The top Democrat in the state Senate says plans to increase state funding for homelessness programs, a proposal to close the so-called "dark store loophole" and confirming more of Gov. Tony Evers’ Cabinet secretaries are among her party’s top priorities for 2020.

Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, said Democrats are pushing for a vote on a package of bills that includes roughly $7 million for homelessness prevention and services.

Last week, Evers called the Legislature’s state budget committee into session to give final approval for the funds, which were included in the state budget but have also been introduced as standalone bills. Republicans declined to attend the budget committee meeting, citing concerns among GOP Senate lawmakers about moving forward with the spending.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said some GOP senators have raised concerns about the price tags on individual initiatives in the package.

Shilling pointed out the proposal passed the state Assembly with bipartisan support and hoped it could eventually do the same in the Senate.

"It’s been difficult, even on issues where there’s been bipartisan support," Shilling said of the 2019 legislative session.

Dark Store Proposal Awaits Public Hearing

Lawmakers have been debating the so-called "dark store loophole," which centers around how the value of empty stores are factored into property tax bills, for years.

Right now, big box stores can use the value of vacant stores to lower their own property taxes. For example, a store that does a lot of business can estimate that it's worth is the same as a vacant store that does no business at all.

Local governments that rely on property taxes are supporting a bipartisan bill that would end that practice, but business groups are fighting it.

The proposal has a bipartisan list of co-sponsors in the Senate and Assembly, but has yet to be scheduled for a public hearing this session.

Several Evers Cabinet Members Remain Unconfirmed

Only seven of the governor’s 16 Cabinet members have been confirmed since he took office in January.

The remaining eight unconfirmed Cabinet members can still continue in their jobs without confirmation unless the Senate votes to fire them.

Lawmakers are expected to return to the Capitol to vote on bills in January and to wrap up the 2020 legislative session by early spring.

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