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In Late Night Session, State Senate Passes Plans for School Safety, Lincoln Hills, Sales Tax Holiday

Lawmakers held a marathon session at the State Capitol on Tuesday

It was a busy day at the State Capitol, as Republican lawmakers scrambled to pass some of Governor Walker’s key election-year initiatives.

Tuesday began with Senate and Assembly leaders at odds over Walker’s school safety plan – along with a proposal to close the Lincoln Hills juvenile prison and a bill that would give families a $100 per-child tax credit.

But in the end, lawmakers were able to iron out their differences.

Senate Republicans spent much of the day in and out of caucus, tweaking the bill that Gov. Walker had pushed hard – he traveled around the state promoting it in the days leading up to the vote. There was a sense of urgency, as the Senate was taking up the plan just hours after a 17-year-old boy opened fire at a high school in Maryland, injuring two students. And, just weeks after 17 people were shot to death at a high school in Parkland, Florida.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald wanted to pass a slightly different version of the plan that Walker had proposed. Senators took up Fitzgerald’s revised version of the plan last night – it passed at around 10 pm on a vote of 28-4.

The major components that Gov. Walker wanted are intact. The state would make $100 million in grants available to schools, so they can make security improvements. An Office of School Safety would be created in the Department of Justice. And, schools would have to update their safety plans.

Senate Democrats introduced several amendments aimed at gun control. One would have enacted universal background checks, while another would have banned bump stocks. A third would have reinstated a 48-hour waiting period for gun purchases. All of the amendments failed. The four senators who voted against the bill overall were Democrats, including Lena Taylor of Milwaukee.

While the Senate was busy debating the bill, in another room at the State Capitol an Assembly committee was going ahead with a public hearing. The Assembly Education committee took hours of public testimony on the plan.

Attorney General Brad Schimel supported the bill. “These special session bills will protect our children and our schools. We need to do everything we can to make our schools less attractive targets and less vulnerable targets to attacks and danger,” he said.

But, others lined up to oppose the plan, including Carla Pennington of Glendale who fears the bill would result in creation of a military state in the schools. “What I see is the creation of a new DOJ bureaucracy that heavily increases law enforcement mindsets in our schools. I see us requiring active shooter drills. Do you know what active shooter drills feel like for children,” she said.

The committee is scheduled to vote on the school safety package Wednesday.  The full Assembly is scheduled to vote on it Thursday.

In other action, the Senate approved a plan that would close the Lincoln Hills juvenile prison by 2021 and move inmates to smaller, regional facilities.

Another item that Gov. Walker was pushing - the child tax credit - passed the after Majority Leader Fitzgerald revised the sales tax holiday component. Under the new plan, there would be no sales tax the first weekend in August on items of clothing and school supplies costing less than $75. Also, no sales tax on computers costing less than $750.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.
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