The 2013-14 legislative session is underway. Here’s a quick overview of recent legislative happenings:
- 2013-15 state budget The state budget is expected to be introduced by Governor Walker in early to mid-February. Senate Joint Resolution 1 extended the budget deadline from January 29 to February 12. The governor has not specifically said what he plans for UW System, but performance-based funding is a possibility.
- UW System personnel system audit The Joint Legislative Audit Committee met Tuesday and voted unanimously to approve an audit of the University of Wisconsin System’s personnel system. The audit the follows the discovery that UW System accidentally overpaid retirement contributions and health insurance premiums by more than $33 million since 2011. The committee also discussed a recent audit report that examined the re-hiring of WRS annuitants. That report found that most re-hired annuitants are employed as part-time, temporary workers, but abuse of the practice occasionally occurs. Several bills that would limit the re-hiring of annuitants were introduced last session, and the governor has said he supports such legislation this session.
- Collective bargaining (Act 10) Last week, a federal appeals court upheld Wisconsin Act 10, the 2011 budget repair bill that sharply curtailed collective bargaining by most public employees in the state. The court found that “Act 10 places no limitations on the speech of general employee unions, which may continue speaking on any topic or subject. . . . Act 10 simply subsidizes the speech of one group, while refraining from doing so for another.” A second appeal of Act 10 remains in the courts.
- Voter ID The Wisconsin Supreme Court again declined to hear an appeal of the case that overthrew Wisconsin’s Voter ID law. Two appeals cases remain in lower courts in Wisconsin, one in Waukesha and one in Madison. The law is also being challenged in the federal court system.
- New floor rules Assembly Resolution 4 and Senate Resolution 3 both passed along party lines last week. The bills outlined new rules for observers in the galleries, including restrictions on the use of electronics in the galleries and the ability to bar observers from the gallery if they violate the rules three times. The rules were result of Republican displeasure with the contentious nature of the previous legislative session.
- Mining legislation The governor and Republican legislative leaders have made reintroduction of mining legislation a top priority. The Senate Committee on Workforce Development, Forestry, Mining, and Revenue and the Assembly Committee on Jobs, Economy, and Mining will meet jointly today to discuss Senate Bill 1, proposed mining legislation. The hearing begins at 9 am and is scheduled to adjourn no later than 9 pm. A public hearing in northern Wisconsin is not planned, and this bill appears to be on the fast track. State Senator Tim Cullen (D-Janesville) plans to introduce his own mining bill in the coming days. Draft legislation is here.
- State of the State Governor Scott Walker delivered his State of the State address last week. The governor’s speech was short on specifics with just a passing reference to UW System’s Flexible Degree Option: “We also worked with the University of Wisconsin System on a new flexible degree program called UW FlexOption to help adult learners earn degrees in targeted fields. Nearly a quarter of all adults in this state have some college credit without a degree. For many, time and money are the barriers to finishing that degree. I can relate. During my senior year at Marquette University, I was offered a full-time job at the American Red Cross. I thought I would squeeze in a course here or there and finish things off in a year or two, but then Tonette and I got married. Then we had Matt. And then came Alex. Next thing you know, you’re putting all your extra time and money into your kids. The UW FlexOption will provide a less time-consuming, less costly way to finish off a degree. It will help prepare more people to fill the critical needs we have in the workforce.” The entire text of the speech is here and video is here.