- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 14, 2014

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.

“For me, it’s personal,” Nygren said. “This is the beginning. We’re at the starting line. The finish line isn’t even in sight.”

Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, issued a statement Tuesday commending Nygren for his work, particularly on the bill allowing paramedics to carry Narcan.

“Equipping law enforcement and other emergency responders with this overdose-reversal drug will save lives and also help guide many more people suffering from substance use disorders into treatment and long-term recovery,” he said in the statement.

The bills go next to the Senate, which is expected to take them up as early as next week.

Both houses approved contracts granting 1 percent pay raises for five small unions representing about 2,400 public workers, including all state education professionals, classified attorneys, nurses, electricians, researchers and economists. Once Walker signs the raises, they will be applied retroactively to June 30.

The contracts grant the workers the same raise that non-union workers, who make up the vast majority of 69,000 state employees, started receiving in July under the state budget. Most unions chose not to bargain over raises, given that the 2011 law known as Act 10 allowed them to negotiate only over pay raises no greater than inflation.

The Senate passed the contracts unanimously and without debate. Assembly Democrats noted the contracts were finalized in September and complained about the four-month delay in approving them, saying workers could have had more money in their pockets for the year-end holidays.

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