- Associated Press - Monday, October 12, 2015

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - The fast track for a Republican-sponsored bill making it easier to hire and fire state workers slowed down a bit on Monday, with the cancellation of a committee vote that would have cleared the way for the full Senate taking the measure up next week.

It’s not yet clear whether the cancellation will be just a speed bump or sign of larger problems for the bill that would overhaul Wisconsin’s 110-year-old civil service system that covers about 30,000 state workers.

Supporters, including Gov. Scott Walker, say the changes are needed to update the current system and make it better able to deal with an expected increase of openings as the baby-boom generation retires. Opponents say the changes aren’t needed and instead will open the door to more partisan political hiring.

The bill would speed up the hiring process with a goal of filling vacancies within 60 days, eliminate “bumping” rights that protect more experienced workers from losing their jobs, define “just cause” for taking discipline against an employee and delineate infractions that would result in immediate firing, such as viewing pornography at work or theft.

Layoff determinations would also be based primarily on an employee’s job performance, not seniority. The bill would also eliminate the required civil service exam and instead base hiring decisions on the strength of a person’s resume.

The Senate Labor and Government Reform Committee planned to vote on the bill Tuesday, just one week after a public hearing where state workers and their unions spoke out against the measure. They argue the changes it proposes would open the door to political patronage and weaken workers’ rights.

The committee chairman, Republican Sen. Steve Nass, canceled the committee vote so he could have more time to review an amendment to the bill, said Nass’s spokesman Mike Mikalsen. Nass could reschedule the vote for Thursday or early next week, Nass said.

The amendment introduced late Monday morning made a number of changes to the bill, including clarifying language designed to give veterans a preference when applying for state jobs. It would also set a new hire’s probation period at one year, instead of two as the bill originally called for. Currently, probation period for most workers is six months.

Nass also has at least one problem with the proposal.

As introduced, it would no longer require applicants to indicate whether they had been convicted of a crime, unless it was pertinent to the job being sought. Nass wants that “ban the box” provision removed from the bill because he believes each administration should be able to decide whether such information is required on applications, Mikalsen said.

The bill’s co-sponsor, Republican Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, responded to Nass’s concern on Twitter with a message showing support for the bill as introduced and doing away with the criminal conviction disclosure.

“We want best & brightest working for WI,” Steineke tweeted Monday. “We don’t want anyone to be prejudged for ANY reason except qualifications.”

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

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