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Union reform tops week's news from Madison

By   /   May 27, 2011  /   No Comments

By Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON — Education funding, recall, union reform, voter ID and guns — all hot-button issues — saw action this week in Wisconsin's capital city.

Funding back in budget for education

Republican lawmakers on the Joint Committee on Finance reduced proposed funding cuts to public schools by $116 million Friday, but Democratic legislators called the remaining cuts “morally bankrupt.”

“Wisconsin is not unique in the budget situation that we’re in, and many states across the country are having to make large, large cuts to K-12 education,” said state Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon. “But I’m thankful, (because) $116 million more for K-12 education that schools will get to spend over the next two years is a start.”

Gov. Scott Walker originally had proposed slashing roughly $842 million from K-12 education over two years. The new proposal scales back the cuts in part by offering $42.5 million in matching dollars to schools in the second year. That means that if a school district increased property taxes per student by $50, the state would match that amount in $50 of state aid.

The proposal was passed by a 12-4 party-line vote.

A bevy of budget amendments from the Democrats designed to scale back other education cuts were voted down along party lines as well, as Democrats slammed their Republican counterparts as being shortsighted.

“We know what you’re going to do in public education, and we don’t think it’s enough,” said Rep. Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse.

The failed motions included providing $333 million more for general school funding in the next biennium and an increase in per-pupil aid.

But Republican legislators said that given the state’s projected $3 billion shortfall, the proposed cuts to education were more than fair.

Concealed carry moves to Senate

A bill that would allow Wisconsin residents to carry concealed weapons in public passed the state Senate’s Judiciary Committee on Thursday by a 3-2 vote.

Both committee Democrats voted against the legislation, which doesn't require gun owners to have training or permits to carry firearms.

The bill would allow state residents who are at least 21 years old to carry guns, provided they’re not barred from owning firearms. Under the legislation, guns also would be allowed inside the Capitol.

The legislation now heads to the Senate.

GAB OKs recall petitions

Three state senators — Republicans Dan Kapanke, Randy Hopper and Luther Olsen will face voters in recall elections this summer after the Government Accountability Board, or GAB, on Monday validated the signatures on the petitions for their recall.

Six other senators, three from each party, also are facing recall elections, though those petitions have not yet been validated.

The GAB, the state's election agency, was scheduled to rule on the validity of the petitions for those senators on Tuesday, but said late Friday that the panel needed more time to consider petition challenges.

As a result, the GAB only will rule on petitions against GOP Sens. Alberta Darling, Sheila Harsdorf and Robert Cowles.

A hearing for the three Democratic Sens. Jim Holperin, Robert Wirch and Dave Hansen now is slated for the week of June 6.

The GAB was hoping to schedule all the recall elections July 12, but said the hearing delays may push back at least some of the elections. An official election date for the Kapanke, Hopper and Olsen races has yet to be ordered.

Union reform package sees setback

Dane County Circuit Court Judge Maryann Sumi on Thursday struck down Gov. Scott Walker’s collective bargaining legislation, saying that lawmakers violated the state’s open meeting law when the state Senate voted March 9 for the measure.

The state's open meetings law requires 24 hours notice of any meeting, which can be shortened to two hours if "good cause" is shown.

Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne sued to block the law after Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, filed a complaint, stating that Republican legislators convened a conference committee of lawmakers to approve the bill without giving proper advance notice to the public.

Walker signed the bill into law March 15, but Sumi issued a temporary restraining order that stopped the Department of Administration from implementing the new law, until a hearing could be held on Ozanne's complaint.

In her 33-page decision, Sumi sided with Ozanne, stating in her ruling that “the Legislature and its committees are bound to comply with the Open Meetings Law by their own choice. Having made that choice, they cannot now shield themselves from the provisions that give the law force and effect.”

On June 6, the federal Department of Justice will go before the Wisconsin Supreme Court and ask the justices to bypass the Court of Appeals and take up the issue immediately, said Steven Means, executive assistant for state Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen.

But some law experts said they’d be surprised if the Supreme Court intervened in the case in any significant way.

"My suspicion is they will allow the normal judicial procedure to take place, allow (the state) to appeal to the Court of Appeals and see what they do," said Howard Schweber, political science and legal affairs professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "No matter what happens in the Court of Appeals, it's going to get appealed to the Supreme Court anyway."

Voter ID gets a green light

Walker signed into law Wednesday new voting legislation, including a rule that requires voters to present photo ID at the polls before casting their ballots.

With his signature, Walker set in motion a flurry of activity among state election officials, who must begin to implement the new rules in time for a practice run of the law during upcoming recall elections in July.

Earlier this month, most affected county and city clerks said they had been told the earliest the law could be implemented was 2012.

Walker also signed a number of other bills into law, including:

  • Senate Bill 20, authorizing the city of Milwaukee to sell city-owned property used for education purposes.

  • Senate Bill 12, allowing retailers to offer discounts equal to state and local sales tax.

  • Special Session Assembly Bill 8, giving the governor’s office more power in the creation of rules and regulations for state agencies.

  • Assembly Bill 23, repealing a clean water testing requirement by the state Department of Natural Resources.

  • Senate Bill 61, lifting an expiration date on multiple trip permits for overweight vehicles carrying granular roofing materials.

  • Special Session Senate Bill 13, updating the state’s telecommunications law by removing multiple regulations on landline telephones.

  • Assembly Bill 35, allowing culling — catching a fish, keeping it in a live well and then throwing it back after catching a bigger fish — in bass fishing tournaments.

  • Senate Bill 59, giving pier owners additional time to comply with changing dock regulations.