What Can We Expect in 2017?

While the legislators are headed home to their districts for campaign season, those staying in Madison are already speculating what to expect next legislative session. Inauguration Day is ten months out, however some legislators are already committing to their top issues for next session, and those in the majority will get to decide the legislature’s agenda.

With such a large majority, it would be very difficult for Republicans to lose so many seats in the legislature that control of the house would flip to Democrats. However, the typical rules and assumptions of election season are quickly disappearing with this unusual national race. Should Donald Trump be the Republican nominee, there is no telling how his candidacy would affect down ticket races on the ballot.

Below are issues you can expect to see when the 103rd Wisconsin State Legislature convenes.

Regulatory Reform

The failure to pass Assembly Bill 251, known as the Wisconsin REINS Act, was a major disappointment for Wisconsin’s business community. The bill would have required agencies to stop work on any rules having an estimated fiscal impact over $10 million. The agency could proceed upon passage of authorizing legislation or reducing the cost below $10 million. In the lead-up to the final day of session, Governor Walker voiced his support for the bill, leaving many to believe that meaningful regulatory reform would pass. However, the Senate adjourned without voting on the bill. Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said some members in his caucus, including himself, had “concerns that this bill will not accomplish its stated objective.” The majority leader said regulatory reform would be a priority in 2017, and plans to “advance a complete regulatory reform package in January.”

Transportation Funding

Just as in the 2015-2017 budget, the big discussion in next year’s budget will be largely centered on transportation funding. The legislators on the Joint Committee on Finance (JFC), like Co-Chair Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) are looking for a long-term funding solution to Wisconsin’s transportation. “All options” are on the table, according to Rep. Nygren, who has committed to looking at both Wisconsin’s gas tax and tolling options around the state.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) will likely release a report on the state of their budget for the coming budget cycle this spring or early summer. The agency’s report will provide some insight on current funding levels going into the next biennum.

Minimum Markup

Legislation to repeal Wisconsin’s antiquated Unfair Sales Act was introduced this session, but a public hearing was never held on the legislation. However, with a strong group of legislators still supporting the legislation in the Assembly, and an even stronger push from conservative media and groups on this issue, the legislation is likely to return next session.

State Employee Health Insurance RFP

The state Group Insurance Board (GIB) will soon be seeking proposals for a self-insurance program for state employees that would aim to be implemented in 2018. The company selected will require the approval of JFC, as was designated in legislation signed by the governor in November 2015.

The move to a self-insurance plan came after an independent consultant said there are financial reasons for the state to self-insure, potentially resulting in $40 million to $50 million in annual savings. Specifically, Segal Consulting noted “[t]he vast majority of other states utilize self-insurance for their state employee health plans and, in our analysis, there does not appear to be a compelling reason for [the state] to remain fully insured over the long-term strategy.” Segal Consulting recommended a phased-in approach for the state to transition to self-insurance.

The selection of a company for such a significant state contract will certainly be above-the-fold news. The results of the requests for proposals will be expected in November 2016. Once the legislature convenes in January 2017, JFC will be available to review GIB’s final plan and selection.

High Capacity Wells

With the Senate’s decision to take up their version of the high capacity well bill, the legislation is dead for this session. The regulation of Wisconsin’s high capacity wells has been a contentious issue for years, and has only become more confusing after a Wisconsin Supreme Court decision in 2011 resulted in the DNR halting approvals of any high capacity well applications.

In February, Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) requested a formal opinion from Attorney General Brad Schimel on the authority of the DNR’s authority to apply conditions related to monitoring wells and cumulative impact analyses prior to the grant of a high-capacity well permit.

Given the legislature’s inability to move any high capacity well legislation this session, this topic is likely to return again next session. In the meantime we wait for the Attorney General’s formal opinion.

Study Committees

This summer, Legislative Council will host study committees and symposiums aimed at reviewing and developing legislative proposals. The committees, made up of legislators and citizens, will spend the summer hearing testimony and discussing legislative options.

Often times, the final product is legislation that Legislative Council will introduce in the next session. For example, this year’s bill package to reform tax increment financing statute came out of a 2014 study committee. Other legislation, which created a set of statutes to govern the transfer of structured settlement payments, also was a result of a 2014 study committee.

This summer’s study committees and its special citizen members will likely be announced later this spring.