Freshmen legislators call first year a success
After their first year of legislative sessions, local state Assembly Reps. Tyler August and Joe Knilans believe legislation in 2010 helped bring fiscal responsibility back to Wisconsin.
“We’ve been getting a lot of stuff done, obviously, despite the big issue—collective bargaining debate—that overshadowed a lot of the good things we’ve done,” said August, R-Walworth. “As I go down the list of things I campaigned on, there are checkmarks next to virtually all of them.
“It’s been a pretty successful first year.”
With a Republican majority in both houses of the Legislature, lawmakers passed voter ID regulations and legalized concealed carry. The most significant change was a sweeping bill that stripped a majority of public workers of most of their collective bargaining rights.
The bill sparked outrage and led to a massive protest that continues to have a small presence at the Capitol. August and Knilans, R-Janesville, didn’t expect the issue to draw such attention, especially because they consider the move to be consistent with their campaign promises.
Rep. Steve Nass, R-La Grange, was critical of security at the Capitol, claiming police were not doing enough to maintain safety for elected officials. August agreed, saying there were threats and protesters banging on office windows that required security escorts for some legislators to get to work.
He said the experience brought him and his colleagues closer together.
“We all kind of went through this together, and we became a close-knit group here,” August said.
Except for a small percentage, the protests were peaceful, he said.
“Were there some tense moments? Absolutely. We had some concerns about that, and the state police did their best to address those concerns.”
Knilans said he gets asked a lot if he regrets running for office, and his answer is no.
“I feel it’s an honor to represent the people of Janesville, and it’s an honor I’ll never forget,” he said. “You can’t judge a job by one thing that happened.”
Each lawmaker pointed to accomplishments in their first year.
August authored a bill that requires a two-thirds vote to raise certain taxes, and Knilans introduced a provision to the budget that would have allowed school district employees to reopen contracts without affecting their collective bargaining rights.
No school district unions took advantage of the legislation, he said, but Evan Wynn, R-Whitewater, recently introduced similar legislation that would allow municipal employees to do the same.
The lingering question is whether the changes go far enough to address a deficit that was projected to be $3.6 billion when Gov. Scott Walker’s administration took office. August believes they have, but that partially depends on the stability of the national economy.
The Legislative Fiscal Bureau this summer projected Walker’s budget will create a surplus of more than $300 million.
“With the national economy, you never know if those numbers are going to flush out,” August said. “In Wisconsin, we’re doing a lot better than most states, and I think we put ourselves in a position that even if the economy takes another dip, we’re going to feel it a lot less in Wisconsin.”
With the heavy lifting of the state budget completed, August said he has “a bunch” of bills he hopes to get done. He recently proposed discontinuing the state blue book, saving an estimated $300,000 in printing costs, but he believes that bill has stalled.
August said the state must address legislation related to a large-scaled iron mine in northern Wisconsin. He said it could create a lot of good-paying jobs.
He also hopes “Cindy’s law” will continue to gain traction. It would require stricter GPS monitoring of those who violate domestic violence restraining orders and victim notification if the offender enters restricted space.
The law was named after Cynthia Bischof, who in 2008 was killed by her ex-boyfriend after he violated a restraining order.