The Wisconsin State Assembly wrapped up a marathon 33-hour session Friday, ending a contentious two-year legislative session marked by massive protests on the collective bargaining issue and an 18 day Capitol occupation.
Galloway Resigns, Senate Split 16-16
It was the last floor session before the six recall elections scheduled for the summer, which could change the balance of power in the Senate and the Governor's office. In a surprise move on the last day of the session, Republican Senator Pam Galloway, one of the targets of the recall, resigned for family health reasons.
It was a historic and remarkable biennial session for the Wisconsin Legislature. When the session began in January 2011, the Republican majority in the Senate was 19-14, but the 2011 summer recall elections resulted in the replacement of two Republican Senators. Now with Galloway's departure, the Senate is split 16-16 and a power sharing arrangement is being negotiated between Republican and Democratic leaders. The only outstanding issue that may see further legislative action is the issue of redistricting, which is now under review by a federal court. If the court returns the matter to the legislature, less partisan maps will be the likely result.
Final Bills of the Session
The following bills are some of the most controversial that passed in the Assembly in their last week of session. All but the last, await the signature of Governor Scott Walker before they become law.
Gutting Tenant Rights
Senate Bill 466, introduced by Senator Frank Lasee, changes landlord-tenant provisions and prohibits local governments from imposing a moratorium on eviction actions. Fair housing advocates are very concerned with the implications of this new law. Brenda Konkel, executive director of the Tenants Rights Center in Madison says that not only does the bill gut tenants rights, the bill itself is "still full of unintended consequences and unclear language."
Weakening Local Powers Ability to Enact Moratoriums
Senate Bill 504 limits the authority of a municipality to enact a development moratorium ordinance. As CMD has previously reported moratoriums are a mechanism used recently by several local governments across the state to set aside time so they can investigate the effects of proposed frac sand mining on their communities. Weakening the ability of local authorities to enact moratoriums makes it easier for companies to open these mining operations without the support of the communities in which they are building them. This bill passed the Senate and Assembly, and is on its way to the Governor's desk.
New Abortion Restrictions
Senate Bill 306 puts a series of new burdens on medical providers of abortions, purportedly to make sure that the abortion is not being coerced by an abusive partner. But according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the bill is aimed at ensuring that doctors aren't using web cameras to consult with women about abortion-inducing drugs in an effort to make them more easily available in rural areas. The bill is now headed to the Governor's desk.
Senate Bill 237 has passed both the Senate and the Assembly, and awaits the signature of the Governor. The bill would require that sex ed courses discuss parental responsibility and the socioeconomic benefits of marriage. According to the Wisconsin State Journal "[the bill] would require schools offering sex ed to stress abstinence as the only reliable way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases." Opponents of the bill say that it could lead to higher rates of teens infected with sexually transmitted infections, and could increase the teen pregnancy rate.
Interfering with Absentee Voting
SB 271 follows in the steps of the ALEC inspired voter ID bill that passed earlier this year but has now been struck down by two judges. SB 271 prohibits municipal clerks from returning absentee ballots to voters if they happen to find a mistake in them. It prohibits those who have cast an absentee ballot from voting in person. Democrats said this measure was just another attempt to create barriers for people attempting to vote.
Senate Bill 411 will create a hunting season for wolves in Wisconsin. Grey wolves were removed from the federal endangered species list just two months prior to the legislation being passed. Critics of the bill say that the bill would allow for inhumane hunting, including steel jaw traps. The hunting season on wolves would last for eights months of the year.
Vouchers for Special Needs Kids
Assembly Bill 110 passed the Assembly 57 to 41, largely on party lines, but because it did not pass the Senate the bill is dead for now. As CMD previously reported, the ALEC model bill would have allowed for the parents of special needs students to apply for a one time $13,000 voucher to send their kids to private or charter schools, where they would lose all the federal protections for the education of special needs children. The defeat of the bill is a serious set-back for the right-wing groups pushing privatization of American schools, including the American Federation for Children.