Floor Report: Senate and Assembly Wrap Up Priority Issues of 2017-18 Session

The Senate and Assembly met this week for what is likely the last floor votes of the 2017-18 session. Although the Assembly had said they were finished in February, Senate changes to priority issues led the Assembly to meet in extraordinary session on Thursday. In the extraordinary session, the Assembly passed gun safety legislation outside of what passed the Senate, and it is unclear whether the Senate will return to take up the controversial bill.


Senate Session

The Senate session on March 20 began with a several-hour delay while the Republican Senate and Assembly caucuses finalized compromises on several key issues including juvenile justice reform, the child tax rebate and sales tax holiday, and school safety.

On the child tax rebate and sales tax holiday, the Senate passed its own bill (SB 798) that narrowed the Assembly’s version, but still included the $100 per child credit and a one-time, two-day sales tax holiday the first weekend in August of 2018. The sales tax holiday exempts from sales taxes purchases of 1) clothing priced up to $75, 2) personal computers priced up to $750, 3) school computer supplies priced up to $250, and 4) school supplies priced up to $75.

Despite initial reluctance from the Republican Senate caucus, the Senate ultimately decided to pass a version of the juvenile justice bill (AB 953) restoring much of the legislation passed by the Assembly. The Senate plan closes Lincoln Hills, establishes a new facility for the more serious offenders, and includes the county run model for secured residential care centers for children and youth. The bill includes a study committee to make recommendations throughout the process.

On school safety, the Senate passed a substitute amendment to a bill already on the calendar (AB 843). The Senate’s plan mirrors most of Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal, including establishing an Office of School Safety in the Department of Justice and funding $100 million in school safety grants. The Senate version does not allow school safety officers as an eligible expense under the grant program and removes the privacy exemption in Walker’s plan for law enforcement access to school surveillance footage.

The Senate also passed an amended version of AB 773, a bill that would lower litigation costs for businesses by modernizing Wisconsin’s civil procedures for discovery and class actions. The Senate amendment to the bill, which first passed the Assembly on a bipartisan voice vote, would eliminate the provisions limiting discovery of electronically stored information.

The Senate also concurred in a long list of bills that now await Walker’s signature.

On AB 259, which updates the Wisconsin tax code to certain provisions in the Internal Revenue Code, Sen. Janis Ringhand (D-Evansville) introduced an amendment related to property tax assessments based on comparable sales, or what municipalities are calling the “dark store loophole.” While leadership ruled the amendment not germane, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said there would be an upcoming legislative study committee on the issue. The Senate then concurred in AB 259, as amended by the Assembly.

Other notable bills that will be signed into law include: occupation credential fee waivers for low-income individuals and veterans, apprenticeship participation for high schoolers, a $6.8 million talent attraction initiative, and this session’s two opioid abuse treatment and prevention bills.


Assembly Extraordinary Session

In the extraordinary session on Thursday, March 22, the Assembly took up and passed a short list of bills that had been amended by the Senate on Tuesday. The following bills were concurred in and sent to Gov. Scott Walker for signature:

  • AB 953, the juvenile corrections bill.
  • AB 773, related to civil litigation reform.
  • SB 798, the child tax rebate and sales tax holiday.

The bulk of the Assembly session focused on gun control and school safety proposals. After lots of debate on both sides of the aisle, the Assembly passed the Senate version of the school safety proposal (AB 843). That bill, which contains the school safety measures proposed by Walker, now heads to his desk for signature.

However, the Assembly also passed a substitute amendment to one of the original school safety bills (AB 1031) that expands background checks, creates a school safety hotline, and changes victim compensation statutes. The Assembly also passed AB 1033, which allows a privacy exemption in for law enforcement access to school surveillance footage. The bill was part of Walker’s original school safety plan but was removed in the Senate proposal. It is still unclear whether the Senate will reconvene to take up AB 1031 and 1033.