Legislative Update – May 12

WEAC Legislative Update

The Legislature’s budget-writing Joint Finance Committee continues its work this week, taking up areas such as the Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board, Secretary of State, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, Military Affairs, the Legislature and the Justice Department. Public education is one of the last items it will take up, likely in early June. Beyond the budget, other bills are making their way through legislative channels – such as a bill to change the WRS.

New Action Alerts:

Contact Your Legislators about the State Budget

Tell Your Senator Not to Mess with the WRS

An alphabetical listing of developments:

Active-Duty Tech College Resident Fees. A hearing was held on AB-313, regarding resident technical college fees for individuals receiving benefits transferred under federal law by active duty uniformed service members.

Broadband Expansion. A broadband grant expansion bill, AB-123, which unanimously passed the Assembly last week, is up before the Senate today. The bill applies to the information technology block grant program and the broadband expansion grant program, waiving certain fees and appraisals and making appropriations. An Assembly amendment that would have banned providers from collecting information on their customers’ use without their permission did not pass, so the unamended version is what went before the Senate.

Child Labor Permits. The Senate has passed AB 25, which eliminates a requirement for parents to sign off on work permits for 16- and 17-year-olds. The Assembly had previously approved the bill.

Competitive Bidding Requirement for School Districts. A new bill, AB 307, would require local school boards to use a competitive bidding process when a project estimate exceeds $75,000. The bill was referred to the Assembly Local Government Committee.

Corporate Tax Credit. AB 108 would create a corporate income and franchise tax credit for amounts contributed by an employer into an employee’s college savings account. A hearing was held on the bill by the Assembly Ways and Means Committee.

Free Expression in UW System. “Free expression” within the University of Wisconsin System is what’s behind AB-299, sponsors say. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos testified on the bill to require the UW System adopt a policy on freedom of expression and suspend or expel those who violate the policy twice. Republicans say the bill is needed to ensure people can listen to constitutionally protected speech from speakers on campus, no matter how controversial they may be. But others say the bill creates a safe space for racists.

Public Assistance. The Assembly is proposing changes to public assistance programs, including expanding drug screening and testing requirements.

Pupil Exam Information. A bill requiring school boards beginning next school year to annually provide information about mandatory pupil examinations to parents and guardians, AB-300 (companion bill SB 222) was referred to Assembly Government Accountability and Oversight.

Pupil Exam Opt-Out. A bill allowing a pupil’s parent or guardian to opt out of certain statewide examinations, AB-304, was referred to Assembly Government Accountability and Oversight. It would allow a pupil’s parent or guardian to excuse a pupil enrolled in any grade from 3 to 12 from taking any examination required under state or federal law, except the civics test that is a requirement for high school graduation. Current law allows parents or guardians to excuse a pupil in 4th, 8th, 9th, 10th, or 11th grade from taking the knowledge and concepts examination adopted by the state superintendent of public instruction that is required to be administered to pupils in that grade. The bill applies to independent charter schools, opportunity schools and private voucher schools.

Recounts. A bill that would limit which losing candidates can request a recount in Wisconsin received a vote in the Assembly Campaigns and Elections Committee. The legislation would only allow candidates who trail the leader by 1 percent or less to request a recount — and would have prevented Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein from starting the recount she sought in the November election.

Sale of Public Land for Merit Scholarships. A plan to sell more than 70,000 acres of public land to the Department of Natural Resources Stewardship program to create merit scholarships for UW students will all but gut the popular conservation fund, experts say. UW System President Ray Cross praised the move to create “Wisconsin Merit Scholarships” for state students who earn good grades and score high on standardized tests, rather than students who most need financial aid to attend college. The Stewardship program has a budget of about $33 million that would drop to $10 million a year.

Self-Insurance. The Joint Finance Committee is signaling that it will reject the governor’s self-insurance proposal for state employees in the state budget, which would shift insurance for 250,000 state workers. The governor is blasting the move, saying that increased funding for public schools is dependent on projected “savings” of $60 million from self-insurance – which the JFC members expressed doubts over. JFC Co-Chair John Nygren said if the proposal is rejected, lawmakers on the committee will either come up with a plan to find $60 million for education funding in another area of the budget or they will direct the Department of Employee Trust Funds to find a similar amount of savings within the existing system. Read more.

Special Education Funding. SB211 calls for state funding of special education at 33 percent. View Bill History and fiscal estimate.

State Mandate Funding
. A bill requiring the creation of a Joint Committee on State Mandates and required funding of state mandates, AB-309, was referred to the Assembly Local Government Committee. It states that if an enacted mandate is not funded, either upon passage or in the future, the mandate may not be enforced until funding is provided.

Technical Excellence Scholarship Program. The Assembly Colleges and Universities Committee held a hearing on AB-266, regarding eligibility for the Technical Excellence Higher Education Scholarship Program.

Transportation. The debate over the Assembly transportation plan and the governor’s opposition to it continues, with author Rep. Dale Kooyenga saying the “vast majority of Wisconsinites” would see lower taxes under his transportation and tax proposal. The Senate speaker, meanwhile, says there’s no momentum for the plan. The plan includes adding the state’s 5 percent sales tax to gasoline sales, cutting the excise tax on fuel, paring back minimum markup and moving toward a flat income tax. The Joint Finance Committee co-chairs have indicated they’re open to dropping transportation from budget deliberations so they can get done before July 1. However, the governor and Senate head Scott Fitzgerald said they oppose separating roads from the budget. Meanwhile, Legislative Dems are asking GOP leaders for a joint transportation finance committee to take up the issue of roads.

UW Sales/Use Tax Exemption. AB 174 would allow a sales and use tax exemption for building materials that become part of a facility for a technical college district or for the University of Wisconsin. The bill has received a hearing by the Assembly Ways and Means Committee.

Veterans. The Joint Finance Committee reinstated legislative oversight of the Veterans Trust Fund in a vote Thursday.

WEDC. The Joint Finance Committee is considering Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to bring back WEDC’s loan program, which would be revamped so it’s funded by repayments of other loans. The loan program drew fire following a series of reports that questioned if the agency was properly tracking taxpayer money being used to help businesses. That prompted lawmakers to insert provisions in the current budget that began to phase out the program by limiting the agency to loans of $10 million in 2015-16 and $5 million in 2016-17. After that, WEDC is only allowed to do technology development loans. The governor’s proposal would allow up to $12 million in loans over the 2017-19 biennium. But they only could be funded through the repayment of other loans. Also, WEDC would not be allowed to issue a forgivable loan, which are similar to grants because businesses are not required to pay them back if certain conditions are met.

Worker’s Comp. Council Composition. A bill reducing the number of members on the Council on Worker’s Compensation from three to one, AB-308, was referred to Assembly Labor Committee.

Wisconsin Retirement System. WEAC and partners have issued a WRS Action Alert for members to contact their senators to express opposition to Senate Bill 190, which would raise the early retirement age for educators from 55 to 60 and change the calculation for final average earning – but only apply to new participants in the system. Read the fiscal estimate and see the bill history.

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