**UPDATED** As the Legislative Session Closes, MacIver Tracks All of the Bills Important to You, the WI Taxpayer

March 14, 2016 | MacIver News Service

[Madison, Wis…] With the hundreds of bills passed in the last weeks of the legislative session, we put together a summary of the important bills that were debated and where they ended up in the legislative process.

Below you will find which bills are on their way to be signed by the governor, which have been approved by the Assembly and await the Senate’s action, and which never received consideration even though they should have.

Zero-Based Budgeting (SB407/AB 534): Senate Bill 407 (SB 407) is the Senate companion bill to the zero-based budgeting Assembly Bill 534 that MacIver reported on in January. Zero-based budgeting attempts to control government spending by changing the process of budget making. Under the bill, state agencies are required to submit three proposed budgets during the creation of the state biennial budget. The first asks the agency to submit a budget with a 5 percent cut, the second assumes the agency will receive the same amount of money as the current one, and the agency may request whatever they think is necessary for the last budget. Under current law, agencies only submit the last type of budget request.2016-03-14 Gannon Zero Based.png

Early on in the session, the MacIver Institute interviewed the bill’s Assembly author, Rep. Rob Hutton (R-Brookfield). In that interview, he told us the bill was “a significant win for taxpayers.”

Democrats, however, think the bill will result in cuts to services. Sen. Tim Carpenter (D-Milwaukee) spearheaded Senate Democrats’ attempts to amend the bill so that certain agencies were guaranteed to be exempt from cuts.

In the Assembly, Rep. Bob Gannon (R-Slinger) spoke in defense of the bill. “When you talk in private business about actually looking at efficiencies and opportunities of saving your business money, you actually get promoted,” Gannon said. “This bill doesn’t cut any spending. It just says, if we were to look for opportunities to let taxpayers…keep a couple bucks in their pocket, where would your department identify those cuts?”

Zero-based budgeting passed the Senate 19-13. The Assembly concurred, voting 61-31. The bill has been signed by Gov. Walker.

REINS Act (AB 251): The REINS (Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny) Act creates an institutional speed bump to slow down the process of bureaucrats creating and implementing regulations that increase costs for Wisconsin taxpayers and businesses. Under the REINS Act, if an agency-created regulation costs $10 million or more, the agency must:

1. Submit a request for the Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules (JCRAR) to introduce a bill to authorize the rule, or
2. Modify the proposed rule so that implementation and compliance costs are less than $10 million over a two-year period, or
3. Withdraw the proposed rule.


In addition, new public hearing and fiscal estimates would be required for proposed administrative rules over the $10 million threshold.

Sen. Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg), the legislation’s lead Senate author, said that if passed, the REINS Act “will help ensure that the public can hold legislators accountable for expensive bureaucratic mandates.”

While passed in the Assembly 60-33, the REINS Act has an uncertain future in the Senate. Multiple capitol sources believe that seven of the 19 total Republican senators are on the fence or leaning no. MNS reached out to seven Republican senators in an attempt to determine where each of them stands on this issue. At the time of this report, staffers of three senators indicated that they were leaning in favor of the bill. One staff person that MNS talked to refused to answer the question. Three senators did not respond to MNS’ multiple attempts to contact them.

“This bill is both common sense and substantial,” Rep. Adam Neylon (R-Pewaukee), the lead Assembly author, said. “It restores power to the legislature by disallowing state agencies to promulgate rules that have a cost of compliance for businesses that exceeds $10 million to be enacted without legislative support, and provides additional opportunities for public feedback on new proposed agency rules.”

The REINS Act passed the Assembly 60-33. The Senate calendar for Tuesday, March 15 does not list the REINS Act for a floor vote. The bill appears dead at this time.

Local Voter IDs (AB 723/ SB 533): One of two voter integrity bills, Senate Bill 533 (SB 533), would prohibit towns and counties from creating a photo identification card for any resident of the town or county, unless that identification card was to identify employees of the town or county. The bill also restricts the valid uses for locally produced IDs.

Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) and Sen. Janet Bewley (D-Ashland) voiced concerns that the bill was an attack on local control, a frequent attack by Democrats on bills this session. “If this bill is passed, it’s simply an attack on local control,” Sen. Larson said.

“This is an extremely accurate example of an erosion of local control for no reason whatsoever,” Sen. Bewley added. “What if [Bayfield County] has a pool? They build a pool and want to issue family ID? They would not be allowed to issue a photo ID for the purposes of attending a local pool?”

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Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) countered that Democrats must not have read the summary of the bill thoroughly.

“Under the bill, if a city or village issues an ID card,” Sen. Wanggaard said. Reading directly from the bill’s summary, “the card must state clearly on its face that the card is not authorized for voting purposes.”

When asked about the bill in a press conference, Assembly Speaker Vos said, “That’s part of the misinformation that is out there, that somehow, getting that local ID will allow people to access services.” He continued, “There is no need for cities to create their own ID. But once again, if they want to, this bill simply says what it can and cannot be used for. We want to make sure that there is no confusion.”

SB 533 passed 19-13 in the Senate. It also passed the Assembly 62-35. It currently awaits Gov. Walker’s signature.

Electronic Voter Registration and SRD Elimination (SB 295): If passed, Senate Bill 295 (SB 295) would allow people to register to vote online. Among other provisions, it also eliminates Special Voter Registration Deputies (SRDs).

SRDs are individuals who can register people to vote. SRDs often do this through events like get out the vote drives. Since SRDs can be supplied by special interest groups, some are concerned that SRDs have the potential to influence how an individual will vote and inject special interest politics into voter registration. The MacIver Institute has written on the suspected abuses of the SRDs in the past, including the infamous ACORN case from 2008 in which an SRD was convicted for submitting multiple voter registrations under the same person’s name.

Allowing electronic voter registration and eliminating SRDs passed the Senate 19-13. The Assembly also passed it 56-38 with an amendment. The Senate passed this bill on a voice vote, sending it to the Governor’s desk.

Ending Wisconsin’s Nuclear Moratorium (AB 384): Current regulations effectively prevent new nuclear power plants from being built in Wisconsin. Assembly Bill 384 (AB 384) ends that moratorium, allowing for the new construction of nuclear power plants.

Debate on the bill was minor. Sens. Kathleen Vinehout and Tim Carpenter offered amendments, but they were immediately tabled after they were presented. Vinehout’s amendment would have required that a county referendum be necessary before a nuclear plant could be built in that county. Carpenter’s amendment would have required a statewide referendum before the state could lift the ban on building nuclear power plants.

The vote on the bill was bipartisan as four Democrats joined the 19 Republicans for a final 23-9 vote. AB 384 has already passed the Assembly on a voice vote. The bill now heads to Gov. Walker’s desk.

Dental Service Organizations (AB 368): Assembly Bill 368 (AB 368) moves Dental Service Organizations (DSOs) under the regulatory purview of the Wisconsin Dentistry Examining Board. Americans for Tax Reform warned the legislature that this proposal would grant the Wisconsin Dentistry Examining Board onerous and unnecessary new regulatory powers. AB 368 will restrict the ability of dentists to practice efficiently and cost-effectively, harming consumers and taxpayers across the state.
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In a Forbes column, Patrick Gleason noted that “[AB 368] would reduce access to dental care in the Badger State and drive up costs. It would be an uncharacteristic bill for Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled legislature to approve.” For a longer review of the issue, check out Patrick Gleason’s full column.

The Assembly passed the bill on a voice vote, so who exactly voted for and against it is unknown. The Senate calendar does not list AB 368 as appearing for a floor vote. The bill appears to be dead at this time.

School Choice Skim Fix (Attached to SB 615/AB 751): As the MacIver Institute reported earlier this month, a questionable interpretation about how much public school districts can raise local property taxes to cover their “losses” from the expansion of the school choice program allowed more than a hundred school districts to net a profit from the program.

The 115 school districts that raised local property taxes more than the amount they lost to choice schools levied taxes by a total of $19.8 million statewide. According to a Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo, the public schools skimmed $3.7 million more than the districts lost in state aid. Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) worked with Senator Luther Olsen (R-Ripon) to clear up the ambiguity. The proposed fix makes it clear that when a student transfers to a choice school, public schools can levy for the amount lost in state aid and no more.

The bill passed the Senate on a 19-13 vote and the Assembly on a 56-37 vote. However, the Assembly amended the bill. The Senate concurred in the amended bill on a 19-13 vote. It now goes to Gov. Walker’s desk.

Licenses for Vocational Teachers (SB 449): To address a teacher shortage in certain subject areas, this bill allows for people with industry experience to obtain a teacher’s license without having to complete repetitive schooling that will certify that they know how to do and teach the work they have been doing for years.

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“This bill recognizes real world experiences and competencies that these professionals have learned working in the business world,” Brown Deer School Superintendent Dr. Deb Kerr said when asked about the bill. “It provides a pathway that has a smoother transition into becoming a teacher in our classrooms.” Dr. Kerr continued, “We had a business teacher leave us about a year ago. We were not able to find a qualified candidate to replace that teacher. And so we had to rearrange teachers’ schedules and reduce programming in our business department because of it.”

The bill has passed the Assembly 63-35 and the Senate 19-13. It has also been signed by Gov. Walker.

School Accountability (AB 722): Assembly Bill 722 (AB 722) addresses school accountability, making it easier for parents to access DPI accountability reports. If passed, AB 722 would require all schools that maintain a website and to prominently display a link to that report on the school’s website. Schools would have to publish the accountability report within 30 days of the publishing of that report. AB 722 would affect all public schools, private schools participating in a parental choice program, and independent charter schools.

The bill passed the Assembly on a voice vote, and passed the Senate on a voice vote. It moves forward to Gov. Walker’s desk.

Walker’s Education Package (AB 739-744): Assembly Bills 739-744 make up Gov. Scott Walker’s education package. Walker announced the education package at the State of the State address back in January.

Tax Deductibility of Loans (AB 739): This bill would remove any cap on the tax deductibility of student loan interest payments. Students could fully deduct their student loan interest from their state income taxes. Walker estimates that for those making between $30,000 and $70,000, they could see an average benefit of $200 annually. This bill did not reach the Senate floor for a vote.

Grants for Students Attending Technical Colleges (AB 740): Under this bill, the Wisconsin needs-based grant program would receive an additional $500,000 per year for two years. These grants would go towards Wisconsin students attending technical colleges.

Emergency Grants (AB 741): If passed, the University of Wisconsin would receive $130,000 that it could give as grants to students who have experienced a financial emergency — such as unexpected medical expenses — which may prevent them from finishing their degree. Such emergency aid programs already exist in the state. While these programs are usually funded by donors or grants from philanthropic organizations, AB 741 introduces the taxpayers as a source of the programs’ funding. Students would be able to receive two grants a year for a combined total of $500. Like the University of Wisconsin, technical colleges would receive $320,000 for emergency grants.

Hiring State and UW Internship Coordinators (AB 742 and 743): These bills provide funds for the creation of two internship coordination positions may be created within the Office of Skills Development at the Department of Workforce Development (DWD), as well as additional UW System positions. The coordinators will help students acquire internships that help give them work experience and networking connections prior to graduating.

Financial Literacy Information (AB 744): This bill requires that colleges annually send students a letter with information about how much their education costs, how much money in students loans the student has incurred, and other financial information.

These reforms are in addition to the UW tuition freeze passed in the biennial budget.

In the Assembly, grants for students attending technical colleges, increasing emergency grants, and providing students with financial literacy information all passed 61-36. The tax deductibility of loans bill was passed 61-37. Hiring state and UW internship coordinators passed 60-37 and 57-40, respectively.

In the Senate, all except two bills in Gov. Walker’s education package passed. Grants for students in technical colleges, DWD student internship coordination, and the financial literacy bill all passed on 19-13 party line votes. The bill establishing emergency grants for students passed 18-13. As expected, the student loan tax credit bill and the UW internship coordinator bill did not reach the floor and are presumed to be dead for this session.

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UI Reform (AB 533): Another in a set of anti-fraud bills passed this session, AB 533 increases the criminal penalties for a person who intentionally makes a false statement or representation in order to obtain unemployment insurance (UI) benefits. This legislation was created in response to an audit which discovered that, during the three-year audit period, the UI program had paid out $86.3 million in intentional fraud. The Senate author, Sen. Chris Kapenga (R-Brookfield), 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 the Assembly 63-35. The bill passed the Senate Committee on Labor and Government Reform. However, the Senate calendar shows it is not scheduled for a vote on Tuesday, meaning the bill appears dead for now.

WEDC Reform (AB 669): If passed, the bill would create a criminal penalty for persons who intentionally defraud WEDC in order to obtain economic development benefits. If a person intentionally provides false information or fails to disclose a crucial event which would effect eligibility for such benefits, that person would become ineligible for further economic development benefits for seven years thereafter.

The bill passed the Assembly 63-35. The bill is not scheduled for a vote in the Senate this Tuesday. WEDC reform appears dead for now.

“Et tu, Brute?”
The following bills died without receiving an Assembly or Senate vote. May they rest in peace until the next legislative session.

Effigy Mounds (AB 620): Assembly Bill 620 (AB 620) was a bill known as the Effigy Mounds bill. Some property owners have ancient Indian burial mounds on their property. Whether or not there are human remains in the mound, private property owners, including business owners, are not allowed to disturb them. In some cases, this can prevent businesses from expanding.

AB 620 would have allowed private property owners to scan the mounds to determine if there were human remains in them. If human remains were not found, then the property’s owner could utilize the land as if no mound was present.

Minimum Markup Repeal (SB 371/AB 452): Under Wisconsin’s Unfair Sales Act – otherwise known as the minimum markup law – Brett Healy, president of the MacIver Institute, notes that “Low prices are actually illegal here in Wisconsin thanks to our antiquated minimum markup law.” In addition to making it illegal to sell merchandise below cost, the law also requires specific price markups on items like alcohol, tobacco, and gasoline. The “minimum markup” can be as high as nine percent on these three goods.

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Most other merchandise sold in Wisconsin, however, simply cannot be sold for lower than the retailer paid for the product. Despite overwhelming voter support for minimum markup’s repeal, no legislation was passed.

The MacIver Institute and four other free market organizations in Wisconsin recently sent a letter to Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald asking for a public hearing on the minimum markup law. In that letter, the organizations write, “There are many reasons why people are growing more and more frustrated with government. Being ignored is near the top of the list. Clearly, this issue impacts all of Wisconsin and is one that Wisconsin’s citizens would like to see discussed.”