MADISON, Wis. – You’ll forgive Gov. Scott Walker if he complains of a hand cramp.
Over the past two days, the Republican governor has signed more than 100 bills into law – 46 on Monday, 58 on Tuesday.
The potpourri of legislation includes some big wins for limited government, some setbacks for civil liberties, and bills representing some very specific, if not peculiar, interests.
Senate Bill 407 or Act 201, requires state agencies to submit proposals to reduce their state operations budget by 5 percent and to hold budget levels flat, with few exceptions. The Secretary of Administration and the Director of the Legislative Fiscal Bureau must approve each agency’s base funding level.
“In order to properly right size government we need to continually look at ways to evaluate the effectiveness of every dollar spent and find efficiencies within our budgets,” Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, who co-authored the bill with Rep. Rob Hutton, R-Brookfield, said in a statement. “The BASE (Budgetary Accountability for State Expenditures) Act takes a significant step towards improving transparency in our budget process by giving legislators the tools needed to examine how agencies prioritize spending.”
Walker on Monday signed SB 707, which prohibits a legislator from holding office as a lawmaker while simultaneously serving as a county executive.
One of the more controversial bills of the session, the measure was criticized by Democrats as politically driven, meant to block Winnebago County Executive Mark Harris, a Democratic candidate in the 18th Senate District, from serving in the Legislature.
Republican leadership countered that the bill is about standing up against double-dipping elected officials.
“This bill is a common-sense and long overdue taxpayer protection, which will help to ensure that our state taxpayers will not have to foot the bill for a state legislator drawing on multiple public salaries totaling over $150,000 annually,” said Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, following last month’s 19-13 party-line vote.
Walker put his pen to one bill in particular that earned the ire of public defenders, libertarian conservatives and liberals.
SB 248, critics assert, removes the last vestiges of Fourth Amendment restraint in strip searches, removing the requirement that a person who is arrested or otherwise detained for misdemeanor or lower allegations may be searched only if they are going to be held in jail with others for at least 12 hours.
“When you strip-search someone, you strip them of more than their clothes; you strip them of their dignity and constitutional rights,” Sen. Lena Taylor, a fierce opponent of the legislation, told Wisconsin Watchdog last month. The Milwaukee Democrat authored four amendments in an attempt to carve out exemptions and water down the legislation, but the Republican-led bill passed 19-14 in the Senate on a party-line vote.
Passage came within hours of a settlement stipulating Milwaukee pay $5 million to dozens of black men (and their attorneys) who said they were subjected to illegal strip searches, including cavity searches.
State Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls, said she sponsored the bill at the request of sheriffs in her district concerned about the safety of their jailers and inmates. She said law enforcement would still have to follow strict processes and procedures. The bill relates only to general visual strip searches, not cavity searches.
“There ought to be consequences for unlawful searches, and we really need to distinguish between illegal and legal searches,” the senator said. “We have seen there are consequences, and those protections are still in place in the statutes.”
Also on the strip-search front, physicians, physician assistants, or registered nurses may now conduct body cavity searches without fear of civil or criminal liability under SB 383, signed by Walker on Tuesday. Wisconsin law says a person may be subjected to a body search, including a cavity search, when arrested for any felony, certain misdemeanors, for any misdemeanor or civil violation if there is probable cause to believe the person is concealing a weapon or evidence, or if the person will be held or detained with another person.
And all apologies to Joe Bookman, but the “library cop” from “Seinfeld” zealously hunting down Jerry for a long-delinquent book could have used Senate Bill 466. The legislation, which Walker signed on Monday, permits a library to report to a collection agency or, under some circumstances, a law enforcement agency, information about delinquent accounts of anyone who borrows or uses a library’s documents, materials, resources, or services. Act 169, as it is now known, could land those with chronically overdue books in trouble with the law.
Walker signed some specialized – really specialized – bills into law.
If you are under the legal drinking age and you have a hankering for some indoor golf or want to take a few swings in the batting cage at such venues that sell beer, and you want to do so without a parent or guardian present, SB 226 – now Act 221 – is for you.
SB 435, now Act 248, exempts the naturally shed or lawfully taken feathers of grouse, partridge, pheasant, quail, or wild turkey from the general prohibitions against the sale, purchase, barter, or trade of wild animals.
And SB 300 carves out a sales and use tax exemption for music purchased for a commercial jukebox. The bill, now Act 251, received overwhelming bipartisan support – 29-3 in the Senate, and 98-0. It seems music – at least sales tax exemptions on jukebox music – is the one thing that can bring a bitterly divided Legislature together.