10 More Changes Republicans Want
They’re far from done passing major changes. Here’s 10 more laws on the horizon.
If you’re counting, Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Republican legislators have made about 25 major policy decisions since they took control of the Capitol in January 2011. Their wins in 2010, ’12 and ’14 elections empowered them to make those changes.
What’s next? A fair question, but a risky one, given the penchant of GOP leaders like Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald to announce a plan to act on a specific issue and then introduce, debate and pass that same bill within a few days.
So, let’s modify the question. What major changes will still be pending when the Legislature reconvenes in January for a few weeks? Those would include:
1. Civil service system: A bill speeding up how state government hires, disciplines and fires passed the Assembly and needs a Senate vote next year. But a Senate vote will only come if a dispute over whether applicants can be asked if they have ever been convicted of crimes can be resolved. Assembly leaders say that question should not be asked; conservative senators say it must remain part of the hiring process. But both houses agree on this: It’s time to write the first list of “just cause” reasons why an employee can be fired or disciplined.
2. Ban on fetal tissue research: The Assembly push for this ban slowed after UW Madison’s medical school and the state business lobbying group, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC), opposed it. Medical researchers say it could end progress on potential life-saving new drugs.
The Republican-friendly WMC sees the bill as a threat to economic development.
3. Setting school referendum dates: Troubled by school districts increasingly calling referendums on low-turnout dates, raising the odds they will pass, some Republicans want to require referendums to be held on traditional spring and fall primary or general election dates. And, those Republicans say, school districts should have to wait two years after a referendum loses before they can schedule a second one.
4. Minimum markup: Some Republican senators want to abolish laws setting minimum prices for gasoline, alcohol and other products and repealing a law forbidding the selling of some items for less than what retailers paid for them. Grocers and convenience stores formed the “Main Street Coalition” against the bill.
5. Workers’ compensation: In 1911, Wisconsin was the first state to compensate workers injured on the job. Two Republicans, Sen. Duey Stroebel and Rep. John Spiros, are now pushing changes to that system to curb what they call abuses. Although a summary of their final proposal is not available, news stories say it would require the state to more aggressively investigate fraud claims and exempt employers from paying temporary disability payments if the employee is fired for good cause.
6. HOPE version 2.0: That would be a revised version of the Heroin, Opiate, Prevention, and Education bill, aimed at fighting the epidemic of heroin abuse. It’s likely to pass both houses and be signed into law by Walker early next year.
7. Tougher drunken driving laws: Bills still churning in the Legislature would require first-time drunken drivers to appear in court and revoke the driver’s license of someone convicted of a fifth-offense OWI for 10 years.
8. Reworking WEDC: A rare consensus has developed between both GOP and Democratic leaders over the need to fix the state’s jobs agency, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. Reporters and auditors have found WEDC grants to Walker’s political contributors, applicants who falsified loan documents, and a failure to check whether promised jobs were actually created. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau has also warned that WEDC may have awarded more in tax credits than is legally authorized.
WEDC just got its third CEO in five years, retired banker Mark Hogan, and has seen a continuous turnover of top agency executives. The agency is such a mess that Walker this year backed a change removing himself and future governors from the agency’s board.
9. Abolish state treasurer’s job: A constitutional amendment ending the state treasurer’s position needs initial approval from both houses of the Legislature next year. Since it has passed the Assembly, failure of the Senate to recommend it would cause a two-year delay in the change.
Even if the Senate approves it, both houses of the 2017-18 Legislature, and voters in a statewide referendum, would also have to agree.
10. Looking for a wild-card entry that could also become law? The Assembly-passed bill allowing the carrying of concealed knives for anyone who qualifies for a concealed weapons permit. The GOP is all about change these days.