The Week of November 2, 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 Assembly met on October 27 to take up a bill relating to Wisconsin's civil service rules, among other proposals. The current floorperiod runs through Thursday, November 5, and members have been told to prepare for possible floorsessions until then.

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

Recent Legislative Action

GAB Reorganization

On October 22, the Senate Committee on Elections and Local Government met in executive session to consider 2015 Senate Bill 294, which eliminates the Government Accountability Board (GAB) and replaces it with an ethics commission and an elections commission. The committee voted to recommend adoption of two amendments, each on a vote of 4-1. Senate Amendment 1 creates a process that determines the funding for the two commissions, under which the Secretary of Administration submits an implementation plan to the Joint Committee on Finance by June 1, 2016. Senate Amendment 2 reduces the number of members on each commission from at least eight to at least six, with one member selected by a political party, other than the two major political parties, that qualifies for a separate ballot whose candidate for governor received at least 10 percent of the vote in the most recent election. The amendment also clarifies that appointees who are not initial appointees to the boards may serve prior to Senate confirmation. Senate Amendment 2 additionally provides a procedure for selecting the chair of each commission where the chair is chosen every two years on a rotating basis between the two major political parties. Finally, the amendment also requires the commission to conduct meetings in accordance with accepted parliamentary procedure. The committee voted to recommend passage of the bill, as amended, by a vote of 3-2. The Assembly passed 2015 Assembly Bill 388 on October 21 by a vote of 58-39. That bill also eliminates the GAB and replaces it with an ethics commission and an elections commission. AB-388 has been sent to the Senate.

Campaign Finance

The Senate Committee on Elections and Local Government also considered 2015 Senate Bill 292 at its October 22 executive session. SB-292 rewrites current laws related to campaign finance. On a vote of 3-2 each, the committee voted to recommend adoption of Senate Amendments 1 and 2 to the bill. The amendments combine to make significant changes to SB-292, such as definitions and reporting information and timelines. Senate Amendment 1 creates exceptions to definitions created by SB-292 about what constitutes a "contribution" and a "disbursement" related to issue advocacy, communication between an organization and its members, internet activity, and media coverage. Both amendments together clarify definitions such as "express advocacy," "political action committee," "independent expenditure committee," and "referendum committee." Amendment 1 requires that a contributor report his or her occupation, rather than his or her principal place of employment, as proposed in the original bill. The timeline for reporting of late contributions would be extended from 48 hours to 72 hours. Event-based reporting required for express advocacy would be extended to 60 days for all entities, and the threshold for reporting would be lowered from $5,000 to $2,500. Exceptions are made for attributions on small items containing express advocacy, including electronic communications such as text messages and social media communications. Committees regulated under the bill would be required to register and identify the type of committee they are registering as. Nonresident committees would be required to report contributions from sources within the state. Amendment 1 eases the bill's prohibitions on candidates soliciting services from state officers and employees, as well as restrictions on employers expressing political opinions. Amendment 2 provides that information from campaign finance reports cannot be sold or utilized for any commercial purpose. The Legislative Council has provided a 12-page memo with more information about the effects of both amendments. The committee voted to recommend the SB-292 for passage, as amended, on a vote of 3-2. On October 21, the Assembly passed 2015 Assembly Bill 387, which also rewrites campaign finance laws, by a vote of 61-0. That bill is also with the Senate.

Civil Service System

On October 27, the Assembly approved 2015 Assembly Bill 373, which 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. The vote was 57-35.  The bill is now with the Senate and has been referred to the Joint Committee on Finance. The committee will hold an executive session on AB-373 and its companion bill, SB-285, on Wednesday, November 4.

Passed by the Assembly on October 27

In addition to the Civil Service bill, several other proposals were approved by the Assembly during the floorsession. 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, passed by a vote of 90-2;
  • 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, was approved on a voice vote, with one amendment;
  • 2015 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, was approved on a voice vote;
  • 2015 Assembly Bill 239, which allows school districts to let students opt out of certain statewide tests in grades 3-12, was approved on a voice vote;
  • 2015 Assembly Bill 142, as amended by Assembly Substitute Amendment 1, which eliminates the prohibition on switchblades and prohibits a person who may not possess a firearm from going armed with a concealed knife, was approved on a voice vote; and
  • 2015 Assembly Joint Resolution 5, which eliminates the office of State Treasurer from the constitution, was approved by a vote of 66-33.

Committee Activity

Hunter Interference and Blaze Pink

On October 28, the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources and Sporting Heritage held a public hearing on 2015 Assembly Bill 433, relating to interfering with hunting, fishing, and trapping. The Legislative Council has archived submitted testimony and other materials. At an executive session earlier in the day, the committee voted to recommend Assembly Bill 291 for passage, 14-1. That bill would allow hunters to wear the color blaze pink.

Upcoming Activity

In addition to the Joint Committee on Finance, committees holding public hearings this week include the Assembly Committee on State Affairs and Government Operations, the Assembly Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety, and the Speaker's Task Force on Youth Workforce Readiness. Check the committee schedule for updated information throughout the week.

Recently Introduced Proposals

2015 Senate Bill 365, introduced on October 29, prohibits a person from carrying a dangerous weapon on a university or college campus.

2015 Senate Bill 363, introduced on October 29, eliminates the provision that allows the University of Wisconsin System and Technical Colleges to prohibit persons from carrying a concealed weapon on campus.

2015 Senate Bill 362, introduced on October 29, would prohibit all hunting in state parks.

2015 Senate Bill 352, introduced on October 29, would require employers to provide paid sick leave for certain employees.

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

Signed into Law

As of Friday, October 30, the governor has signed 64 bills into law from the current session.

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

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

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Last revised: November 2, 2015