MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Wisconsin legislators are set to begin their push to the end of the session after the holiday break with debates in the Senate and Assembly on Tuesday. Here are some things to know as lawmakers return to the floor:
Republicans control the Senate 19-14 and the Assembly 63-36. They also control the governor’s office, with Scott Walker, meaning Democrats are powerless to block any GOP bills or initiatives.
MOVERS AND SHAKERS
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, remain the biggest players in the Legislature. They will ultimately determine which bills get to the floor of their respective houses.
SPRINT TO THE FINISH
The last floor debate days for the 2015-16 session are scheduled for the last week in April. But Republicans are anxious to get back home and hit the campaign trail ahead of this fall’s elections. Vos has said he wants to wrap up work in his chamber by the end of February. Fitzgerald has said the Senate will likely close up shop in March. Lawmakers have introduced a flurry of last-minute bills designed to bolster their campaign talking points and have jammed their schedules with public hearings and committee votes to prepare the measures for the floor before time runs out.
WHAT HAVE REPUBLICANS ALREADY PASSED?
The GOP has passed a number of big-ticket bills during the past year. The biggest item was the state budget, which slashed funding to the University of Wisconsin System by $250 million, froze UW tuition and expanded the state’s school voucher program. They also passed laws making Wisconsin a right-to-work state, reshaping the state elections board, rewriting campaign finance law and barring prosecutors from using secretive John Doe investigative tactics against politicians.
SO WHAT’S LEFT?
Plenty. The Senate plans to pass a bill that would overhaul Wisconsin’s civil service system on Jan. 20 and send the measure to Walker for his signature. Everyone is waiting to see if either house will pass a bill that would ban research using tissue taken from fetuses aborted after Jan. 1, 2015. Researchers say such a ban would chill work on potentially life-saving cures, and both Vos and Fitzgerald have been vague about its chances. Other flashpoint legislation includes bills that would allow people to carry concealed weapons in college buildings and stadiums; force transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms assigned to their biological sex; ease regulations on development in or along bodies of water; and bar countywide development bans.
Walker also announced a package of bills Tuesday designed to make college more affordable, including measures that would allow students to deduct all student loan interest from their taxes, increase grants for technical college students, create emergency student grants and create more internship coordinators.
If you care about an issue, you can contact your lawmakers through the Legislature’s website at https://legis.wisconsin.gov/ . There you can find each legislator’s office phone number and email address. You also can track committee schedules, floor agendas and floor calendars. Committee hearings, executive sessions and floor debates are open to the public.
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