As students return from their holiday break, so do state legislators, who will wrap up their floor session in the coming months. Here are five things students should keep an eye on at the Capitol this semester.
1. College affordability bills introduced
In an effort to combat the rising cost of higher education, Gov. Scott Walker has made college affordability a major priority for the coming months, collaborating with legislative Republicans to roll out a series of bills designed to help debt-laden students. The proposals would allow student loan interest payments to be tax deductible, require colleges to better educate students on financial matters and increase emergency financial aid.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, has said it is a priority of his caucus to pass the bill by the targeted end of session in late February. This has rankled Democrats, who prefer their plan to create a state authority to help students refinance their loans.
2. The uncertain future of campus carry
The future of two bills that would allow gun holders to concealed carry at UW System institutions and K-12 public schools is more uncertain. Vos has said the concealed carry bills are not a top priority for his body but did not rule out a vote on the measures.
The proposal that would allow concealed carry in state university and technical college buildings, authored by state Rep. Jesse Kremer, R-Kewaskum, has been touted by gun advocates as a way to increase safety on campus. Opponents of the measure argue it is unnecessary and creates an unsafe atmosphere.
3. Fetal tissue vote unlikely
Legislative leaders have said they do not have the votes to pass a controversial bill banning research using aborted fetal tissue statewide, including at UW-Madison. Conservative groups have ramped up pressure on Republicans to hold a vote on the bill but Vos has said his caucus has not reached a compromise on the matter. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, is also skeptical of the proposal’s future, saying it has to overcome a “pretty wide gap” in his chamber to pass.
4. Rising tension between parties
Tensions have boiled over in recent weeks between parties and this battle could intensify as the session comes into the home stretch. Last week, Assembly Democrats took state Rep. Bob Gannon, R-Slinger, to task for comments he made about gun violence in Milwaukee. Gannon responded with a defiant statement before allegedly making an obscene gesture toward Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha. While Gannon later apologized for showing Barca the finger, more fireworks could be in store as the Legislature looks to pass a flurry of bills in the coming weeks.
5. Campaign season gets underway
While the fall elections seem far away, legislators are already preparing campaign placards and practicing their handshakes. The elections represent an opportunity for state Democrats to chip away at the Republican stronghold in both houses. Key races could included the Senate seat vacated by state Sen. Richard Gudex, R-Fond du Lac, as Democrats look to reverse their 18-15 minority and take back control of the Legislature’s upper house.