By Senator Howard Marklein
May 12, 2017
Budget Bulletin: 911, Broadband and Occupational Licenses
The legislature’s Joint Finance Committee (JFC), on which I serve, has begun our process of Executive Sessions during which we make changes or additions to the Governor’s budget proposal. I have touched on this process in a previous column. Read it here.
Over the next several weeks, I will be writing a brief bulletin to share the highlights of these sessions to give you an inside view of our work on your behalf. For a full view of our proceedings, follow this link: http://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2017/committees/joint/1680
The highlights from this week include work on the 911 system, Broadband Expansion grants, FabLab grants and a study of occupational licenses:
This week, we took an important first step to improve and modernize the statewide 911 system. The current 911 system is based on an analog system and is out of date. We recommitted some of the revenue collected by the Police and Fire Protection Fund to support the system. The Police and Fire Protection Fund is a line-item on every phone bill that was originally meant to fund modernization of the 911 system. Unfortunately, since its creation during a previous administration, it has always been raided and used for other purposes. This budget dedicates some revenue to 911 services.
We created a 911 Council made up of stakeholders from law enforcement, emergency medicine and emergency medical services to provide expert input and direction for the future of the 911 system. We also required the state to seek bids to update Wisconsin’s archaic analog 911 network with an all-digital, fiber network. The new system must be able to transmit voice calls, text messages, photos and video files.
Broadband Expansion Grants
As you may know, I have been working on Rural Broadband Expansion for the better part of two years. Expanding broadband to the rural parts of our state is one of my top priorities.
This session, I authored a bill to devote $11 million more to the Rural Broadband Expansion Grant program and to revise the criteria to incorporate recommendations made by the Rural Broadband Study Committee. This bi-partisan bill was good policy and widely supported.
Unfortunately, political games have killed this bill on the Senate floor twice. Some Democrat legislators decided to tack an unrelated initiative onto a popular bill. As a result, the bill died. I am disappointed that we were not able to deploy these funds quickly, as we had hoped to do, but I am proud to report that we have successfully added the funding and criteria changes into the state budget proposal.
While these political games have set us back several months, I am confident the funding and expansion will happen. We have also added structure for future funding for Rural Broadband Expansion Grants. I know there are communities poised to apply and I appreciate their patience as we continue to work past silly political obstacles. It is frustrating and disappointing.
We invested $400,000 more for Fabrication Laboratory (FabLab) technical assistance grants over the next two years. FabLabs are high-tech workshops in high schools where students learn how to manufacture with computers.
The 17th Senate District has several high schools that have already built FabLabs and they have been very successful. Students are learning high-tech skills that translate directly into the workplace. We are challenging them to innovate and experiment with technology and equipment that is cutting-edge. FabLabs are part of our effort to grow an engaged, high-tech workforce for tomorrow.
Occupational License Study
We directed the Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) to study occupational licensure and permitting in Wisconsin. There have been several proposals to change licensing and permitting for several occupations this session. Rather than take a piecemeal approach to licensing and permitting, we asked the department to look at every occupation and make a recommendation.
Overall, it has been a productive week and we are preparing to work on several major topics next week. To view our agenda for the next week, please visit our committee schedule. http://committeeschedule.legis.wisconsin.gov/?committeeID=1680&viewType=List&filter=Upcoming
For more information and to connect with me, visit my website http://legis.wisconsin.gov/senate/17/marklein and subscribe to my weekly E-Update by sending an email to Sen.Marklein@legis.wisconsin.gov. Do not hesitate to call 800-978-8008 if you have input, ideas or need assistance with any state-related matters.