Year in Review
By Senator Devin LeMahieu
As we enter 2016, I would like to take a moment to review the highlights from my first year as your State Senator. 2015 was an exciting year in the Legislature. To date, I have authored 23 bills, 7 of which have been enacted into state law. While the media typically focuses on the few partisan bills that come before the legislature, all 7 of my bills received bipartisan support. Laws that I authored include: reforming the raffle rules to make it easier for non-profits to raise money, raising the speed limit to 70mph on interstates, working with local county clerks to stream-line election law, and helping sexual assault victims by extending the statute of limitations on certain crimes. The remaining bills are still working their way through the legislative process.
The most important bill that was passed this year was our 2015-17 biennial budget. It was a difficult budget but we made the tough decisions to provide the services we expect in Wisconsin, while holding the line on taxes and achieving the lowest borrowing level in 20 years.
It was rewarding to put my own stamp on the budget through the amendment process. Working with local school district superintendents and colleges, we modified the Course Options program to maintain access to college credits for high school students in a sustainable way. Another amendment I introduced allows local governments to carry forward up to 5% of their levy limit, giving flexibility to encourage smart budgeting. I also authored an amendment to fight waste, fraud, and abuse in public benefits by recapturing the cost of lost or stolen EBT cards and saving taxpayer money.
Other budget highlights included a tuition freeze for college students, increased funding for K-12 education, protecting property owners rights, and a reduction of the marriage tax penalty. During the budget process I had the opportunity to hear many concerns from citizens throughout the 9th Senate District. Many changes were made to the budget to ensure that the most vulnerable are protected such as keeping Aging and Disability Resource Centers local and maintaining a self-directed care option that will mirror the current IRIS program. The budget also invested an additional $650 million into Medical Assistance programs. We were able to accomplish all this without raising taxes, protecting a $270 million balance in our state’s rainy day fund, and ending the budget cycle with a small surplus.
The Legislature also took on some big issues during 2015. We passed the Right to Work law, which gives workers the freedom to choose whether they want to participate in a union. We also repealed the prevailing wage requirement for local governments and school districts, which will save them an estimated 11% on project costs. The Legislature also addressed other important issues including: creating a new bi-partisan elections commission, reforming the John Doe process, and banning abortions after 20 weeks. Overall the Legislature passed 126 bills in 2015, 94% of which received bi-partisan votes.
Finally one of my favorite aspects of my job as State Senator is that it has also given me the opportunity to meet with a variety of people across our community. From local business tours, to meetings with school administrators, Kiwanis and Rotary clubs, or commercial fishermen, I enjoy learning about new issues that my constituents are facing. I also held 15 listening sessions this year throughout the district. As always, if you have any ideas or concerns please contact my office.
The Legislature will be back in session next week and there is still a lot of work to accomplish. I’ve enjoyed my first year as a State Senator and I’m excited to continue to serve you in Madison.
Senator Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) serves the 9th Senate District, which includes portions of Calumet, Manitowoc, and Sheboygan Counties.