State Government and Political Roundup: Assembly expected to pass their mining bill todayWisconsin News
-- The Wisconsin State Assembly will have the first big test today of its new promise to avoid acting on major bills while most of us are sleeping.
MADISON - The Wisconsin State Assembly will have the first big test today of its new promise to avoid acting on major bills while most of us are sleeping.
Hours of debate are expected, as the Assembly prepares to give the Legislature’s final approval of the mining incentive package. The bill would speed up the permit system and change environmental standards, so Gogebic Taconite can build a new iron ore mine in Ashland and Iron counties. The Assembly plans to start its debate at 9 a.m. – a meeting time that’s unheard of in recent years, unless they were still going from the night before. Republicans are all but guaranteed to get what they want, since they have just over a 20-vote majority in the 99-member Assembly. But Democrats are planning a day full of amendments and speeches aimed at delaying the final vote as long as possible. Sauk City Democrat Fred Clark says his party will point out flaws in the mining package, and explain how it picks winners-and-losers by catering to a single company. Republicans are expected to toss aside all of the Democrats’ amendments, just like the Senate did last month when it passed the same bill after nine hours of debate.
“Small, vindictive, and petty.” That’s how Assembly Democrat Chris Danou described his fellow Republicans yesterday, when they voted to chip away at Secretary-of-State Douglas La Follette’s authority. La Follette, a Democrat, angered Republicans two years ago when he held up the start of the GOP’s limits on public union bargaining, by not having the law published right after it was signed. Yesterday, the Assembly voted 59-to-37 to have bills take effect one day after they’re signed – unless lawmakers specify another date. All Democrats voted no. The Senate passed the same measure last month, so it now goes to Governor Scott Walker. It ends the practice of giving La Follette up to 10 days to get bills published. Whitewater Republican Steve Nass says it will treat all bills the same – and it removes politics from the process. But Democrat Danou, who’s from Trempealeau, said the bill’s only purpose was for the GOP to “grind an axe.” Madison Democrat Chris Taylor compared the Republicans to playground bullies – and that earned her an admonishment from GOP Speaker Pro Tem Bill Kramer. La Follette said almost routinely waits 10 days to get bills published, and it was clear the Republicans wanted payback by stopping that. He said he hopes Walker would veto the bill – but he doubts that will happen.
A long-range plan to clean up the Great Lakes is being hurt by the new automatic cuts in federal spending. That’s what local leaders in the Great Lakes Region told lawmakers yesterday during their annual lobbying trip to Capitol Hill. State-and-local government officials, business owners, and environmental groups asked to get a break from the $85-billion in automatic cuts. They said if the cuts continue, local economies could be hurt at times of low water levels. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has spent $300-million in each of the last two years to clean up sewage, and improve shorelines and water quality. If the “sequester” cuts continue, this year’s allocation would shrink to 275-million. Jeff Skedling of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition said it would not save Americans one penny. Michigan House Republican Candace Miller said the Great Lakes clean-up must stay a top priority, but the reality is that some spending cuts must be made. She vowed not to make the clean-ups take the brunt of the cuts unfairly. The federal EPA issued a report card yesterday on the Great Lakes project. It said a million cubic yards of contaminated sediment were cleaned up in fiscal 2011, and progress was made in removing toxic hot-spots.
Wisconsin workers could be partially laid-off and still collect unemployment benefits, under a bill passed by the state Assembly yesterday. On a vote of 74-22, the Assembly agreed to give employers more flexibility under the unemployment compensation rules. It would let bosses reduce work hours for all workers in a certain group, instead of having to lay off just a few. The measure would bring in federal money to implement the change, and to pay workers’ benefits. Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) said it would protect at least some employees from full layoffs, and put more money in employees’ pockets throughout the state. But Republicans eliminated a provision endorsed by the Unemployment Insurance Advisory Council. It would have warned employers to abide by collective bargaining agreements in designing their work reductions. Republicans said the warning is not necessary, because the law already requires companies to respect union agreements. The bill now goes to the Senate.
Wisconsin Republicans helped the U.S. House vote to avert a federal government shutdown on March 27th. Their bill also gives the military and its veterans more flexibility to deal with the short-term automatic spending cuts which took effect last Friday. The House passed the GOP package 267-151 yesterday. Fifty-three Democrats voted yes, but Wisconsin’s three Democrats were not among them. All five of the state’s Republicans voted in favor of the bill, which extends federal funding authority until the end of the current fiscal year on September 30th. Most Democrats, meanwhile, sought their own bill that included tax increases. And President Obama had dinner last night with a dozen GOP senators to seek support for a bi-partisan plan that includes tax hikes. House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan of Janesville said he expects some kind of deal this summer, after the debate hits a “crescendo.” The Republican Ryan said the two parties would have to talk eventually about delaying a debt crisis and quote, “how to save this country from a fiscal train wreck that’s coming.” Ryan said he spoke with the president a few days ago, but did not give details.
Wisconsin State Senate leaders say Governor Scott Walker will not get the full expansion of private school vouchers that he proposed in the next state budget. Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said he arranged a meeting this week with Walker aides, Assembly leaders, and voucher school officials to see if a compromise could be worked out. That was after most GOP senators shied away from the governor’s plan to let students in Madison, Green Bay, and seven other new school districts use tax-funded vouchers to attend private schools, as an option to low-performing public schools that would lose state aid. Senate President Mike Ellis of Neenah says a number of Republicans want the issue dealt with separately, and not in the massive budget. Ellis said GOP senators are especially against letting disabled students around the state get private school vouchers. Some parents of those youngsters have said their kids would lose federal protections if they left the public system. Walker’s office says it will keep working with lawmakers on the subject. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos of Burlington said his majority Republicans remain committed to expanding voucher schools.
Both candidates for the Wisconsin Supreme Court say they’d like to see public financing come back for judicial races. It’s a rare point-of-agreement between incumbent Pat Roggensack and her challenger Ed Fallone. And it came yesterday when they appeared together at a meeting of the Madison Rotary Club. A separate public financing system for court races was adopted a few years ago, and it was used for the first time in 2011 when Justice David Prosser defeated JoAnne Kloppenburg. The system was hailed as a way to get special interests to stop trying to influence justice – but a lawsuit claimed that it violated the First Amendment. Lawmakers eliminated the public financing later in 2011, before the lawsuit could be ruled upon. Roggensack said after yesterday’s forum that enough public money should be provided to counter special interests which are allowed to advertise under the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision from 2010. Fallone criticized Roggensack for voting in favor of a State Supreme Court rule which lets judges act on cases involving parties which gave money to their campaigns.