Capitol Update: What to Watch for This Week

The legislative floor session for the year is rapidly coming to an end, and with it, the opportunity to make or change state law. Both houses of the legislature are frantically trying to pass bills before the window closes.

With so many bills flying through the Capitol, your trusted public servants at the MacIver Institute break down the bills that seem to be moving, those that are being obstructed by the special interests and those that, for the good of taxpayers and the entire state, should never see the light of day.

Education Reform

Gov. Scott Walker’s Education Package (AB 739-44): The set of bills would remove the cap on the tax deductibility of student loan interest payments, provide “emergency grants” for students, hire state and UW internship coordinators, and would require universities to regularly provide students with financial literacy information. This package is on the Assembly Calendar for Tuesday, Feb. 16.

School Accountability and Reporting (AB 722): The bill would require schools to publish Department of Public Instruction (DPI) accountability reports and prominently display a link to the most recent report on their websites within 30 days after DPI publishes the accountability reports, ensuring that the public has timely access to information about local schools’ performance. AB 722 is on the Assembly Calendar for Tuesday, Feb. 16.

School Choice Skim Fix in Amendment 3 (AB 751): After it was discovered that an unclear portion of the school choice law allowed school districts to raise property taxes beyond what they lost in state aid, Amendment 3 was drafted as a fix. The MacIver Institute reported on the problem here, asking if a student leaves a school district and is no longer using any of its resources, why is the district allowed to raise taxes for that student at all? AB 751 is on the Assembly Calendar for Tuesday, Feb. 16.


Removing the Ban on Nuclear Power Plant Construction (AB 384): Current law effectively bans the construction of new nuclear power plants. If passed, AB 384 would allow new plant construction. While the Supreme Court recently delayed implementation of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, a final decision has yet to be reached. Allowing new nuclear power plants could be crucial to meeting the Plan’s onerous burden on coal-reliant states like Wisconsin if the CPP eventually moves forward. AB 384 is on the Senate Calendar for Tuesday, Feb. 16.

Increasing Regulation of Dental Service Organizations (DSOs) (AB 368): Assembly Bill 368 would move Dental Service Organizations (DSOs) under the regulatory purview of the Wisconsin Dentistry Examining Board. Though it may seem inconsequential, free-market defenders from the National Taxpayers Union to Americans for Tax Reform have highlighted the fact that such a proposal would restrict the ability of dentists to practice efficiently and cost-effectively, harming consumers and taxpayers across the state. For a longer review of the issue, check out Patrick Gleason’s column over at Forbes. AB 368 is on the Assembly Calendar for Tuesday, Feb. 16.

Minimum Markup Repeal (AB 451/SB 371): This bill would repeal a law that bans retailers from selling merchandise below cost and requires a minimum price increase over the cost of goods such as alcohol, tobacco, and gasoline. A MacIver News Service inquiry found that back-to-school shopping in Minnesota and Illinois was much cheaper than in Wisconsin as a result of the antiquated law. A November 2015 poll showed overwhelming voter support for repealing the law – as high as 76 percent of poll respondents wanted the law repealed after learning about both sides of the issue. Neither bill has been heard in committee, nor is the issue on the Assembly Calendar this upcoming week. Given its popular support, why hasn’t minimum markup repeal been given a simple public hearing?

Reins Act (AB 251): Assembly Bill 251, known as the Reins Act, is an effort to confront the massive federal regulatory state. If passed, any federal regulation worth more than $10 million in compliance costs would need to gain state legislative approval before implementation. The proposal would also add new public hearing and fiscal estimate requirements for administrative regulations, strengthening the public’s purview and understanding of regulations before they go into effect. The Reins Act passed the Assembly Committee on State Affairs and Government Operations on a 10-5 party line vote and has been praised by Gov. Scott Walker. Representative Neylon says that Assembly leadership has given him a verbal commitment to have a vote on the bill on Thursday, Feb. 18.

Fraud Reduction

Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) Fraud Reduction (AB 669): Assembly Bill 669 is another facet of the legislature’s focus on fraud this session. If passed, the bill would create a criminal penalty for persons who intentionally defraud WEDC in order to obtain economic development benefits – such as grants, loans, tax credits, or other assistance. If a person intentionally provides false information or fails to disclose a crucial event which would affect eligibility for such benefits, that person would become ineligible for further economic development benefits for seven years thereafter. AB 669 passed the Assembly Committee on Jobs and the Economy on a bipartisan 11-3 vote and is on the Assembly Calendar for Tuesday, Feb. 16.

Unemployment Reform (AB 533): The bill increases the criminal penalty for a person who intentionally makes a false statement or representation in order to obtain unemployment insurance (UI) benefits. The main Senate author, Sen. Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield) testified in front of the Assembly Committee on Public Benefit Reform, arguing that the bill brings fraud penalty statutes in line with the rest of criminal law. AB 533 passed that committee on a 10-5 party line vote and is on the Assembly Calendar for Tuesday, Feb. 16.

Voter Integrity Measures

Validity of Locally-Produced Photo IDs (AB 723/SB 533): Now that Wisconsin has a voter ID law, some counties, cities, and villages have considered producing their own photo ID to be used for voting and some public benefit programs. This bill prohibits towns and counties from creating a photo identification card for any resident of the town or county, other than an employment-related identification card for employees of the town or county. The bill also restricts the valid uses for locally produced IDs. The bill was passed out of the Committee on State Affairs and Government Operations 10-3 and is scheduled for an Assembly and Senate vote Tuesday, Feb. 16.

Electronic Voter Registration (SB 295): The bill allows people to register for voting online. Among other provisions, it also eliminates Voter Registration Deputies (SRDs) who, for some, represent special interests’ ability to register people to vote. The MacIver News Service has written on the suspected abuses of the SRDs in the past. The bill passed the Senate 19-13 and will be taken up by the Assembly Tuesday, Feb. 16.

Finances and Taxation

Zero-Based Budgeting (AB 534): The zero-based budgeting bill would mandate that state agencies submit 3 budget proposals. The first must have 0 percent increase, the second a 5 percent decrease, and the last is whatever the agency chooses to submit. The hope is that the bill will help control spending and help legislators evaluate the merit of specific programs. The MacIver News Service reported on that issue here. AB 534 is tentatively scheduled on the Senate Calendar for Tuesday, Feb. 16, and on the Assembly Calendar on Thursday, Feb. 18.

County Sales Tax for Roads (AB 210): If passed, AB 210 would allow counties to charge a 0.5 percent sales tax to be used for road repair and construction. Guest columnist James Widgerson shares his opinion on the subject here. The Assembly Committee on Transportation passed the bill 14-0, but it is not currently scheduled for a floor vote in the Senate or Assembly.

Property Insurance Regulation (SB 437): State government currently provides property insurance for local governments’ property. SB 437 would require the state fund to have the same rules as the private sector. In addition, the bill also outlines how the state fund must handle fund deficits, surpluses, and defaults by local governments participating in the fund. SB 437 unanimously passed the Senate Committee on Insurance, Housing, and Trade but is not scheduled for a floor vote.

Juvenile Justice Reform

Juvenile Justice (SB 280): This legislation would move nonviolent first-time 17-year-old offenders back to the purview of the juvenile justice court rather than the adult court. A major sticking point has been the cost of such a change, which would pose a hefty bill up front but likely produce major savings down the road. Catch up on this issue with the MacIver Institute’s recently updated report, “17-Year-Olds in Adult Court: Is There a Better Alternative for Wisconsin’s Youth and Taxpayers?” This legislation is not currently scheduled on this week’s Assembly Calendar.