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Tuesday, February 27, 2024
Civil service reform

The state Assembly approved a series of bills Tuesday, including one that would change how the state hires and fires employees. 

State Assembly approves state hiring, firing changes

The state Assembly approved a bill Tuesday that would initiate major reforms to the state’s civil service system, along with other measures to eliminate the state treasurer position and relax concealed carry restrictions for knives.

Civil service reform passes after lengthy debate

After almost four hours of deliberation, the Assembly moved 57-35 to approve a bill that would change how the state hires and fires public servants.

The proposal, authored by state Rep. Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, and state Sen. Roger Roth, R-Appleton, would speed up the hiring process for positions in state agencies, remove civil service exams in favor of a resume-based system of awarding positions and make it clearer which offenses are fireable.

Recent updates remove a requirement that applicants disclose some prior criminal offenses and would set aside $6 million for merit bonuses to state employees.

Proponents of the bill argued it included common sense reforms to the system and would increase the state’s abilities to hire talented applicants.

“The truth is [civil service reform] accelerates the hiring process so Wisconsin can compete with the private sector for the best employees,” Steineke said.

Democrats argue the bill would create corruption and allege it would open the floodgates to Republican associates being appointed to public service positions.

“By and large the civil service system has delivered the best,” said state Rep. Andy Jorgensen, D-Milton. “Today you're scrapping the whole thing ... Instead of the best serving the state, you want your best friends serving the state.”

The argument turned heated at points, with Jorgensen accusing Steineke of “running away” from the debate. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, hit back that Democrats weren’t “using facts” in the debate and accused the minority party of not giving proper notice on the amendments they offered, all of which failed.

The bill now moves to the state Senate where it has a more uncertain future. Steineke has said he is working with the Senate to pass the bill in its current form, although Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said Tuesday it is not likely to be taken up by his body until January.

Treasurer amendment passes

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The body also approved the first iteration of a constitutional amendment to eliminate the state treasurer position.

The treasurer has lost much of its responsibility in recent years and the bill's author state Rep. Michael Schraa, R-Oshkosh, argued that the position is unnecessary.

“It’s a do-nothing job,” Schraa said.

The bill passed on a voice vote. The state constitution requires that an amendment be approved twice by the state Legislature and a majority of voters in a referendum.

Knife bill approved amid debate

A measure that would allow for the concealed carry of knives without a permit was passed over the arguments of some Democrats who believe the bill is too sweeping.

Bill author state Rep. Kathleen Bernier, R-Chippewa Falls, said it would clarify a gray area regarding which switchblades are legal to carry.

But some members disagreed. State Rep. Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee, argued the bill would legalize “constitutional carry” and should be rolled back.

The proposal was approved on a voice vote and now heads to the state Senate.

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