May Floor Session Highlights

The Assembly convened on Tuesday to listen to the 2021 State of the Tribes Address and to consider a number of pieces of legislation.


Preventing Elder Abuse

Wisconsin has an aging population, with our state’s senior population on track to increase by 72% between 2015 and 2040. With that uptick in elders, so too, has come an uptick in elder abuse. In fact, 1 in 9 elders report abuse. Assembly Bills 44, 45, and 46 seek to address this issue by taking steps to minimize instances, and providing criminal penalties when these unfortunate situations arise.

Assembly Bill 44 (AB 44) makes criminal law changes that both increase the criminal penalties for crimes against elder populations, and removes barriers for elders who are seeking a restraining order by allowing the elder to appear in court virtually (telephone or audiovisual). The changes would make penalties for crimes against elders more closely align with the penalties for crimes against other vulnerable groups.


Assembly Bill 45 (AB 45) provides an avenue for professionals to notify the Department of Financial Institutions (DFI), adult protective service agencies, and family or friends selected by the elder about suspected financial exploitation. Assembly Bill 46 (AB 46) allows financial institutions, mortgage bankers and brokers, check cashing services, and other types of lenders the option to delay transactions when they suspect exploitation of an elder. These bills will put checkpoints in place to help stop financial abuse of elders before it happens, or before it gets out of control.


All three bills passed with broad bipartisan support.


Summer Camp Regulatory Reform

We also approved a package of bills that eliminate red tape surrounding Wisconsin summer camps. I want to highlight two of the bills passed.


Assembly Bill 159 (AB 159) allows qualified out-of-state physicians to temporarily practice at summer camps in Wisconsin without going through the time consuming temporary licensure process. Similarly, Assembly Bill 166 (AB 166) allows out-of-state nurses to temporarily practice at summer camps. Both bills passed the Assembly unanimously.


Taking Dark Money Out of Election Administration

Leading up to the 2020 election, Mark Zuckerberg donated hundreds of millions of dollars to the Center for Tech and Civic Life, a group that gave grants to jurisdictions to help conduct elections. The cities of Madison, Milwaukee, Green Bay, Kenosha, and Racine were on the receiving ends of these grants.


Assembly Bill 173 (AB 173) would prevent individuals from handpicking local governments to donate money to in the future. Instead, the state as a whole would still be able to receive private donations for elections, but those dollars would have to go through the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC), who would then allocate the funds to local governments on a per-capita basis. In other words, every local election would get their fair share of the funding. Additionally, anyone who is an employee of issue advocacy organizations would also be prohibited from working as elections officials.

Supporting our Veterans

Yesterday my colleagues and I on the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) convened in an Executive Session to vote on several parts of the biennial budget. One section I want to highlight is the budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA).

Finance Republicans put forth a motion that will help our veterans and our state. We made several increases to the veterans outreach and recovery program (VORP), including providing funding for veterans suicide prevention. This was important to us because unfortunately, veterans account for approximately one in every five suicides in the state. It is our hope that this additional funding will help our state’s veterans get the services they need.

We also doubled the governor’s request for funding for county and tribal veterans service officers (CVSOs and TVSOs). These individuals help veterans in their communities access state and federal Veterans’ benefits. If you are a veteran, you can locate your local CVSO here. Additionally, we increased the maximum grant amount that DVA can award to a veterans service organization (VSO) from $100,000 to $175,000. Examples of VSOs in our area would be the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW).

One other appropriation I want to highlight is a grant for an organization that will promote the U.S.S. Wisconsin. Wisconsin is having a Columbia-class submarine named after our state. The nonprofit organization that will receive the grant will also raise funds from private donors with the purpose of bringing members of the U.S. Navy to Wisconsin to promote and support the U.S.S. Wisconsin. As part of their promotions, the sailors will visit Wisconsin schools to teach our students about careers in STEM. This is a small grant that will pay dividends to our state.

Our motion passed the committee unanimously and will become part of the budget bill. After JFC has worked through each section of the budget and put together a complete budget bill, that bill will be considered by the Assembly and Senate at-large. Once both chambers pass identical bills, the budget bill will be sent to the governor for his consideration. The governor can sign the bill, veto the bill in its entirety, or line-item veto certain parts of the bill.