Legislature looks ahead to 2018 with many unresolved issues

by WisPolitics.com

Lawmakers are gone until 2018 with the fate of several high-profile bills still up in the air and a limited spring floor calendar ahead.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald say they’re leaving it to bill backers to make their case to colleagues for those measures to advance.

“It always starts with the author and then you know take into consideration kind of the different opinions of the different members, so you know we kind of have the circular discussions about these (bills) seeing whether there’s enough momentum to move them along,” Fitzgerald said.

Both leaders said their spring agendas are uncertain, in part, because they passed dozens of bills in the fall that had cleared committees in their houses. But one thing is clear: the Assembly won’t take up Gov. Scott Walker’s attempt to bring back an aid package for rural districts.

As they look to the spring, one topic of frequent speculation in recent weeks has been how long either house will be in session next year. Some have predicted the Assembly would adjourn by the end of January to allow time for constituent work and gearing up re-election campaigns.

But Vos said he expects the chamber will be in during two weeks of January and February as well.

Fitzgerald said he expects to be in one day each in January, February and March. Vos said that would mean the Assembly could wrap up its work by the final February floor period, now scheduled for Feb. 19-22, and give the Senate a day in March to put the final touches on legislation that could head to Walker.

“We’ll be in enough days to complete our work so that by the end of the February floor period we are done,” Vos said.

Vos said he hopes to spend a good part of January on a package of crime bills that cleared the Senate this week. The bills range from removing limits on how long someone can be held at one of Wisconsin’s youth prisons to increasing mandatory minimum sentences and requiring the Department of Corrections to recommend revoking extended supervision, parole or probation for anyone charged with a crime while on one of the three.

Spending estimates on the bills varied with Dems warning the costs could balloon into the millions of dollars. Vos told reporters he particularly wanted to know the cost for revoking the parole of those who commit a crime while on release.

Vos tells WisPolitics.com he hoped to get an analysis on the costs by January. If there’s a big financial commitment, the issue would be sent to the Joint Finance Committee, where Vos expects bonding or other funding would be added to address possible needs to house more prisoners.

“We’re not just going to pass the bill with spending without appropriate resources to do it,” Vos said. “That’s why we’re trying to be deliberate.”

The Speaker’s Task Force on Foster Care is working on a package that Vos hopes to take up next year, and he’d like to continue work on economic development efforts. He said some of that is not defined yet. But he’s looking at ways to encourage counties to identify land that could be pre-approved to be developed for small businesses.

Vos used his popcorn factory as an example. He wants to find space to build a larger factory to consolidate operations. But he’s running into options that include land that’s expensive or industrial parks that have numerous requirements and little space.

Fitzgerald said he expects the standing committees to be busy over the next two months and he’ll see what they pull together.

“That’ll set the tone for spring, I think,” he said.

While both leaders tell WisPolitics some high-profile bills are a work in progress, Vos declared Walker’s sparsity aid package will not clear his house this session.

Assembly Republicans put a package in the budget to boost low-spending school districts by allowing them to collect more in property taxes. But Walker vetoed the plan due to his concerns over the impact on property tax bills.

Instead, Walker called on lawmakers to pump more state money into sparsity aid, which help small, rural schools. A plan authored by state Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, and Rep. Jeffrey Mursau, R-Crivitz, mirroring the sparsity aid package Walker included in his budget carries a price tag of $9.7 million.

Vos said the budget makes a “historic” investment in public schools and pointed out Assembly Republicans had a different approach to helping rural districts than the guv.

“We’re not going to go back and re-argue all of the battles we had in 2017 in the spring of ‘18,” Vos said. “For the most part, that issue is put to bed and we’ll have the opportunity to come back in the next budget and discuss sparsity aid and low-spending school districts.”

Fitzgerald said he hasn’t discussed the bill with his caucus.

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