Steven Walters
The State of Politics

10 More Changes Republicans Want

They’re far from done passing major changes. Here’s 10 more laws on the horizon.

By - Nov 23rd, 2015 10:40 am
Robin Vos and Scott Fitzgerald.

Robin Vos and Scott Fitzgerald.

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.

Steven Walters is a senior producer for the nonprofit public affairs channel WisconsinEye. Contact him at

8 thoughts on “The State of Politics: 10 More Changes Republicans Want”

  1. daniel golden says:

    The Capitol insiders are talking about the big plum that the Vos -Fitzgerald crew really want to pick for their anti-anything government run supporters-the State retirement system. The privatization of the best run retirement system in the country would be sold to the public with the following narrative : “Sure it’s good but we can do better”. The retired state employees are very concerned about Wall Street getting a hold of their retirement funds and justifiably so.

  2. JA Schultz says:

    Re: Daniel Golden’s comment: Is there anything this wrecking crew won’t try to ruin? Wall Street hedge fund managers typically take a percentage of the fund they manage as their fee, annually. The state pension fund is now worth about $9 billion dollars. If a private manager takes even 1% of that every year (do the math), the pensioners are going to lose that amount, which could very quickly prove disastrous for the fund as well as the retirees. It’s like compound interest, only in reverse. To try to compensate, the fund manager will seek to increase the risk of the investments it makes, increasing the likelihood of even more losses. “But we can do better” and we can also do much, much worse. I hope the lawyers are drafting up their papers for the lawsuit: trust funds are in trust, not to be sold to the highest contributing friends of the legislature.

  3. JA Schultz says:

    Sorry, typo in previous message. Left off a zero: it is $90 billion, not $9.

  4. Jeff says:

    Since 2003, 33 states have weakened their workers compensation laws. This weakening takes employers off the hook for many work place injuries and forces an injured employee to apply for Social Security Disability, a shifting of responsibility and liability for those injured onto the taxpayers. A second result of this shift is that work place safety is further reduced because of the lack of the lack monetary reward for improved worker safety, a massive redistribution of wealth to the employers.

  5. jake says:

    Outlawing other political parties and to kill WPR. Republicans in this state are facist, among other …ists.

  6. Bill Kurtz says:

    The possible worker’s comp changes, on the heels of right to work, makes me wonder: How many of those striking Kohler workers voted for Scott Walker and Republican legislators?

  7. M says:

    Reform of WEDC and the drunk driving and heroin legislation could have positive impacts. Some others just reinforce the motto that “Wisconsin is open for business—and for sale.”

    Wisconsin just keeps getting left in the dust as our neighbors create programs and legislation that actually has positive economic benefits. Every day, this state looks more like the failing GOP experiment of Kansas. And Walker’s and Gov. Brownback’s polling numbers are both in the basement.

  8. Bill Kurtz says:

    With worker’s comp as the next target after right to work passed, I can’t help but wonder: How many of those Kohler strikers voted for Walker and GOP legislators?

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