- Associated Press - Sunday, September 13, 2015

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Wisconsin Republicans are getting ready to launch their fall legislative agenda with bills that would defund Planned Parenthood, block prosecutors from using secret investigative techniques against politicians and restructure the state elections board.

Republican leaders aren’t saying exactly when all these bills will come up for debate in either house, but fall floor sessions start Wednesday. The first of the big-ticket items looks like a pair of bills that would cut about $7.5 million in federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

The first proposal would prevent Planned Parenthood from collecting about $3 million in federal grant money it currently receives each year. The second would require family planning clinics that receive discounted birth control drugs through Medicaid to bill the program only for the actual acquisition cost plus a dispensing fee, costing Planned Parenthood about $4.5 million annually.

Senate and Assembly leaders said they will vote in October on a bill that would prohibit prosecutors from using so-called John Doe procedures for secretive investigations into allegations of campaign finance violations or campaigning on government time.

The proposal comes after Milwaukee prosecutors and the Government Accountability Board launched John Doe probes into Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s aides and associates when he was Milwaukee County executive and whether his recall campaign illegally coordinated with outside groups.

Six people were convicted in the first investigation. The conservative-leaning state Supreme Court halted the collusion investigation this summer, saying coordination on issue-based communications amounts to free speech. No one was charged in that investigation, but it generated plenty of unflattering headlines for Walker.

John Doe investigations are similar to grand jury probes where little to no information is made public before charges are filed. Republicans have called the Walker probes political.

Another closely followed item will be legislation to restructure the state board that oversees elections, campaign finance and ethics. Republicans are upset over how the board handled recall elections targeting both Democrats and Republicans, ballot designs and the agency’s role in helping prosecutors in the Walker probes. The board is made up of six retired judges appointed by the governor.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, told the Wisconsin Eye network last week that he wants to replace the judges with partisans, saying at least their biases will be clear, and dividing the old board’s responsibilities between an elections board and an ethics board.

Assembly Republicans also are pushing a bill that would outlaw research on tissue taken from fetuses aborted after Jan. 1, 2015.

Vos supports the measure but scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and in the private sector say the proposal could chill disease research and cost jobs. The proposal looks like it’s in serious trouble in the Senate, where at least two GOP senators have expressed misgivings about the measure’s effect on research. Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s largest business group and a staunch GOP ally, opposes the measure.

Other initiatives Republicans could take up include bills that would create new tracking requirements for opiate prescriptions in hopes of keeping users from moving on to heroin; allow high-capacity well owners to replace, rebuild or transfer their wells to another owner without state approval; and rework campaign finance statutes to reflect the Supreme Court’s findings in the Walker coordination ruling.

Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, called the Republicans’ plans “horrible.” He said regular people don’t care about the GOP’s bills and Republican leaders should focus on creating jobs and reducing student debt rather than pleasing special interest groups and exacting payback.

“These are not the ideas in the minds of most people in the state,” Barca said.

Vos spokeswoman Kit Beyer countered that the Assembly is working on important family issues, noting Vos has created three task forces to develop bills addressing urban education, Alzheimer’s and developing a youth workforce. Fitzgerald spokeswoman Myranda Tanck didn’t respond to an email seeking a response to Barca’s remarks.

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