Legislative Update – March 30

Bills circulating would limit school referenda

As voters prepare to weigh in on 65 local school referendums across the state, lawmakers are circulating six bills for co-sponsorship that would limit school boards’ abilities to go to voters to support neighborhood public schools. Among the provisions of the proposed bills, school districts that pass operating referendums to exceed revenue limits would have equalized aid reduced by 20 percent of the referendum amount – and they’d have to list that as part of the referendum question on the ballot. Read more.

Senator Duey Stroebel is co-author of all but one of the bills. According to the Wheeler Report, Stroebel said he is frustrated with the current system in which locally elected school boards work within their communities to meet student needs. The number of referenda statewide has been growing over the past six year, mostly the result of severely reduced state funding for students. But Stroebel blamed construction companies, which he believes are pushing schools to build. Stroebel said, “I am tired of being a high tax state, and I’m especially tired of pushing for lower taxes and limited spending only to have the efforts undone in school referenda.”

The bills being introduced are:

  • LRB-0871 Electors of common and union high school districts may vote upon an initial resolution to raise money through a bond issue only at the school district’s annual meeting. Prohibits a common and union high school district from voting on a resolution to exceed a revenue limit for a school district at a special meeting.
  • LRB-0811 School referendum must be scheduled for the spring election or the fall general election (First Tuesday in April, or the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November).
  • LRB-0470 School boards may seek approval for a revenue increase limited to five years.
  • LRB-0829 General school aid penalties of 20% would be assessed for increasing a school district’s revenue limit by referendum, and allows a school board to rescind revenue limit increases approved by referendum.
  • LRB-0868 DPI would be required to provide matching funds for deposits that a school board makes to a long-term capital improvement trust fund.
  • LRB-2629 A school board would be required to include the total amount of debt to be issued, the total amount of interest and related debt service costs to be incurred, the sum of the principal, interest and related debt service costs in a resolution adopted by the board.

Joint Finance Committee public hearings
The Joint Finance Committee begins budget hearings next week in Platteville on Monday and at State Fair Park near Milwaukee on Wednesday, following a week of speculation as to whether the budget-writing panel will work off the governor’s budget proposal or start from scratch.

Governor threatens veto
Later in the week, after legislators were briefed on the governor’s plan for the next transportation budget, the governor took to Twitter defending his no-new-tax plan, saying, “Let’s be clear. I don’t support spending less on K-12 education than what’s in my budget and I will veto a gas tax increase.”

‘Act 10’ provision pushback
With legislators during agency briefings asking questions about an item in the governor’s budget proposal to require districts to prove they are “following Act 10 provisions” in order to receive funding for students, the Wisconsin Association of School Boards has requested the Joint Finance Committee remove that from the budget. In reality, most districts take a different approach to health insurance for their employees, including higher deductibles and co-pays that compound the massive decrease in household income for educators. This is bad for the economy, complicated, and very specific to local communities – all very good reasons legislators should stay away from micromanaging school boards.

The Week in Review

March 30

  • Department of Public Instruction agency briefing. The Joint Finance Committee met with the DPI as part of a week-long budget briefing schedule with state agencies.

March 29

  • Concealed carry legislation. Dave Craig and Rep. Mary Felzkowski began circulating a bill providing for constitutional carry in Wisconsin. The bill being circulated later Thursday will eliminate the need for a concealed carry permit, in most cases. According to the co-sponsorship memo, “The bill allows for the concealed carry of a firearm without a license anywhere in the state by a person who is legally allowed to carry a firearm and simplifies state law while reducing the cost to citizens who choose to protect themselves and their families.” Read the Legislative Reference Bureau Memo

March 27

  • Child labor laws. The Joint Finance Committee took up AB 25, which would eliminate the requirement that minors aged 16 or 17 obtain a child work permit, which are now required for those under age 18. Those under 16 would still need to obtain a work permit, and the law would not change existing state law on the maximum hours or times of day minors under 18 could work.
  • Broadband grants. SB 49 would alter the eligibility criteria for broadband expansion grants and the funding.  The grants, which are used to increase broadband access and capacity, now place a priority on projects that include matching funds, public-private partnerships, and areas with no service providers, among other things. The criteria that the grants promote economic development would stress job growth or retention, expansion of the property tax base or improvement of the overall economic activity in an area. Also, the criteria on pertaining to areas with no broadband service providers would be deleted. Instead, priority would be given to areas not served by a provider offering Internet service that meet two criteria, including a new standard for upload and download speeds. The bill also would transfer $6 million from the universal service fund and $5 million in fed money in DOA’s federal e-rate appropriation to the grant program. It also would repeal current limits of no more than $1.5 million in grants being issued in a year.

The Week Ahead & Beyond

April 3

April 4 (Election Day)

  • The Senate will be in session. Bills they are scheduled to take action on include:
    • SB49 – broadband
    • SB62 – school board salaries

April 5

Don’t see something in the wrap-up? Looking for more information? Contact Christina Brey.