Legislature Plans Busy Fall Session

After spending summer away from the state house, legislators are back in Madison for the fall floor period. The Senate was back in session on September 17th, and the Assembly will be back in October. Both houses have ambitious plans for passing legislation now that the state budget is no longer dominating the legislature’s attention.

Gov. Walker has said he will roll out a package of bipartisan bills — some new, some old — for consideration by the legislature that are aimed at bolstering workforce development, offering tax breaks to businesses, and eliminating regulations. Legislative leaders from both houses and both parties have echoed the Governor’s call for a focus on bills that will help improve Wisconsin’s economy and facilitate job creation.

Access to capital continues to be a roadblock for Wisconsin start-ups, so one popular piece of legislation, AB 350, would allow investors to get ownership and a potential return on their investment in crowdfunding projects. Right now the public only gets a small trinket of appreciation and enjoyment of being a part of the creative process for their donation, but the bill would expand crowdfunding in Wisconsin by creating a state securities exemption that would allow Wisconsin businesses to raise up to $1 million from both accredited and non-accredited Wisconsin investors without an audit, or up to $2 million if the company agrees to be audited. Non-accredited investors would be able to invest up to $5,000 in a single crowdfunding campaign.

The legislature is also moving along a bill, SB132/AB147, to increase the historic tax credit from 5% to 20% of eligible costs, and a bill, SB252/AB289, that would allow cities to have the Dept. of Revenue do a re-valuation of Tax Increment Finance (TIF) Districts that are in the red. The historic tax credit and TIFs are both commonly used economic development tools, so improving them means improving Wisconsin’s ability to move the state’s economy forward.

One bill that has garnered bi-partisan support would prohibit employers from requesting or requiring an employee, student or applicant to disclose a user name or password for a personal social media account, like Facebook or Twitter. The bill, AB218/SB223, which is sponsored by political odd-couple Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) and Rep. Melissa Sargent (D-Madison), would place the prohibition on any employer, educational institution or landlord in an effort to protect any employee, job applicant, prospective student, tenant or prospective tenant. The proposal would also prohibit retaliation against any person for refusing to comply with such a request.

A number of other items that are only tangentially or not at all related to improving the state’s economy also gathered steam over the summer.

Mining is once again a hot topic in the capitol. Sen. Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst), who was one of the authors of the iron mining bill that passed earlier this session, has introduced a bill, SB278, that would close managed forest areas surrounding the proposed mine in Northern Wisconsin to the public. The legislation, which was introduced in response to protests that have occurred at the mining site, appeared to be on the fast track after the bill was introduced, heard in committee, and passed by committee in short order, but it was not on the Senate agenda for its first day back in session.

One of the most controversial bills under consideration is SB236/AB287, which would permit the sale of unpasteurized, or raw, milk products. Hearings on the bill have drawn large crowds as the state’s role in protecting public health is contrasted with the conceptions of individual liberties and personal choice.

The legislature is also poised to consider a slew of bills related to the regulation of drunk driving and other alcohol-related legislation. Rep. Jim Ott (R-Mequon) and Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) have introduced a package of drunken-driving bills that would allow authorities to seize the vehicles of third or subsequent offenders (SB61/AB72), make the first offense a criminal offense rather than a civil offense and require the offender to appear in court (SB58/AB68, SB57/AB67), increase the penalties for serial offenders (SB174/AB180, SB60/AB71), and create mandatory minimum sentences for drunken drivers who injure or kill someone (SB56/AB69). The cost and adequacy of enforcement have been the main topics of debate during hearings on these bills.

As the 2013-14 Legislative Session progresses, the Hamilton team is working to make sure our clients have the tools necessary to accomplish their government relations goals. We encourage our clients to remember to make use of all the many services we provide:

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