April 26, 2015

Bill would keep Wisconsin lawmakers from rolling over sick days

Rep. David Steffen (R-Howard)

Rep. David Steffen (R-Howard)

A Republican state lawmaker wants to eliminate a sick leave policy that greatly benefits members of the legislature.

The proposal, from state Representative David Steffen (R-Green Bay), would keep lawmakers from being able to rollover unused sick time at the end of the year. Members get 10.5 days a year, which can be carried over until they retire. What’s left can be cashed out to help pay for medical benefits in retirement, and Steffen says some lawmakers have more than $100,000 in their accounts. Overall, the current 132 state senators and representative have built up $2.5 million in unused sick leave benefits.

The Green Bay Republican, who is a freshman this session, says members of the state legislature have very flexible schedules, so there’s no reason for them to have paid sick days. “It is not a situation where they will be able to use it or lose it,” he said. “They simply will not have sick leave days at the end of their current elective term.”

Steffen says his bill would not impact other state employees with similar benefits.


Wisconsin Democrats propose universal background checks

Rep. Berceau

Rep. Berceau

Proposed legislation would require universal background checks for gun purchases. It’s from Representative Terese Berceau (D-Madison), who’s introduced it for the past two years. “Law abiding citizens follow the rules and buy through licensed dealers,” Berceau said. “They know they can pass background checks. Criminals and those with criminal intent cannot, and right now we allow them to evade any rules.”

The Capitol press conference to introduce the measure came just two days after Senate passage of a bill to repeal the state’s 48 hour waiting period for handgun purchases, and amid a spike in fatal shootings in Milwaukee neighborhoods.

“For us not to bring up this bill would say that we don’t care about the gun deaths,” said state Representative Mandela Barnes (D-Milwaukee). “It is a moral imperative for us to introduce this bill as often as it takes.”

Berceau said background checks could deter street sales of guns which are often used in crimes. The bill is unlikely to receive a public hearing in the Republican dominated Wisconsin legislature. “I think that they’re wrong when it comes to this,” said Berceau. “Surveys that we’ve got from throughout the state show that people support closing this loophole. But that’s not what they’re looking at. What they’re looking at is what is the NRA going to do to them at the next election?”

Assembly Republicans promise action on Badger Exam bill

File photo

File photo

Republican leaders in the state Assembly say they plan to take up legislation by the middle of next month that will keep the results of a controversial state exam from being used against teachers and schools.

Efforts are already underway to replace the Badger Exam with a new test by next year, although many schools are still having students take it this spring. State Representative Joel Kitchens (R-Sturgeon Bay) is the sponsor of a bill that would keep the results from being used in report cards and teacher effectiveness evaluations.

The Sturgeon Bay Republican said at a Capitol news conference Thursday that the results would still be posted online, which would allow schools and parents to review them. Kitchens said he hopes schools can still get some value out of this spring’s exams “as a good practice run” for using an online-based exam.

The bill is similar to one the state Senate already approved. Republican leaders say they hope to pass it out of committee and bring it to the floor by mid-May.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) also said they are exploring potential legal action against the company that designed the test, since they question whether it will be able to deliver on everything it was contracted to provide.

Clock is running on Milwaukee Bucks arena deal

Milwaukee Bucks logo 12With the clock now running, can Madison politicians wrap up a funding deal for a new NBA arena in Milwaukee?

The announcement from Bucks President Peter Feigin – that a financing deal must be finalized in the next 10 days for the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee to consider – caught Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald by surprise on Tuesday.

“I would say this – I don’t know that we necessarily need ten days,” Fitzgerald said. “I think, if we’re going to be able to accomplish this, we’ve found a pathway that is going to work.”

“All of these things are kind of swirling right now, but the revenue stream that needs to be set up for a 20 year period, I think can be achieved in working directly with the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, and the city can do that, and certainly the county has the ability to do that,” Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald said that the amount loaned by the board could be as much as $220 million towards the projected $500 million costs of a new facility for the NBA team. “There’s no bonding in this at all,” he said. “This is a straight cash loan from the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands directly to whatever the new entity is that would be created in Milwaukee to manage the new arena.”

Fitzgerald meets today with representatives from the Bucks, the city and county, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and, maybe, Governor Scott Walker.

“I get the political dynamic right now. He’s out there running for president, there are certain other issues right now with bundling for Senator Clinton,” Fitzgerald said, referring to a pledge by Bucks co-owner Mark Lasry to raise $250 million for Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid.

UDPATE: A team statement, released late Tuesday, attempted to backtrack on Feigin’s earlier comments. It indicated that “there’s no immediate deadline for a financing plan, and we’re not creating one. We’re simply hopeful that progress continues with our partners, and throughout the legislative and political process.”

Wisconsin Senate approves handgun waiting period repeal

Senate debate (PHOTO: WRN)

Senate debate (PHOTO: WRN)

You’d be able to buy a handgun without waiting 48 hours to pick it up, under a bill passed in the state Senate. Democrats, like state Senator Janis Ringhand of Evansville, contended the state’s 48-hour wait became law in the late 1970s specifically as a “cooling off period,” to deter violent crimes of passion committed with handguns.

“Crimes of passion happen, regularly,” Ringhand said during Tuesday’s floor debate. “This bill was passed for good reasons, and I think we need to keep it place for equally good reasons.”

The bill’s author, state Senator Van Wannggaard (R-Racine), claimed that was never the law’s intent. “I would say that this was not, from what I can see, was not for a cooling off period,” he said. “As a law enforcement officer, I never thought of it that way.” Wannggard said the 1976 law was enacted in order to allow time to accomplish background checks on gun buyers.

“It’s not necessary for the check, we know that.” said Senator Fred Risser (D-Madison). “Forty-eight hours is there because sometimes rational people, normal people, get very angry . . . and lose control of themselves.” Republican backers say gun buyers who clear a background check should be able to take their handguns home that day. The bill now moves to the Assembly.