MADISON, Wis. (AP) - The Wisconsin Legislature kicked off its work for 2014 on a rare collegial note Tuesday, voting on bipartisan bills to combat heroin use and give state employees raises.
The truce promises to be short-lived, however. Larger fights are looming, including what to do if state revenues come in higher than anticipated. Republicans control the Senate and Assembly, but they’re in disagreement on several topics, including ways to combat drunken driving, increase the speed limit, change the Common Core education standards and anti-abortion proposals.
There’s little time for lawmakers to reach deals. The Senate and Assembly are expected to meet infrequently over the next three months as they try to wrap up business by the end of March before heading into campaign season.
Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, largely has been silent on some of the larger issues facing the Legislature, including what to do with any state surplus. An update on the state’s finances is expected any day, and Walker and Republican lawmakers are expected to push for tax cuts that they could tout while running for re-election in the fall. Walker is expected to lay out his priorities for the year Jan. 22 in his State of the State speech.
Still, lawmakers from both parties managed to come together Tuesday on the heroin measures and the contracts.
Heroin use and overdoses have spiked in Wisconsin as prescription drug addicts look for cheaper fixes. The Republican-authored bills would require identification to obtain prescription drugs; allow all emergency responders with training to administer Narcan, a drug that counteracts overdoses; provide immunity for anyone who calls 911 to report an overdose; and expand prescription drug collection drives.
Democrats still got in some shots, complaining that Walker’s decision not to accept federal money to expand Medicaid has left heroin addicts without treatment. But all four bills passed unanimously, and Democrats joined Republicans in praising the proposals’ author, Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, whose daughter, Cassie, nearly died of a heroin overdose in 2009.
MADISON, Wis. (AP) - The state Senate voted Tuesday to pay $217,499 to a Hudson steel company whose CEO donated to the Republican senator who introduced the bill to provide the money.
J & L Steel and Electrical Services said it was owed the money for expenses related to a dispute over bid requirements for installing a visual new nurse call system at the Wisconsin Veterans Home in Chippewa Falls in 2011.
The bid called for a specific system to be installed. The state Department of Administration did not approve an alternate system J & L Steel used as a basis for its bid. The company said the state was interpreting the bid incorrectly. Its claim is based on increased bidding costs, witness fees, and attorneys’ fees incurred as a result of the state’s interpretation.
The state DOA rejected the claim. On a 2-2 vote in May, the claims board concurred and said the company should take its case to court.
Instead, Republican Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls, took the unusual step of introducing a bill to pay the company despite the claims board decision. She said the J & L Steel, which is located in her district, deserved the money because the alternate nurse call system it selected would have cost less and saved taxpayers money. J & L ultimately installed the system called for in the bid.