New members of the Assembly and Session were sworn in Monday for the official start of Wisconsin’s 101st legislative session. Republicans enjoy an 18-to-15 majority in the state Senate, and a 59-to-39 margin in the Assembly with one seat vacant. “The people’s’ needs and their demands and the need for good jobs and good education should come first,” said Senate President Mike Ellis. “All Democrats and all Republicans want that for all the people. If we can remember that, we can walk out of here after two years and the people of this state will be better off, because we set aside our partisan differences.”
But will there be bipartisan efforts in the new session of the legislature? Democratic leaders in the Assembly and Senate hope they’ll be included. “What does bipartisanship mean? First of all, it means working together on the agenda. And clearly a bipartisan agenda would be closing the skills gap, passing an economic development bill that does not harm the environment or hamper people’s’ rights,” said Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca. “That’s where you start. And then secondly, you bring in broad public input.”
Republicans have identified mining as their top issue in a session focused on job creation and a balanced budget. Comments made late last year about potentially divisive issues such as ending same day voter registration, reworking the state Government Accountability Board, or making Wisconsin a right to work state, appear to have little chance of becoming legislative reality. Still, Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson indicted some uncertainty, noting that Republicans may be drawing the wrong conclusions because of what he called “a gerrymandered mandate.”
“I don’t know how much clearer you could identify with voters of the state then what happened last session,” said Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald. “I think it was clear based on Governor Walker’s reelection on the recall, and some of the other senators including myself, we made the case to the voters of Wisconsin that we’re on the right track.”
“One of our top priorities will be passing legislation that opens the door for safe and environmentally sound mining in an area of our state in need of revitalization,” Fitzgerald said during remarks on the floor after members were sworn in. “We have the opportunity to allow for the creation of thousands of good paying, family supporting jobs right here in Wisconsin, and I know that is something that we all can support.”
“By working together, we can reverse the failed policies that led to projections showing Wisconsin’s job growth will be second worst in the country through 2016,” said Larson on the floor Monday.”Without bipartisan efforts to move Wisconsin forward for all, working families . . . will continue to go underemployed and unemployed.”
Assembly Speaker Vos was asked about Olson’s “gerrymandered mandate” comment. “Let’s just remember we had candidates in about 75 percent of the seats. So in the seats where a Republican faced a Democrat, we got 200,000 more votes than Assembly Democrats did,” said Vos. “Republicans are in charge of the Assembly, Republicans are in charge of the Senate, and Governor Walker was reelected.” Vos did indicate that one potentially divisive issue is unlikely to be part of his agenda, telling reporters on Monday that while right to work legislation may be introduced, it will not come to a vote.