Legislation overhauling Wisconsin’s century old civil service system is heading to the governor. The bill passed the state Senate Wednesday night on a 19-14 partisan vote. Democrats blasted the measure during lengthy floor debate. Governor Scott Walker is expected to sign it into law.
“We come up with legislation like this, which isn’t based on actual facts, it’s based on lies,” said Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton).
Democrats argue the bill will eliminate needed protections for public employees, and Erpenbach said it will make state jobs less attractive to prospective employees. “Passing this piece of legislation is going to further complicate hiring, not only in the Department of Corrections, but teaching, staffing at the DNR, DOT, name your D,” Erpenbach said.
Democrats also said that the bill will lead to favoritism in state hiring. “State employees should be hired on what they know, not who they know,” said Sen. Fred Risser, (D-Madison).
“We hear a lot about the days of returning to political patronage, but that is simply not the case. Just to say it does not make it true,” said Senator Roger Roth (R-Appleton), the bills’s Senate sponsor.
Roth also said the measure would address Democrats’ concerns over workers being fired arbitrarily because of activities that their supervisors might not approve. “We’ve put together a tight-knit definition, for really egregious behavior, that I don’t believe that any one of us will . . . argue that you should be allowed to do this while on state time and be reasonably expected to keep your job,” Roth said.
Republicans argue the sweeping changes to civil service are needed to simplify the hiring process used to fill vacant state positions by moving away from the current civil service exam and using a resume-based hiring system. They also want a more uniform way of dealing with problem employees and more flexibility in giving new hires time to adjust to the job.
The Assembly approved the bill last fall, but the Senate had held off on a floor vote because of a dispute within the Republican caucus over a provision that prevents state agencies from asking initial applicants about their criminal record. State Senator Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) announced prior to the vote that he would not oppose that language in the bill.
The changes to civil service will impact some 30,000 Wisconsin residents, including virtually all state employees except for the UW System and the Wisconsin National Guard.