The Week of November 9, 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 November 3 to take up bills related to public benefits and other items. The most recent regular floorperiod ended on Thursday, November 5, and the Senate and Assembly have called themselves into extraordinary session to finish work on their fall agenda, including the reorganization of the Government Accountability Board and campaign finance laws. The Senate met on Friday, November 6, while the Assembly plans to meet next week to concur in the Senate's actions.

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

Recent Legislative Action

GAB Reorganization

On November 6, the Senate met to consider amendments to  2015 Assembly Bill 388, which replaces the Government Accountability Board (GAB) with an ethics commission and an elections commission. Senate Amendment 2 replaces the proposed members who would have been county or municipal clerks with two members who formerly served as judges. The more extensive Senate Amendment 1 makes changes related to how the chairperson and the administrator of the commissions are chosen. It also provides that the members appointed by legislative leadership and the governor can serve in a nonvoting capacity beginning on February 2016. The amendment also allows members of the relevant Senate and Assembly standing committees to call employees of the current GAB before them to ascertain the progress of the transition. The Senate adopted SA-1 on a vote of 18-14. Senate Amendment 2 was adopted on a voice vote. Four other amendments were laid on the table during debate. The final vote on passage of AB-388 was 18-14. The Assembly first passed 2015 Assembly Bill 388 on October 21 by a vote of 58-39. It will meet next week to concur in the Senate amendments.

Campaign Finance

The Senate also debated changes to 2015 Assembly Bill 387 on November 6, which rewrites the current laws on campaign finance. Senate Amendment 1 makes several changes. It lowers the threshold for triggering the registration of a Political Action Committee (PAC) or Independent Expenditure Committee (IEC) from $5,000 to $2,500. It also changes the ongoing reporting by such committees from quarterly to twice-yearly. In addition, SA-1 deletes a requirement that contribution limits be modified to adjust for changes to the Consumer Price Index. Segregated funds may not be used by a political party or legislative campaign committee for express advocacy or contributions to a candidate committee. It also modifies the coordination restrictions in the bill, applying them only to PACs, IECs, and other entities required to report express advocacy. It also makes changes to what constitutes coordination under the bill. SA-1 was adopted on a voice vote. Thirteen other amendments were introduced but tabled during debate. The final vote on passage of AB-387 was 17-15.  On October 21, the Assembly passed AB-387 by a vote of 61-0. It will meet next week to concur in the Senate amendments.

Civil Service System

On November 4, the Joint Committee on Finance voted in executive session to recommend 2015 Assembly Bill 373 for concurrence by a vote of 12-4.  AB-373 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 Assembly approved the bill on October 27 by a vote of 57-35.  Its companion bill, SB-285, was also recommended for passage by the committee, with amendments that would remove a provision prohibiting the consideration of a conviction record of a job candidate, specify a new process for the treatment of veterans, specify a one-year probationary period, and make changes to provisions on performance reviews, discipline, the grievance process, layoffs and the compensation plan.

Concealed Carry for Service Members and Former Officers

2015 Assembly Bill 75 allows members of the armed forces who are stationed in Wisconsin to be eligible for a license to carry a concealed weapon.  The bill was concurred in by the Senate on a voice vote on November 6. It was passed by the Assembly in June on a vote of 91-8. 2015 Assembly Bill 77 allows the Department of Justice to certify qualified residents who were employed in another state as a law enforcement officer to carry a concealed weapon. The Senate concurred in the bill on November 6. It passed the Assembly in June on a vote of 89-10.

Mandatory Minimum Sentences Related to Firearms

The Senate concurred in 2015 Assembly Bill 220 on November 6, by a vote of 23-9. The bill establishes mandatory minimum sentences for those who have a previous conviction for a violent felony and are convicted of illegally possessing a firearm or committing a violent felony using a firearm in addition to having a previous conviction for a violent felony. Assembly Amendment 3, adopted by the Assembly in June, applies the mandatory minimum sentence for possessing a firearm only to those who are convicted of illegal possession within five years of completing a prior sentence for a felony or a violent misdemeanor.

Opioid Antagonists

On November 3, the Assembly adopted a substitute amendment to 2015 Assembly Bill 427, which clarifies the law related to prescribing opioid antagonists, which are used in an emergency on people who have overdosed on heroin. The law was a part of a package of bills offered by Representative Nygren during the 2013 Session related to treatment of heroin abuse. The Senate concurred in the proposal on November 6.

Other Assembly Floor Action

The Assembly met on November 4 to take action on bills related to public benefits, such as FoodShare and unemployment insurance, as well as other proposals detailed below.

Public Benefits. The Assembly passed three bills related to the FoodShare program. 2015 Assembly Bill 188 suspends benefits for FoodShare accounts not used for six months or more, and expunges unused benefits after one year, whether the account is active or not. The bill was passed by a vote of 66-31. 2015 Assembly Bill 200 limits the number of FoodShare replacement cards. Under an adopted substitute amendment, a maximum of four replacement cards could be issued in a 12-month period before the Department of Health Services must refer the account for review of misuse. The final vote for passage of the bill was 66-31. 2015 Assembly Bill 222 requires a FoodShare card to contain a photo ID. The implementation plan must be approved by the Joint Committee on Finance. The bill passed by a vote of 57-40. Finally, 2015 Assembly Bill 212 disqualifies people from unemployment insurance benefits if they commit two acts of concealment or impersonation in a benefit year. The disqualification would last for seven years. The bill passed with amendments (related to federal funding and the effective date) by a vote of 63-34.

Student Debt. The Assembly held a lengthy debate on whether to pull 2015 Assembly Bill 272, related to refinancing of student debt, from the Committee of Ways and Means for a vote by the full house. The motion was rejected by a vote of 36-61. The bill would create a new authority tasked with developing a program to refinance student loan debt.

Blaze Pink. The Assembly approved 2015 Assembly Bill 291 on a voice vote. The bill would allow hunters to wear the color blaze pink.

Other Senate Floor Action

In addition to the GAB and campaign finance proposals discussed above, the Senate calendar included over three dozen proposals. They took action on several, including:

Lead Testing. 2015 Senate Bill 178 exempts certain lead-safe renovations from lead sampling and testing requirements. The substitute amendment to the bill was adopted, and the bill passed by a vote of 18-14.

Building Materials. 2015 Senate Bill 227 exempts tangible personal property that becomes a component of a facility that is owned by a county, municipality, school district, or a nonprofit organization from the sales and use taxes. The bill passed unanimously.

Forcibly Entering a Vehicle. 2015 Assembly Bill 308, which exempts a person from civil liability if he or she breaks into a car to save a child or domestic animal, was concurred in on a voice vote. The bill passed the Assembly on October 27.

Prosecution for Sexual Assault. 2015 Senate Bill 170 increases the statute of limitations for prosecutions of second- and third-degree sexual assault from six to ten years. The bill passed on a voice vote.

Committee Activity

Road Borrowing and Gun Violence Prosecutors Approved

On November 4, the Joint Committee on Finance met under statute section 13.10 to approve additional funding for the Department of Transportation (DOT) and for the Department of Justice (DOJ). The DOT requested $200 million in highway contingency bonding for use in major highway rehabilitation or development programs. It was later revised to $350 million in committee. The request was approved by a vote of 10-6. The committee also approved appropriations for the DOJ to fund two special prosecutors tasked with assisting the Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office in gun violence prosecutions. The vote was unanimous.

Upcoming Activity

Several public hearings are scheduled for this week. The Assembly Committee on Judiciary will meet on Thursday for a public hearing on 2015 Assembly Bill 432, which provides for permanently revoking the driver's license of a person with five or more OWI convictions. Check the committee schedule for updated information throughout the week.

Recently Introduced Proposals

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

Signed into Law

As of Friday, November 6, 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 9, 2015