Senate erases provisions that scale back open record laws

Lawmakers in the State Senate spent much of Tuesday debating the state’s $70 billion 2015-17 budget that divvies up how much money state agencies receive and how they can use it.

Tuesday’s discussions come after five months of talk and revisions by the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee.

One of the most noteworthy changes the Senate made on Tuesday from the version presented to it by the Joint Finance Committee was a rejection of provisions that affect the state’s open record laws. The rejected provisions would have shielded nearly everything created by state and local government officials from open records requests.

Another contentious issue tackled by the Senate on Tuesday had to do with the state’s prevailing wage law, which sets minimum salaries for construction workers on public projects.

The Senate voted 17-16 on Tuesday to repeal the law for all local government projects like those done by school districts and municipalities, while keeping it in place for state projects. The changes also replace state salary levels for the federal prevailing wage scale.

Republicans argued for eliminating the prevailing wage, saying it artificially inflates salaries paid to workers at the expense of taxpayers and freezes out smaller contractors.

But Democrats and unions oppose changing the law, saying it will lower wages and hurt the middle class. Democratic Sen. Chris Larson, of Milwaukee, calls it a kick in the teeth to Wisconsin workers.

Below is a run down of some of the events that transpired at the State Capitol on Tuesday.

http://wbay.com/2015/07/07/wisconsin-senate-to-take-up-state-budget/

 

3:53 p.m. CDT

The Wisconsin Senate has amended the state budget to erase provisions that would dramatically scale back the open records law.

The Legislature’s finance committee slipped language into the budget late Thursday night that would have shielded nearly everything state and local government officials create from the open records law. The move created so much criticism that Walker and Republican leaders announced on Saturday that the language would come out of the budget.

Senate Republicans introduced an amendment Tuesday wiping out the changes. The body added the amendment to the budget on a 33-0 vote after minority Democrats criticized the GOP for trying to cloak government in secrecy.

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3:49 p.m. CDT

Gov. Scott Walker’s spokeswoman says he was trying to encourage a process for developing policy when his office helped draft a dramatic rollback of the state’s open records law.

The Legislature’s finance committee slipped language into the budget late Thursday night that would have shielded nearly everything state and local government officials create from the open records law. The move created so much criticism that Walker and Republican leaders announced on Saturday that the language would come out of the budget.

Walker didn’t specifically tell reporters whether his office was part of drafting the changes. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said Tuesday the governor’s office was involved.

Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said in an email the governor’s office offered input and his intent was to encourage a deliberative process for policy change and legislation.

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3:19 p.m. CDT

The Wisconsin Senate has begun debate on the 2015-17 budget.

The debate began about four hours later than scheduled on Tuesday afternoon after Republicans and Democrats spent the middle portion of the day in meetings. The debate began with discussion about a Republican amendment that would undo language the Legislature’s finance committee slipped into the budget late Thursday night that would dramatically scale back the state’s open records law.

Gov. Scott Walker and Republican leaders pledged to remove the language following intense criticism from minority Democrats and open government advocates.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald says he would still like to update the open records statutes. Sen. Jon Erpenbach, a Middleton Democrat, says the rollback would only make people more cynical about government.

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2:48 p.m. CDT

The Wisconsin Senate has yet to convene to take up the state budget.

The body was slated to begin debate at 11 a.m. on Tuesday. The chamber convened on time, passed bills giving state troopers a 6 percent raise and denying any general wage increases for about 31,000 other state employees and recessed at 11:20 a.m. for party meetings.

The senators were initially expected to return to the floor at 1 p.m. That got pushed back to 2:30 p.m. As the clock ticked toward 3 p.m. the body still had not reconvened.

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1:44 p.m. CDT

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald says Gov. Scott Walker’s office had a hand in crafting a budget amendment scaling back the state’s open records law.

Fitzgerald told WISC-TV on Tuesday that he and Walker’s office as well as Assembly Republicans were involved in drafting the language. He said he had discussions with Walker’s staff about the number of record requests the governor’s office receives. Walker’s spokeswoman didn’t immediately return an email message.

The changes generated a stinging backlash from open government advocates. Walker, Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos announced Saturday that the rollback provisions would come out of the budget. Senate Republicans introduced an amendment deleting at least most of the changes ahead of budget debate Tuesday afternoon.

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12:56 p.m. CDT

Senate Republicans have prepared a budget amendment that would repeal at least a large portion of language rolling back the state’s open records law.

The Legislature’s finance committee added provisions to the budget Thursday that would shield nearly everything created by state and local government officials from the open record law, including drafts of legislation and staff communication. They also inserted a provision that would require records of nonviolent criminal cases where charges were dismissed prior to trial for anyone under age 25 to be deleted from the state’s popular online courts site.

The moves generated a stinging backlash from open government advocates. On Saturday Gov. Scot Walker and GOP leaders said the language would be removed from the budget.

Republicans introduced the amendment Tuesday afternoon shortly before debate on the spending plan was set to begin.

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11:22 a.m. CDT

The state Senate has approved a raise for state troopers and a new compensation plan for other state workers but has delayed debate on the state budget.

The Senate’s Tuesday agenda included the budget, a bill that would give the troopers a 6 percent raise and a bill laying out a new two-year compensation plan for 31,000 other state workers that includes no general wage increases. Republican Gov. Scott Walker pushed through a state law in 2011 that effectively ended collective bargaining for most public workers over anything beyond wage increases to account for inflation. The troopers were exempted from the law.

The Senate passed the troopers’ raises 33-0 with no debate and passed the compensation plan 19-14, with all 14 Democrats voting against it.

Republicans who control the chamber then recessed to continue discussing the state budget. They planned to reconvene at 1 p.m. but caucus discussions can run later than stated end times.

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9:56 a.m. CDT

It’s not clear whether Assembly Republicans support a state budget with a prevailing wage repeal attached to it.

Republicans have been arguing among themselves about whether to include language in the budget that would repeal Wisconsin’s prevailing wage law, which guarantees construction workers on public projects a minimum salary. Some conservative lawmakers have said they won’t vote for the budget unless it contains some form of repeal. Both Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald have said they don’t have the votes to support a full repeal.

The Senate plans to attach language to the budget Tuesday that would eliminate prevailing wage requirements for only local governments. Vos said last week that he wanted to amend the budget to include the local prevailing wage repeal but his spokeswoman said Tuesday that Assembly Republicans plan to discuss the local repeal during a meeting Tuesday.

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9:39 a.m. CDT

The state budget isn’t the only legislation the Senate is scheduled to consider Tuesday.

Lost in the budget drama is a bill that would give state troopers a 6 percent raise in exchange for higher health insurance premiums. The troopers were exempted from Gov. Scott Walker’s 2011 law that effectively ended collective bargaining for most public workers over everything except raises to offset inflation but haven’t gotten a raise since 2009.

Another bill on the Senate agenda would set up a new two-year compensation plan for about 31,000 other state employees. That plan contains no general wage increases. Most state workers got 1 percent raises in both 2013 and 2014.

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9:18 a.m. CDT

The state Senate is expected to take up the state budget Tuesday morning.

The body is set to convene at 11 a.m. Republicans wrote the budget and control the Senate, but minority Democrats are expected to stall votes as long as possible. That means debate could last until late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning.

Senate Republicans plan to amend the budget to repeal prevailing wage requirements for local governments but keep them in place for state projects. Those requirements guarantee minimum salaries for construction workers on public projects.

Republicans have been squabbling among themselves over whether to completely eliminate the prevailing wage law but GOP leaders in both the Senate and Assembly say they don’t have the votes to support a full repeal.

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