Government and Political Roundup: Assembly finishing up its session Friday morningWisconsin News
-- The Wisconsin Assembly’s marathon session continued at eight this morning – and by then, the house had been in meetings and caucuses for 21 straight hours.
The Wisconsin Assembly’s marathon session continued at eight this morning – and by then, the house had been in meetings and caucuses for 21 straight hours. It’s the final day of the two-year session. And Democrats have refused to let majority Republicans go home. They’ve been blocking the G-O-P from passing a final set of bills. And Democrats have taken their time bringing up their own measures, which Republicans have struck down one-by-one. Democratic leader Peter Barca said he was willing to call it quits if the G-O-P would drop its effort to revamp the Milwaukee Area Technical College Board. The bill would have five of the nine members come from local businesses instead of the present two members. And county officials would choose them instead of local school board presidents. Republicans say it would make the school more responsive to the employment needs of businesses – but Democrats call it a G-O-P power grab. Around six this morning, Milwaukee Democrat Peggy Krusick moved to adjourn. But Republicans voted her down 55-to-32. Krusick said quote, “I’m done with these all-nighters – We need to do this in the light of day.” Speaker Pro Tem Bill Kramer said Krusick would soon have that chance – and that proved to be true once the sun came up.
Wisconsin senators did a huge favor to the wind-power industry as they walked out the door yesterday. They guaranteed that the Legislature would end its two-year session without passing new rules to put further restrictions on where wind turbines can be located. And that means the old rules imposed in 2010 by the state Public Service Commission automatically go into effect. Dan Rustowicz calls the Senate’s lack of action a great victory for wind power in Wisconsin. He’s with a company that’s building a large wind farm in Buffalo County – and he said the industry needs a good, stable regulatory environment. Now, Rustowicz predicts that you’ll see more wind projects moving forward. Republicans suspended the P-S-C’s rules soon after they took control of the Legislature last year. That was after Governor Scott Walker brokered a deal with Realtors to impose tougher restrictions, siding with homeowners who say nearby wind turbines create too much noise and shadow-flickers. But the wind energy industry said Walker’s stand went against his “Open for Business” mantra and his efforts to create jobs. Lawmakers never acted on the restrictions, and talks toward a compromise failed. Senate Republican Leah Vukmir of Wauwatosa said she was disappointed her party didn’t act. She said lawmakers would probably try again next year, but Michael Vickerman of Renew Wisconsin does not think that will happen.
After hours of debate, the Wisconsin Assembly passed an education reform bill and tougher standards for abortion doctors last night, as the two-year session dragged toward an end. Both bills were sent to Governor Scott Walker, and lawmakers worked on a host of other measures in a meeting that dragged into the night. The Senate, meanwhile, finished its business in less than an hour yesterday afternoon. Tensions were high on the Assembly side, as police removed demonstrators twice from the gallery – and protestors blew horns at lawmakers from outside the chamber. Democrats prolonged the debates on the major bills as long as they could.
The abortion debate went on for two-and-a-half hours before the Assembly voted 60-to-33 to require doctors to consult with women in-person instead of using Webcams – and to give physicals to all abortion candidates. Oshkosh Republican Michelle Litjens said the bill is necessary to make sure women are not being pressured into abortions. But Democrats called it another attack on women, saying the bill is only meant to make it harder to get abortions. Madison Democrat Kelda Helen Roys fought back with an amendment to require men to take rectal exams before taking erectile dysfunction pills. Republicans laughed before tabling it.
The education reform package was approved 80-to-14. Among other things, teachers and principals will start being evaluated in part on their students’ test scores. And kindergarteners must get screening exams before starting school. Elkhart Lake Republican Steve Kestell said the changes came from two bi-partisan task forces. But Democrats and state Superintendent Tony Evers criticized the plan, saying it exempts charter schools and low-income students who get vouchers for private schools. Middleton Democrat Sondy Pope-Roberts yelled to the Republicans quote, “I hope you’re held accountable – Your day is coming.”
State senators closed out their two-year session yesterday with a 52-minute meeting, much of which was a debate over what they did over the past 15 months. Republican Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald called the session historic. And he again defended the law which stripped public employees of most of their collective bargaining. He said the G-O-P had to make the changes to get rid of the state’s massive budget deficit, and help communities deal with the losses of millions in state aid. In Fitzgerald’s words, “I’m more confident than ever that we made the right choice.” But Green Bay Democrat Dave Hansen said the budget problems could have been solved without quote, “stripping away the rights of nearly 200-thousand workers.” Democratic leader Mark Miller said the G-O-P’s decisions were made on the backs on quote, “working men and women, by low-income workers and the middle class, while the benefits went to wealthy corporations in our state.” Republicans were able to approve a number of business tax breaks, but they failed to pass two major job measures – one to create venture capital for new high-tech businesses, and a bill that would have paved the way for a new iron ore mine in far northern Wisconsin. Lawmakers will now focus on their re-election campaigns. Fitzgerald and three other senators will start campaigning to keep their jobs in recall elections set for May and June.