Wisconsin Assembly wrap-up leaves bills in limbo

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Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, R. - PHOTO: Courtesy

A handful of hot-button bills fell into legislative limbo after Wisconsin Assembly Republicans wrapped up the chamber’s two-year session on March 21, including measures that would make chemotherapy pills more affordable, establish a 70 mph speed limit and allow a seven-day work week.

The Wisconsin Senate has one more floor session, on April 1, before it, too, adjourns for the year and lawmakers head out on the campaign trail. That means that any legislation the Assembly didn’t pass or any it passed that doesn’t get a vote in the Senate is likely dead.

The Assembly finished a whirlwind week that saw Republicans give final approval to bills that would limit the hours for in-person absentee voting, implement Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s property and income tax plan and allow lobbyists to start making campaign donations seven weeks earlier than under the current law.

Those measures went to the governor for his signature. Walker has said he will sign the tax cuts plan, which he introduced. His spokeswoman, Laurel Patrick, said on March 21 that the governor will evaluate the other two bills.

Nearly 10 other contentious bills have either dropped into limbo or fallen by the wayside all together. Here’s a look at their chances, or lack thereof:

• The Senate passed a bill last week that would require health insurance companies to cover chemotherapy pills, an expensive but convenient at-home option for cancer sufferers. The Assembly passed the bill early on March 21 after adding an amendment that would allow insurers to charge copayments of up to $100 for the medication. The move placated the insurance industry, which had opposed the Senate version out of fear it would raise costs.

Walker has said he would sign the bill as amended, but it’s unclear whether the Senate will take it up on its last day and get it to him.

Democrats accused Assembly Republicans of adding the amendment to ensure that the Senate doesn’t take it up. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, has said he would consider voting on the bill again, but his aides said he was still reviewing the co-pay amendment.

• The Assembly passed a bill in October that would raise the speed limit on Wisconsin interstates to 70 mph. Fitzgerald’s spokeswoman said the Senate won’t take the measure up because no one in the Republican caucus is pushing for the change.

• Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, introduced a bill in January that would allow factory and retail employees to work seven straight days. The Assembly adjourned without voting on it, killing it.

• The Assembly passed a bill in February that would require police departments to bring in outside investigators to probe officer-involved deaths. The Senate hasn’t taken it up, but Fitzgerald’s spokeswoman said the chamber likely will put it on the April 1 agenda.

• The Senate passed a bill earlier this month that would tweak a state law requiring police to collect DNA from people arrested for felonies.

Under the law, which goes into effect next year, local police will keep the samples until a judge rules there was probable cause the suspect committed a felony. Once the judge rules the samples would go to the state Justice Department for analysis. The bill would send the samples directly to the DOJ.

But the Assembly amended the bill on March 21 to limit DNA collection to arrests on violent felony charges. It’s unclear if the Senate will schedule the new version for a vote; Tanck said any bills the Assembly amended “we’re still up in the air about.”

Three other bills died outright on March 21. Neither house has voted on measures that would limit local sand mine ordinances, rewrite the state’s Common Core academic standards and purge records from the state’s online public court database.

A measure that would reinstate Wisconsin’s suspended voter photo ID law by exempting the poor and those with religious objections to being photographed appeared dead, too, at least for now.

The state Supreme Court and a federal judge are weighing four lawsuits that challenge the mandate, and Fitzgerald has said he won’t consider the measure while the cases are pending.

Walker has said if the courts rule before the November election he would call the Legislature back to adjust the mandate accordingly and reinstate it.