July 6, 2015

Governor signs bill restricting GPS tracking

Sen. Jerry Petrowski (WRN photo)

Sen. Jerry Petrowski (WRN photo)

Using a GPS device to track someone’s whereabouts or their vehicle without consent would be against the law, under legislation signed into law by Governor Scott Walker this week. The legislation from state Sen. Jerry Petrowski (R-Marathon) and Rep. Adam Neylon (R-Pewaukee) is intended to provide more protections for victims from stalking and harassment.

Petrowski says the increasing ease of access to tracking technology prompted action to protect and empower victims of stalking so that they can end this invasion of their privacy. “This just puts some precautionary language in there to protect people, because it could be for stalking, it could be for a variety of things, and to make it punishable if you are putting a GPS device on somebody’s car without their knowledge.”

There are several exceptions for law enforcement and for parents keeping track of their minor children, as well as for businesses to keep track of vehicles they own that are used by employees. Police can still get a court order and businesses can install GPS devices on their own fleet of vehicles.

Petrowski says the law had to catch up with technology to help protect people’s privacy. “I think because technology has just grown through the years, that this is really something that was needed to mainly protect the privacy of people that have a car.”

The GPS law covers all devices used to track people without their knowledge, including cell phones.


Republicans announce tentative Wisconsin budget deal

Republican leaders announce a budget deal. (Photo: Andrew Beckett)

Republican leaders announce a budget deal. (Photo: Andrew Beckett)

Republican leaders say they have reached an agreement to help move the state budget forward, although whether the plan has the support needed to pass the full Legislature remains in doubt.

Under the deal announced Wednesday morning at the Capitol, the $1.3 billion in bonding for transportation projects proposed by Governor Scott Walker would be reduced by at least $450 million. Controversial proposals to repeal Wisconsin’s prevailing wage law and to provide public funding for a new Milwaukee Bucks arena would also be removed, with plans to take them up as standalone legislation. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said “I think we were able to sit down in good faith, put together a structure that’s going to allow us to finish the budget…get it to the governor’s desk.”

However, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) admitted support in his chamber remains questionable. “No, I don’t have the votes right now as we stand here,” the Juneau Republican said.

The deal is expected to get the budget out of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, which has seen its work stalled for the past month while lawmakers tried to reach agreements on a handful of remaining issues. The panel is scheduled to meet tomorrow to finalize its work, while the Assembly could open debate on the budget bill as early as next Tuesday.

At the same time as the budget debate, Speaker Vos said his chamber will take up an amended version of a prevailing wage repeal bill that passed out of a committee earlier this year, which he predicted will pass. A plan to help finance a downtown Milwaukee arena will also get a standalone vote, which Sen. Fitzgerald remains hopeful will be taken up next week in his chamber.

Democrats were critical of the budget being proposed by the GOP. State Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) accused them of “following our absentee governor off the cliff,” while even going further in areas like expanding funding for private school voucher programs. “In many instances they’re making this budget even worse than this governor did,” Taylor said.

Democrats push to repeal Wisconsin gay marriage ban

Democrats are calling for a repeal of Wisconsin's gay marriage ban (Photo: Andrew Beckett)

Democrats are calling for a repeal of Wisconsin’s gay marriage ban (Photo: Andrew Beckett)

While it’s been unenforceable for much of the past year, some state lawmakers think Wisconsin’s gay marriage ban should be permanently removed from the state constitution.

The amendment, adopted by voters in 2006, was struck down in federal court in June of last year. Following last week’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that legalized gay marriage nationwide, state Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa (D-Milwaukee) believes Wisconsin should act to ensure the state is “on the right side of history by physically removing this discriminatory language from our state constitution.”

Zamarippa is co-sponsoring a proposal that would repeal the amendment. The measure would have to pass two consecutive legislative sessions and win voter approval, before the language could be removed.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said Monday that he sees no need to make the change and accused Democrats of trying to “make a political point” by proposing the change. Backers note that public support appears to be on their side though, with polling showing at least 60 percent of Wisconsin residents support same sex marriage.

Republicans unveil draft of Bucks arena funding deal

Reps. Nygren, Vos, Steineke

Reps. Nygren, Vos, Steineke

Republicans in the Wisconsin legislature have unveiled a final draft of a Milwaukee Bucks arena deal. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) announced the final plan with Representatives John Nygren (R-Marinette) and Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna).

“We accomplished all of our goals, and that really limited the state’s obligation to much less than what the state will gain over time as the arena is built and the Bucks stay,” Steineke said. Under terms of the bill draft, the state’s share of the $500 million dollar project will be $55 million – about equal to the share from the city and county, according to Vos.

“I think the three of us, and our entire caucus, share the same goal, and that’s to have the least expensive option for the state, while providing the best possible venue,” Vos said.

Nygren, who co-chairs the Joint Finance Committee, said the deal as written can pass the committee and the full Assembly. “I think we’re in a much better position today than we were, and I think we’re also in a position where we could go to the Assembly floor . . . and pass the proposal as is,” he said.

Governor Scott Walker’s original budget proposal called for using about $220 million in bonding to help finance the arena, which the NBA says is needed to keep the Bucks. That’s a level of bonding which many lawmakers, including Vos, balked at.

Still not clear is whether the arena deal will be included in the budget, or considered as stand alone legislation. Vos said it was important for the public, as well as members of both legislative chambers, to consider the draft, details of which are included in a memo from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

“I look forward to feedback from the members of the Senate and the public as they review the full details of this proposal, and will continue to work with all parties involved to ensure that any deal that keeps the Bucks in Milwaukee is a good deal for Wisconsin,” said Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau).

Senator Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee), one of three Milwaukee Senate Democrats who met with Fitzgerald last week to discuss the arena deal, said the release of the draft “shows our efforts to bring transparency and public scrutiny to this issue are starting to succeed.”

Also on Monday, Vos indicated that a deal on the state budget deal may be ready this week, although not prior to the start of the new fiscal year on Wednesday. “I feel good that we’re making progress,” Vos said. “I honestly believe that we can find an answer by the end of the week, but we also have some sort of deadline, so we’re not just sitting here staring at one another for months on end.”

Vos noted that there are still several budget sticking points – including transportation – between Assembly and Senate Republicans. “I think we’re getting closer and closer on transportation, so I feel pretty good about that, that maybe we’ll be able to have some sort of announcement sometime this week, that maybe finance could go in. I’m really an optimist.”

It’s been thirty days since the Joint Finance Committee – which is charged with hammering out the details of a budget – last met.

Republicans say ‘progress’ being made in budget talks

Wisconsin state Capitol (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Wisconsin state Capitol (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Republican leaders in the Legislature continue to work behind closed doors on the state budget, although it remains unclear whether they will wrap up their work before the state’s current fiscal year ends next Tuesday.

Senate Republican Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) remains optimistic that both chambers could pass a bill before next week. “I wouldn’t rule it out,” he said Tuesday. “I’ve seen deals come together quicker than that.”

Transportation spending, funding for a Milwaukee Bucks arena, and a repeal of the prevailing wage still need to be sorted out, before lawmakers can vote on the budget. Republican leaders are at odds about how a possible $800 million in cuts to transportation spending will impact projects statewide, while there’s disagreement about whether the Bucks or prevailing wage issues should be included at all. Fitzgerald said there’s some movement in those areas, but declined to offer many details. “A lot of items that need to be ironed out…some are small things, but yeah, we’re making progress. No doubt about it,” he said.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) offered only a brief comment that they are “making progress,” but declined to elaborate to reporters.

Joint Finance Committee co-chair John Nygren (R-Marinette) said he remains hopeful the panel would meet this week to wrap up its work on the budget. The JFC has not met in executive session on the budget since May 29.