After meeting on Feb. 11 and 18, the Assembly met last night, Feb. 20, for what Speaker Vos publicly said would be the last day of regular session until January 2021. The Senate met on Feb. 19 and has indicated it will meet for one more regular session day in late March before adjournment.
With so little time left in the 2019-20 legislative session, the Senate and Assembly calendars were packed as legislators pushed to get their bills over the finish line before heading into the 2020 election season.
Feb. 11 – Assembly Passes Crime Package
The Feb. 11 Assembly floor session focused on the Assembly Republicans’ “Tougher on Crime” package. The Assembly passed on partisan votes bills related to protecting victims (AB 804), revoking parole, probation or extended supervision if a person is charged with a crime (AB 805), expanding the felonies for which juveniles may be placed in corrections institutions (AB 806), prosecuting violent felons for firearm possession (AB 808), and limiting early release for violent crimes (AB 809). The Senate took up the bills on Feb. 19, approving them all by voice vote and sending them to Gov. Evers for review. (The Senate did amend AB 805, reversing an Assembly amendment to limit the revocation to violent misdemeanors and felonies. Regardless, the Assembly concurred in the Senate’s amended version in its final session day on Feb. 20 with a vote of 59-40.)
Outside of the crime package, the Assembly also passed a bipartisan bill creating a new crime for mail theft (AB 734). This bill also passed the Senate on Feb. 19, sending it to Gov. Evers for review.
In addition to the “Tougher on Crime” bills, the Assembly passed a bill to reduce recidivism by helping non-violent ex-offenders get back to work. AB 30, creating a procedure to award certificates of qualification for employment to such ex-offenders, passed unanimously. The bill also passed unanimously in the Senate on Feb. 19, so is now available for the governor to review.
Also on the calendar was a controversial bill on sexual assault evidence kit testing (AB 844). After back and forth between Assembly Republicans and Attorney General Josh Kaul on legislation developed and supported by the AG and passed the Senate in October, the Assembly passed a version including provisions requiring police to notify immigration authorities if defendants are in the country illegally and allowing student victims to enter Wisconsin’s school choice programs. The bill passed the Assembly on a party line vote. The Senate has yet to take up the bill.
Feb. 18 – Assembly Passes Water Quality, Health Care Bills
A large part of the Assembly’s second-to-last floor session focused on bills from the Speaker’s Task Force on Water Quality. The Assembly passed all 13 bills recommended by the Task Force in January. Only three of the water quality bills passed without bipartisan support: AB 793, making changes to the municipal flood control and riparian restoration grant program in the Department of Natural Resources; AB 794, providing transparency in the Department of Natural Resources and Department of Health Services process of setting groundwater standards; and AB 798, providing grants for local water improvement groups to conduct projects using biomanipulation to improve the water quality. The water quality bills were not included on the Senate calendar on Feb. 19, and it is unclear whether the Senate will take them up in what is expected to be their final floor session in March.
Several health care bills were also on the Assembly calendar on Feb. 18. The bills are now eligible for a Senate vote in March.
The Assembly passed on a bipartisan voice vote the Collaboration and Rural Expansion of Services (CARES) Act (AB 575), which would update Wisconsin statutes related to physician assistants.
The Assembly also passed a bill that would regulate pharmacy benefit managers (AB 114). Health insurance and business groups, including the Alliance of Health Insurers, America’s Health Insurance Plans, Wisconsin Association of Health Plans, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, and Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce opposed the bill as originally drafted as it would jeopardize cost-cutting strategies pharmacy benefit managers and insurers use to manage the costs of prescription drugs. Some of the provisions that would increase overall costs for Wisconsin consumers and employers were removed from the legislation in a substitute amendment. With these changes, the bill could pass the Senate when they convene in March.
Feb. 19 – Senate Confirms Appointees, Passes Tax Cut
The Senate began its session on Feb. 19 by confirming several Gov. Evers appointees. Department of Children and Families nominee Emilie Amundson was confirmed 32-1, with Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) the only no vote. Department of Natural Resources nominee Preston Cole was confirmed unanimously. Status of other Gov. Evers appointments.
The Senate also sent several bipartisan bills to Gov. Evers desk for his review and potential signature, including:
- AB 470, which adds 12 new circuit court branches to the state.
- Four bills that were part of Rep. John Nygren’s (R-Marinette) opioid package (AB 645, AB 646, AB 647, AB 650). Read more about opioid legislation this session.
- AB 633, which clarifies the use of the private transport for individuals under emergency detention.
The Senate had also intended to take up legislation regulating direct primary care AB 26 (which passed the Assembly in January) and a $250 million tax cut package proposed by Republicans (SB 821). However, Democrats objected to the third reading of these two bills, so the Senate pushed votes on the legislation until the next day. When the Senate reconvened on Thursday morning, both bills passed on party-line votes.
Feb. 20 – Assembly Sends Tax Cut to Gov. Evers, Passes PFAS Provisions
After the Senate passed the Republican tax cut proposal on Thursday morning, the Assembly followed. The legislation passed 65-34, with Reps. Steve Doyle (D-Onalaska) and Nick Milroy (D-South Range) the only Democrats voting yes. The Republican tax cut legislation now goes to Gov. Evers, who will likely veto the bill, as it competes with a tax cut and education spending increase he had separately proposed.
Bills sent to the governor’s desk also included law enforcement body cameras (SB 50), physician assistants practicing in the armed services (SB 514), and a clarification of the definition and prior authorization timelines for complex rehabilitation technology under the state’s Medical Assistance programs (SB 605).
The Assembly also sent a handful of bills over to the Senate for the Senate to potentially consider in its final floor session in March, including provisions to address PFAS contamination in Wisconsin.
As an amendment tacked on to SB 559 (an unrelated bill), the Assembly passed on a party line vote language that:
- Directs the UW System to perform a study and report to the Legislature on PFAS effects in the human body, drinking water and groundwater.
- Directs DNR to test private wells and municipal water systems for PFOA and PFOS in places around the state that have detected PFAS, investigate PFAS in those areas, and provide clean drinking water to residents affected.
- Directs DNR to recoup payments for testing, investigation, and clean water from responsible parties who have used firefighting foam containing PFAS.
- Directs DNR to set lab certification standards.
The Assembly also passed and sent to the Senate bills:
- Raising the legal age for sale of tobacco to 21, in accordance with new federal law (AB 422)
- Streamlining the municipal collection of room taxes from lodging marketplaces (e.g. short-term rentals). (AB 683)
- A package of bills on agriculture, including some proposed by the governor.
- Extending bar hours during the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee this summer (AB 869)