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Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2011

Jobs Session Did Nothing for Struggling Workers or Employers

But gun owners have a lot to celebrate as regular session ends

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In September, Gov. Scott Walker called a special session of the state Legislature to fast-track jobs bills in an effort to make good on his promise to create 250,000 jobs by the end of his first term.

So how many jobs did the Legislature create?

Only one for certain: the new position of Milwaukee County comptroller. And even that bill wasn't part of the special session, the rules of which allow legislators to move bills through without going through the regular legislative process.

Technically, the Legislature's special session hasn't concluded and, theoretically at least, lawmakers could be called back at any moment to swiftly pass the job-creation bills.

But there's talk that the session is dead and that the governor may call another “jobs session” in December, his third this year.

The “jobs session” ran concurrently with the Legislature's regular floor period, which ended Nov. 3 with a flurry of special-interest-friendly legislation that will do nothing to create more jobs in the state.

In interviews, Republicans continue to claim that they're focused “like a laser” on job creation.

Andrew Welhouse, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau), told the Shepherd that the governor had made an effort to include legislation authored by Democrats, and that 12 of the 14 bills passed during the jobs session had bipartisan support.

But the legislation introduced or passed during these past few weeks dealt with a wide range of issues other than growing jobs, Democrats say.

“We passed almost a hundred bills and virtually none of them had anything to do with jobs,” said Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) of the three-week regular session that ran at the same time as the jobs session. “I can't think of one of them that would really have a huge impact on putting people back to work immediately, which obviously needs to be our focus.”

The full Legislature won't meet again until January, around the time that the anti-Walker United Wisconsin is expected to turn in more than 540,000 signatures petitioning for the governor's recall

So it was no wonder that Republicans pushed issues that would most likely die next year if a Democrat replaces Walker as governor.

Jobs Bills Do Anything But Create Jobs

Separating the “jobs” bills from the “regular” bills was confusing at times, since both sessions mixed social issues with business-promoting efforts.

That strategy came from the top, with Walker's selection of 24 bills to be passed during the special session.

Among them were a few bills introduced by Democrats that could be passed with bipartisan support, such as tax credits for some industries and entrepreneurs.

But Walker also pushed special session bills that had nothing to do with job creation, such as:

  • Protecting manufacturers of defective drugs and medical devices


  • Capping attorneys fees to three times the amount of damages awarded, a sop to state Rep. Robin Vos (R-Burlington), who's being sued by former tenants
  • Limiting the interest rates on lawsuits won by consumers
  • Weakening the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and limiting public input regarding waterways permits in the guise of “streamlining” the permitting process
  • Letting property owners off the hook if a trespasser is injured on their property



“The session was all about crossing off the wish list of their ideological base,” said state Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee). “It had very little to do with jobs. You'd have to turn yourself into a pretzel to try to follow the logic of how having a bill about how to treat trespassers is going to create a job for anybody.”

Walker's handpicked bills were generally supported by his special-interest allies, most notably the conservative business lobbying groups Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) and Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC), along with the trade groups that represent the petroleum industry, restaurant owners, commercial real estate developers, real estate agents and corporate attorneys.

In the end, the Legislature passed just a handful of bills during its jobs session. Besides limiting attorneys' fees and consumer awards, lawmakers streamlined some Department of Revenue functions, increased the amount of WHEDA agricultural production loans, standardized the film production tax credit application fee, and expanded the small business loan guarantee program.

It's not known how many jobs will be created by the passage of the bills. Bills introduced in the Legislature are evaluated for their costs to state and local government. Actual job-creation estimates are done later, when state agencies develop the rules to implement legislation and send them to the governor for approval. So lawmakers pushing their favorite bills can claim any job-creation number they like without fear of being corrected during debate.


Regular Session Bills: Guns, Abstinence and Discrimination

In contrast to lawmakers' anemic efforts during the special session, they were busy passing a conservative's wish list of bills that harm workers, push divisive social issues and gut consumer protections:

  • A bill authored by state Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) and Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) repealed the Equal Pay Enforcement Act, which allowed workers who are paid less than their peers—usually women, older workers and the disabled—to sue for damages in state court instead of federal court. The bill passed the Senate on a party-line vote.
  • Workers with a felony conviction were attacked by Sen. Darling and Rep. Joel Kleefisch (R-Oconomowoc). Their bill allows schools to refuse to employ or fire employees who have a felony conviction, even if the crime doesn't relate to their job. Darling and Kleefisch also want to allow all employers the same right to discriminate against workers and job applicants with felony convictions, but that bill hasn't passed yet.


  • The “castle doctrine” bill, which allows those who shoot to kill intruders to be immune from liability, passed on Friday morning with bipartisan support. But criminal law experts say that they cannot find an example of homeowners ever being prosecuted for defending themselves with a gun in their own homes.


  • People suing the state can shop around the state for the most sympathetic judge, since they won't have to file in Dane County anymore.
  • Nursing homes with violations will now have more time to pay their fines—and those fines have been reduced by an estimated $1.5 million a year.
  • Race will be excluded from consideration when awarding Talent Incentive Grants for college, a factor that already isn't being used anymore. The amendment was debated for nine hours and split the Democrats, including calls for its author, Rep. Peggy Krusick (D-Milwaukee), to be cast out of the caucus. But the issue may be moot, since the Higher Education Aids Board hasn't used race as a criterion for making grants for about a year.
  • State Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) successfully worked to repeal the Healthy Youth Act, so that students can be taught incomplete information in their sex ed classes. Now, schools will be free to teach abstinence only, instead of how and why to use contraceptives.


But Republicans didn't get everything they wanted during this floor period. Lazich's attempt to use GOP-gerrymandered districts in next year's expected recalls failed for now, as did her attempt to require recall petition circulators to submit notarized signatures.

Republicans also supported allowing concealed weapons—but not signs or cameras—on the floor and in public galleries of the state Assembly, while the Senate voted to allow them on the floor but not in the galleries.

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