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

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

 5:20 PM 

Standalone or budget?

Committee Chairman Andre Jacque said after the exec that Gov. Scott Walker's announcement that he would sign prevailing wage repeal legislation is a potential "game-changer."

The De Pere Republican said he expects there soon will be a GOP caucus discussion about whether AB 32 is headed to the budget or if it will be standalone legislation.

"We'll see what takes place with a rapidly evolving issue," Jacque said.

 5:13 PM 

Prevailing wage repeal clears committee

The Assembly's Labor Committee approved AB 32 with a 5-4 vote.

Rep. John Spiros, R-Marshfield, joined committee Dems in opposing the bill, which would repeal the state, local and highway prevailing wage.

Committee member Rep. John Kulp, R-Stratford, caused a moment of tension by pausing before voting in favor of the bill. Kulp had said earlier he was not looking forward to the vote.

 5:07 PM 

Sinicki speaks again, Kuglitsch groans

Rep. Christine Sinicki is speaking for the second time against repeal of prevailing, prompting a groan from Rep. Mike Kuglitsch.

The groan followed Chairman Andre Jacque announcing that all three Dems on the committee wanted to comment.

Sinicki, D-Milwaukee, called out Kuglitsch on the groan. The New Berlin Republican said it was his stomach.

 4:52 PM 

Kulp a reluctant yes vote for repeal

Committee member Bob Kulp, a co-sponsor of AB 32, said he is not excited about the upcoming vote but that he will side with repeal.

"Frankly, this is a vote I would rather not take today," the Stratford Republican said.

Kulp, a roofing contractor, said he has heard mixed reactions to repeal from construction companies in his district. He said full passage of repeal will disrupt the construction industry for years until the market corrects itself.

If it doesn't pass, Kulp said, he hopes there could be discussion about "meaningful reform."

"I'm going to make enemies," he said, "buy a vote one way or another."

 4:44 PM 

Spiros intends to vote against repeal

GOP committee member Rep. John Spiros announced he will vote against repeal of prevailing wage.

Spiros, of Marshfield, said repeal is just not a top issue in his district.

"My vote's going to be no," Spiros said, "because I'm looking at it from a reform standpoint rather than a repeal standpoint."

 4:40 PM 

Jacque defends call for repeal

Committee Chairman Andre Jacque, responding to Dem criticisms of AB 32, defended the push for repeal of prevailing wage.

"Prevailing wage, as it exists now," the De Pere Republican said, "is not something we would create now."

Jacque said prevailing wage has been an important topic for him for years, going back to his days in local government in Green Bay and Brown County.

"This is something that I have heard a lot about from my constituents," he said.

Jacque was responding to Rep. Christine Sinicki, who criticized Jacque for giving only 24 hours notice of the hearing and exec. She said the quick turnaround for the bill is designed to get it into the budget.

"I'm actually amazed at the amount of people who did get wind of it," Sinicki said.

 1:55 PM 

Testimony nears the halfway point

The Assembly Labor Committee is nearing the halfway point of testimony.

Terry McGowan, president of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 139, is testifying against repeal of prevailing wage.

 11:52 AM 

Spokeswoman: Walker would sign full repeal of prevailing wage

Gov. Scott Walker, who has been taking criticism from conservatives for not being more engaged in the fight over prevailing wage, would sign a full repeal, a spokeswoman said today.

The announcement comes on the heels of an editorial in the Wall Street Journal that proclaimed Walker "has been silent as he contemplates a White House run" and "Wisconsin Republicans have been losing their reform momentum" since Walker's first term. The editorial was also critical of Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester.

"Governor Walker has been working with members of the Legislature for weeks on the issue of prevailing wage and would sign a full repeal," spokeswoman Laurel Patrick wrote in an email. "This is one of a number of important issues that he is working with legislators on for the budget."

 11:44 AM 

Construction exec defends prevailing wage

The president of a Menomonee Falls-based construction company is defending the state's prevailing wage, saying it pays for training and helps him find workers who will stick with the company.

Brian Mitchell, president of Choice Construction Companies Inc., said his company is union primarily because of the training. That training, he said, is paid for at least partially through prevailing wages.

If the Legislature passes AB 32 and repeals prevailing wage, Mitchell said, apprentice rates will go down. On top of that, he said, he will have a harder time finding people who are willing to put down roots in a community.

"We seem to be hell-bent on lowering wages," Mitchell said, "and that isn't going to help me attract employees."

 10:49 AM 

Dems question ABC president

Dems are questioning the president of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin, which commissioned a study prevailing wage repeal proponents use as justification for their position.

That Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance study found, among other things, flaws in the way the state calculates prevailing wages. It also suggested state and local governments could save millions on public projects if prevailing wages more accurately reflected market rates, particularly in northern and rural parts of Wisconsin.

"We believe Wisconsin's system of determining prevailing wage is fundamentally flawed," ABC President John Mielke said during testimony.

Labor Committee Dems pointed out several times that ABC commissioned the study, and Rep. Christine Sinicki, D-Milwaukee, said such studies tend to lean toward those who pay for them.

Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, compared the Taxpayers Alliance report to a Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo that showed, according to Mason, prevailing wage repeal would have "indeterminate or no state or local effect." Mason questioned why an association that represents businesses would support a bill that would drive down wages and the availability of laborers.

He also called Mielke's viewpoint a "deeply flawed assumption of cost saving, which Fiscal Bureau won't verify."

Mielke said he supports taxpayers paying market rates and that prevailing wages are inflated versions of those rates. He said his organization, which represents many nonunion companies, has been fighting prevailing wage laws for at least 20 years.

"We believe repealing prevailing wage is better for the taxpayer," Mielke said, citing anomalies and instances when unskilled workers make more under prevailing wage laws than skilled employees.

 9:38 AM 

Hutton, Vukmir kick off the testimony

The authors of companion bills calling for full repeal of prevailing wage are first up with testimony.

Rep. Rob Hutton, R-Brookfield, and Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, are testifying in defense of AB 32 and SB 49. The Senate version of the bill failed to clear a committee earlier this month.

Both authors, citing various studies, are emphasizing the potential to save millions of dollars if prevailing wage is repealed. Vukmir called the state law an "enormous unfunded mandate from state government.

"The issue of prevailing wage is crucial to the fiscal health of local and state governments," she said.

Hutton said prevailing wage discriminates against construction companies that cannot afford to pay an "artificial market rate" on public projects.

"With this legislation," he said, "Wisconsin will join 19 other states free of prevailing wage laws."

 9:27 AM 

Dems question support for bill

The hearing began with Dems questioning whether there is backing in the GOP caucus for full repeal of the state's prevailing wage.

"It's my understanding," said Rep. Christine Sinicki, D-Milwaukee, "there is not support to pass full repeal."

And if there isn't support, she said, then a daylong public hearing amounts to a waste of time.

But committee Chairman Andre Jacque, R-De Pere, disagreed.

"I do believe there is support for this," he said, "otherwise I would not be bringing it forward."

Both Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, have said they do not have the votes for full repeal.

 9:07 AM 

Here we go

The Assembly's Labor Committee is calling roll for a public hearing on full repeal of the state's prevailing wage.

The hearing room is packed.

 9:00 AM 

Dems blast push for prevailing wage repeal

Assembly Dems today slammed Labor Committee Republicans for "ramming through" a bill that would repeal the state's prevailing wage.

GOP members of the committee, the Dems said, gave only 24 hours notice on the day after a holiday that there would be a public hearing on repeal, showing that the only goal is to force the bill through in time for inclusion in the budget this week.

"This is about cramming a very controversial bill through as fast as possible," said committee member Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine.

He later added that there has been no talk of a substitute amendment that would change the law rather than repeal it.

"This is not a committee that seems set on deliberation," Mason said.

And the timing of the bill could not be worse for the state's middle class, said Rep. Tod Ohnstad, D-Kenosha.

"Now we've got a new idea," he said, "and the new idea is to lower the wages of workers in Wisconsin."

The Labor Committee was scheduled to start a hearing on AB 32 at 9 a.m. The bill would repeal Wisconsin's state, local and highway prevailing wage laws. The committee is scheduled to exec the bill today immediately after the hearing.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

 9:00 AM 

Assembly committee to take up prevailing wage repeal

A bill calling for repeal of the state's prevailing wage will get a public hearing and executive session in the Assembly's Labor Committee tomorrow.

The hearing on AB 32 will kick off at 9 a.m. with the exec to follow. Depending on the number of speakers, the committee chairman could place a time limit on testimony.

 6:52 PM 

Assembly signs off on speed limit bill

A bill to raise the speed limit on many freeways to 70 mph is headed to the guv’s desk following the Assembly’s concurrence. 

AB 27 includes an amendment, added by a Senate committee, restricting the higher speed limit to highways that use interchanges and do not have at-grade crossings. The Senate approved the bill via voice vote.

 6:50 PM 

GPS bill passes in Assembly

A bill that would make it a Class A misdemeanor to place a GPS device on another person’s vehicle without authorization is going to the guv.

The Assembly concurred on the bill.

Under AB 19, it also would be illegal to use a GPS to follow a person’s movement or obtain that person’s location. The bill offers exceptions for parents using GPS devices on their ward’s vehicles, lawmakers acting within their official capacities, lienholders seeking repossession of vehicles and business owners tracking their vehicles.

The bill’s definition of “device” includes any item, such as a cellphone, that has global-positioning capabilities.

 6:48 PM 

Drug testing for unemployment clears Assembly

A bill that mirrors the guv’s budget proposal to require DWD drug test some claimants of unemployment compensation drew Assembly approval on a 63-32 vote.

Rep. Adam Neylon, R-Pewaukee, voted against the bill, and Reps. Chris Danou, D-Trempealeau, and Nick Milroy, D-South Range, voted in favor.

AB 192 would establish drug testing and treatment requirements similar to those established for work-training programs in AB 191. As in the work-training bill, AB 192 would allow one additional failed test for those who enter substance-abuse treatment.

The guv attached an emergency statement to the bill. That lets a bill that carries a state expense to pass prior to budget approval.

The bill calls for setting aside $500,000 for the treatment program.

Dems, as they argued during debate on an earlier drug testing bill, insisted the proposal is a waste of money.

“We are spending money we don’t have,” said Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha. “And we are not spending it cost-effectively.”

The testing of unemployment claimants, though, would be limited to people for whom suitable work is available only in an occupation that drug tests as a condition of regular employment and is listed in federal regulations.

The federal government also approved such drug testing, but only for the specific occupations. Those federal regulations have not been finalized, meaning even if the guv signs the bill, implementation most likely would have to wait until the feds release the official rules.

Under the bill, DWD would screen those who fall into those occupations and drug test when there is “reasonable suspicion.” Eligibility for unemployment benefits for those people would hinge on their agreement to submit to a test. If they fail the test, eligibility would depend on their entering a treatment program and not failing more than one more random test.

If someone refuses the test, the benefits would be withheld for at least 52 weeks.

If a state goes beyond federal regulations for drug testing, it risks losing grants for unemployment insurance system administration and tax credits for employers.

AB 192 includes a provision to let the DWD secretary not comply with the law if compliance would create that risk.

Bill author Rep. Mike Rohrkaste, R-Neenah, has characterized the bill as an attempt to help people as they prepare to re-enter the workforce. He said that during 30 years in human resources he saw many instances of people who reached the interview process but then lost out on work because they failed a drug test.

 6:31 PM 

Dem amendments fail

Dems failed to amend a bill that would require drug testing for some unemployment compensation claimants.

The amendments would have required lawmakers submit to drug tests and the language in the bill be changed from "reasonable suspicion" to "probable cause" as the trigger for drug testing following screening.

The debate now has shifted to passage of AB 192.

 6:09 PM 

On to drug testing for unemployment benefits

The Assembly now shifts to the second of two drug testing bills on the calendar.

AB 192 would require screening for substance abuse and drug testing for some claimants of unemployment compensation.

Dems are pushing an amendment that would require lawmakers submit to drug testing during the first year of each term in office. Republicans have called the amendment not germane to the bill.

Rep. Andy Jorgensen, D-Milton, said he has heard lawmakers say they would not have a problem with such a requirement. He said that now is the moment for those lawmakers to put on their "big-boy pants."

 6:00 PM 

Drug testing for work programs passes Assembly

A GOP bill that would require drug testing for some applicants for work-training programs passed the Assembly on a 62-33 vote.

Rep. Adam Neylon, R-Pewaukee, voted against the bill, and Rep. Chris Danou, D-Trempealeau, voted in favor.

Dems did not have time to debate passage of the bill, having focused instead on pushing AB 101, which offers an alternative way for the state to take federal Medicaid money.

Bill author Rep. Mike Rohrkaste, R-Neenah, said the bill is not meant to humiliate people or make it more difficult for them to get back to work. Rather, he said, the opposite is true.

"To me, this bill is a way out for people with substance-abuse issues," he said.

AB 191, which mirrors a budget proposal by Gov. Scott Walker, would require anyone who applies for work-training programs such as W-2, Transitional Jobs or Transform Milwaukee Jobs complete a questionnaire to screen for abuse of controlled substances. If the Department of Children and Families or an agency it contracts with determines screening shows the possibility of drug abuse, the applicant then would take a drug test.

If the test is positive for controlled substances, and the applicant does not have a prescription, the only way to remain eligible for the work-training program would be to enter substance-abuse treatment, which would be paid for by DCF. Those in the program would be allowed one additional failed test.

The guv attached an emergency statement to the bill. That lets a bill that carries a state expense to pass prior to budget approval.

AB 191 would set aside $500,000 for the treatment program.

The bill also would introduce similar drug testing and treatment for some enrollees in the FoodShare employment and training program. But that uses federal money and would require a waiver before DHS could institute the testing.

 5:49 PM 

Clock running down on drug-testing bill debate

Dems have just finished their push to suspend rules and take up AB 101, a bill that offers an alternative way for the state to accept federal Medicaid money.

The motion failed 62-33.

There is about eight minutes left to debate AB 191, which would require drug testing for some applicants to work-training programs.

 4:58 PM 

Blow that horn

Someone is blowing a horn just outside the Assembly chambers.

And while the horn blows, Dems push for a suspension of rules to take up AB 101, which offers an alternative way for the state to accept federal Medicaid money.

"This bill would save hundreds of millions of dollars over the biennium," said Rep. Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit.

While Dems push that motion, though, the clock ticks on the debate time for AB 191, which would establish drug testing for some applicants of work-training programs. The Assembly's minority and majority leaders agreed prior to the floor session to allow an hour and a half for debate on AB 191.

 4:29 PM 

FoodShare bill passes Assembly

Impassioned debate got Assembly Dems nowhere as a bill that restricts the uses of the state’s food-stamp system cleared the floor on a 60-35 vote.

Republicans Adam Neylon, of Pewaukee, and Jessie Rodriguez, of Franklin, joined Dems in voting against the bill.

Under AB 177, DHS would require that not less than 67 percent of enrollees’ monthly purchases under the state’s FoodShare program fall into specific nutritional categories outlined by WIC, a federal list of foods for women, infants and children. DHS also would prevent the use of the food-stamp system to purchase shellfish.

The guv attached an emergency statement to the bill. That lets a bill that carries a state expense pass prior to budget approval.

The bill’s fiscal note predicts the change to the system would cost the state but labels that amount “indeterminate.” The note cites an evaluation of a Massachusetts system and draws from that study a potential cost of $55.6 million for retailer infrastructure changes.

The bill calls for reimbursing retailers for their initial implementation costs.

Dems repeatedly pointed out the cost to the state at a time of budget cuts to K-12 and the UW System.

“It is going to cost a lot of money,” said Rep. Gary Hebl, D-Sun Prairie. “And where is it coming from? We don’t have it here.”

If the guv signs the bill, the state still would need a federal waiver to implement the law because it takes federal WIC standards and applies them to the state system. Other states have sought such waivers for similar programs, but the feds have not granted one.

Dems insisted several times the bill will not receive a waiver. Rep. Andy Jorgensen, D-Milton, said the GOP has an ulterior motive.

“It’s a distraction from a terrible, Dumpster fire of a budget,” he said. “Your budget.”

Bill author Rep. Robert Brooks, R-Saukville, has said it is a bipartisan proposal that would curb such abuses as someone using the FoodShare system to buy $62 worth of jelly beans. His defense of the bill drew bipartisan applause on the floor.

As for comments about the budget, Brooks said, “We may have a crap budget, but we’ll make the budget better.”

He went on to dispute arguments that the bill sets different standards for certain people.

“To say that I’m demonizing poor people is wrong,” Brooks said.

Dems and other groups also have claimed the bill would harm businesses, threaten jobs and put checkout clerks in difficult positions of telling people what they can and cannot buy.

The bill was amended so the list of foods would include cranberries, all potatoes and all dairy. Another amendment allows all sizes, brands and packaging of foods on the WIC list.

 3:56 PM 

Dems fail to amend FoodShare bill

Dems have failed to amend a bill that would set restrictions on purchases in the state's food-stamp system.

Under AB 177, DHS would require that not less than 67 percent of enrollees’ monthly purchases under the state’s FoodShare program fall into specific nutritional categories outlined by WIC, a federal list of foods for women, infants and children. DHS also would prevent the use of the food-stamp system to purchase shellfish.

Dem amendments included one that would have exempted people who have excuses for medical purposes from doctors.

As the amendments failed, Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, asked Republicans, "What is wrong with you people?"

"We are supposed to be accountable to the citizens of the state for the legislation we put forward," he said.

 3:34 PM 

Vos calls out Dems

Speaker Robin Vos accused Dems of wasting time in their discussion about a resolution to designate May older Americans month.

The Rochester Republican confirmed the discussion had gone on for 55 minutes and noted Dems had only about an hour more to debate AB 177, which would set restrictions on the state's FoodShare program. Majority and minority leaders had agreed prior to the session to allow two hours for debate on that bill, and AB 177 is next on the calendar.

"How about if we actually debated the bill?" Vos said.

But Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, said the bill is not meaningful legislation.

"This bill is never going to become law," he said. "The Senate isn't even going to take it up."

The Dems' motion to suspend the rules for the resolution failed.

 3:22 PM 

Dems propose resolution for older Americans month

Dems pushing a resolution to designate May as older Americans month are using the opportunity to raise concerns about the budget and discuss the importance of health care programs.

Dems have discussed concerns about a budget proposal to roll IRIS into FamilyCare and the state's refusal to accept $345 million in federal Medicaid money.

Rep. Gary Hebl, D-Sun Prairie, said senior citizens in his district think state lawmakers are "nuts" for the decisions they have made about programs such as BadgerCare. He said those constituents ask him, "Why does the Legislature make such poor decisions about finances?"

Prior to taking up the resolution, the Assembly stood informal while GOP and Dem leaders discussed a motion to suspend the rules. The agreement includes Dems not seeking unanimous consent on the resolution.

 2:11 PM 

Assembly concurs on camping bill

Permanent camping units would operate under separate dwelling, electrical and plumbing codes under Senate bill on which the Assembly concurred.

SB 94, companion bill to AB 121, now goes to the guv’s desk.

The bill changes current law, which required all one- and two-family dwellings comply with the state’s dwelling code.

SB 94 allows for separate standards for camping units that are in a fixed location, have a DHS permit, have a sleeping space and are used for seasonal overnight camping. The Department of Safety and Professional Services promulgates rules for the dwelling code and, under the bill, would have to do the same for separate standards applying to on-site wastewater-treatment systems for the camping units.

 2:08 PM 

School accountability bill clears Assembly

An amended school accountability bill is headed to the guv’s desk following the Assembly’s concurrence on SB 67.

The Assembly and Senate bills, which unanimously passed the Assembly’s Education Committee, would prohibit DPI from issuing a school accountability report card for the current school year. The delay stems from lawmakers’ dissatisfaction with the Badger Exam, which was to be used to help prepare those reports.

The original bill called for delaying until the 2015-16 school year the requirement that school boards evaluate the effectiveness of teachers and principals. Current law calls for DPI to develop that evaluation system for public schools, including independent charter schools, in the current school year and to prepare the report cards annually.

The amended bill would allow for educator effectiveness evaluations this year but prohibit the use of test scores to form those evaluations. Current law called for the use of the Badger Exam results in establishing those evaluations.

 2:05 PM 

Ambulance bill heads to guv

The Assembly approved a bill that would let DOR collect ambulance service debts by subtracting them from users’ state tax refunds.

The Assembly concurred via voice vote on SB 40, the ambulance-service companion bill to AB 31. Its next stop is the guv’s desk.

The bill would let DOR apply its tax refund intercept program to debts owed to ambulance services. Essentially, DOR could reduce a person’s tax refund by the amount needed to cover the costs of those services as long as they are performed pursuant to a contract with a municipality or county and are in response to a 911 call in that area.

Rep. Paul Tittl, R-Manitowoc, proposed the bill, and, according to his office, it arose from complaints that some ambulance companies carry bad debt because when insurance carriers pay out the cost of services to clients, the money is not always used for its intended purpose.

Dems tried to amend the bill by adding a requirement that the state act only on behalf of ambulance companies that pay employees no less than 100 percent of the federal poverty level for households of four people. That amendment failed.

 12:51 PM 

Senate approves amended speed limit bill

The Senate approved via voice vote an amended bill to raise the maximum speed limit to 70 mph on Wisconsin’s freeways, sending the legislation back to the Assembly to sign off on the change.

The change limits the higher speed limit to highways that use interchanges and do not have at-grade crossings. 

The Department of Transportation would have the authority to determine which highways are safe to raise the speed limit from 65 mph.

 12:36 PM 

Senate approves tightening threshold for free recount

The Senate approved via voice vote tightening the threshold for candidates to request a recount without having to cover the costs. 

Backers say improvements in voting technology have greatly decreased the chance of mistakes in vote totals, making the lower threshold make sense. Sen. Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, said the change would end “frivolous” recounts.

Now, candidates can request a recount without paying for the costs if the difference between candidates is 0.5 percent if more than 1,000 votes are cast. If there were fewer votes, the difference has to be less than 10. 

The bill would change that to a difference of 0.25 percent of the total votes cast in races where more than 4,000 votes were cast. It would be less than 10 votes in races of 4,000 or fewer votes. 

Candidates would have to cover the costs of all recounts otherwise, though they would get a refund if the effort was successful. Currently, those seeking a recount pay only the full cost if the difference is more than 2 percent of the votes cast. They pay $5 per ward if the difference is between 0.5 percent and 2 percent. 

Sen. Mark Miller, D-Monona, proposed a substitute amendment to keep what he called the “buffer zone” between candidates not having to pay anything for a recount and having to cover the full costs. He supported lowering the threshold, but believed there should be some middle ground. His amendment would charge candidates $100 per ward if the difference was between 0.25 percent and 0.5 percent. The amendment was shot down 19-14 along party lines.

 12:17 PM 

Senate approves turning SAGE into new program

The Senate approved a bill 31-2 to end a program that seeks to lower classroom sizes and instead expand uses of the money to include one-on-one tutoring and other moves that supporters say would have a bigger impact.

The bill would prohibit entering new SAGE contracts or renewing existing ones. In turn, the Achievement Gap Reduction program would be created.

The Legislative Reference Bureau noted the program would be similar to SAGE, and schools could qualify for the money by maintaining the 18-to-1 or 30-to-2 student to teacher ratios include under SAGE. But schools wouldn’t have to meet those levels in all participating grades to receive the funding, which could also be used for teacher mentoring.

 11:22 AM 

Senate approves appointments

The Senate unanimously approved the appointments on today's calendar, including former DOJ executive assistant Dean Stensberg to chair the Parole Commission for the next two years.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

 4:43 PM 

Prevailing wage repeal hearing ends

The Senate's Labor and Government Reform Committee has ended its public hearing on SB 49, which would repeal the state, local and highway prevailing wage laws.

The committee has scheduled an executive session on the bill for Thursday at 9 a.m.

 4:40 PM 

Ironworker is last speaker of the day

Randy Bryce, with Iron Workers Local 8 in Milwaukee, is the final speaker of the day on the proposed repeal of prevailing wage laws in the state.

He said if SB 49 becomes law, the repeal will cost the state in many different ways. Out-of-state companies will come in and snag big projects, taking that money elsewhere and hamstringing the local economy.

"With the repeal of prevailing wage, our apprenticeship training is going to plummet," Bryce said.

 3:20 PM 

Jarchow testifies for prevailing wage repeal

Saying he speaks for municipal board members, small contractors and schools from his district, Rep. Adam Jarchow urged the committee to approve full repeal of prevailing wage.

Calling it "one of the very worst laws we have on the books today," Jarchow said town and village officials in his district do everything they can to avoid the $100,000 threshold at which prevailing wages kick in. The Balsam Lake Republican said the law adds costs to projects and cuts small contractors out of the process. 

"The law represents what I would consider a double whammy in small, rural areas like mine," Jarchow said.

But Sen. Bob Wirch, D-Kenosha, said there is a list of 462 businesses that support prevailing wage. He suggested Jarchow look at that list to see if any of those businesses are from his district.

Jarchow said he saw the list, saw some companies from his district and spoke to the owners. He said they agreed to disagree.

 2:57 PM 

Repeal supporters include municipal, school officials

Brian Esselman is adding his name to the growing list of municipal and school officials who have testified in favor of repealing the state's prevailing wage law.

Like others, the Iron Ridge village president said prevailing wage repeal would save money for local governments.

"Repeal means more roads for the same money," Esselman said.

On the flip side, repeal opponents, including unions and many contractors, are saying prevailing wages keep people in the industry and attract new workers at a time when construction companies are trying to find skilled laborers. They also argue the wages keep local projects with local contractors.

 2:00 PM 

Tempers flare between Wirch, school official

A school board president testifying in favor of prevailing wage appeal had a sharp exchange with with Sen. Bob Wirch.

The back and forth began after Mary D'Amour, of the Mukwonago Area School District Board, finished her testimony arguing that prevailing wages add costs to projects and do not raise the quality of contractors. Wirch, D-Kenosha, indicated he wanted to respond to her testimony and began to discuss problems that arose following the private construction of the Stanley Correctional Institution.

D'Amour broke in before Wirch could finish.

"Do you have a question or a statement?" she said. "Because today, you have been making a lot of statements."

Wirch responded quickly.

"That's my job, ma'am, that's my job," he said. "I didn't interrupt you, you don't interrupt me."

 1:31 PM 

Prevailing wage testimony marches on

Testimony on the proposal to repeal prevailing wage is nearing the fifth hour.

The hearing room still is about half full, and the majority of speakers have come from the construction industry, with a near balance between those testifying for and against. The hearing so far has been calm — no signs, no outbursts and no time limits to testimony.

And the Senate's Labor and Government Reform Committee has nearly no members at the moment. Sens. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, and Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, are the only members hearing testimony, prompting a comment and chuckle from Wanggaard following the latest speaker.

"Senator Larson, any questions, seeing as you and I are the committee right now?" he said.

 1:19 PM 

School group enters the hearing room

The committee paused for a moment to recognize five young school children who entered the room to watch the testimony.

Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, recognized the children, prompting a round of applause.

"We gotta have something exciting going on here," he said.

 12:19 PM 

Prevailing wage study author testifies

The author of a study highlighting the damages prevailing wage repeal would cause is arguing the state will not save money by killing the law.

University of Utah economics Professor Peter Philips wrote a study in April for the Wisconsin Contractor Coalition, which represents more than 450 businesses and opposes repeal. Philips, in the study, concludes repeal of the law, among other things, would reduce worker incentive. 

His report draws comparisons between wages and productivity, and he repeated that argument during testimony today.

"Do you want this to be a high-wage, high-skill industry or a low-wage, low-skill industry," Philips said.

Philips supported his study and disagreed with a Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance report that showed the state and local governments could save millions of dollars if prevailing wages were more in line with market rates.

"It is my view, sir, that you will not be saving substantial amounts of money by repealing Wisconsin's prevailing wage law," Philips said.

 10:13 AM 

West Bend mayor supports repeal

West Bend's mayor, while testifying in favor of repealing prevailing wage, expressed frustration over how the law at times applies to privately built projects.

Kraig Sadownikow said that in 2010 a local group went door to door collecting money for a new stage, park pavilion and band shelter at the city's Regner Park. The group, in three years, raised more than $600,000 for the project, he said.

The city agreed to take over the structures once they were built, Sadownikow said, and that triggered the prevailing wage law. He called circumstances such as that a "lesser known but equally egregious part of the law," adding that 100 percent of the money bought only 75 percent of what could have been purchased.

 9:53 AM 

Nass, Larson spar over prevailing wage studies

The hearing briefly shifted from testimony to a testy exchange between committee Chairman Stephen Nass and member Chris Larson.

Nass, R-Whitewater, has said several times that he questions the validity of an LFB memo that found savings through prevailing wage repeal inconclusive. He said legislators can craft their questions to LFB in such a way as to get the answers they want.

Larson, D-Milwaukee, disagreed and challenged Nass to do just that with LFB.

"You can believe what you want," Larson said. "I can say I believe I look like Brad Pitt on a good day."

Nass dismissed Larson's comments and said the committee should be focused on hearing testimony.

"If you want to carry on," Nass told Larson, "you can do it by yourself."

 9:17 AM 

Vukmir, Hutton defend prevailing wage repeal

The authors of Assembly and Senate bills that would repeal prevailing wage in the state defended their proposal under grilling from Dems.

Prevailing wages, which are based on surveys of companies, apply to most public works projects and are minimum rates of compensation for workers in individual trades in specific counties. The DWD sets those rates.

Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, and Rep. Rob Hutton, R-Brookfield, have said those rates are artificially inflated and cost local and state governments millions more than is necessary. They said their bills would solve that problem by eliminating what they both called an "archaic" law.

Vukmir said the state should not ask local governments to do more with less while also forcing them to pay such high rates on construction projects.

"Prevailing wage is an enormously unfunded mandate from state government," she said.

But Dems on the Labor and Government Reform Committee took exception. Sens. Bob Wirch, of Kenosha, and Chris Larson, of Milwaukee, argued that nothing is broken, and no fix is necessary.

Larson referenced an LFB report from March that found mixed and inconclusive results regarding whether prevailing wages add costs to construction projects.

"Why are we pulling this out by the roots and trying to do something different?" Larson said.

 9:11 AM 

Nass releases sub to prevailing wage repeal that would only ban it for locals

State Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, has introduced a substitute amendment to a bill that would repeal the prevailing wage that would instead nix it at the local level while significantly increasing the threshold for state projects.

With GOP Sen. Howard Marklein opposed to SB 49 as currently written, Nass does not have the support of a majority of his committee for the full repeal. 

The substitute amendment would raise the threshold for state projects to $1 million for single-trade jobs and $5 million for multiple-trade projects. It's now $48,000 and $100,000, respectively, in most communities. In addition to repealing the prevailing wage for local projects, the sub would maintain a current ban on municipalities enacting their own prevailing wage ordinances.

See the sub.

 8:46 AM 

Prevailing wage repeal hearing kicks off

The Senate's Labor and Government Reform Committee has started what is expected to be a daylong public hearing on SB 49, which would repeal the state, local and highway prevailing wage laws.

About 100 people are in the hearing room, and more are coming in.

The first speakers today are the bill's Senate and Assembly authors, Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, and Rob Hutton, R-Brookfield.

Friday, May 1, 2015

 11:20 PM 

Walker signs ridesharing bill

Gov. Scott Walker's office announced late tonight he has signed legislation creating a statewide license for ridesharing companies such as Uber and Lyft.

Walker also said in a statement he has directed the Department of Safety and Professional Services to begin the rulemaking process to give it the authority to gather information on drivers "and further ensure the safety of our citizens."

Walker's office said that includes rules to clarify the intent of the law and ensure the agency can obtain information on drivers.

The directive follows two incidents in Madison in which women reported to police inappropriate sexual contact with Uber drivers. Police said Uber representatives would not identify the drivers involved without a search warrant or subpoena.

 5:33 PM 

Marklein says he does not support prevailing wage repeal as written

State Sen. Howard Marklein, the third Republican member of the Senate Labor and Government Reform Committee, says he does not support the prevailing wage repeal bill that's due to come before the committee next week.

Committee Chair Steve Nass this week announced a Tuesday public hearing on the legislation with an executive session two days later.

Nass and fellow Republican committee member Van Wanggaard are both co-sponsors of the bill, giving it a guaranteed two votes in the five-member committee. But both Dem members -- Chris Larson and Bob Wirch -- oppose the bill, meaning Marklein's support would have been key to passing it out of committee.

In his statement Friday afternoon, the Spring Green Republican said he's opposed to the repeal bill as written, but he's "committed to continue working with all stakeholders on finding a compromise on this issue."

"I have several concerns with a full repeal of prevailing wage, among them the adverse impact this would have on our construction industry and the projected cost savings," Marklein said. "We have seen conflicting studies on the savings full repeal would produce for taxpayers."

Read his full statement

 10:49 AM 

Farrow's resignation from Senate set for July 17

Sen. Paul Farrow, who was elected Waukesha County executive last month, today notified the Senate chief clerk that he plans to resign his Senate seat on July 17, after the state budget passes.

By voting on the budget before resigning, the Pewaukee Republican said, "I will fulfill my obligation to my Senate district constituents to represent them with a vote on the most important piece of legislation that will be taken up during this session."

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