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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

 8:30 AM 

Committee considers bill banning labor agreement requirements for public projects

Union backers during a public hearing Tuesday said the latest example of the GOP's attack on workers is a bill that bans the state and local governments from requiring project labor agreements on construction bids.

But Republicans and non-union firms countered that AB 24 encourages competition in the bidding process and still lets local governments use those agreements if they'd like. The agreements, called PLAs, are common in the construction industry and lay out standards such as wages, benefits and safety guidelines.

The bill's co-author, Rep. Rob Hutton, said at an Assembly Committee on Labor public hearing that non-union firms are discouraged from applying for government construction projects if they require companies to enter PLAs. It's a "free market issue," he said.

"The legislation isn't an indictment of PLAs," Hutton said. "It is simply an indictment on PLAs being required as a condition for the bid process."

But Dems and union backers said PLAs ensure projects are high-quality and that they're done on time and on budget, noting the agreements last throughout the entirety of the project and therefore help prevent work stoppages.

Stephanie Bloomingdale, the secretary-treasurer of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO, ticked off a list of projects that have had PLAs, including the Hoover Dam and Disney World or at the local level, the new Milwaukee Bucks arena. PLAs, she said, have "built America."

"When you have something that works and works well, then you have to ask yourself, why change that?" she said.

Specifically, the bill says the state or local governments can't consider when awarding a project whether a company bidding on it agreed to enter an agreement with a labor union. The bill also would prohibit the government's' requests for proposals, or RFPs, from including provisions requiring bidders to enter such agreements. And those RFPs would also not be able to require bidders to enter into an agreement that requires them or their employees to join labor unions or pay dues or fees to unions.

Joe Daniels, the president and CEO of Madison-based Daniels Construction, said he'd like to "have the opportunity" to bid on all projects, without having employees pay into things like a union trust fund that will never benefit them.

"I'm looking out for my employees," Daniels said.

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said the county uses PLAs "judiciously" and that they're helpful in complicated projects.

Before he entered that post in 2011, he said, the county didn't use a PLA on a nursing home and it's "still cleaning up the mess" and paying for fixes because the project wasn't done right. On a more recent medical examiner's facility, he said, the county decided to use a PLA because the project was so complex.

"We're not saying everyone should be forced to use a PLA," Parisi said. "We're saying, 'Let's take the middle ground and allow your local officials to use those when they deem it necessary.'"

Dems on the committee took a sharper tone, with Rep. Christine Sinicki, D-Milwaukee, saying it's the latest example of Republicans starting off the legislative session "looking at ways to reduce people's benefits."

Rep. Cory Mason, meanwhile, said PLAs ensure workers get good wages and are safe on the job. He said local governments should have the option to require them.

"Let's be honest," the Racine Dem said. "This is about making sure that you can pay people less."

Monday, January 23, 2017

 10:14 AM 

Walker calls for expanding work requirements in welfare programs

Gov. Scott Walker today called for expanding work requirements under the state’s food stamps program to able-bodied adults with school-age children as well as those receiving housing assistance.

Walker made the announcement in Milwaukee as part of a statewide tour to unveil what he’s calling Wisconsin Works for Everyone. The name is a take off of the Wisconsin Works program that former Gov. Tommy Thompson unveiled two decades ago. Thompson was to join Walker in Madison as part of the tour.

“We want to put people on the pathway to success,” Walker said during the Milwaukee stop.

Currently, the state requires abled-bodied adults between 18 and 49 who do not have minor children to work 80 hours a month, spend 80 hours a month in a program such as W-2 that includes job training or a combination of the two.

In his State of the State address this month, Walker touted new numbers that showed since July 2015, more than 21,000 people had found a job after participating in the Food Share Employment Training Program.

The number also show more than 64,000 people have lost eligibility for food stamps after failing to meet the requirements.

Walker said the changes would initially take place on a pilot basis. Also, some proposals in the full package would require a federal waiver.

Other pieces of the package, which will be included in Walker’s budget, include:

*increasing funding for job and skills training for the unemployed and underemployed.

*expanding job training programs under FoodShare to include the incarcerated, ex-offenders and low-income noncustodial parents involved in the child support system.

*reducing occupational licensing.

*eliminating the “benefits cliff” in child care subsidies.

See more in today’s PM Update.

-- By David Wise

 2:51 PM 

Senate signs off on session rules

The Senate voted 21-12 today to approve a new package of rules to govern the 2017-18 session.

The changes includes eliminating a requirement that a committee chair who decides to hold a hearing to schedule the hearing as early as practicable.

Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, proposed four amendments today, including a rule requiring a racial impact statement on any bill that creates a crime or modifies a penalty, as well as one that would require a bill with a penalty to include a fiscal impact before it could receive a third reading. Each of her four amendments was tabled.

Taylor introduced them to highlight issues facing her Milwaukee district.

The rules approved would:

*allow any member to participate in a hearing by phone or other electronic communication with the consent of the chair. Now, only a member connected to the meeting may do so with the chair’s permission.

*eliminate the requirement the chamber be “properly ventilated” before each session day.

*require those in the Senate gallery now have to silence and conceal electronic devices. Before, they had to be turned off.

*allow delayed calendars to be referred to Senate Org. Now, they must be taken up after completion of the ninth order of business on the current day and before consideration of the 10th order.

 2:21 PM 

Senate unanimously approves bill to help Oostburg project

The Senate voted unanimously today for a bill that would help Plymouth-based Masters Gallery Foods Inc. build a $30 million packaging and distribution facility in the village of Oostburg.

Sen. Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, said the jobs would pay a start salary of $18 an hour and asked for unanimous support from the chamber so the company could begin construction after the weather warms this spring.

The company announced plans last month for a 150,000-square-foot facility with the initial investment expected to generate 120 jobs over the next two to three years. More could be added as the facility expands, the company said.

SB 1 would impact a tax incremental district for the village. Current rules limit the equalized value of taxable property for a new TID, when combined with those already in existence, to be 12 percent of the total equalized value of taxable property in a city or village. The bill would bump that to 15 percent to account for a new TID. Once it was terminated, the limit would return to 12 percent.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

 9:58 AM 

Walker's campaign starts online petition, digital ad in fight over transportation funding

Gov. Scott Walker's state campaign is releasing a digital ad and online petition today as he ups the ante in the fight over revenue increases for transportation. 

The petition includes a message from the guv that he made a promise he would not increase taxes and "I've kept my word." 

"Today, I remain opposed to increasing your taxes -- despite pressure from some to take more money from Wisconsin's working families at the pump," the online petition reads. "Join me now and take a stand against higher taxes, and in support of elected officials who keep their promises." 

Walker's campaign says the digital ads will be similar to the online petition.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

 10:40 AM 

Walker requests special session on opioid abuse

Gov. Scott Walker today requested a special session of the Legislature to pass several bills addressing opioid abuse, calling the issue a “public health crisis.”

The announcement follows today’s release of a report from the co-chairs of the Governor’s Task Force on Opioid Abuse, recommending action from both the Legislature and state agencies.

Walker signed one executive order directing the state’s Department of Health Services to apply for federal funds under a law that President Obama signed last month.

Another executive order also directs state agencies to “take further action” on the issue following the recommendations of the report, authored by Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette.

The report, for example, recommended:

*promoting opioid awareness among state employees, who would learn more about resources for themselves or people they know;

*training for Department of Corrections staff who work with inmates who have had or may have issues with addiction, as well as revamping screening from DOC to ensure inmates who struggle with those issues get appropriate programming;

*and a survey from the Office of Commissioner of Insurance aimed at figuring out what sorts of coverage private insurance companies offer for opioid addiction treatment. The agency would then develop a consumer’s guide for coverage of such services.

The special session, which begins today, asks the Legislature to consider bills that would, among other things, let the UW System charter a recovery school, give limited immunity from criminal prosecution to people who overdose and let school nurses administer a drug that fights overdoses if a case pops up during school.

Walker’s also calling for further funding in the next biennium to the rural hospital graduate medical training program, grants for new treatment centers and a consultation service so that medical professionals can get help from addiction medicine specialists.

See the release

This post has been updated to clarify the report was authored by the co-chairs of the task force. 

 8:22 AM 

Key senators reach deal on CBD oil legislation

Two key senators in last session's debate over CBD oil have reached a deal in principle, their offices said. 

The legislation would shield from local prosecution those who have CBD oil to treat seizures. 

Still, tweaks may be needed before a draft can be released to address the DEA's decision last month to clarify marijuana extract is a Schedule I drug and illegal under federal law. 

Scott Kelly, an aide to Sen. Van Wanggaard, one of the bill's co-authors, said a new draft could be ready next week. To finish it, backers have to go through the legislation to make sure, for example, definitions in the bill mirror federal law, Kelly said. He added the bill would not make it any easier to get CBD oil, which is available in states where marijuana is legal, into Wisconsin. 

"But if you can get it to Wisconsin, you're not going to be prosecuted by state authorities," he said. 

In 2014, lawmakers passed and Gov. Scott Walker signed legislation that permitted a physician or pharmacy to dispense CBD oil to treat a seizure disorder. But backers of the treatment said it was not being dispensed, in part, because those seeking it had to be part of a trial to obtain it. 

Last session's bill sought to change the law to make clear those who possess CBD oil won't be prosecuted for having it so long as they had certification from a physician that it's needed to treat a seizure. 

The bill died on the final day of the session after Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald used a procedural move to prevent the bill from coming to the floor through a pulling motion, citing opposition from some of his members. 

GOP Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Brookfield and chair of the Health Committee, was one of the senators opposed to the bill. Her office said she's been working with Wanggaard on the compromise and is onboard in principle. 

Yesterday, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he'd like to see the CBD oil bill done this session. Assembly co-author Scott Krug, R-Nekoosa, said he's encouraged the Senate talks will pave the way for passage. 

"If Leah is on board, I'm pretty sure we'll be far on our way to getting the bill done," he said. 

See the DEA rule on marijuana extract: 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

 4:24 PM 

Barca: Raises concerns regarding 'out of nowhere' legislation from Republicans this session

Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca voiced concerns that Republicans would push through surprise legislation this session, a worry he said grows out of GOP-backed initiatives over the past six years that largely blindsided Dems.

The Kenosha Democrat painted a much more pessimistic picture of the state and bipartisan efforts privately with reporters following the Assembly inauguration ceremony than he had minutes before when he addressed the chamber during the celebration.

Although Barca said the issues Vos proposed during his Assembly address today, including improving roads and education, were ones that could gain bipartisan support, Barca said he was more concerned by "the issues they're not talking about" that could be "brought forward seemingly out of nowhere."

Citing initiatives the Republicans backed over the last six years, including right-to-work legislation, Barca said, "Hopefully it's a new day, but history has not been very kind in the last three sessions."

See more in today’s PM Update.

 3:57 PM 

Vos, Barca call for bipartisanship as Vos lays out priorities for new session

Touting bipartisanship, Speaker Robin Vos said he's looking to build on gains from the last session as he laid out his priorities for the new session today.

Assembly Miority Leader Peter Barca, echoing Vos's calls for setting aside partisan politics, said the Dem agenda for this session closely mirrors the Republican one.

While Barca said he sees "huge challenges" across the state today, he added if both sides of the aisle come together, it'll be a "very productive" session.

Vos and Barca addressed legislators today after representatives who won election in November took the oath of office, including 11 new members.

Vos also stressed small government, promising that "government will not grow on our watch."

The Rochester Republican's agenda includes solving the transportation funding deficit, updating the school funding formula and reforming the state tax code, among other things.

See the list of representatives, offices and phone numbers: numbers: http://www.wispolitics.com/1006/170103AssemblyOffices.pdf

Read more in the PM Update.

 3:25 PM 

Fitzgerald calls for Legislature to build on last session, Shilling wants new approach

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, today called for the Legislature to continue on the course it followed last session, calling Republican gains at the ballot box a vote of confidence from the voters.

Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, though called for a new course, saying the state is lagging behind others on job creation.

Both addressed the chamber today after members who won election in November took the oath.

Fitzgerald credited GOP efforts with record high employment in 2016, what he said was the best 12 months of private sector job growth in a decade and the lowest unemployment in 15 years.

He said this session will be dedicated to continuing improving Wisconsin’s business climate.

“This session we must renew our commitment on moving Wisconsin in the right direction,” Fitzgerald said.

Shilling, though, painted a different picture, saying the state has seen below average job growth compared to others and Wisconsin is dealing with an aging infrastructure.

“But we need a clearer path to invest in our future and ensure long-term economic success,” she said.

 12:35 PM 

Vos, Steineke: Assembly not expected on floor until February, members will drive agenda

The Assembly is not expected to hit the floor to take up legislation until February, and the top two chamber Republicans said today they have no set agenda when they do convene.

Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, said they have a list of topics they want to tackle this session. But they want their members to determine the top priorities for the chamber after listening to the public. 

“These are big, serious, tough problems that we want to make sure we put the time and effort to not only listen to our members, but listen to the public,” Vos said during an availability with reporters.

Vos added leadership will not “rush into any package of bills” and want the committee process to work better than in the past. To that end, Republicans plan to have committee chair training later this month.

They also plan a renewed effort to go through administrative rules and outdated laws that can be repealed. That likely will be part of the February floor period.

Vos said he is open to an expected bill that would allow carrying concealed weapons in buildings on college campuses and a proposal to split up the DNR. But he wants members to build support among members of the public before the chamber takes them up. He also hopes to tackle a rewrite of the school aid formula. To address that, he wants to appoint a special committee that would include members of the public.

See more in today’s PM Update.

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