This legislative session ended a bit differently from previous ones –
namely, it ended early. The Assembly and Senate leadership decided to
close up shop in February and March, respectively. Over the first three
months of the year, there was a mad rush to cram as many bills through
as possible. Sometimes bills were written so quickly that they needed to
be amended and corrected multiple times before we could vote on them.
Other days, we had floor calendars with over a hundred bills for us to
vote on. It was like cramming for final exams all over again, only this
time, the stakes were much higher.
If you are thinking to yourself that this doesn’t sound like the best
way to run our state then you are right. The chaotic rush to reach an
arbitrary deadline created friction between the political parties and
within them. It was common to see votes on bills split all over the
place, with D’s and R’s crisscrossing the aisle in ways we haven’t seen
in a long time. On a few bills, we were able to come together for the
good of Wisconsin. But on a lot of them, my colleagues just made a
bigger mess of things.
Here are some of
the more recent issues:
HIGH CAPACITY WELLS
• This bill would allow existing high-capacity well owners to rebuild or
replace their wells without a new permit.
• Current law requires approval from the DNR before any changes to a
high-cap well can be made.
• It would also transfer that ability to rebuild or replace without a
permit to future owners.
• It passed the Assembly along party lines.
CROSSING TRAIN TRACKS FOR FISHING
• A 2006 law created a number of issues of Western Wisconsinites being
unable to access public land along the Mississippi River because they
were unable to cross the train tracks.
• This new legislation would reinstate the old rule that allowed
pedestrians to walk directly across railroad tracks.
• It passed the Assembly on a bipartisan vote.
• This package of bills is part of a larger effort to curtail substance
abuse problems in Wisconsin, including prevention of prescription
painkiller and heroin use, equipping medical professionals and our law
enforcement with the tools they need to fight this epidemic, and
strengthening the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program.
ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE AND DEMENTIA TASKFORCE
• This year, the Speaker’s Taskforce on Alzheimer’s and Dementia put
together a package of bills aimed at funding research, training
specialists and equipping resource centers.
• The 10 bills passed the Assembly with wide bipartisan margins.
And that was just the Assembly side of things. As you know, in order for
a bill to become law, an identical version must be passed by both the
Assembly and the Senate before it can be signed into law by the
Governor. If one house adds an amendment at the last minute, the other
house must pass the amendment as well. If they don’t, the bill
effectively dies. What we saw this spring was a game of legislative
chicken between both houses of the Legislature. The Assembly finished
their business first, with the Speaker vowing that we would not be back
in session until next year. So all of our bills were sent over to the
Senate where some of them were passed and some of them were not. But
some of them were amended.
argued that their amendments made those bills better – but from a
practical standpoint, they also knew the Assembly was done. If they
added an amendment, it would kill the bill. In some cases, that is
exactly what they decided to do. In others, they simply refused to take
up the bill at all.
HIGH CAPACITY WELLS
• The Senate amendment removed a provision that would allow someone who
was harmed by someone else’s withdrawal of water to file a nuisance
action against that person.
• Despite passing the Assembly on a bipartisan vote, the Senate chose
not to even take up the bill for a vote.
ALZHEIMER’S AND DEMENTIA
• The Senate chose to only take up three of the ten bills.
And lest you think that all of this was one house’s fault or the other,
here are some bills that neither house chose to deal with:
• Creating nonpartisan redistricting
• Putting more money back into our public schools
• Allowing college students to refinance their student loans, just like
• Reporting fraud against WEDC
Even though my colleagues have called it quits, I’m still hard at work.
My door is always open if you ever have any questions about legislative
issues or are facing any problems with state government. And even though
everyone is saying we are done for the year, there is always a chance
that the Legislature will be called in for a special session.
One good thing
to come out of all this was that a bill of mine passed the Assembly. My
colleague Sen. Bewley and I introduced a bill designed to close a
loophole regarding gun threats made to schools. It didn’t get a vote in
the Senate but I am hopeful that we will be able to bring the bill up
again next session.
Here is some
background. In Wisconsin, if you call in a bomb threat to a school, the
District Attorney can charge you with a felony. But, if you call in a
gun threat to a school, the DA can only charge you with disorderly
conduct, the lowest misdemeanor, nothing more. That didn’t make sense to
me and it didn’t make sense to DA’s, police, and school districts around
the state. Under our bill, DA’s would have the option to charge someone
who threatens to bring a firearm to a school to shoot people with a
Another interesting thing about this bill was that the idea for it came
directly from a constituent. They found the loophole and they contacted
their state representatives with the suggestion of how to close it. We
were then able to shepherd the bill through the Assembly hearing process
and eventually on to the floor.
While we didn’t reach the desired outcome of getting this bill signed
into law, I hope this story inspires you to write to me with your
suggestions for legislation. The best bill ideas come from the people
and it allows me to do what you elected me to do – namely, represent
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