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Tuesday, April 23, 2024
Gov. Scott Walker unveiled the package of college affordability bills in his State of the State address earlier in the month.

Gov. Scott Walker unveiled the package of college affordability bills in his State of the State address earlier in the month.

College affordability, sexual assault bills clear committees

A package of college affordability bills proposed by legislative Republicans passed an Assembly committee Thursday, despite all five Democrats on the committee voting against them.

The bills, unveiled by Gov. Scott Walker in his State of the State address, would provide a tax break for some borrowers paying back their student loans, expand funding for technical college students' financial aid, help connect students with internships, fund emergency financial aid covering unexpected expenses and require colleges provide financial literacy training.

Republicans say about 32,000 people will benefit from the tax proposal, which eliminates the $2,500 deduction cap borrowers can claim for their student loan interest. In addition, 500 technical college students are expected to become beneficiaries of the increased funding for need-based grants every year.

Democrats proposed numerous amendments to the bills, which were struck down on party line votes. State Rep. Dana Wachs, D-Eau Claire, said the Republican bills did not go far enough to address the student debt problem, which is why no member of his caucus voted for the measures.

"Student loan debt is holding back our economy, and our proposals to invest in our students and schools—while lowering monthly payments for borrowers—will boost the middle class and small businesses by putting more money into the pockets of hardworking Wisconsinites," Wachs said in a press release.

He also touted a Democratic proposal authored by state Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, and state Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, which would create a state-run agency to help students refinance their loans.

“There is only one real solution to providing relief to the one million Wisconsinites with student loan debt – the Democratic ‘Higher Ed, Lower Debt’ proposal, a common-sense, popular plan that will grow our economy and our middle class,” Wachs said in the statement.

Both Walker and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, are confident the package of bills will be passed before legislative session ends in the spring.

Sexual assault amnesty measure also passes

A bill that would provide amnesty from drinking tickets for victims and witnesses of sexual assault also passed an Assembly committee unanimously Thursday.

The proposal, authored by state Rep. Joan Ballweg, R-Markesan, is supported by UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank, the UW-Madison Police Department and state Attorney General Brad Schimel.

Ballweg said in her testimony that the bill removes a key barrier to reporting sexual assault cases.

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“This is something that we need to do to find a way to help those victims feel secure in coming forward,” Ballweg said. “To get rid of that barrier … this will go a long way to help.”

While some lawmakers raised questions as to who would be considered a bystander under the bill, numerous members of the Assembly Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety expressed verbal support for the bill and it cleared the committee without objection.

Ballweg added she hoped the bill would be quickly passed by the Legislature, despite the bill’s late introduction and statements by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, that he hopes to wrap up his chamber’s session by late February.

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