Spring Session Preview
The Legislature returns on January 14, 2014 for a flurry of session days before final adjournment on April 3, 2014. With the biennial budget and many other GOP big ticket items passed, the agenda this spring will include no bold policy strokes and will instead focus on smaller, more parochial issues. The Republican leadership, including the Gov. Walker, generally believes the sooner the Legislature finishes its business in Madison and launches their respective re-election campaigns, the better it is for them politically.
Legislation that would preempt the regulation of sand mining by local governments will likely be revived after stalling in previous legislative sessions in 2013. The issue divides Republicans who want to encourage a nascent, job creating industry from others who support the principle of local control and worry about constituent backlash from potential nuisance issues related to sand mining.
Also expected are bills aimed at expanding accountability for public, charter and private schools and expanding charter school options. The legislation was held up in 2013 because of the effort to strike the right balance between the accountability the public demands with the flexibility private schools seek. Supporters believe legislation will pass this spring.
Legislation addressing the escalating use of heroin in Wisconsin, especially in more rural areas of the state, also is a sure bet to pass this spring. State Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) is currently developing the legislation.
The Legislature is also considering campaign finance reform. Among many changes to current law, the bill doubles the limits on campaign contributions. The Assembly already passed the bill with a strong bi-partisan vote. The Senate put the brakes on the legislation in 2013, but will likely pass a different version of it, paving the way for an intra-party showdown over the legislation in late spring.
Burke Enters Race for Governor
The race for governor took an interesting turn last fall when Mary Burke announced she would run against incumbent Scott Walker. Ms. Burke is a former executive with Trek Bicycle, a Madison school board member, and former state Secretary of Commerce under Gov. Doyle. Democrats believe her strong economic development credentials, including her record as a businesswoman with the iconic Trek — a company started by her father, will contrast well with Gov. Walker, who is unlikely to meet his 2010 campaign promise to create 250,000 jobs in his first term. Democrats are excited to have a candidate with the ability to partially self-fund her campaign. Ms. Burke has pledged to spend $8 million of her own money.
Democrats, however, will face an uphill battle against a well-funded, battle tested incumbent governor with a large base of support that is committed and motivated. While almost everyone knows Gov. Walker and has an opinion of him, recent polling shows Ms. Burke has little name recognition. This gap provides Gov. Walker and his allies with an opportunity to launch a media campaign that will define Ms. Burke early in the minds of voters. A recent Marquette poll showed Gov. Walker with a slim 47 – 45 percent advantage in the race.
Attorney General Race
Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen surprised political insiders by announcing he would not seek a third term in 2014. Two Democrats and one Republican have declared their candidacies for the office.
Although more contenders may announce, the Democratic field currently includes Jon Richards and Ishmael Ozanne. State Rep. Richards (D-Milwaukee) is in the state Assembly and sits on the powerful Joint Finance Committee. He also previously worked as a special prosecutor in the Kenosha County District Attorney’s Office. Mr. Ozanne, the Dane County District Attorney, earned his Democratic stripes when he filed lawsuits in Dane County to overturn Act 10, the law that sharply curtails collective bargaining rights for most state and local workers. Some of those lawsuits have failed while others are still under review. Although Mr. Ozanne’ s actions will strongly resonate with liberal Democratic primary voters, State Rep. Richards has a strong track record on core Democratic issues and has the advantage of a mature campaign operation with greater state-wide reach, and is considered a slight favorite in the primary.
On the Republican side, Brad Schimel has no opposition in the GOP primary. Mr. Schimel is the Waukesha County District Attorney and has collected more than 57 endorsements from law enforcement officials.
Although many will assume that a Republican governor and Legislature would help Schimel’s candidacy, Wisconsin voters have a history of ticket splitting. In fact, in 16 of the last 32 years, the governor and attorney general have been from different parties.
The successful attorney general candidate from either party must define himself as independent-minded, and focus on law enforcement issues rather than the political noise that will dominate the gubernatorial campaign.
Major Accomplishments of the 2013/2014 Legislature
AB40: $68 billion biennial state budget with tax cuts, rejection of Medicaid expansion, placing of childless adults on BadgerCare and a limited statewide school voucher expansion. Published as Act 20.
AB85: Makes the Milwaukee County Board part time, cuts their budget and clarifies the role of the executive and board. Published as Act 14.
SB1: Changes to the regulation of metallic mining in Wisconsin. Published as Act 1.
AB139: The duty of physicians to inform patients about treatment options. Published as Act 111.
AB200: Motor vehicle lemon law reform. Published as Act 101.
January 14 – 23, 2014
February 11 – 20, 2014
March 11 – 20, 2014
April 1 – 3, 2014
Last general-business floor period
April 24, 2014
Bills sent to governor
April 29 – May 1, 2014
Limited-business floor period
May 8, 2014
Bills sent to governor
May 20 – 21, 2014
Veto review floor period
May 2, 2014 – Jan. 5, 2015
Interim, committee work
June 4, 2014
Bills sent to governor