The Week of October 26, 2015

The Wisconsin Legislature's 2015-2016 legislative session began on January 5, 2015. The schedule of floorperiods is established by Senate Joint Resolution 1. The Senate and Assembly held floorsessions on October 20 and 21. Items taken up include proposals affecting John Doe hearings, campaign finance, and the reorganization of the Government Accountability Board. The Assembly is scheduled to meet on Tuesday to take up a bill relating to Wisconsin's civil service rules, among other proposals. The current floorperiod runs through November 5, and members have been told to prepare for possible floorsessions during the next two weeks.

For daily updates on Wisconsin politics in the news, please see our Capitol Headlines page.

Recent Legislative Action

John Doe Investigations

Both the Senate and the Assembly approved 2015 Senate Bill 43, related to John Doe proceedings. The Senate approved SB-43 by a vote of 18-14. The Senate approved 3 amendments to the bill, SA-5, SA-6, and SA-7. A total of 28 amendments were offered in the Senate. The Assembly passed the bill by a vote of 61-36 later on October 21. SB-43 will now go to the governor's office for approval. Among the changes proposed to current law, the bill limits the length of such proceedings to six months, generally limits the crimes that may be investigated to certain felonies in the criminal code, limits the application of secrecy orders to the judge, the prosecuting attorney, law enforcement, and court reporters and interpreters, and makes records on the costs of John Doe proceedings a matter of public record. The bill was signed into law by the governor on Friday as 2015 Wisconsin Act 64.

GAB Reorganization

The Assembly passed 2015 Assembly Bill 388 on October 21 by a vote of 58-39. The bill eliminates the Government Accountability Board (GAB) and replaces it with an ethics commission and an elections commission. Each commission would consist of six members; four members of each commission would be appointed by legislative leadership, and two members would be nominated by the governor. Each commission would be able to investigate only violations of laws administered by that commission upon the filing of a sworn complaint with the commission, except for violations that result in a payment not exceeding $2,500. The bill also requires the commissions to disclose certain information related to investigations and advisory opinions. Two amendments to the bill were adopted. AA-1 refines the language related to how many people serve on each board, when they may serve, and how long their terms are. A Legislative Council memo explains the amendment in depth. AA-4 covers technical funding and implementation issues identified by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. The bill has been sent to the Senate.

Campaign Finance

The Assembly also passed 2015 Assembly Bill 387, which would rewrite current laws related to campaign finance, by a vote of 61-0. Members of the Democratic Party recused themselves from voting on the bill. The proposal doubles the current campaign contribution limits for candidates for state and local office and would require those limits to be adjusted every five years in relation to the consumer price index. The bills would define a political action committee (PAC) and would allow contributions to PACs to be unlimited. The bill would allow unlimited contributions to political action committees. The bill would prohibit coordination between candidates and committees and would require committees to report their activities related to express advocacy. The Assembly adopted Assembly Amendment 1 and Assembly Amendment 11 to the bill.

Civil Service System

2015 Assembly Bill 373, introduced on October 7, has been placed on the Assembly floor calendar for Tuesday, October 27. The bill makes changes to the civil service laws, including changes related to hiring, probationary periods, reinstatements and restoration, layoff criteria, just-cause standards, and the appeals process for certain adverse employment actions.  They also create a discretionary merit award program for classified employees.  The Assembly Committee on State Affairs and Government held an executive session on October 21 and voted to recommend the bill for passage, with one amendment, 8-5. A public hearing was held on October 15.

Personal Privacy

On October 20, the Senate passed 2015 Assembly Bill 8, related to making the practice of "upskirting" a felony offense. The bill passed on a voice vote. The bill creates an additional crime of invasion of privacy for a person who uses a device to view areas of another person's body under his or her clothes without consent. The bill passed the Assembly in January. It will now go to the governor for his approval.

School Board Vacancies

The Senate also passed 2015 Assembly Bill 325, which allows the school board president of the Racine Unified School District to appoint a member to a school board vacancy, on October 20. The bill also requires other school boards to create a policy specifying how vacancies will be filled if the board does not take action within 60 days. The vote was 17-14. AB-325 passed the Assembly in September. The bill was signed into law on Friday as 2015 Wisconsin Act 63.

WEDC CEO

The Senate approved the appointment of Mark Hogan as CEO of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) on October 20. The vote was 23-9.

Also on the Tuesday Calendar

In addition to the Civil Service bill, several other proposals have been placed on the Assembly calendar for October 27. These include:

  • 2015 Assembly Bill 394, which requires the Group Insurance Board to submit all proposed changes to health insurance programs to the Joint Committee on Finance;
  • 2015 Assembly Bill 308, which provides an exemption from civil liability if a person damages a vehicle in an attempt to save a child or a domestic animal;
  • 2015 Assembly Bill 287 and Senate Bill 254, which makes changes to the Achievement Gap Reduction program, which was created earlier this year to replace the SAGE program in Wisconsin schools (SB-254 was approved by the Senate on October 20);
  • 2015 Assembly Bill 239, which allows school districts to let students opt out of certain statewide tests in grades 3-12;
  • 2015 Assembly Bill 142, which redefines a switchblade under state law and allows persons with concealed carry licenses to carry switchblades; and
  • 2015 Assembly Joint Resolution 5, which eliminates the office of State Treasurer from the constitution.

Recently Introduced Proposals

2015 Assembly Bill 450, introduced on October 23, prohibits a town, city, village, or county from enacting or enforcing an ordinance that prohibits immigration status inquiries.

2015 Assembly Bill 447, introduced on October 22, increases the penalties for a third and subsequent OWI offense. AB-446, 445, and 444 also relate to OWI offenses.

A list of recently introduced proposals is available at the legislature's 2015 documents site.

Committee Activity

As of Friday, October 23, committee activity is scheduled for everyday this week. The Assembly Committee on Transportation will hold a public hearing on a number of bills on Wednesday. Check the committee schedule for updated information throughout the week.

Signed into Law

As of Friday, October 23, the governor has signed 64 bills into law from the current session. The governor recently signed 2015 Senate Bill 236 into law as Act 62, which allows temporary Class "B" licenses for alcohol to be issued to a Chamber of Commerce, in effect making civically sponsored "Wine Walks" legal. See John Doe Investigations and School Board Vacancies sections for Acts 63 and 64.

A list of enrolled bills that are ready to be sent to the governor is updated regularly.

Recent Publications

For information about legislative service agency publications, see the left panel of the Spotlight index page.

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Last revised: October 26, 2015