State Lawmakers to Propose John Doe Changes, WEDC Overhaul and More in Fall Agenda

Sep 28, 2015

This fall in Madison, a continued partisan divide seems likely as state lawmakers get busy. Republicans and Democrats are pushing widely different agendas. A couple factors -- including the end of Gov. Walker's presidential campaign -- could influence what bills pass.

Republicans and Democrats have widely different agendas in the months ahead
Credit Flickr/alumroot

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says Republicans, who hold the majority in his house and the Senate, have a full slate of business. He outlined the party's plans at the Capitol late last week.

"John Doe reform that we hope to bring up in the October floor period, and we are rapidly closing on an agreement on also reforming the Government Accountability Board and updating our campaign finance laws to take into light all of the court decisions of the past several years," Vos said.

All three proposals are a response to probes into Gov. Walker's activities during his recall campaign and when he was Milwaukee County executive. His GOP colleagues believe investigators and state elections officials unfairly targeted Walker.

In addition to those measures, Vos says his party will try to pass a bill preventing researchers from using new fetal cells from abortions. The bill is divisive even among Republicans. But Vos says negotiations are ongoing.

"I am very optimistic that we are going to get there," Vos said.

Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke dropped a bomb late last week: a proposal to transform the state's century-old civil service rules. He says changes would help state agencies hire and fire workers more quickly to fill a growing need.

"In five years, we're going to have 23 percent of the state's workforce at retirement age. Ten years from now, it'll be up to 40 percent," Steineke said.

The measure took Assembly Minority leader Peter Barca by surprise. He sees it as another attack on public workers, a follow-up on Gov. Walker's signature legislation Act 10, which weakened public unions. Barca says his party may be open to some changes, but needs details.

Meanwhile, Democrats have big ideas of their own. For instance, Barca says they will continue pushing a package of bills to boost the economy.

"Our first 15 bills were all economic development and economic empowerment for the middle class-types of bills, and none of them have even received a hearing," Barca said.

Milwaukee Rep. Evan Goyke outlined more of his party's wish list, saying "the biggest proposals that have come out very recently deal with the transformation of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, which has been a massive failure."

The agency has been under fire for losing track of huge loans, and giving aid to businesspeople with questionable records.

Yet another contingent of Democrats wants to reform the way Wisconsin draws its political districts.

A couple factors likely will impact what legislation advances. One is the fact that next year is an election year. JR Ross of WisPolitics.com says lawmakers know timing can be everything.

"Do your controversial stuff early, so there's more distance between that bill being signed, and the reelection," Ross said.

Ross adds lawmakers are dealing with a bit of a wild card this fall, in the form of Gov. Walker's full-time return to Wisconsin. His presidential bid kept him out of the state much of the year. Ross says Walker may now feel the need to push his own agenda -- both to prove he's serious about continuing in his post, and to position himself for the future.

"He might run for president again someday. What does he do to build another legacy, if you will, another leg of his stool, of 'this is why I'm a good, attractive candidate nationally,'" Ross asked.

While Walker cannot propose items except for in the state budget, Ross says many Republicans remain eager to work in concert with him. And on top of that, Walker has the most powerful veto pen in the nation, giving him plenty of say in the bills that become law.