​Central Wisconsin Sunday: Local legislators focus on jobs, bipartisanship

Written by Nathaniel Shuda, Central Wisconsin Sunday



From bipartisan efforts to end late-night debates in the Assembly to a rematch on a highly debated mining bill, central Wisconsin legislators say they have an ambitious agenda for the new session.
Despite contentious debate during past sessions about the state budget and collective bargaining rules for public employees, both sides are trying to focus on overcoming their differences and helping to foster job creation in the state, said Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford.
“We’re hoping to have a very productive bipartisan session,” said Suder, who represents about two-thirds of Marshfield. “We’re obviously going to have our fights — we’re not going to agree on everything — but our top priority overall is jobs and job creation.”
Among the first actions of the session, which formally began with a Jan. 7 inauguration, was a set of bipartisan agreements to end late-night debates, to set goals for the structure and timing of debate and for each legislative caucus to consider all amendments that are submitted to the Assembly chief clerk by 9 a.m. on a session day, regardless of party affiliation.
“I’m thrilled to say we’ve been able to find common ground and cross party lines,” said newly elected Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point. “My No. 1 priority is we need immediate bipartisan action on a long-term jobs bill, and that will need to be a bill that won’t get held up in court for years.”
Such a bill should include promoting technology-related jobs, such as those in the renewable energy sector, that do not rely on a specific location, Shankland said. In addition, restoring funding previously cut from the Wisconsin Technical College System also is a starting point, she said.
Fellow newly elected Rep. John Spiros, R-Marshfield, said he looks forward to bipartisan debate in the Assembly, especially when it comes to eliminating regulations he says are hurting small businesses.
Like many of his Republican colleagues, Sen. Terry Moulton, R-Chippewa Falls, who also represents Marshfield, said another priority is to eliminate regulations he says hinder small business owners in the state and to help connect workers with the skills employers are seeking.
“There’s a big gap there in the fact that when you ask parents, ‘What would you prefer for your child: a four-year college degree or a two-year technical degree?,’ many will say four-year,” Moulton said. “There’s a perception there that needs to be overcome. ... There are great jobs available out there (for workers) with only a two-year degree.”
Sen. Jerry Petrowski, R-Marathon, said one way to create jobs is to pass a bill that would ease the regulations for iron ore mines in northern Wisconsin, though he added that frac sand mining also poses a potential boon for the region and the state as a whole.
Fellow Sen. Julie Lassa, D-Stevens Point, who also serves as a board member for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., said she hopes to refine policies for the agency, which struggled during its first year.
“I think No. 1 is we have to make sure that there are strong provisions put into place to improve the accountability and the transparency of that agency,” Lassa said.
“Next would be passage of an investment capital package, which would include the creation of a venture capital bill as well as direct investment with angel investors around the state and also support of incubators and accelerators in order to help entrepreneurs and small-business owners to create their business and grow their business,” she said.
On Thursday, Lassa presented a plan to decrease the number and effects of layoffs by allowing businesses to reduce employees’ hours instead of instituting layoffs, under which workers would receive partial unemployment checks to supplement lost income while keeping health insurance and pension benefits.
“Businesses retain skilled workers; employees retain their jobs; and communities minimize the number of layoffs during tough times,” Lassa said.
Suder said the proposal intrigues him, and he looks forward to meeting with Lassa to find out more.
“I do think the tone has changed; I think you’re going to see bipartisan cooperation in this session,” Suder said. “It’s a new day and a new tone.”