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Some Bills Won't Make It as Wisconsin's Legislature Winds Down

Justin Kern

As the Legislature heads into the final days of its two-year session, both houses appear poised to pass Gov. Scott Walker’s plans to cut property and income taxes, along with bills to tighten voting rules.

But, a few hot-button issues do not appear headed to the governor’s desk. The Assembly and Senate will both meet Tuesday and then once or twice more, before adjourning when April arrives.

The Republican majority approved some voting changes – such as scaling back hours for absentee voting, but the GOP does not seem to have enough support to rewrite Wisconsin’s Voter ID law. It requires voters to show photo identification at the polls. Several groups are challenging the law, so the courts have put it on hold.

The Assembly voted to modify the law in November, but Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald says his chamber won’t act, while the law is tied up in court. The author, Republican Rep. Mark Born of Beaver Dam says he’s disappointed.

“We continue to believe that that’s the right direction to address some of the concerns in the current law, and to provide some reasonable exemptions to make sure we have a fair standard to protect the integrity of our elections,” Born says.

Born says he is pleased that Gov. Walker may call the Legislature into special session to change Voter ID, if the courts find the existing version is unconstitutional.

When the two-year session began in 2013, some GOP lawmakers vowed to toughen Wisconsin’s drunken driving laws. Rep. Jim Ott of Mequon introduced eight bills.  The Assembly passed four, but again, the items have hit a roadblock in the Senate. Ott says the Legislature has had a lot on its plate, so drunken driving had to take a backseat.

“We did pass somewhat tougher drunk driving laws in 2009 about five years ago, and I’m sure some are saying well, let’s see if these tougher laws have had any impact on our drunk driving rate in Wisconsin, it’s probably too early to say that that is the case,” Ott says.

Ott says he’ll resurrect some of the bills in 2015, including one, that would make a first offense a crime.

Another dead issue, for now, is a proposal calling for a voluntary seven-day workweek, in certain industries. Right now, employers must give workers 24 hours off each week.

Republican Sen. Glenn Grothman says some people want to work more. A Senate committee passed his bill along party lines, but it’s not listed on the Senate’s upcoming agenda. Grothman says the GOP would take too much political heat from Democrats in this fall’s elections.

“I think in an election campaign you could run an ad saying, Republicans want people to work seven hours (sic) a week and because we want people to get re-elected, we’re going to have to pull the bill,” Grothman says.

Grothman meant seven days a week not hours. The senator says he will introduce his plan again in 2015, to the new Legislature.

At least for now, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald has also put the brakes on bills adding rules for abortions. The Assembly passed two changes.

“These are tough bills. Are we playing into the Democrats’ quote, unquote war on women? That’s something that has to be discussed, you always have to consider the political angle,” Fitzgerald says.

It’s not unusual for politicians to wait until the heat subsides on divisive issues, according to Charles Franklin. He’s a professor of Law and Public Policy at Marquette University.

“I think being further away from an election makes it easier to move some of this. But, I also think these are issues that are with us, and are going to stay with us for the foreseeable future,” Franklin says.

Franklin foresees partisan priorities resurfacing, after the fall elections.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.