Legislative Report -- May 25, 2011
New Bills of Interest to AFSCME Members
‘New’ Budget Adjustment Bill -A proposal offered by two freshman Republican lawmakers aims to fix the state’s short-term deficit and pay back the state’s medical malpractice fund. The proposal, which has not yet been assigned a bill number, directs that the higher-than-projected state income tax revenue collections be used toward the deficit.
The bill is significant for AFSCME members because it proposes to drop the Act 10 requirement that banked on reducing the deficit by capturing savings from having public employees pay more of the cost of fringe benefits. In other words, this bill spells out that the higher copayments for health insurance premiums and pensions for the months of April, May and June of 2011 will not be used to help balance the state’s fiscal year 2010-2011 budget (which ends on June 30, 2011).
The fate of Act 10 rests with the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Many AFSCME members have asked whether the bill could retroactively require them to pay the higher fringe benefit costs, a question that no one has been able to answer. This bill clarifies that at least some lawmakers do not intend to collect those higher copayments for the months of April, May and June.
The bill, known as LRB 2096/5, is being circulated by Assembly Republicans Warren Petryk of Eleva and Tom Larson of Colfax. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau wrote a summary of the bill, which can be found on the May 24, 2011 section on www.thewheelerreport.com.
Correctional Officers ‘Right to Know’ bill – SB 105: A bill that would give correctional officers information about inmates with contagious diseases has been introduced by Sen. Randy Hopper (R-Fond du Lac) and Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette). The bill is identical to 2009 SB 547, which was introduced late in the 2009-2010 legislative session, but which was approved by a bipartisan Senate committee on a vote of 5-0. SB 105 has been referred to the Senate Labor Committee, chaired by Senator Van Wanggaard (R-Racine).
Wisconsin Governor Signs Two (More) Controversial Bills into Law
State agency rule-making power grab: Special Session Assembly Bill 8, which makes changes to the long-standing process involved in developing state agency administrative rules, has been signed into law as Act 21.
Administrative rules have the force of law, and are the basis for agency regulations over everything from homeowner mound septic systems to community corrections practices.
Currently, agencies will write rules, hold public hearings on the proposed rules, revise and rewrite them, send them to the legislature for final action. Act 21 makes several changes to the rule making process, the key change being adding gubernatorial approval of the scope and final versions of proposed rules.
Voter suppression bill: Act 22: the makes numerous changes to election laws in Wisconsin, some of which go into effect right away. Most provisions of the new law will go into effect in 2012, when citizens will be required present certain identification in order to vote at a polling place or obtain an absentee ballot. It changes the rules for absentee voting, late voter registration and requires electors to provide a signature when voting in person at an election, and more.
This far-reaching proposal is more complicated than simply requiring voters to present a photo ID when voting. It is certain to leave citizens confused about the rules at a time when hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin residents are poised to go to the polls for recall elections.
The voter/elections bill has become law under a cloud. Last week, the Republican senate majority disrupted Senate debate on the measure, invoking a rule that allows the majority to limit debate, infuriating Democrats, some of whom did not have a chance to vote in the ensuing confusion. The final vote on AB 7 was 19 in favor and 5 against the bill, with 8 not voting and 1 absent. To see video of the Wisconsin State Senate on AB 7, go to www.wiseye.org and search for footage of the Senate debate on Thursday, May 19th.
Update on Legislative Deliberations on the State Budget
The legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance is in its fourth week of voting on sections of the budget, and has only begun to get to the meaty parts of the budget bill. Of the six big dollar items, the committee has taken action on only two: state aid for local services, and Medicaid. Over the next ten days, the committee will act on K-12 education, the UW system, transportation funding and the Department of Corrections.
The joint committee is comprised of 12 Republicans (six Assembly and six Senate members) and 4 Democrats (two Assembly and two Senate members). Almost every vote taken so far has been along party lines, with limited debate. As is the practice, the Joint Finance Committee reviews budget papers prepared by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau. To view the LFB papers written to date, go to http://legis.wisconsin.gov/lfb/ and click on publications.
On May 25, the committee voted on health services funded under Medicaid. The body rejected the Governor’s plan to cut funding for SeniorCare prescription drug services, but ok’d the plan to prohibit enrollment into Family Care, with some exceptions. The committee also voted to repeal the 2009 creating the Impartial Justice Act and all public funding of state political races.
Joint Finance members also approved an omnibus budget motion authored by Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and Rep. Robin Vos (R-Caledonia) affecting the Wisconsin Department of Employee Trust Funds (ETF), which manages the Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS). This is a significant proposal, and here are the details of the motion:
1. Study the potential modifications of the WRS by requiring the ETF, the Department of Administration and the Office of State Employment Relations (OSER) to study the “structure of the WRS and benefits provided under the WRS. The study must specifically address the following issues: (a) establishing a defined contribution plan as an option for participating WRS employees; and (b) permitting employees not to make the employee required contributions and limiting retirement benefits for employees who do not make employee required contributions to a money purchase annuity.”
2. Require OSER and ETF to look at the state health insurance benefits plan and specifically to “study the feasibility of:
a. Offering to state employees and local government employees covered under state health insurance plans beginning on January 1, 2013, the options of a receiving low-cost health care coverage plan or through a high-deductible health plan and the establishment of a health savings account”.
b. Implementing a three-level health insurance premium cost structure that would establish separate premium levels for single individuals, married couples with no dependents, and families with dependents.
c. Implementing a program January 1, 2013 to provide an online prescription drug marketplace as a supplement to the pharmacy benefit offered by the state’s Group Insurance Board (GIB).
d. Requiring state employees to receive health care coverage through a health benefits exchange established under the federal Health Care Reform Law.
e. Creating a health insurance purchasing pool for state and local employees and individuals receiving coverage paid for by Medicaid.
3. The omnibus ETF motion also makes several changes to WRS benefit eligibility, as follows:
a. Requires that any employee whose employer participates in the WRS to have at least five years of creditable service to be entitled to a WRS retirement annuity. Under current law, employees are immediately vested.
b. Raises the number of hours that public employees must work in order to become covered under the WRS. Under current law, a person must work at least one-third of full time employment. For all WRS participants full time employment is 1,904 hours per year. For teachers, librarians, administrators and educational support staff, full time is 1,320 hours per year. This motion raises the eligibility threshold from 600 to 1,200 hours for most WRS participants and from 440 to 880 hours for school participants.
4. The motion also calls for ETF to study dependent eligibility under the state’s group health insurance programs.
These proposals will be included in the final form of the state budget, which will be sent back to the governor sometime in June.
Gov. Walker Proposes to Radically Change the state DNR into a “Charter Agency”
A plan to transform the DNR into a “charter agency” has yet to be formally released by the Governor’s office. Two weeks ago the Walker Administration said it is working on a proposal to transform the DNR, a public agency governed by the Natural Resources Board. The governor’s office said it would advance the plan as an executive order, but to date nothing has been published. AFSCME and others have asked for further explanation of what a charter agency is, and voiced concern that changing the structure of the state’s environmental/conservation protection agency is in the public interest.
Group Advances “Wisconsin Values Budget” as an Alternative to Walker’s Plan to Cut Vital Services
The Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, the Institute for Wisconsin’s Future, Wisconsin Citizen Action and the Center on Wisconsin Strategy have challenged the underpinning of the Walker budget plan that says the state’s deficit situation requires for massive cuts in education, health care and local services. These groups have offered a refreshing alternative perspective. The plan, known as the Wisconsin Values Budget, can be found on the WCCF website at
For more information, contact AFSCME at 608-836-6666.