The Senate and Assembly convened several times over the past two weeks in the last floor sessions of 2017. While little controversial legislation is likely to be taken up the rest of session as legislators look ahead to the 2018 elections, several big pieces of legislation were sent to the governor, including administrative rule review changes, a resolution for a U.S. Constitutional Convention, a resolution to add victims’ rights to the Wisconsin Constitution, and a bill that repeals the prohibition on nonferrous mining in Wisconsin.
Senate – October 31
The Senate voted unanimously to pass Sen. Rob Cowles (R-Green Bay) and Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt’s (R-Fond du Lac) Leading on Lead Act that would allow water utilities to provide financial assistance to replace water laterals on private property containing lead. The Senate adopted a Substitute Amendment to the original bill, which, among other changes, included additional parameters on the financial assistance programs. The Assembly took up the Senate version in their Nov. 9 session, adding an amendment that capped 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 version capped the grant amount to 66 percent. The amendment also expanded additional requirements that were originally applied to only grants to also apply to all financial assistance (grants and loans). Democrats criticized the amendment as “watering down” the bill, but the bill passed via voice vote. The amended version now heads back to the Senate for approval.
The Senate later voted unanimously to pass Sen. Stephen Nass (R-Whitewater) and Rep. Bob Kulp’s (R-Stratford) bill that would make various changes to unemployment insurance law in Wisconsin. The bill is the agreed bill between labor and management members of the Unemployment Insurance Advisory Council under the Department of Workforce Development (DWD). The bill includes revisions to enhance DWD’s ability to collect unemployment insurance related debt, a provision that a claimant is ineligible for benefits each week the claimant conceals other payments, and other minor and technical changes to the unemployment insurance law.
Other bills of note passed by the Senate:
- A bill prohibiting adults from knowingly permitting illegal underage consumption of alcohol on premises under the adult’s control. The Assembly also passed the bill in their Nov. 9 session, sending it to Gov. Scott Walker.
- A bill increasing competitive bidding thresholds for local government projects.
- A bill granting local assistance for remediating contaminated wells.
Assembly – November 2
The Assembly approved, with several amendments, Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) and Rep. Rob Hutton’s (R-Brookfield) bill that would make changes to Wisconsin’s regulations on nonferrous mining. After much debate about the economic versus environmental effects of the bill, it passed 53-38 with Reps. Jeffrey Mursau (R-Crivitz), Todd Novak (R-Dodgeville), Patrick Snyder (R-Schofield), and Travis Tranel (R-Cuba City) the only Republicans voting no. After debate in the Senate and a partisan 19-14 vote for passage, the bill was sent to Gov. Scott Walker for signature.
The Assembly also passed the Public Service Commission (PSC) bill of modest reforms drafted by PSC staff. For example, the bill would update the Wisconsin “Digger’s Hotline” law and create a statutory procedure whereby PSC may consider settlements of all or part of utility rate cases. The Assembly passed the bill as a substitute amendment in a 57-36 vote along party lines, with Rep. John Spiros (R-Marshfield) the only Republican voting no.
Other bills of note passed by the Assembly:
- A resolution honoring the 30th anniversary of Associated Builders and Contractors apprenticeship program.
- A bill requiring certain services covered under the Medical Assistance The legislation clarifies that if a provider acting within his or her scope of practice, such as a physician assistant or nurse, orders a service covered by Medical Assistance, the order need not be co-signed by a physician. The Senate passed the bill on Nov. 7, sending it to the governor’s desk for signature.
Senate – November 7
After a long debate, the Senate passed a set of three bills calling for a constitutional convention to create an amendment requiring the federal government to operate under a balanced budget. Those who spoke against the bill worried about a “runaway convention” in which states could rewrite any part of the constitution. Those in favor of the bill, including author Sen. Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield), have highlighted the need for stability in the federal budget. The Senate voted 19-14 along party lines on all three bills. The Assembly passed the bills in June.
The Senate also passed Marsy’s Law, a resolution to amend the Wisconsin Constitution to create new crime victims’ rights. The bill had largely bipartisan support with only a few opponents, who argued that the rights listed in the bill are already present under Wisconsin law and could harm defendants’ rights. The resolution’s supporters, including author Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine), noted the need to equalize victim and defendant rights under the constitution. In a 27-4 vote, the Senate passed a substitute amendment to the original bill with two other amendments. Sens. Mark Miller (D-Monona), Fred Risser (D-Madison), Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee), and Kathleen Vinehout (D-Alma) were the four no votes.
Some members of the Assembly had similar concerns. The Assembly passed the resolution in their Nov. 9 session 81-10, with nine Democrats and Republican Rep. Robert Stafsholt (R-New Richmond) voting no. The resolution must pass both chambers again next session, then be ratified by the people of Wisconsin before it can be officially added to the state’s constitution.
On the same day, the Senate passed five bills from Sen. Leah Vukmir’s (R-Brookfield) Victim Prevention Package (SB 52, SB 53, SB 54, SB 55, and SB 56) meant to address the problem of repeat violent offenders, including one that would automatically revoke parole if a person is charged with a crime.
As part of the legislature’s regulatory reform efforts this session, the Senate passed Sen. Stephen Nass (R-Whitewater) and Rep. Joan Ballweg’s (R-Markesan) bill that would make various changes to administrative rule review processes, including an expedited procedure for repealing rules, agency review of rules, a biennial report on rules by the Legislative Reference Bureau, and retrospective impact analyses, among other changes. The bill passed 19-14 on party lines, sending the bill, which passed the Assembly in June, to the governor’s desk.
Other bills of note passed by the Senate:
- A bill that would legalize industrial hemp in Wisconsin. The Assembly unanimously passed the bill in their Nov. 9 session, sending it to the governor for signature.
- A bill that changes the requirements for parties petitioning for election recounts.
Assembly – November 7
The Assembly met briefly on Tuesday afternoon to vote on a short list of mostly non-controversial bills. Bills of note passed by the Assembly included:
- A bill allowing 15-year-olds to be employed as lifeguards.
- A bill loosening wetland mitigation requirements for permits to public utilities. The Senate also passed the Assembly version of the bill on Tuesday, Nov. 7, sending the bill to the governor’s desk.
Assembly – November 9
The Assembly passed several major bills that were passed by the Senate in previous floor votes, including the crime victim rights, lead pipe replacement bill, and industrial hemp bills mentioned above. On this final day of floor action for 2017, the Assembly passed several other high-profile bills.
After a long debate, the Assembly passed a bill that would create statewide standards for law enforcement body camera footage. Democrats offered several failed amendments to increase public access to footage under the bill, but author Rep. Jesse Kremer (R-Kewaskum) emphasized the need for citizens’ privacy. The bill passed via voice vote.
Also on Nov. 9, the Assembly passed Rep. Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna) and Sen. Alberta Darling’s (R-River Hills) bill that would put expiration dates on administrative rules. Part of Gov. Walker’s small business agenda, the bill passed the Assembly 60-33, along party lines.
In a unanimous vote, the Assembly also approved Rep. Cody Horlacher’s (R-Mukwonago) Hire Heroes bill that requires DWD to establish a program to provide transitional jobs to veterans.
The Assembly later approved a bill that would prohibit DWD from requiring apprenticeship programs to have more than one journeyworker per apprentice. Author Rep. Rob Hutton (R-Brookfield) and supporters including Associated Builders and Contractors say the bill would give employers more flexibility to get more skilled workers into trades without costing taxpayer money or endangering public safety. The bill passed 60-33, along party lines, and heads to the Senate for final passage, hopefully in January.