Hamilton Political Tidbits – March 31, 2017

Political Tidbits - March 31, 2017
Hamilton Consulting Group
 March 31, 2017
Wisconsin political news for clients and colleagues.

The Wisconsin budget process heated up this week, as JFC legislators questioned agency heads on the governor's 2017-19 proposed budget. This week's Tidbits includes a summary of the three full days of hearings. Also below, LFB projects a $1 billion structural deficit to start the 2019-21 biennium, Special Session bills addressing opioid abuse continue to move through the legislature, and Wisconsin Democrats unveil their legislative agenda. This week's Bills of Note features the high capacity well legislation, which the Senate will vote on next week. We also recap the latest Marquette poll and preview the upcoming spring election. 

If you wish to receive additional information about a topic addressed in Tidbits, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the Hamilton Consulting Team.

JFC Holds Agency Briefings

The Joint Finance Committee (JFC) met for three days this week to hear testimony from state agencies on the governor's proposed budget. Legislators questioned department heads on the implementation of budget proposals, and inquired about various agency services. Both Republicans and Democrats on JFC posed tough questions on the budget's biggest proposals, including moving state employees to self-insurance, increases in education funding and the transportation budget. Republicans re-ignited their contentious debate with Gov. Scott Walker about how to address the transportation shortfall. Democrats asked pointed questions about DOJ's testing of sexual assault kits, DNR's regulation for polluters, DHS's Medicaid funding and more. See below for coverage on each day's JFC briefings.
LFB Projects $1 Billion Structural Deficit Heading into 2019-21 Biennium

In a March 23 memo, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) projected the state will have a structural deficit of over $1 billion in the 2019-21 biennium. LFB's estimate of the deficit is an increase from the Walker administration's estimate of $735 million. The $1 billion structural deficit is higher than the $211 million structural deficit projected at the beginning of the 2017-19 biennium, but is still the third lowest since 1999.

Special Session Bills Move Through Committees

The Joint Finance Committee acted this week on several special session bills as part of Wisconsin's Heroin, Opiate, Prevention and Education (HOPE) Agenda. Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) introduced 11 special session bills in late February, and committee hearings took place in March. We anticipate the legislature will be on the floor the first week of April to take up the HOPE agenda bills.
Continue reading for the latest on the special session bills.
Bills of Note: High Capacity Wells

Sen. Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) introduced legislation (SB 76) in February that would change laws regulating the repair, replacement, reconstruction or transfer of high capacity wells. The bill would eliminate the need for the Department of Natural Resources to provide additional approval for an owner of an already approved high capacity well to repair, replace, reconstruct or transfer the well. Well owners would still have to notify DNR when they take any of these actions and would still be required to follow the conditions imposed by DNR in the initial approval of the well.
In a nine-hour hearing of the Senate Committee on Labor and Regulatory Reform and the Assembly Committee on Agriculture on March 15, lawmakers heard testimony on SB 76 and AB 105 from both farmers and environmentalists. The Senate committee later recommended the bill for passage, 3-2 along party lines. Sen. Majority Leader Fitzgerald said he is looking forward to debating the bill on the Senate floor next week.
Continue reading about the high capacity wells bill.
Wisconsin Democrats Release Legislative Agenda

On Thursday, March 16, Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse), Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha), and other Wisconsin Senate and Assembly Democrats held a news conference to unveil the "Wisconsin Way Forward" joint legislative agenda. Focused on fairness, opportunity, and community, the plan provides general ideas supported by Wisconsin legislative Democrats without yet providing specific policy details. Those proposals, indicated Democrats, will be announced in the weeks to come.
Marquette Law School Poll Released

On Wednesday, March 22, Marquette University Law School released its latest poll that compiled interviews with 800 registered Wisconsin voters between March 13-16, 2017. The poll gauged public opinion of national and Wisconsin elected officials, as well as pertinent issues circulating at the state and national level.

Statewide Elections: April 4

On Tuesday, April 4, a series of state races will be on the ballot for Wisconsin voters to determine. Most notably, Wisconsin's race for State Superintendent of Public Instruction places incumbent Tony Evers against Lowell Holtz, former superintendent from the Whitnall School District who advocates for school choice programs. Evers has held the position since 2009. The primary for the race was held on Tuesday, Feb. 21. Also of note, no challenger filed to run against Supreme Court Justice Annette Ziegler, whose Wisconsin Supreme Court seat is also on the April 4 ballot.

Continue reading about the April 4 elections.

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News Clips
Utilities and Energy
The only certainty in Trump's climate orders? More lawsuits: Utility Dive, March 30, 2017.

Economic Development
Retailer Kohl's named Wisconsin's most valuable brand: Wisconsin State Journal, March 30, 2017.

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