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Saturday, March 02, 2024

State Legislature approves rare slate of bipartisan bills

Both houses of the state Legislature passed a number of bipartisan bills in session Tuesday. Party leadership also addressed the proposed creation of a public authority model for the UW System following an Associated Press report that the notion had lost widespread support.

Conflicting views over UW System public authority model, budget cuts

Leadership from both parties addressed the report that Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to move the UW System away from legislative control to a public authority model was “on life support.”

“I’m heartened to hear that,” said Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, although he acknowledged that the news fell short of what he believes is necessary.

“I’ve heard from people that this issue is very destructive,” he said. “I hope we’ll drop the cut entirely.”

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said that while the public authority proposal needed clarifying, it was “under review” by lawmakers.

“I’m more concerned to find a number [to cut] that is reasonable,” Vos said in a press conference. “I want to find a way to serve all campuses if cuts occur, which is likely.”

Assembly passes bills requiring report on remedial classes, raising highway speed limit

The Assembly passed a bill which would require the UW System to report to the Legislature on the number of college freshmen who are required to take remedial classes.

State Rep. John Jagler, R-Watertown, said the bill is necessary to start a dialogue on the “startling” rise of students taking remedial classes, which students must take if they perform poorly in the standard class.

“We need to get people to start asking questions about why kids aren’t ready so we can reverse these trends and give the UW System and schools some knowledge,” Jagler said. “I don’t know why this data doesn’t already exist.”

The proposal passed on a unanimous voice vote.

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The Assembly also passed a bill Tuesday which would allow the state Department of Transportation to raise the speed limit to 70 mph on some highways.

“This is a safe, simple bill to understand and we will let the DOT decide who will go what speed,” state Rep. Paul Tittl, R-Manitowoc, the bill’s author, said during debate.

Safety concerns weighed on the minds of some representatives who voted against the bill, which passed 72-27.

“I know [raising the speed limit] will cause deaths and injuries. I cannot, in good conscious, support this,” said state Rep. Dana Wachs, D-Eau Claire.

The bill will now be taken up by the state Senate, who rejected a similar proposal in 2013.

Senate votes to expand domestic abuse jurisdiction, ban microbeads

The state Senate passed a series of bipartisan bills aimed at allowing judges to more easily help the victims of sexual abuse and eliminating harmful microbeads.

The Senate approved a bill that would give courts jurisdiction over sexual abuse and harassment cases regardless of whether the alleged abuse happened in state.

“Victims of abuse should not have to second-guess whether Wisconsin can protect them from their abuse,” said state Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine.

Wanggaard said the bill was necessary to update domestic abuse rules to sufficiently plan for cases of online abuse or interstate stalking. The Senate approved the bill unanimously and it now goes to the Assembly for a final vote.

The Senate also voted to ban the sale and manufacture of personal care items containing microbeads. State Sen. Robert Cowles, R-Green Bay, said the non-biodegradable plastic beads commonly found in soaps and lotions are not easily filtered from water treatment plants and pose a risk to the state’s fish.

If approved by the Assembly, the proposed ban would make producing and selling products with the beads illegal before 2020.

State Sen. Robert Wirch, D-Kenosha, condemned the bill for not doing enough, noting the 11,000 pounds of microbeads that are flushed into Lake Michigan each year. Calling it “weak tea,” Wirch criticized the bill for giving companies three years to continue selling products containing microbeads.

“Instead, we should be suing these corporations for what they are doing to our Great Lakes,” Wirch said.

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