State Government and Political Roundup: Final approval given to reduce powers of Milwaukee County Board
MADISON - Wisconsin lawmakers have given their final approval to a bill that reduces the powers of the Milwaukee County Board. The Senate okayed the measure 19-14 yesterday.
The state Assembly later ratified some recent changes made by a Senate committee. The bill was then sent to Governor Scott Walker - who said he favors it. Wauwatosa Republican Leah Vukmir said the state needed to step in to reduce what she called "out of control" spending and power by supervisors in Wisconsin's largest county. Senate President Mike Ellis (R-Neenah) got behind the bill after it was learned that the board authorized talks with a county employee union that was de-certified. Milwaukee Democrat Tim Carpenter accused lawmakers of picking on his home county. In his words, "We are really feeling under siege." Despite the slim-down of the County Board, lawmakers are considering measures to restrict residency rules for Milwaukee's public employees, and to make it harder to start a city street-car project. The county measure would reduce the board's budget by two-thirds and limit supervisors' power. A referendum would be held next year on cutting the members' pay by 50-percent.
Employees of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation are one step closer to being barred from negotiating contracts in which they have a financial stake. The state Assembly approved the negotiating ban yesterday on a vote of 80-15. The bill now goes to the Senate. Greenfield Republican Jeff Stone authored the measure, which prohibits WEDC employees from having any discretion in contracts with firms in which they have monetary interests. The vote came after a stinging audit two weeks ago, which criticized the WEDC's lack of policies and accountability procedures in doling out tax funds to help businesses create jobs. Also yesterday, the Assembly passed a measure that lets drivers use smart-phones to show police officers that they have the required auto insurance. Right now, motorists must show written evidence of insurance if they're stopped by the police. The state Senate approved the smart-phone evidence last month. The bill now goes to Governor Scott Walker for his signature.
State laws that are struck down by circuit judges could stay in effect while they're appealed, under a bill that got preliminary approval in the Assembly yesterday. Democrats used a procedural move to block a final vote until next month. Republicans proposed the bill after they were frustrated that Dane County judges struck down their photo ID requirement for voting, and parts of the Act-10 limits on unions - and they're still not in place while the appellate courts review them. Attorneys for the non-partisan Legislative Council had said it could be unconstitutional for a law to take effect right a judge strikes it down. The issue was debated not long after the Dalai Lama spoke to lawmakers yesterday afternoon. The spiritual leader of Tibet called America the "greatest Democracy" in the world. Democrats cited those remarks, as they claimed that Republicans were trampling on the Constitution. GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos of Burlington countered that the bill would not "fundamentally change the balance of power." Other Republicans said it's wrong that a judge from one county can strike down a law that affects the entire state.
Just over half of Wisconsinites approve of Governor Scott Walker's job performance. That's according to a new Marquette Law School poll released yesterday. 51-percent of almost 720 registered voters approved of the governor's work, while 45-percent disapproved. The poll was taken last Tuesday through Friday. It has an error margin of four-point-four percent either way. Walker continues to make job creation his top priority, but 49-percent in the new poll say Wisconsin is lagging behind other states in creating jobs. Only nine-percent said the Badger State is creating jobs faster than others, while 35-percent said the state is about on pace with others. Pollster Charles Franklin says there's a partisan split on the issue. Only 26-percent of Republicans thought Wisconsin was lagging behind others in creating jobs, while 47-percent of independents and 70-percent of Democrats felt that way.
A bill to give landlords more power over their tenants was temporarily blocked in the state Assembly yesterday. Democrats used a procedural move to delay a final vote on the measure until June. The measure was debated for over an hour, and Democrats failed to get several amendments approved. The bill's main sponsor, Saukville Republican Duey Strobel, said it would ease burdensome requirements for landlords - and it would hold tenants more responsible for damages. Landlords could dispose of anything tenants leave behind without advance notice. Building owners could also have tenant vehicles towed if they're illegally parked. They could also evict tenants if crimes occur in their units, regardless of whether the tenants could have prevented them. Victims of sexual assault, domestic abuse, and stalking could not be evicted. Sun Prairie Democrat Gary Hebl called the bill an "attack on the little guy." He and others said it tramples on consumer rights. Other critics feared violent confrontations between tenants and the landlords who toss them out.
The state Senate and Assembly have both voted unanimously to forgive state income taxes for military troops killed in combat. The approval came after the father of a Dodge County soldier killed in Afghanistan said he was shocked that the state would not forgive his son's taxes on his military income. The IRS forgave the soldier's federal taxes. Assembly Republican Mark Born of Beaver Dam told his colleagues quote, "Nothing further is needed from soldiers who have given the ultimate sacrifice." State taxes would be forgiven for the year in which a soldier or Marine dies, plus the year before. It would also reduce the taxes on the soldiers' estates. The measure now goes to Governor Scott Walker.