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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

 9:42 PM 

Senate adjourns

With Dems pushing for the vote on the CBD oil bill, Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, motioned to adjourn, and President Mary Lazich gaveled the session out.

The move means Sens. Nikiya Dodd-Harris, D-Milwaukee, and Rick Gudex, R-Fond du Lac, will not be able to give their farewell speeches to the chamber. Neither is seeking re-election this fall.

 9:39 PM 

Fitzgerald uses procedural move in effort to prevent pulling motion on CBD bill

Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, acknowledged he was using a procedural move to protect his members from a vote on legislation that would legalize cannabidiol, or CBD oil.

The oil, derived from marijuana, is used to treat seizure disorders. It is also illegal under federal law.

After the Senate finished its calendar, Sen. Bob Wirch, D-Kenosha, moved to pull the bill from committee so the chamber could vote on it. The legislation has already cleared the Assembly, but will not pass this session without Senate action.

Earlier in the night, Fitzgerald referred the bill to Senate Org. He then scheduled a public hearing on the bill, which prevents the bill from being pulled to the floor.

Fitzgerald said he scheduled the hearing specifically to prevent a pulling motion, saying it would Would “put some senators in a very difficult position, and I don’t think it would be a real valid position for them.”

Dems proposed suspending the rules to take up the bill despite Fitzgerald's move. But Republicans could adjourn the session rather than holding the vote, and Dems were trying to prevent that.

 8:41 PM 

Alzheimer's bills head to guv

The Senate has signed off on three bills from the Assembly’s package to address Alzheimer’s and dementia.

The bills are now off to the guv. They include:

*AB 786, which would direct the Department of Health Services to propose a county-level pilot program for dementia crisis units; 

*AB 787, which would provide $1 million for respite care under the Alzheimer's Family and Caregiver Support Program; 

*and AB 790, which would require the DHS award grants totaling $250,000 in fiscal 2016-17 for training mobile crisis teams to serve people with dementia.

The Senate does not plan to take up the rest of the package.

 8:22 PM 

College affordability package bills going to guv

The final three bills in Gov. Scott Walker's college affordability package have passed.

AB 741, which would provide grants to tech college students facing a financial emergency, drew one Dem vote in favor, from Rep. Kathleen Vinehout, of Alma. AB 742 and AB 744 passed along party lines.

Dems attempted, and failed, to attach multiple amendments to the bills. They repeatedly pounded the package as not doing enough for students.

"You stick with the governor -- Mr. 39 percent," Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, said.

But Sen. Rick Gudex, R-Fond du Lac, shot back at Dems, criticizing them for voting against legislation that helps some people.

"Do I wish we could have done more? Absolutely," he said. "But, you know, I'm going to take what I can get."

All four bills in the package are headed to the guv's desk.

 7:32 PM 

Dems ridicule college affordability package

Dems are criticizing the college affordability package as bills that do very little to solve the problems of student loan debt.

Still, AB 740, which would provide grants to tech colleges, passed 19-13 along party lines.

Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling said the four college bills before the Senate will amount to about $2 million for tech college and university students. The La Crosse Dem said the package doesn't "move the needle" nearly as much as the Dems' "higher ed/lower debt" student loan refinancing legislation.

Walker's "big State of the State challenge" offers "micro-help, mini-help, tiny help, tiny," Shilling said.

"This is so pitiful," she said.

 7:16 PM 

Senate takes up GOP's college affordability package

The Senate is taking up the first bill in Gov. Scott Walker's college affordability package.

AB 740 would provide grants to tech colleges. Other bills in the package and on the calendar are:

*AB 741, which would provide grants to tech college students facing a financial emergency;

*AB 742, which would require DWD provide student internship coordination;

*and AB 744, which would require colleges provide information to students on the true costs of their student loans.

The Senate did not include a bill that would create a new tax deduction for the interest paid on student loans. It was the most expensive piece of the guv's package, and Senate Republicans have expressed concerns about adding spending.

Walker has said he's unhappy the full package won't make it to his desk.

 7:12 PM 

Plastic bag bill gets Senate OK

Despite Dems arguing the bill takes away local control and hurts the environment, the Senate has approved legislation that would prohibit municipalities from passing bans on "auxiliary containers," such as plastic bags or take-out boxes.

AB 730 passed 19-13 along party lines. It now goes to Gov. Scott Walker.

"I deeply resent this attack on local control," Sen. Robert Wirch, D-Kenosha, said.

But Sen. Frank Lasee called that "just a bunch of hooey." The De Pere Republican said Dems are using rhetoric but missing the point about the role of state government. He said state lawmakers need to strike a balance between local control and fairness for all.

"I think this is reasonable," Lasee said, "and it's reasonable for us to lay out parameters."

It's not fair to the city of Eau Claire, Sen. Kathleen Vinehout said. The Alma Dem said the legislation should be called "Eau Claire City Council vs. Walmart" legislation.

The city, she said, found a way to save money by getting people to bring their own bags to stores. Vinehout said local businesses, including Walmart, supported the idea. But then statewide groups heard about it and raised an uproar, leading to the legislation.

"This is ridiculous," she said.

Bill author Sen. Roger Roth said preventing the bans actually is better for the environment because replacement bags actually take longer to decompose. Furthermore, the Appleton Republican said, it prevents patchwork ordinances that could put some businesses at a disadvantage.

"It's a very proactive bill," Roth said, "that seeks to get ahead of the curve."

 6:30 PM 

Senate approves latest round of Nygren heroin, opioid bills

The Senate has passed via voice vote four bills that are the next installments of Rep. John Nygren’s Heroin, Opioid Prevention and Education agenda.

The Marinette Republican’s AB 657, 658, 659 and 660 would: increase spending on treatment and diversion programs; criminalize masking agents; establish requirements for the regulation of opioid-treatment programs; change the authority of certain credentialing boards.

They next head to the guv's desk.

AB 766, which would set up review and reporting requirements for the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, is expected to be taken up later in the Senate calendar.

UPDATE: The Senate has approved AB 766, and it's also on the way to the guv.

 6:27 PM 

Senate OKs bill ensuring live Christmas trees can be placed in churches, Capitol rotunda

Local governments could not prohibit the placement of a live Christmas tree in a church under legislation that cleared the Senate.

AB 648, which is now headed to the guv’s desk, also would ban the state from passing a rule that would prohibit a live tree being placed in the Capitol rotunda.

The issue popped up following complaints that some local officials were cracking down on churches having live trees as part of their Christmas displays over concerns they could be a fire hazard.

The bill, which cleared 25-7, also would create a presumption the seasonal placement of a Christmas tree in the rotunda or a church is not a fire hazard.

Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, knocked the legislation for usurping local authority and said lawmakers were substituting their judgment for those of fire officials.

“It is inconceivable that we’re going to pass a law that a fire hazard is not a fire hazard,” Risser said.

Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, said Christmas trees have been put up in churches for at least two centuries and in the Capitol rotunda since the 1920s. He said only those in Madison -- a “different world” -- would have an issue with the bill. 

“This is why the public is so frustrated with government, especially at the national level, because they do these things which lack common sense,” Nass said.

 5:50 PM 

Senate approves felony charge for throwing bodily fluids at prosecutor

It would be a class I felony to throw or expel bodily fluids at a prosecutor under legislation the Senate approved.

The bill, approved 24-8, now goes to the guv.

Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, questioned why the legislation did not also make it a felony to spit at a judge. But it was rejected. Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, said he was willing to work with Risser next session on legislation to extend that protection to judges.

If the bill had been amended to add judges, it would have likely died for the session with the Assembly not expected to come back.

Sen. Mark Miller, D-Monona, said spitting at a prosecutor wasn’t very smart. But he questioned why the Legislature was taking up the issue and whether it would truly deter anyone from spitting at prosecutor.

“I can’t imagine a prosecutor worth their salt going after somebody for spitting,” Miller said.

But Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, noted it extended to other fluids such as blood, urine, feces and semen. He noted the health threat some of those fluids can pose.

 5:31 PM 

Senate approves immunity for private campgrounds

Private campgrounds would have immunity from civil liability if someone is hurt or killed while using the property due to the “inherent risk of camping,” under legislation that cleared the Senate along party lines.

The bill would not provide immunity if the person seeking the legal protection intentionally caused the injury, death or property damage; acted with willful or wanton disregard; or if they failed to post warning signs of dangerous inconspicuous condition.

AB 174, which was approved 19-14, now goes to the guv's desk.

 5:24 PM 

Wood stove bill clears Senate

The Senate signed off on 19-13 legislation directing the DNR to not comply with the EPA’s newest wood stove regulations, clearing the way for the bill to hit the guv’s desk.

Under the federal Clean Air Act, the EPA establishes regulations to limit air pollution and then delegates the implementation and enforcement authority to states. The federal agency enacted has new regulations for wood stoves. The bill, though, would direct the DNR to stick with the previous wood stove regulations rather than adopting the EPA’s new rules.

 5:23 PM 

Senate approves high-capacity well bill, but legislation likely dead for session

The Senate voted along party lines to approve legislation that would allow owners of high-capacity wells to repair, maintain or replace them without needing a new permit.

But it appears the legislation is dead for the session. The Senate bill, which cleared 19-13, differs from the one the Assembly signed off on earlier, and that chamber is not expected to return.

The main difference between the two bills is a provision in AB 874 lets people file a nuisance lawsuit claiming they are "unreasonably harmed" by the lowering of a water table or the reduction of pressure caused by someone else's well. The Senate version does not include that provision.

A high-capacity well is defined as one that, along with other wells on the property, can pump more than 100,000 gallons of water per day. 

Dems railed against the bill, saying it ceded control over existing wells and undercut the state’s responsibility to oversee the public interest in protecting groundwater. 

“It is privatizing Wisconsin’s groundwater,” said Sen. Mark Miller, D-Monona.

No Republicans defended the bill on the Senate floor.

 3:25 PM 

Senate concurs on amendment to elections bill

The Senate via voice vote concurred on an amendment the Assembly made to legislation that would allow electronic registration, among other changes to election law.

Dems raised concerns the bill was poised to be signed by the guv just weeks before the April election, possibly causing issues for local officials. But Sen. Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg and co-author of the bill, said the legislation was important because it ensures veteran ID cards can be used at the polls.

The amendment the Assembly added to the bill deals with a campaign contributions provision. The tweak would serve as a catch-all, making sure there are limits for campaign contributions to state lawmakers from federal PACs.

UPDATE: The Senate has also concurred on changes the Assembly made to three other bills:

SB 615, a special needs scholarship bill that carries an amendment from Assembly Speaker Robin Vos to adjust the funding formula public schools use for school choice students. It would reduce the property tax levy authority districts have for students who enroll in the voucher program. But critics have raised concerns the amendment would cut available revenue for those districts.

SB 546, to create an Internet crimes against children surcharge.

SB 581, which would change the salary threshold for when a volunteer fire fighter, EMT or first responder in a city, town or village can also hold elected office with that municipality.

 3:24 PM 

Fitzgerald: Senate likely to take up its version of high-capacity well bill

The Senate is likely to take up its version of the high-capacity well bill, meaning the legislation is unlikely to make it into law this session.

Under the legislation, the owner of a high-capacity well would not need a new permit to repair, maintain, replace or reconstruct a high-capacity well, which can pump more than 100,000 gallons of water a day.

Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said members had concerns over the Assembly version of the bill and there seemed to be more support in his caucus for the Senate bill. Both houses have to sign off on the same version of any bill before it could go to the guv's desk, and Fitzgerald acknowledged there's almost no chance the Assembly will come back.

"It's the one thing we could do to send the message to the ag community this is an important issue," Fitzgerald said.

 12:57 PM 

Shilling: 'Were going out with a whimper'

Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling today ripped Senate Republicans for their agenda this session, saying Wisconsin families are in worse position now than they were five years ago when the GOP took over the state Capitol.

The LaCrosse Dem ticked off a list of priorities laid out this session that she said have been ignored by majority Republicans as they sought to boost Gov. Scott Walker's short-lived presidential campaign rather than help boost the state's economy.

"I feel like we’re going out with a whimper," Shilling said.

Shilling and fellow Dems also knocked Senate Republicans for the college affordability bills they put on today's calendar, saying it was inadequate. While several of the guv's bills are on today's calendar, Senate Republicans declined to take up a proposed tax deduction for student loan interest due to concerns over the price tag. Dems have argued the entire package did not go far enough and the state should create an authority to refinance student loans.

“What’s happening on our calendar is really an anemic attempt to help with college affordability," Shilling said. "It misses the mark."

 12:13 PM 

Senate honors Ellis, though Erpenbach questions motivation

The Senate today voted to honor the service for former Sen. Mike Ellis, R-Neenah, though Dem Sen. Jon Erpenbach questioned the motivation for the resolution.

Erpenbach, D-Middleton, worked with Ellis on campaign finance reform and the creation of the Government Accountability Board during their time in the Senate. Erpenbach said resolutions such as this are normally reserved for former members who have passed away and chided Republicans, saying Ellis was "run out of town" two years ago by the conservative wing of the GOP.

Conservatives often blamed Ellis for holding up various priorities as compromises were worked out.

Senate President Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, chided Erpenbach for questioning the motives of senators, which is against chamber rules.

Erpenbach then raised the prospect there was a reason behind the resolution.

"This is here because somebody is looking for an endorsement in a congressional race, I think," Erpenbach said.

Erpenbach did not single out who he was referencing. But Sen. Frank Lasee, R-DePere, is the only co-sponsor of the resolution who's currently running for Congress. 

UPDATE: Lasee said he did not ask Ellis for his endorsement, but didn't want to respond to Erpenbach's comments.

"I thought Mike Ellis should be honored," he said.

UPDATE 2: Ellis said this afternoon he was unaware the resolution had been introduced and that he has not spoken with Lasee about an endorsement.

 11:58 AM 

Dems cite Tomah VA scandal in opposing confirmation of appointments

The Senate voted 19-13 along party lines to approve Dr. David Roelke as a member of the Medical Examining Board with Dems opposed because of the body's failure to suspend the license of a doctor who was over-prescribing opiates at the Tomah VA.

The Senate also voted 19-13 to approve the appointment of Dr. Kenneth Simons to the Interstate Licensure Compact Commission with Dems again opposed.

Dr. David Houlihan, who was dubbed the “candy man” by VA patients, is the former chief of staff at the center and was fired after an investigation of the prescription practices under his direction that resulted in the death of a veteran. He has since been hired by a private clinic in La Crosse.

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, said he could not support the appointments considering Houlihan still has his license. 

The examining board in December found there was probable cause Houlihan had "committed unprofessional conduct." 

 11:44 AM 

Dems slam inaction on Correction as Senate approves Litscher appointment

Dems slammed the Senate for inaction on what they say is a crisis in the Corrections Department as the chamber approved Jon Litscher to take over the agency as secretary.

Litscher, who previously led the agency under Govs. Tommy Thompson and Scott McCallum, was praised by some Dems as a good pick to lead the department, and the chamber signed off on his appointment 29-3.

Still, Dems used the vote to tick off a list of concerns they have with the agency, which has been under fire for its handling of abuse allegations at the youth prison in northern Wisconsin.

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, said Lincoln Hills is only one item on a list of problems at Corrections that includes forced overtime and a rise in assaults on guards. He said guards face unsafe working conditions in a dangerous job, but the Senate has done nothing to address those problems this session.

“We have a crisis in Corrections right now," Erpenbach said. "Hopefully the secretary will be able to come up with some ideas to address that. But legislatively, we could have done something, anything to make the officers’ jobs safer."

 11:11 AM 

And we're informal

That didn't take long.

Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, moved to take up the appointments en masse. But Sen. Tim Carpenter, D-Milwaukee, objected, saying he wasn't told ahead of time the appointments would be taken up before the Senate goes back to caucus to discuss the calendar.

The chamber then went informal to move on to resolutions. But that's been delayed because some members aren't in the chamber.

UPDATE: The Senate is back and taking up all of the appointments but four.

Monday, March 14, 2016

 12:41 PM 

Senate releases tentative calendar

The Senate plans to take up a package of changes to state election laws as well as a high-capacity well bill that was amended in committee this morning.

The Assembly version of the well bill is also on the tentative calendar.

The 16-page tentative calendar does not include such legislation as the so-called sanctuary cities bill or the REINS Act, which would add a new layer to the rules making process.

The Senate is scheduled to hit the floor at 11 a.m. tomorrow for its final floor period of the session.

See more in today's PM Update.

See the calendar here.

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