Weekly Roundup: Top 10 Stories in Wisconsin Politics

June 16, 2017

Happy Friday, readers! It was a busy week in Madison. The Joint Finance Committee (JFC) whirred back into action after a two-week break on budget voting, taking up issues such as self-insurance and the Department of Corrections. Both the full Assembly and the Senate also met on Wednesday, and committees in both houses held hearings throughout the week.

In case you missed out (or were too busy watching the US Open), here’s a rundown of the top ten stories from the week:

1. JFC Rejected the Switch to Self-Insurance

Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed plan to transition to a self-insurance system was unanimously rejected by JFC, which means that the Group Insurance Board will have to find savings elsewhere.

Instead, the committee approved a plan to offer more high-deductible Consumer Driven Health Plans for state workers, which is a potential cost-saving alternative.

JFC co-chair Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) defended the decision, which saves lower income individuals money on their monthly premiums and allows employers to contribute to tax-free health savings accounts.

Read more about the move here.

2. The Assembly Passed the REINS Act, Sending it to the Governor’s Desk

The Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act, or REINS Act, aims to improve transparency and limit financially burdensome rules and regulations. Under current law, state agencies have the power to pass regulations and rules with little oversight. REINS would require the Legislature to sign off on proposed agency rules costing over $10 million.

The bill is now headed to Governor Walker’s desk. Shout-out to Wisconsin for being the first state to pass the REINS Act! #OG

A national REINS Act is currently being discussed in Congress.

Read more here.

3. A Constitutional Convention Became More Likely

The Assembly approved a resolution for Wisconsin to join other states calling for a convention to add a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution. With states relying on federal funding for a myriad of programs, the almost $20 trillion in national debt has some legislators demanding action.

Debate was lively and lasted hours, with Democrats expressing fear over a “runaway convention” and the possibility that congressional Republicans would attempt to strip voting rights. Republicans, in turn, stressed that the founders put in protections against such fears, including the fact that 3/4 of states must ratify the amendment before it is added to the Constitution.

Upon Senate approval, Wisconsin will be the 28th state to pass Article V resolutions, according to the latest figures from the Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force. Based on these estimates, only six more states are needed to call for a constitutional convention. At least 38 states are needed to ratify any amendment.

If successful, this will be the first time in US history that a constitutional convention will be intiated to amend the U.S. Constitution.

Read more here and here.

4. President Trump Visited Waukesha, and Protesters Made their Opposition Clear

President Donald Trump visited Wisconsin on Tuesday and toured Waukesha County Technical College to emphasize the White House’s plan to close the skills gap and improve the work force by encouraging apprenticeships. He also hinted at plans for a potential new Foxconn iPhone factory in Wisconsin and attended a political fundraiser for Governor Walker on his trip. It came as no surprise that a protest was organized nearby to greet the President with their overused chants, edgy posters, and demands for a $15 per hour minimum wage.

In addition to their signs, protesters brought giant paper mâché Walker and Trump puppets.

5. Senate Passed the Cookie Bill

The Senate passed SB 435 this week, which will now move to the state Assembly for a vote. Also known as the “Cookie Bill,” this legislation eliminates unnecessary and burdensome regulations on the sale of home-made foods. Prior to this, Wisconsinites were only allowed to sell homemade pickled items and preserves. If it becomes law, New Jersey will be the last state that does not allow the sale of home-baked goods.

This move not only opens a new market for people to sell their home-baked goods, but also aims to increase the allowable sales limit of pickled goods. Bakers with an entrepreneurial spirit (and the Cookie Monster) will be pleased.


6. The Senate Passed a School Choice Consensus Bill

Something kind of crazy happened this week. On a fascinating bipartisan 23-5 vote, the Senate passed a bill that makes various administrative changes to Wisconsin’s school choice programs. The bill was negotiated and agreed upon by the state’s Department of Public Instruction and groups supportive of school choice, such as School Choice Wisconsin and American Federation for Children.

And yet, Democrats such as Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) stood against the bill, railing against “unaccountable” voucher schools. Republicans found an ally in Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee), who passionately voiced her support for school choice programs and called out her fellow Democrats for not supporting legislation that includes many provisions they have been pushing for years.

7. Fight for Referenda Reforms

As in years past, Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville) is once again pushing for referendum reforms. In an effort to fight referenda abuse, Stroebel has introduced eight bills that include requiring referenda to be reauthorized every five years and reducing a district’s state based aid based on increased revenue from successful referenda.

Of the 70 referenda proposed across the state, 15 of them were repeats, and seven of those passed on the second go-around. In an interview with MacIver News Service, Stroebel states that he believes that “this package of bills enhances local control because it empowers the voters, gives them information, and makes sure that they have a seat at the table.”

Watch MacIver News Service’s interview with Stroebel, a concerned citizen, and a school administrator here.

8. DNR Spends Nearly $2 Million on Resorts, Conferences

The DNR spent almost $2 million of taxpayer money on hotels, travel, and conference venues for trainings over the past two years. MacIver reported that this past year alone the DNR has spent over $30,000 at Chula Vista, a luxury waterpark resort and spa in the Wisconsin Dells. Constituents who are disgruntled about the proposed spike in admission and camping fees at state parks will probably be even more upset to learn about these irresponsible spending habits.

9. National Push to Repeal Obamacare Taxes

This week, the MacIver Institute joined 44 other free markets groups and individuals from across the nation in an effort to convince the U.S. Senate to repeal all Obamacare taxes. The coalition argues that eliminating these almost $1 trillion in taxes will relieve the burden on American businesses and families, as well as encourage economic growth.

Read more about their efforts here.

10. Property Insurance Fund Eliminated

Small government advocates, rejoice! The government did something rare this week — they moved one step closer to eliminating an outdated and unnecessary government program.

Interested in more in-depth coverage on any of these issues? Check out our coverage from this week on self-insurance, referenda, and more.

You can also give a listen to this Capitol update with MacIver Institute President Brett Healy and Americans for Prosperity Wisconsin State Director Eric Bott: