The Wisconsin legislature is nearing the finish line of the 2017-18 session. The Assembly met on Feb. 20, 21, and 22 in what is expected to be their final floor votes of the year. The Senate met on Feb. 20 and is scheduled to come in on March 20 to begin their final calendar.
With the Assembly Speaker saying his house is finished for the session, bills eligible for passage into law are dwindling. It’s now up to the Senate to approve big-ticket items such as the child care tax credit, juvenile corrections, the remainder of Gov. Scott Walker’s health care plans, and civil litigation reform. Sen. Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) indicated this week that his caucus may not pass the juvenile corrections and child care tax rebate as passed by the Assembly. Any changes in the Senate in these final weeks would either kill the bills or force the Assembly to come back for an additional floor period. The reality of Senate changes to Assembly versions of Walker priorities and Walker’s latest announcements of upcoming school safety legislation means the Assembly is increasingly likely to come back in with the Senate the week of March 20.
Senate – Feb. 20
Compared to the marathon Assembly sessions of last week, the Senate met just once on Feb. 20 for several hours of votes. Related to law enforcement, the Senate passed and sent to the Assembly SB 61 changing Wisconsin’s asset forfeiture processes and SB 408 prohibiting straw purchasing. The Assembly passed both bills on Feb. 22 and sent them to the governor for signature. As part of Gov. Walker’s health care plan, the Senate voted to pass SB 770 that would create a $200 million reinsurance program. The Assembly concurred in the reinsurance plan and sent the bill to the governor for signature. A new amendment to the Right to Try bill was also passed by the Senate and approved by the Assembly last week.
The bulk of last week’s Senate session was spent concurring in Assembly bills from earlier in the year. Bills concurred in and sent to Gov. Walker included chiropractor law changes, the Hire Heroes program, apprenticeship ratio regulation changes, wetland permitting changes, breast density notification, the Foster Forward package, and money for rural schools. The Senate also sent to the governor nine out of the ten Special Session on Welfare Reform bills.
Assembly – Feb. 20-21
The beginning of last week’s votes in the Assembly began with an unplanned, hours-long debate on gun control. After Assembly Democrats offered a motion to withdraw from committee a bill requiring universal background checks, Republicans drafted their own substitute amendment to the bill and eventually voted to pass a plan from Rep. Joe Sanfelippo (R-New Berlin) that did not include background checks, but included grants to schools for armed officers and several provisions prohibiting straw purchasing and implementing mandatory minimum sentences for repeat firearm violations. It is unclear if the Senate will take action on the bill as passed by the Assembly.
After delay from the gun control debate, the Assembly took up the scheduled calendar of bills that included health care, economic development, and workforce issues. Related to health care, the Assembly approved several proposals that are now awaiting Senate action if they are to pass this session. These bills include: AB 627 that would use excess money from the budgeted dental reimbursement pilot in the Medical Assistance (MA) program to expand the pilot to more counties; AB 654 that would implement 911 dispatcher assisted CPR in Wisconsin; AB 798 that allows for direct primary care agreements between patients and providers; AB 871 that implements an intensive care coordination program in MA; AB 920 that would allow employer groups to offer self-funded health care benefits to their employees in a health care benefit arrangement; and the latest Heroin Opioid Prevention and Education (HOPE) bills from Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette). The Senate could also act in March on the pre-existing conditions bill passed by the Assembly in June. Walker called on the Senate to pass the bill in his State of the State speech.
Related to economic and workforce development, the Assembly passed: AB 733 that would waive fees for initial occupation credentials for people whose incomes are beneath 180 percent of the federal poverty line and expand fee waivers for veterans; AB 829 that would prohibit discrimination in licensing based on certain arrest or conviction records; several bills promoting apprenticeships; and Gov. Walker’s plans for $6.8 million for talent attraction and $50 million for rural economic development. These bills all await Senate action in order to pass this session.
The Assembly also passed and sent to the governor SB 781, prohibiting an injured employee from filing an action in tort against third parties regardless of whether the employee makes a claim for compensation under the Worker’s Compensation Act against his or her employer. The passage of this bill reverses the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, Dist. III decision in Ehr v. West Bend Mutual Ins. Co..
The Assembly took votes until nearly midnight on Feb. 20, then pushed the rest of the calendar to the next day. In their Feb. 21 session, the Assembly approved and sent to the governor a package of crime victim prevention bills from Rep. Sanfelippo and Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Brookfield). The Assembly also passed the juvenile corrections plan, the fate of which is unknown in the Senate.
Assembly – Feb. 22
In what appeared to be its final meeting of 2018, the Assembly wrapped up several other items called for by Gov. Walker that now await Senate action.
The Assembly passed on a voice vote AB 773 that would reform Wisconsin’s civil liability statutes to lower litigation costs for Wisconsin businesses and government. Over 30 Wisconsin business organizations support the bill that would update discovery and class action rules in the state. Walker called on the legislature to pass legal reform as part of his small business plan laid out in his State of the State address.
Other Walker priorities passed by the Assembly include a child tax rebate and sales tax holiday and a tax credit incentive package to keep Kimberly-Clark in Wisconsin. The Senate has not yet indicated how it will proceed on these issues.
The Assembly also amended and passed SB 54, related to parole revocation recommendation, to add district attorney positions to several counties, provide $350 million in bonding for a new adult prison, and soften some of the bill’s revocation recommendation language. The Senate now must concur in the Assembly action on SB 54 before Gov. Walker can sign the bill.
Democrats in both the Senate and Assembly attempted to bring up votes on the “dark store” property tax assessment bills throughout the week. On Feb. 22, Assembly Republican leadership worked throughout the day on a compromise between business groups and local officials on both sides of the issue. However, in the end the compromise lost support and died at the end of a long week of session. The “dark store bill” was added to the list of bills most likely dead until next session.