- Associated Press - Monday, September 28, 2015

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Republicans seeking to overhaul the state’s civil service system to make it easier to hire and fire state employees circulated their proposal publicly for the first time Monday, revealing new details about the plan backed by Gov. Scott Walker that is on a fast track in the GOP-controlled Legislature.

Walker got behind the idea on the same day last week that its Republican backers first discussed their desire to rewrite the 100-year-old civil service system covering about 30,000 state workers. Walker’s backing also came just two days after he abruptly dropped out of the presidential race and said he was refocusing on being governor.

Sen. Roger Roth and Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke circulated the bill with a deadline of Thursday for lawmakers to sign on as co-sponsors. That’s an aggressive timeline for the proposal that Republican leaders have said they hope to pass as soon as next month.

The bill would speed up the hiring process, eliminate “bumping” rights that protect more experienced workers from losing their jobs, define “just cause” for taking discipline against an employee and delineate infractions like viewing pornography at work or stealing that would result in immediate firing.

It would also eliminate the required civil service exam and instead base hiring decisions on the strength of a person’s resume.

Democratic opponents and the union representing most state workers say the changes will make it easier to hire partisan political appointees, the exact kind of cronyism the system instituted during the Progressive era was designed to ward against.

Roth and Steineke pitched the plan in a memo to their colleagues as a way to attract, hire and retain the best workforce. They said it is time to update a system instituted in 1905 with one that “takes advantage of 21st century opportunities through common-sense reforms.”

They argue that “antiquated hiring practices” makes it more difficult to deal with an aging workforce. In arguing for the bill, they point out that 1 out of every 12 state workers is currently eligible for retirement and that will grow to 23 percent in the next five years.

Democratic Sen. Jon Erpenbach of Middleton said if the goal truly is to improve the system, Republicans should sit down with Democrats and representatives of public employees to come up with a proposal.

“If there is a way to make the system better, and not only protect the taxpayers and public employees, I’m all for that,” Erpenbach said.

The proposal would:

- Expedite hiring, setting a 60-day deadline for filling most vacancies.

- Describe “just cause” to say that an employee can be fired after the imposition of progressive discipline. Employees could be fired immediately for a variety of newly stated infractions, including viewing pornography, stealing, being drunk at work or possessing illegal drugs, and harassing or physically assaulting someone at work.

- Reinstitute a system for giving merit pay.

- Centralize hiring decisions with the state Department of Administration, taking sole discretion away from the state agencies filling vacancies.

- Prohibit the state from asking an applicant to supply information about a conviction record, unless that would disqualify the applicant from a certain job.

- Extend a probationary period for new hires from six months to two years.

- Shorten from five to three days the amount of time someone can be gone from work without reason before it is assumed they have resigned.


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

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