Lawmakers conclude fall session
By: Shawn Johnson, Wisconsin Public Radio, Superior Telegram
State lawmakers wrapped up their fall session Thursday night, passing a wide range of bills covering everything from Supreme Court elections to education reform to drunk driving.
The drunk driving plan that passed the Senate would make a fourth offense a felony if it occurs within five years of a previous offense. It would also force repeat drunk drivers to install ignition interlocks on their vehicles. Sponsor Jim Sullivan, D-Wauwatosa, told his colleagues to support the plan in the name of all the people who’d died in drunk driving accidents on Wisconsin roadways.
Sullivan’s bill received a unanimous vote, just like a similar one that cleared the Assembly earlier this session. But it was not the final word on this issue. Assembly leaders did not agree to the Senate's changes and signaled they could call an extraordinary session to hammer out their differences.
The Senate and Assembly did send a plan to the Governor’s desk that would increase public financing for Supreme Court elections. High court candidates targeted by independent groups would get more money, up to $2.8 million per election cycle.
But Rep. Jeff Stone, R-Greendale, pointed out that price tag could go up, since there’s no limit to how many candidates could apply and no cap on how much the state could potentially spend.
Sponsor Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, responded that the plan would clean up Wisconsin’s elections, saying one can’t put a price on impartial justice.
The legislature also sent a plan to the Governor’s desk that would qualify Wisconsin for the federal “Race to the Top” grant money President Obama highlighted during his stop in Madison last week. It would get rid of Wisconsin's so-called "firewall" law that bans using student test scores to evaluate teachers.
But approval did not come easily in the Assembly. Majority Democrats met privately for three hours early Thursday morning to come up with the votes they needed to pass the bill. They got no help from the GOP. Rep. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater argued the proposal was useless because it would not let schools use test scores to discipline bad teachers.
Another plan now headed to the Governor aims to prevent some of the widespread fraud uncovered in the Wisconsin Shares child care subsidy program. Poplar Senator Bob Jauch's plan would ban child care providers convicted of numerous crimes from receiving Shares funding to care for kids.
The Governor has indicated he'll sign Jauch's bill, which received a unanimous vote in both the Senate and Assembly.
Lawmakers sent several other bills to Doyle's desk, including one to regulate puppy mills. The Assembly also approved a plan to require all schools that teach sex education to tell students about contraceptives. That still needs approval from the Senate.
The future of another high-profile bill remains in doubt after Thursday night. The full legislature passed a plan that would take away the power of Governors to appoint DNR Secretaries. The Natural Resources Board would have that power instead, the idea being that this would insulate decisions about the environment from political influence.
But the Senate changed the bill to require Senate confirmation of DNR Secretaries. That bothered Republican Assemblyman Dan Meyer who says he doesn’t buy arguments the change would take politics out of the appointment.
Meyer was one of several Republicans who voted for this plan back in September but voted against the Senate's changes last night. The final vote was 49-44, well shy of the two-thirds majority needed to override the Governor should he veto this plan.