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Walters: New GOP senators judge Walker, Assembly deals

No Capitol institution has undergone more change in recent years than the state Senate that will soon decide the fate of Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s re-election priorities.

When the new Senate convenes in January, 17 new senators—more than half of the 33-member Senate—will have been elected over the last six years.

Because two senators are running for higher office, and one seat is vacant, there will be at least three new senators in January. Losses by incumbent senators on Nov. 6 would add to that number.

For decades, the Senate welcomed only one or two new senators when a new Legislature convened. In 2011, the average senator had served in that chamber for about 13 years.

Republicans have seen the most turnover: Ten of the 18 Senate Republicans have joined that house since the 2012 elections; five since 2015. By comparison, only three of the 14 Democrats joined since 2016.

The turnover among GOP senators has added four lawmakers who are often more conservative than their predecessors: Sens. Chris Kapenga of Delafield, David Craig of Big Bend, Duey Stroebel of Cedarburg and Steve Nass of Whitewater.

All four served in the Assembly with Speaker Robin Vos, but he referred to some of them as “terrorists” last fall after they got Walker to agree to specific vetoes of the Assembly-passed state budget.

Last week, Vos used another phrase—“negotiating with Jell-O”—to describe the frustrations of Assembly Republicans with their party’s senators.

But Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald returned Vos’s criticism.

How, Fitzgerald wondered, could Assembly Republicans cut controversial deals with Walker, go into session for three straight days, and then announce that they had gone home for the year? The Assembly’s take-it-or-leave-it actions cut out Senate Republicans, Fitzgerald added.

It’s Senate Republicans’ turn to get even.

There are 214 Assembly-passed bills pending in the Senate—and all of them die if the Senate doesn’t pass them, without any changes, this month. Any changes force Vos and Assembly Republicans to either chose to let them die or return to the Capitol, accept those changes, and put those bills on Walker’s desk.

So, the most conservative GOP senators have life-or-death power over four major Assembly-passed bills Walker wants to sign into law before voters on Nov. 6 judge his bid for a third term:

  • Sending parents a tax-credit check for $100 for each child under 18, which would cost $122 million.
  • An August back-to-school sales tax “holiday,” letting parents buy certain items that cost $100 or less without paying state or local sales taxes. It is projected to cost about $50 million.
  • An $80 million juvenile-justice package closing the state’s two juvenile prisons in northern Wisconsin by 2021, turning them into an adult prison, and housing most juvenile offenders in new regional facilities run by counties. The Assembly passed that package 95-0—an overwhelming vote senators can’t ignore.
  • New tax breaks for Kimberly-Clark to try and keep it from closing two factories, and laying off 600 workers, in the district of Senate President Roger Roth, of Appleton.

Assembly Republicans also made major changes to a priority of Assistant Senate Majority Leader Lea Vukmir, of Brookfield, a candidate for the U.S. Senate.

Vukmir got the Senate to send the Assembly a bill revoking probation for anyone charged with a new felony or violent misdemeanor. Analysts warned it would significantly boost the number of prison inmates.

But Assembly Republicans added to Vukmir’s bill authority to borrow $350 million for a new prison, and $4 million to hire 53 new prosecutors in counties represented by Republicans. Senate Republicans could go along with Assembly changes, remove them and return the bill to the Assembly, or let Vukmir’s bill die.

Fitzgerald often refuses to predict what the Senate will do on a major issue, saying he must first “talk to my members.” With such high Senate turnover, that comment now makes more sense than ever.

UW-Milwaukee Professor Mordecai Lee, who served in the Senate as a Democrat in the 1980s, said the high Senate turnover is unusual, and significant.

If Republicans keep Senate control, Lee added, those new members will “set the agenda.”

“The Senate will no longer be the moderate centrist place—in relative terms—it has been, compared to the Assembly,” Lee added.

Your Views: Special session on school safety needed

As of this writing, it has been 16 days since the Florida massacre of high school students. Test balloons like arming teachers have been soundly rejected, and rhetoric regarding making schools safer and addressing mental health has been bantered about. But as of yet, no legislation has been seriously passed in our state or nationally.

Why can’t the governor hold a special session to consider the following?:

1) Reinstate universal background checks and a 48-hour waiting period for gun purchases that was repealed in 2015.

2) Tighten up background checks that allow guns to be purchased online and at gun shows. Licensed gun sellers have had success preventing criminals from purchasing guns.

3) Ban the sale and purchase of bump stocks and automatic assault weapons.

4) Provide revenue limit exemptions to school districts for hiring mental health personnel that would put a school counselor and school psychologist in every school, along with school security expenditures.

Cannot the above somehow be shaped into legislation that would preserve Second Amendment rights and some assurance to students, families, school faculties and staff, that in Wisconsin we want our schools safe while maintaining reasonable gun laws?


Fort Atkinson

Our Views: Thumbs up/down for Monday, March 5

To open meeting complaint. We’re all for city council following open meetings law, but a Janesville City Council candidate’s complaint is over nothing. Jeff Navarro alleges the city violated the law last week when City Manager Mark Freitag responded

after a public comment period to Navarro’s remarks about the Monterey Dam. At least one city council member said he considered Freitag’s response part of the manager’s report, which was the next item on the agenda. Navarro is nitpicking, and we suspect Navarro filed the complaint simply because he didn’t like Freitag’s answer to Navarro’s claim that the city lacks the proper permissions to remove the dam. Navarro is member of the Monterey Dam Association, a special interest group that refuses to accept the council’s vote last year to remove the dam.

To the end of the Jakubowski saga. If awards were given to the most expensive defendants to pass through the court system, Joseph Jakubowski seems like a shoo-in. The bill for his manhunt last year, triggered by Jakubowski stealing 18

firearms for a local gun shop, topped $128,000 for local law enforcement. That doesn’t include the FBI’s bill or the $20,000 reward the FBI offered before Jakubowski was found camping on a man’s land in Vernon County. Then there’s the cost of Jakubowski’s trials in federal and state courts. Jakubowski perhaps saved taxpayers a little money by admitting he committed the crimes, possibly shortening the trials’ lengths. Rock County Judge James Daley concluded the local case last week by imposing five years of state prison to be served after Jakubowski’s federal prison sentence. Jakubowski’s prison stay hopefully will be the last bill he sends to taxpayers.

To keeping polling place at City Hall. City officials wisely abandoned a plan to temporarily move the polling place for wards 3 and 4 to the adjacent police headquarters after some residents opposed the move. Minority community leaders said the

polling switch would amount to voter suppression, and whether the concerns are valid, it’s not a risk worth taking. While keeping the polling place inside City Hall might inconvenience some city employees because of renovations (the reason for proposing to move the polling place in the first place), relocating some employees for one day is a small price to pay for defusing the situation.

To pothole epidemic. Pothole season appears to have arrived this year because of the sudden thaw and heavy rains. City crews are trying to fill them in, and Janesville residents who spot a hole can call 608-755-3110 to alert the city to a pothole’s

presence. Residents can also report potholes via the city’s website, The planned reconstruction of Milwaukee Street in the downtown cannot come soon enough. There were some crater-sized holes there, though crews responded quickly and fixed them—at least until next year. The holes are a headache for drivers, but they’re especially dangerous to bikers who could fly over their handlebars after hitting one. Pothole season makes clear the poor condition of many city streets and acts as a reminder to city officials and residents that street maintenance should always be a top budget priority.

Skenazy: Turning tweens into tots

Dutifully documenting the end of human trust and common sense, I give you this note I received from a mom as fed up as I am with distrust and distortion:

“Dear Lenore: I love my Church, but I was really turned off by this new policy:

‘To date, we have allowed students to check themselves out of the Tweenz class rather than requiring a parent to pick them up. However, going forward, for the safety and security of our children, we will be requiring you to pick up your child with your parent sticker that matches the unique alpha-numeric code on your child’s sticker. Children will not be permitted to leave the Tweenz class without a parent picking them up (using the matching sticker system).’”

These same kids are going on mission trips!

I wrote back: “They are how old? And they can’t leave with you, the parent, unless you have some matching band???? Do you get the band at drop-off?”

The mom’s reply:

“4th through 6th grade. You sign them in on a computer and 2 stickers come out of the printer. One for child, one for parent, with matching numbers. If you lose your portion of the sticker, I guess they would OK with it, but they like to line up the matching labels at the end of the service for their records. The kids can go on a mission trip to Appalachia (Pennsylvania, I think. We are in Maryland) starting the summer going into 6th.”

What kind of sick society does not trust a kid who is somewhere between the ages of 9 and 12 with recognizing his own parent?

And before we come up with the one unlikely exception to the rule (“What if the child doesn’t know that the parents are divorcing and the mom has an order of protection against the dad and the dad shows up before the mom does and the church doesn’t know?”), let’s please remember that worst first thinking is what insurance companies do. It’s what busybodies do. It’s not the way we want our society to run.

Basically, these kids were trusted and trustworthy right up until now, when suddenly, they aren’t. And BECAUSE they are now being signed in and out, it will soon start seeming IMPRUDENT to ever give them that kind of autonomy, or their parents that kind of trust.

Thus erodes society. Once a sanction—or “protection”—is in place, living without it seems wildly dangerous. I think about that whenever I see kids in their strollers, buckled at the waist and with shoulder straps pinning, a la astronauts preparing for liftoff. This new level of safety is now the norm.

Unnecessary rules and regulations are not just annoying. They change our perception of reality. Tweens become helpless toddlers. Parents become potential kidnappers.

Our job is to fight the reclassification of everyday life as a pit of predation. (And feel free to use that term!)