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April 28th Legislative Update

Posted by Chris Liebenthal on April 30, 2010

Wisconsin Legislative Bulletin – end of session wrap up edition

Wednesday, April 28, 2010: Workers Memorial Day

The dust is still settling in the state Capitol after a whirlwind of activity that marked the end of the 2009-2010 legislative session on April 22.  Here’s an overview of action taken on many bills of concern to AFSCME.

“Truth in Contracting” legislation, SB 447 (and its Assembly twin, AB 792): An amended version of SB 447 made it through a standing Senate committee and the Joint Finance Committee, but died in the Senate because Senate leadership declined to schedule the bill.  AB 792, which was introduced late in the legislative process, also made it through committee and was not voted on by the full Assembly in time before session expired.

Automatic, voluntary dues deduction for retiree members:  Our efforts to make this idea become law took an excruciating path in 2009-2010.  We succeeded in inserting this bill the budget last spring, only to see it removed by the Assembly during a long, late night, closed door budget caucus.  We modified it and fine-tuned it to meet concerns raised by the state Department of Employee Trust Funds (ETF) and reintroduced the bill as Senate Bill 390.  AFSCME worked with senators on SB 390, who sought another amendment in an effort to continue to address privacy and technical concerns.  The bill was reported out of the Senate Labor Committee on March 10 on a partisan vote (3-2).  Senate leadership declined to schedule SB 390 for a vote by the Senate.

Meanwhile, an identical Assembly companion bill, AB 916, was introduced and moved through the Assembly with lightning speed. AB 916 was approved on a voice vote by the full Assembly on April 20.  AB 916 was immediately sent to the Senate, where the bill died when session ended April 22.

Presumption of eligibility for disability for certain public employees:  This legislation (Senate Bill 429 and its Assembly companion, AB 644) made it through both the Assembly and Senate, and is on its way to the Governor’s desk.  The Governor is expected to sign the bill into law in the coming weeks.

Limiting judges’ ability to interfere with an arbitrator’s decision: AB 609 was approved by the Assembly Labor Committee on a party line vote, and was not scheduled for a vote by the full Assembly.  The senate twin, SB 436, did not receive a public hearing.  Both bills are dead for the 2009-2010 session.

Right to know if an inmate has an infectious disease:  Senate Bill 547 was given a unanimous recommendation by the Senate Public Health Committee on April 7; however, the bill was not scheduled for a vote by Senate leaders before the session expired.  An identical companion bill, AB 762, remains in the Assembly Criminal Justice Committee.  Both measures are dead.

Banning the sale or lease of the Milwaukee Water Works:  The Assembly Energy and Utilities Committee voted March 30 to recommend passage of this legislation (AB 475).  The bill did not get scheduled for a vote by the full Assembly in time.  A Senate bill that addresses the Milwaukee Water Works but which is not identical to AB 475 was the subject of a public hearing on March 23.  That bill, SB 398, does not ban the sale or lease of the water utility, but creates another step in the process before a sale or lease arrangement could be considered.  SB 398 remains in the Senate Utilities Committee. AFSCME strongly supported AB 475, and gave only lukewarm support to SB 398.

AB 634, the protective status bargaining bill: This legislation ran into a brick wall otherwise known as the Wisconsin Counties Association (WCA) shortly after the bill was introduced in December 2009.  The WCA argued that passage of this bill would result in an unaffordable increase in counties’ ability to pay for the cost of covering this benefit.  This argument got traction with a number of legislators who are keenly aware of how state budget cuts have hamstrung county governments and county services.

The WCA played upon the utter lack of awareness among (some) legislators of how the bargaining process works, arguing incorrectly that both state and county workers who would be eligible would surely automatically qualify for protective occupation participant (POP) status benefits under AB 634.

Despite our efforts, AFSCME, and our labor allies, who banded together to get AB 634 introduced, didn’t stand a chance in getting AB 634 through the legislature given the misinformation and strong lobbying effort by the WCA. We will have regroup and rethink our plan for the next legislative session.

Milwaukee County parks, recreation and culture: In January, AB 504 was reported out of the Assembly Labor Committee on a partisan vote (6-4) and was referred to the Joint Committee on Finance for further action.  AB 504 remains in the Joint Finance Committee.  AB 504, which would have authorized Milwaukee County to impose a half percent sales tax and dedicate the revenue toward parks, recreation and cultural activities. AB 504  got caught in a thicket in the Capitol, both with legislators who are reluctant to authorize a sales tax increase in an election year, and with backers of the “regional transit authority” (RTA) legislation, who also eyed a sales tax increase to pay for transit services.

County highway funding shortfalls:  AB 635, introduced in December by Milwaukee area state Representative Jeff Stone (R-Greendale) and Sen. Jeff Plale (D-Milwaukee), would have established a process in which Milwaukee County could request $1.2 million to meet the county’s street and highway maintenance shortfall, died when the session ended. No action was taken on the bill.  However, there has been recognition among some lawmakers about the deficit that Milwaukee and many other counties are facing, but nothing has been done. The funding cuts were done as part of the across the board cuts made in the 2009-2011 state budget bill, which left some county highway departments facing a deficit of 10% or more. This, combined with two successive bad winters, roads which are crumbling, an increase in salt prices and the diminishing revenue in the state Transportation Fund, is a problem the Legislature and the next Governor cannot long ignore.

Volunteer fire fighters, EMTs, first responders gain protections under new law:  Legislation that would require employers to allow workers who serve as volunteers to be late or absent from work if the lateness or absence is due to the employee responding to an emergency that begins before the worker is required to report to work.  Senate Bill 308 and Assembly Bill 464 passed both houses of the Legislature and were signed into law as 2009 Wisconsin Act 140 by the Governor.

County nursing homes:  a bill that would allow groups of counties to collaborate to provide nursing home care to residents from multiple counties has passed both houses and is on its way to be signed into law by Governor Doyle.   SB 684 and AB 944 (companion bills) were strongly supported by AFSCME, which represents workers at the Clearview Long-Term Care and Rehabilitation Center in Dodge County and the LaCrosse Lakeview Health Center in LaCrosse County. These two nursing facilities are on the cutting edge of moving toward a collaborative, multi-county nursing home model to stay in business, serve residents who need long term care and keep nursing home staff employed.

This is only a partial list of bills that AFSCME was lobbying on or monitoring.  For more information, go to or call AFSCME at 608-836-6666.


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