- Associated Press - Thursday, November 6, 2014

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Republican Sen. Mary Lazich will become the first woman state Senate president in Wisconsin history, a powerful position overseeing debate and working behind the scenes steering legislation through the process.

Republicans increased their majority in the Senate by one seat, to 19-14, as a result of Tuesday’s election. Newly elected members met for the first time Thursday to select leaders for the coming two-year session that begins in January.

Lazich said in an interview later that she wanted to fairly enforce Senate rules, avoid conflicts before lawmakers become “lathered up,” and make sure the process runs smoothly.

Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, the majority leader who led the GOP’s campaign efforts, retained his position unopposed. Fitzgerald, of Juneau, said after the meeting that he would talk with Gov. Scott Walker’s chief of staff this week about legislative priorities and he would be meeting with Walker soon.

Major issues that Fitzgerald, Walker and Republican Assembly leaders have said they intend to tackle next year include cutting property taxes, overhauling the state elections board, increasing enrollment in the statewide private school voucher program and stabilizing the state’s transportation fund - projected to be $680 million in the red.

Fitzgerald said raising the gas tax would be rejected by Senate Republicans, so another solution to the transportation fund would have to be found. He also floated the possibility of returning to an elections board consisting of partisan appointees, rather than the current makeup of nonpartisan retired judges.

Fitzgerald said the Senate was more conservative as a result of Tuesday’s election and the retirement of more moderate lawmakers like Dale Schultz and Mike Ellis, the outgoing president.

“You look around the room, it’s a pretty conservative caucus we have right now,” Fitzgerald said.

One conservative senator who won’t be back - Glenn Grothman - made a brief appearance at the beginning of the meeting. Grothman was elected to Congress and a special election to fill his spot in a heavily Republican district is likely to be held in mid-January.

“You’re going to have more fun this session than the previous 75 sessions combined,” Grothman told them, a nod to the increased Republican majority.

Walker said Wednesday he wanted to tap into that stronger GOP control in the Legislature to move quickly and aggressively in passing his priorities.

More moderate Republicans - including Schultz, Ellis and Sen. Luther Olsen - worked behind the scenes to stop or change bills backed by more conservative lawmakers. Assembly Republicans will have a 63-36 majority if results from Tuesday’s election stand. Two Republican victories are close and may head to a recount.

The Senate president position was created after a constitutional amendment adopted in 1979 eliminated the lieutenant governor as presiding officer in the Senate. Lazich, of New Berlin, beat Sen. Jerry Petrowski, of Marathon, for the position.

The Senate president typically presides over debate, but is also one of three Republicans on the committee that determines which bills get taken up. The Senate president also decides which committees will handle bills that are introduced.


Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP

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