The Senate and Assembly both met in floor sessions on Jan. 23, 2018. Both houses of the legislature passed bills on a largely bipartisan basis, with a few outstanding exceptions. The Senate plans to meet again on Feb. 20, and the Assembly has indicated they will meet three to four times next month.
The Jan. 23 Senate floor session started off with a long, contentious debate on the appointments of Ethics Commissioner Brian Bell and Elections Commissioner Michael Haas. Senate Republicans voted to reject both commissioners’ appointments, with Sen. Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) and Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Brookfield), among others, citing concerns about their partisan bias and possible involvement in the “John Doe” investigations under what was formerly the Government Accountability Board. Democrats criticized Republicans for not holding a public hearing on the appointments.
After voting on the appointments, the Senate concurred in the Assembly amendment to SB 48, which would allow water utilities to provide financial assistance to replace water laterals on private property containing lead. The Assembly amendment caps the grant funds provided to a private property owner with lead pipes to no more than 50 percent of the cost of the replacement. The Senate concurred in the amendment via voice vote and sent the bill to Gov. Scott Walker for signature.
Also of note, the Senate passed several health care related bills, including SB 381, which would require the Department of Health Services to specify standards for reimbursement of complex rehabilitation technology under the Medical Assistance program, and SB 575, which would legalize biosimilar prescription drug alternatives. Other bills passed by the Senate in its Jan. 23 session include SB 69, related to waterskiing spotters; SB 473, creating a Green Alert for missing veterans; AB 326, allowing 15-year-olds to become lifeguards; and AB 527, related to sign procurement.
The Senate also passed, with amendments, AB 532, the Public Service Commission reform bill. The bill passed on a narrow 16-15 vote, with Sens. Rob Cowles (R-Green Bay) and Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville) joining all Senate Democrats in voting against the bill. The Senate messaged the bill to the Assembly, which later that day concurred in the Senate amendments and sent the bill to Gov. Walker for signature. Walker signed the bill on Jan. 31 as 2017 Act 136.
The Assembly session on Jan. 23 began with a speech from Rep. Jesse Kremer (R-Kewaskum) announcing he will not run for re-election in the fall. Following Kremer’s announcement, the Assembly took bipartisan votes on their calendar of bills including, AB 355, which would create criminal penalties for child neglect; AB 690 and AB 691, related to sheriffs’ foreclosure sales; AB 752, which would make changes related to alcoholic beverage license applications; and AB 842, a correction bill that makes technical changes to the Wisconsin Retirement System.
The Assembly also spent some time debating AB 308, which would change the composition of the Worker’s Compensation Council to require the proportion of representatives on the Council for organized labor to be the same as the proportion of union members in Wisconsin. The bill’s author Rep. John Spiros (R-Marshfield) argued that the bill simply codifies the council’s composition and would make the council more effective in making policy changes. Opponents argued the changes would destabilize the council’s balance between labor and management. Groups including Wisconsin AFL-CIO, Wisconsin Insurance Alliance, Wisconsin Defense Council, and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce are registered against the bill. The bill passed the Assembly on a 54-37 vote, with all Democrats and Reps. James Edming (R-Glen Flora), Todd Novak (R-Dodgeville), John Nygren (R-Marinette), and Tyler Vorpagel (R-Plymouth) voting no.
Another highly contentious bill was AB 771 that would make changes to Wisconsin’s landlord-tenant laws. Supporters of the bill said the bill makes owning property more affordable and is a solid compromise among all interested parties. Opponents of the bill had concerns about loss of local control and tenants’ rights and said the bill’s numerous provisions should have been broken up into separate bills. The bill passed 58-34, with Novak joining Democrats in voting against it.