisconsin Consumer Act.

 2:06 PM 

Microbeads bill closer to guv's desk

A microbeads prohibition bill passed the Assembly on a voice vote, clearing the way for the proposal to head to the governor’s office.

The bill would ban the manufacture of personal-care products containing microbeads beginning Dec. 31, 2017. It would ban the sale of those products beginning Dec. 31, 2018.

“We set a timeline that works for everyone,” AB 15 co-author Rep. Mary Czaja, R-Irma, said prior to the floor session. The Assembly took up the companion SB 15 during the floor session.

Microbeads are small, nonbiodegradable, plastic particles that are used to give products, such as dental merchandise, an abrasive quality. But they can slip through sewerage district filters and into waterways, raising concerns about pollution and threats to wildlife.

“It’s not often easy to do the right thing environmentally like we are doing today,” AB 15 co-author Rep. Joel Kitchens, R-Sturgeon Bay, said before the floor session.

 1:53 PM 

Stolen Valor bill clears Assembly

A bill that would make it illegal to falsely claim military service or honors for personal gain cleared the Assembly on a voice vote.

“This bill really is about protecting those who have protected us,” AB 114 author Rep. David Steffen, R-Green Bay, said prior to the floor session.

Under the bill, a person who makes the false claim is guilty of a class A misdemeanor. The crime becomes a class H felony if the claim is used to commit or aid another crime.

Steffen said a former U.S. Marine in the FBI brought the problem to his attention because federal courts were struggling to process cases that involved such claims.

 12:57 PM 

Transportation advocates call for rejection of Uber bill unless significant changes

Ahead of today's debate on the bill, a coalition of transportation advocates today called on lawmakers to reject legislation that would create a statewide license for rideshare companies such as Uber and Lyft.

The Wisconsin Coordinated Transportation Cooperative, led by longtime lobbyist Gary Goyke, argued the bill gives special treatment to companies such as Uber and Lyft while questioning whether the benefits backers claim -- such as increased service options in rural areas -- will come to fruition.

Under the bill, the Department of Safety and Professional Services would oversee the industry, which often operates through smart phone applications that are used to arrange rides. Companies would have to meet certain safety standards, including things like insurance requirements and a zero tolerance policy for drivers using alcohol or other intoxicants while logged into the ridesharing network.

Goyke questioned why oversight was given to DSPS, which the guv wants to merge with another agency, rather than the Department of Transportation. He also the rideshare companies did not face the same requirements as traditional taxi and limousine services for things like insurance and urged lawmakers to take out a provision that would pre-empt local ordinances regulating the industries.

"If rules are the same for all transportation companies in the state regardless of your trendy application, then yes," Goyke said when asked if any changes could be made that would win the group's support.

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