The Wisconsin Assembly stands adjourned following a week of floor votes on February 22, 23, and 24. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) has stated publicly that, barring any unusual circumstances, the Assembly will not convene again until the next legislative session begins in January 2023.
The Assembly created a lengthy floor calendar for February 23 and 24, scheduling 17 hours of floor time over the two-day period. On February 23, the Assembly passed 101 bills and four resolutions covering a wide variety of subjects, including transportation, infrastructure, healthcare, law enforcement, and environmental policy. Below are a few notable items:
- Assembly Bill (AB) 152, which would create an exemption from state plan review requirements for building projects consisting of small, single-story commercial buildings not intended for residential, educational, or high hazard uses and for plumbing plans with at least 16 but no more than 25 fixtures. The bill is supported by construction trade groups with members who have experienced costly delays because of extended review times for relatively simple projects.
- Senate Bill (SB) 365, which would change the focus of the state’s broadband expansion grant program from improving internet service in areas defined as “underserved” to building broadband infrastructure in areas defined as “unserved.” The bill passed 60-36 along party lines and is ready to be presented to the governor.
- SB 429, which requires the Department of Transportation to replace all motor vehicle registration plates on a rolling ten-year basis. The new plates are required to have a high-visibility coating and embedded security features. The bill includes a $6.50 fee for a new set of plates (front and back) and raises the replacement fee from $2 to $3.25 per plate. SB 429 cleared the Assembly 95-1, with only Rep. Sortwell (R-Two Rivers) voting against. The Senate passed the bill 30-2 on February 15, with Senate President Kapenga (R-Delafield) and Sen. Bradley (R-Franklin) voting against.
The Assembly also passed a variety of bills making relatively minor changes to state law, including more than a dozen bills recommended by the Law Revision Committee to correct errors in statute, remove obsolete provisions and references, and reconcile conflicting provisions. The chamber also passed several technical correction bills recommended by the Wisconsin Legislative Council and several bills recommended by the Wisconsin Ethics Commission to adjust the state’s ethics, lobbying, and campaign finance laws.
On February 24, the Assembly voted on the remaining proposals that it did not have time to consider the previous day, ultimately passing 18 bills and four resolutions. Perhaps the most notable bill to clear the chamber that day was SB 520, which authorizes almost $42 million in general fund-supported borrowing to build a new juvenile correctional facility in Milwaukee County. This facility will replace the troubled Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake Schools in Irma, which house male and female juvenile offenders, respectively. The existing facilities in Irma have been controversial because of high-profile violent incidents and ongoing reports of safety concerns from staff. Gov. Evers has signaled his support for this legislation.
The Assembly also voted to approve 12 election reform bills that previously cleared the Senate on February 22. One bill would adjust state laws on absentee ballots, while another would require the Wisconsin Elections Commission to work with the state Department of Transportation (WisDOT) to compare the state’s official voter registration list with personally identifiable information maintained by WisDOT. A third proposal would provide whistleblower protections to municipal clerks who witness and report fraud or irregularities during an election.
The package of election reform bills passed both houses on mostly party-line votes. Gov. Evers has previously promised to veto any bill that, in his view, would make it more difficult for people to vote in Wisconsin. The Assembly declined to take a vote on one of the Senate’s election reform proposals, SB 934, which would have affected a number of areas including the use of electronic voting equipment, training for municipal clerks, and data sharing between the Wisconsin Elections Commission and other state agencies.
Finally, the Assembly approved three resolutions proposing state constitutional amendments related to election law. One proposal would add a photo ID requirement for voting to the Wisconsin Constitution; a photo ID is currently required by statute to vote in Wisconsin. The other proposals would tighten voting eligibility language in the state Constitution and prohibit the use of private resources for election administration. If both houses of the Legislature pass the same resolutions next session, then the issues will appear on the ballot as referenda during the next statewide election. The proposals will become part of the state’s constitution if a majority of voters approve them.
See the articles below for more coverage of recent legislative issues in Wisconsin: