WISCONSIN GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL ROUND-UP: Tax cut bill pased by Assembly
MADISON - Wisconsin workers and homeowners will get tax cuts, and farmers and factories will see extra tax breaks under a bill passed this afternoon. The Assembly voted 61-35 to give final legislative approval to a plan for giving taxpayers most of a nearly one-billion dollar surplus in the current state budget.
Democrats Stephen Smith of Shell Lake and Nick Milroy of South Range joined Republicans in voting for the final product -- which now goes to Governor Scott Walker, who has said he would approve it. He called taxpayers quote, "the big winners today." Homeowners will get an average property tax cut of $131 and income tax filers will get reductions averaging $46-dollars. Those are the same numbers the Republican Walker proposed in January. The state Assembly ratified some other changes made by the Senate. About $100-million of the surplus will go into the state's general fund instead of a rainy day fund for state government emergencies. Also, $38-million in spending cuts will be ordered to reduce the possible structural deficit in the next state budget in mid-2015. Assembly Democrats failed in another effort to revamp the property tax cut, and use more from the surplus to increase aid to technical colleges for helping train high-demand workers. Walker signed a separate $35-million job training bill from the surplus yesterday.
Wisconsin state senators voted 30-2 today in favor of letting cancer patients get more affordable pills for their chemotherapy. Only Republicans Leah Vukmir of Wauwatosa and Paul Farrow of Pewaukee voted no, when the Senate agreed to make insurance companies cover the cost of the expensive chemo pills. Despite the heavy support, Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) had blocked a vote on the measure until today. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) also put the crimp into the bill, by transferring it to a second committee and requiring a two-thirds vote for passage. Vos said his fellow Republicans would discuss the matter in a private caucus on Thursday before deciding what to do. Supporters said the bill would make the more convenient chemo pills more affordable for those who need them. Opponents called it another mandate on the insurance industry that would drive up health costs in the long run.
Wisconsin county prosecutors would have an easier time sharing information about domestic abuse cases, under a bill passed by the state Senate today. The Senate bill includes a statewide data-sharing system. It also requires the state Justice Department to make lists of domestic abuse victim service groups available to local law enforcement. The bill was modified to remove a requirement that officers explain their actions when they don't arrest anyone during domestic abuse calls. The bill and its changes now go to the Assembly for final action tomorrow. The measure was introduced in response to a 2012 shooting incident at a Brookfield spa where suspected long-time abuser Radcliffe Haughton shot and killed his estranged wife, two other women, and then himself.
Wisconsin Secretary of State Douglas La Follette said today that he'll run for re-election this fall. The Madison Democrat has held the office for more than three decades. If he wins another four-year term, it could be his last -- because majority Republicans are drafting measures to eliminate the office by the start of 2019. Officials have gradually stripped duties from the secretary of state's office over the years. Now, the only real duties are to maintain the official acts of the governor and Legislature, affix the state seal to gubernatorial actions, and serve on the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands. La Follette says he wants to try and restore some of his former duties. He recently said that people get confused when they ask him about things like trademarks, notaries public, and other business rules. La Follette says the secretary of state deals with those things in most other states. He says Republican Governor Scott Walker is hurting his pro-business efforts by making prospective companies look elsewhere for those services.
Governor Scott Walker will decide whether family members should no longer be able to protect relatives who commit felonies in Wisconsin. On a voice vote this afternoon, the state Senate approved a bill ending the long-time practice of shielding relatives from charges of aiding and harboring those wanted for felony crimes. The state Assembly okayed the bill earlier, and it now goes to the governor. State law currently allows family members to hide relatives who are wanted, destroy evidence, and mislead police investigations with no consequences. Shirley George of Waupaca has tried for a dozen years to end those privileges. Her grandson Joey was murdered outside an Oak Creek tavern in 2000, and authorities said three suspects were protected by relatives -- including the son of former Milwaukee police union leader Brad DeBraska. The new bill would end shielding privileges for a felony suspect's spouse, parents, siblings, children, grandparents, and grandchildren.
Drunk drivers who injure others would have to spend at least 30 days in jail, under a bill passed by the Wisconsin Senate today. The Assembly okayed the measure earlier, and it now goes to Governor Scott Walker for his signature. Current law allows judges to sentence those convicted of injury-related OWI to between 30 days and a year in a county jail. The new measure requires at least the minimum jail time. It also calls for at least three years in a state prison for those convicted of seventh, eighth, and ninth-time drunk driving offenses. Senate Democrat Tim Carpenter of Milwaukee tried but failed to add more penalties to the bill. He said lawmakers did not do enough this year to curb drunk driving.
Democrats vow to spend the final days of the legislative session trying to pass a hike in the minimum wage. More than two dozen Democrats from both houses announced an effort today to increase the state minimum from $7.25-an-hour to $10.10 over two years. Democrats don't have the votes to pass it themselves, but they do point out that people of both political persuasions support a minimum wage increase in polls. They said 587,000 Wisconsin employees would get bigger paychecks. Conservatives and business groups point to a study showing that 27,000 employees in the Badger State would lose their jobs if the minimum wage rises that high.
The state Senate voted today to let farmers sell their own eggs at farmers' markets without having to get a state food-processing license. The Assembly okayed the bill last month. It now goes to Governor Scott Walker for final action. The measure includes a number of conditions for farmers to follow. Only producers with fewer than 150 birds could be exempt from licensing -- and the labels would have to state that their eggs are ungraded. Those eggs could only be sold within 30 days after packaging -- and their packaging dates would have to put on the labels. Also, the eggs would have to be stored at 41-degrees or colder before their sales.