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August 28, 2015

Democrats propose restrictions on WEDC funding

Democrats in the legislature are proposing restrictions on the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. The legislation would ban companies from applying for state assistance for five years if they have shipped jobs outside of Wisconsin’s borders after receiving state aid.

“We’re here to help, but we expect one thing,” said state Representative Andy Jorgenson (D-Milton). “Don’t move those jobs out of our state or our country.” The bill is in a response to reports that some companies that received support through WEDC laying off Wisconsin workers to relocate jobs elsewhere.

“We simply cannot afford, and should not allow WEDC to dole out taxpayer dollars to businesses that ship Wisconsin jobs beyond our borders,” Jorgenson said.

Democrat proposes ‘drivers card’ for undocumented immigrants

Rep. Zamarripa

Rep. Zamarripa

Proposed legislation would provide undocumented immigrants in Wisconsin with a “drivers card.” The bill is from state Representative JoCasta Zamarripa (D-Milwaukee). “We know it’s happening,” Zamarripa said. “We know that they’re driving without a driver’s license, without having gone to the DMV to prove they can pass a driver’s test, and that’s not good for any of us.”

She said the bill would ensure that people here illegally at least know how to drive, and have their vehicles insured. “This is a public safety and economic development bill, so that we’ll know who is driving on our roads, and more importantly, law enforcement will know who’s driving on our roads.”

Zamarripa also said the bill won’t flag people for deportation. “Some folks will say, ‘does this put a target on the undocumented immigrants back?’ I’ve asked that of constituents who I know are undocumented, and they tell me ‘right now I have a target on my back, when I get in the car without a driver’s license.”

Zamarripa, who’s circulating the bill for cosponsors, said she hopes it will receive a public hearing in either the Assembly Transportation Committee or Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety, which she serves on. The bill is unlikely to pick up support from Republicans who hold majorities in the legislature.

Vos appoints three new bipartisan task forces

Rep. Robin Vos (Photo: WRN)

Rep. Robin Vos (Photo: WRN)

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has named members to three new bipartisan task forces. State Representative Jessie Rodriguez (R-Franklin) will chair the Speaker’s Task Force on Urban Education, and would like to address the issue of teacher retention.

“Teachers sometimes are not trained for what they’re going to encounter at urban schools, and from what I’ve heard many of them have been frustrated by the experience and leave,” Rodriguez said, adding that many are good teachers. “Kids and families in the urban setting have certain needs, and if we are not helping our teachers to provide services, they are going to get frustrated, and they are going to end up leaving.”

Rodriguez said the task force will also look at truancy, below-average academic performance and graduation rates, and ways to improve early-childhood education.

Vos has also appointed members to task forces on Alzheimer’s and Dementia, and Youth Workforce Readiness. The chair of the Speaker’s Task Force on Alzheimer’s and Dementia is Rep. Mike Rohrkaste (R-Neenah), and the Speaker’s Task Force on Youth Workforce Readiness is being chaired by Rep. Bob Kulp (R-Stratford). Vos said the goal of each bipartisan task force is to explore possible solutions and recommend legislation to the full Assembly. The task forces will travel around Wisconsin obtaining input and innovative ideas in order to compile recommendations.

Bill would limit sale of novelty lighters in Wisconsin

Examples of novelty lighters. (Photo: WI Legislature)

Examples of novelty lighters. (Photo: WI Legislature)

Cigarette lighters that look like small toys would face new restrictions, under legislation being considered at the Capitol.

The bill from state Sen. Julie Lassa (D-Stevens Point) and Rep. Scott Krug (R-Nekoosa) would prohibit the sale of novelty cigarette lighters to anyone under the age of 18, while also limiting the ability of stores to put them out on display. Retailers would not be able to sell them in an area accessible by minors.

During a hearing at the Capitol Tuesday, Lassa argued the types of lighters targeted include those often shaped like small vehicles or guns, along with others that use light and sound. “These lighters look like toys and are very attractive to children, who believe they look like toys,” Lassa said.

Lawmakers heard from a long line of people whose lives have been changed because of accidental fires. Jeff Jordan was badly burned in a fire more than 20 years ago, which was started by a sibling playing with a lighter. He told noted that many of the devices targeted by the bill do not have the same safety features as a normal lighter, which can increase the danger they pose.

Pittsfield Fire Chief Jerry Minor has been fighting to pass the bill since 2008, after a child in his area died in a fire they believe was caused by a lighter. While he noted that fire officials often focus on fire safety, prevention is also a key part of their jobs. “This is more than the parent’s responsibility – it’s our responsibility to take these things off the market for kids.”

Similar legislation has been introduced three times in previous sessions with varying levels of support. Krug says he expects it to make it to the floor in both chambers for a vote this session and to “cross the finish line this time.”

Democrats critical of plan to change WEDC board

Sen. Julie Lassa (D-Stevens Point)

Sen. Julie Lassa (D-Stevens Point)

The two Republican members of the board overseeing the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation want to remove legislators from the panel.

Legislation being circulated at the Capitol would eliminate the four legislative positions on the 12 member board, replacing them with representative from the private sector. State Sen. Rick Gudex (R-Fond du Lac), who holds one of those seats, believes the change would help the agency more effectively pursue its mission of job creation. “At a time when we’re trying to find employees, trying to match employers with employees…it makes more sense to have people who actually have that experience be on the board and make those decisions,” said the Fond du Lac Republican.

The push comes just after Governor Scott Walker was removed as the chairman of the WEDC board earlier this year.

Democrats who sit on the board argue it’s an attempt by Republicans to further distance themselves from the troubled agency, following a series of critical state audits and reports that WEDC staff failed to properly track or evaluate millions of dollars in loans made to businesses. Sen. Julie Lassa (D-Stevens Point) said “for them to think that their idea of reforming this agency is to remove the only board members that are directly responsible to taxpayers, I think is an extremely bad idea.”

Gudex and fellow GOP board member Rep. Rob Hutton (R-Brookfield) argue there would still be many other layers of legislative oversight, even without them sitting on the board. Hutton noted that multiple committees, the Legislative Audit Bureau, and legislation will still allow them to respond to issues at WEDC.

Lassa maintains that she thinks “the people of Wisconsin, given the troubles that have dogged it since its creation, want greater oversight of WEDC…not less.”

The bill is currently being circulated for co-sponsors at the Capitol.