Wisconsin State Legislative Round-up: Both houses expected to pass new procedure rulesWisconsin Legislature
-- If Republican legislative leaders have their way, you’ll see fewer all-night meetings – and fewer disruptions by protestors. Both houses will soon adopt their new rules for the upcoming session – and they’re expected the concerns about all-night meetings and spectator behavior.
MADISON - If Republican legislative leaders have their way, you’ll see fewer all-night meetings – and fewer disruptions by protestors. Both houses will soon adopt their new rules for the upcoming session – and they’re expected the concerns about all-night meetings and spectator behavior.
Normally, lawmakers hold all-night meetings in the final hours before a two-year session ends – and for horse-trading before they pass a state budget. But in the last session, minority Assembly Democrats forced a number of other meetings to start late at night by holding closed strategy caucuses all day. It was the only way they could hold up bills they were against, because they didn’t have the votes to stop them. In other cases, they held debates that lasted for days. The state Senate’s Republican majority prevented that by ordering that their business be done in the daytime – and GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos of Burlington says he generally wants to do the same. He says it should result in more productive debates. Meanwhile, Senate Republican Leader Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau wants to crack down on interruptions by spectators. One protestor chained herself to a gallery railing in the last session, and Fitzgerald wants to address that and other security issues. They’ll be considered in rule changes which have not come out yet. The Assembly will discuss their rules on Thursday, and the Senate will do the same next week.
If Wisconsin Republicans want to give money away, Democrats say public schools and the working poor should be the first in line, ahead of other taxpayers. Governor Scott Walker says he’ll include an income tax cut in his new state budget – and GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos of Burlington wants to give it to those making $20,000 to $200,000 a year. But Democratic state Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson of Milwaukee says Republicans should first pay back the public schools that lost $800-million in state aid two years ago – plus low-income people who had their Homestead and earned income tax credits reduced, which Larson called a $50-million tax increase. Republicans said it wasn’t really a tax increase, because three-fourths of those getting the earned income credit don’t pay taxes. And while there’s talk of restoring some of the lost school aid, Governor Scott Walker had argued that some schools actually made money over the last two years. Walker said many schools achieved savings with the limits on union bargaining, plus the higher retirement and health insurance payments by all public employees.
Seven former speakers of the Wisconsin Assembly were on hand yesterday afternoon to watch the newest speaker – Republican Robin Vos – take his oath of office. One of the ex-speakers, Supreme Court Justice David Prosser, administered the oath as the others watched from the gallery. The most recent speaker, Jeff Fitzgerald, attended along with fellow Republicans John Gard, Mike Huebsch, Scott Jensen, and Harold Froehlich, and Democrat Wally Kunicki. Vos’s sixth grade teacher, Barbara Scherrer, was also on hand. Vos said she was a wonderful example of the influence that teachers can have on people’s lives. The new speaker’s long-time friend, Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus from Kenosha, was also there. All 99 Assembly members received their oaths along with 16 senators who were elected in November.
The Wisconsin Legislature is getting 25 new representatives and three new senators. Voters chose enough Republicans to approve anything the GOP wants over the next two years. But minority Democrats say the people still expect the two parties to work together – and they hope Republicans will do a better job of it than they did last time. Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca of Kenosha says he hopes quote, “past wounds will be healed to some degree.” He’s talking about the way the GOP rammed through Governor Scott Walker’s plan to virtually end public union bargaining – a move that spurred massive protests at the Capitol which continue on a smaller scale to this day. Barca and state Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson of Milwaukee called on Republicans to work with them on bills to improve the economy and job training. The Republican Walker has urged his majority colleagues to focus on the economy, and not on divisive social measures. Incoming Assembly Speaker Robin Vos of Burlington recently said Democrats gave the GOP a “gift” when they elected Larson – and Larson’s been biting at the Republicans ever since. But in a statement, Walker told the party leaders to cut out the sniping. He wrote, “Your leadership position comes with the responsibility to leave any lingering disagreements in the past, and look for innovative ways to move Wisconsin forward.” Republicans have a 59-39 majority in the Assembly, and an 18-15 edge in the Senate. Eleven of the 25 new Assembly members are Republicans, as are two-of-the-three new senators.
You can expect a final vote in March on a bill that makes it easier to create new mines in Wisconsin. Majority Assembly Republicans say they’ll make mining their first major action in the new session. State Senate GOP leader Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau said today that he expects his house to take up the package in early March. He did not offer specifics on what the bill would include. But he said it would be harder than ever to get the Indian tribes in northwest Wisconsin to support such a package – and he said it would face inevitable court challenges. Democrats have called on the GOP to pass a mining bill which does not include a relaxing of environmental protections – and does not cut off public challenges to the DNR’s various mining decisions before permits are issued. Both those items were in the package that was rejected last year, due to the opposition of moderate Republican Dale Schultz of Richland Center. The Senate only had a one-vote majority last year. Now, it has a stronger cushion with a three-vote advantage.