Plenty of legislation to be worked on during busy session of state legislatureIt’s another busy day at the State Capitol, as lawmakers scramble to act on legislation with just 10 days left in the regular two-year session.
MADISON - It’s another busy day at the State Capitol, as lawmakers scramble to act on legislation with just 10 days left in the regular two-year session.
Both the state Senate and state Assembly are scheduled to consider an education reform package today, in which youngsters would be screened before they start kindergarten. Governor Scott Walker crafted the bill from the work of two educational task forces. Among other things, it would evaluate teachers and principals partially on the basis of student performance. State Superintendent Tony Evers and Democrats say the package is flawed, because charter and voucher schools would not be held to same accountability standard. Republicans said those proposed standards are not ready yet.
In other school legislation today, the state Assembly will consider new limits for teachers in restraining or secluding unruly students. The state Senate passed the bill in January. It allows only properly-trained teachers to use restraints except in emergencies. Time-outs would have to be supervised, and could only last as long as necessary for removing risk. Also, the Assembly will consider a bill in which high schools would no longer have to offer voter registrations for students. When the Senate passed the measure, Democrats accused the GOP of trying to discourage voting by those least likely to support Republicans. But the GOP students can register elsewhere – and it’s a burden for schools to offer voter sign-ups.
The Wisconsin State Assembly will be asked today to give final legislative approval to lifting the enrollment caps on the state’s Family-Care program. The Senate okayed the measure last month, after the federal government had ordered last year’s limits to be removed. Family-Care aims to keep elderly and disabled people out of nursing homes. Also today, the Assembly will consider a bill that makes it a felony to offer anything of value to get people to sign recall petitions. It’s already illegal to offer things to get people to sign nomination papers, vote or not vote – and Whitewater Republican Evan Wynn says recall petitions are really no different. Also, the Assembly is expected to vote on letting people sample home-made beers-and-wines outside of the homes where they’re made. The state Revenue Department said last year that such tastings are illegal – and that finding caused a homemade brew-tasting contest to be canceled in Racine. Home-brewing enthusiasts call the law archaic. But the state’s Tavern League says home brewers should have to follow the same laws as the bars do – including licensing requirements and closing hours.
Wisconsin public officials would no longer be recalled for the stands they take, under a constitutional amendment to be debate in the state Assembly today. Joint Finance Chairman Rep. Robin Vos (R-Burlington) is the chief sponsor of the amendment. It would allow officials to be recalled only if they’re charged with serious crimes, or if there’s a reason to show that they violated the state ethics code. Two Republican state senators were recalled a year ago because they voted for the state law which virtually ended collective bargaining for most public employee unions. Governor Scott Walker and five other Republicans are being targeted this year for the same reason. Vos’s amendment would have to be approved in two consecutive legislative sessions, and then by the voters in a statewide referendum. It would apply to the state’s elected officials from Congress down to the state-and-local levels.
Wisconsin state senators are scheduled to vote today on a new version of state mining regulations, even though it does not appear to have enough votes to pass. The Joint Finance Committee voted 12-4 yesterday to endorse a compromise drafted earlier in the day by co-chairs Rep. Robin Vos (R-Burlington) and Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills). But Democrats continue to oppose the measure – and so does moderate Senate Republican Dale Schultz of Richland Center, who said the latest changes “make a bad idea worse.” Meanwhile, Gogebic Taconite tried yesterday to get Democratic support for the bill, which would speed up the company’s efforts to build a new iron ore mine near Hurley. Gogebic announced an agreement with several unions to use organized labor to build and operate the mine. The latest bill calls for a 420-day time limit for the state to approve mining permits, with one 60-day extension allowed. An insurance group said the compromise no longer puts federal flood plain insurance in jeopardy. And Republicans allowed opponents to challenge the DNR’s mining decisions, but they’d have to wait until after a permit is approved. Schultz said that takes away the public’s voice, and he said the bill still does not have enough environmental safeguards – although supporters disagreed and said they bent over backwards to compromise. The GOP only has a one-vote majority in the Senate, so the latest package will be defeated if no Democrats break ranks. If that happens, Darling says she’ll try again. The measure dies if it doesn’t get passed by the end of the current session a week from Thursday.