A state Assembly committee has signed-off on controversial changes to the state’s civil service system, despite warnings from Democrats that the proposal could inject politics into state hiring decisions.
The legislation would make it easier for state agencies to hire and fire workers. Republicans have argued that it’s intended to modernize the 110-year-old system and end sometimes lengthy delays in filling vacancies. The measure calls for eliminating the civil service exam for workers, while also standardizing the criteria for firing problem workers.
During an executive session on the bill Tuesday at the Capitol, state Representative Robb Kahl (D-Monona) was among Democrats on the panel who warned about the possible unintended consequences of the changes. “You will have patronage and cronyism creeping in,” he said.
Democrats also argued against the rapid timeline to get the bill to the floor for a vote this fall, following its introduction earlier this month. Rep. Jonathan Brostoff (D-Milwaukee) said the quick push could result in lawmakers not fully understanding the full impact of the bill until much later. “We should take time to hear from experts, to hear from leaders, to hear from people who have actually had an extended amount of vocational experience in the fields that we’re delving into here,” he urged.
Republicans say the changes are based on extensive talks with agency heads and hiring departments though. Rep. Joel Kleefisch (R-Oconomowoc) said they are simply intended to “create and help foster” a better workplace, with hiring standards that are easier to understand and apply.
The legislation was amended by the panel. Those changes included shortening a change in the probation period to one year from the proposed two years, which is an increase from the current six month period. Another change gives preference to veterans and their spouses.
A Senate committee is also expected to meet and vote on the bill this afternoon. That vote could be more contentious, due to a GOP dispute over whether to include a provision that bans state agencies about asking job applicants about their criminal records. Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) cancelled a committee vote last week, after arguing that state agencies should be able to make the decision to inquire about an applicant’s criminal history on their own.