April 19, 2015

Wisconsin Assembly passes bill regulating ride sharing companies

Assembly chambers  (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Assembly chambers (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

A bill regulating Transportation Network Companies operating in Wisconsin has passed in the state Assembly. It establishes statewide licensing and insurance requirements for those providers, such as Uber and Lyft, along with background checks for drivers.

Lake Geneva Republican Tyler August, a sponsor of the bill, says it’s needed to help make sure regulations are in place for a rapidly growing industry. “Whether we want it to or not, it’s out there…these companies are operating. So we owe it to our constituents to make sure they are operating in a safe manner.”

The bill would pre-empt local regulations adopted in cities like Madison and Milwaukee, a provision that drew fire from Madison Democrat Lisa Subek. She argued that it throws communities like hers “under the bus” by undoing regulations that were worked on and approved by local leaders to fit the needs of their communities.

The bill passed on a bipartisan 79 to 19 vote. It now heads to the Senate.

Democrats want changes to Wisconsin state budget plan

Assembly Democrats call for budget changes (Photo: Andrew Beckett)

Assembly Democrats call for budget changes (Photo: Andrew Beckett)

As lawmakers get set to begin making revisions to Governor Scott Walker’s proposed state budget, Democrats are highlighting a number of areas they believe should receive the most attention.

The Joint Finance Committee is expected to take up the biennial budget plan this spring. State Representative Chris Taylor (D-Madison), who sits on the panel, said during a Capitol news conference on Wednesday that majority Republicans need to give serious consideration to the concerns heard during public hearings around the state earlier this year. The Madison Democrat said “it didn’t matter if we were in rural communities, suburban, urban communities – we heard massive opposition to provisions in this budget that really hurt the people of Wisconsin.”

Democrats on the panel sent a letter to majority Republican leaders highlighting their concerns. It calls for stopping any changes to the SeniorCare prescription drug program, protecting the Department of Natural Resources from cuts, and restoring funding to public schools and the University of Wisconsin System. It also calls on the GOP to accept federal funding to expand Wisconsin’s Medicaid program, which they argue would help address a projected budget deficit and provide health coverage for thousands of people.

Oshkosh Democrat Gordon Hintz argued that “if a budget is a planning document that needs to be reflective of values and priorities, then it should reflect the values and priorities of the people of the state of Wisconsin.”

The Republican co-chairs of the Finance Committee did not respond to messages seeking comment on the letter.

Bill would close Wisconsin hit-and-run loophole

Rep. Andre Jacque (R-De Pere)

Rep. Andre Jacque (R-De Pere)

A De Pere lawmaker wants to close a loophole in state law, which he argues can help someone get away with a hit-and-run crash.

Republican Rep. Andre Jacque (R-De Pere) says his bill would require people to stop after a crash to make sure nobody was hurt. Currently, he says some people are able to drive away and later claim they thought they hit a deer or a something else in the road, even if they left somebody seriously hurt, or dead.

The De Pere Republican says the bill will “align our laws with common sense that, if you don’t know what you hit…you should stop and find out exactly what it is you hit.”

Jacque says the loophole helped overturn the conviction of a driver in a 2011 Door County case. Mark Sperber was initially convicted in the hit-and-run death of 20-year-old John Kennedy, who was in a wheelchair, and was given ten years in prison. Sperber claimed he thought he hit a garbage can and a judge later overturned his conviction after he had served 25 months of his sentence. He reached a plea deal last spring ahead of a retrial, which allowed him to avoid additional prison time.

Jacque has named the bill the John Michael “Mingo” Kennedy Act, in honor of the victim in the case.


Lawmaker calls for pulling policy from Wisconsin budget

Sen. Rob Cowles (R-Green Bay)

Sen. Rob Cowles (R-Green Bay)

A state lawmaker wants policy items found in Governor Scott Walker’s proposed state budget removed, before the Legislature begins debating the plan. 

A memo from the state’s Legislative Fiscal Bureau identified 49 policy items included in the two year state budget plan. State Sen. Rob Cowles (R-Green Bay), who has long been a critic of including policy items in the budget, said all of those issues should be taken out and introduced as individual bills.

Some of the policy items include making the Natural Resources Board advisory only and creating a charter school oversight board. If they remain, Cowles said he can not vote for the budget in its current form.

Cowles said he would also like to see the Bucks stadium funding plan, and the UW autonomy proposal considered separately, even though they have a fiscal impact.


Wisconsin lawmaker wants ban on headphones while driving

Rep. John Spiros (R-Marshfield)

Rep. John Spiros (R-Marshfield)

Drivers who wear headphones while they are behind the wheel could face fines, under a bill being introduced at the Capitol.

The bill from state Representative John Spiros (R-Marshfield) would ban the use of earbuds or headphones that cover both ears while driving. The Marshfield Republican says it’s based on concerns he’s heard from law enforcement, but the issue is something he’s also started to notice on his own since it was brought to his attention. “I had actually been out…and there was a fire truck that came down the road, and somebody pulled out, and didn’t even see (the truck), and they had headphones on.”

Spiros says the devices are just another form of distracted driving. “I would just think common sense would tell you that, having both ears covered, you can’t really hear what’s going on around you.”

First time offenders would face fines of up to $40, while a second offense in the same year could result in a $100 fine.