Legislative Update – June 2

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BILLS WE’RE WATCHING

Latest in the Legislature
The Joint Finance Committee is expected to take up K-12 funding in the state budget next week, and there are several hearings set for stand-alone bills that impact students and public schools (see list of education-related bills below). In advance, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau released its papers on the education budget. The Committee is expected to meet next Tuesday, June 6, and Thursday, June 8.

Transportation was in the news this week, as it was announced that the transportation fund has $94 million more than was expected when the governor’s budget proposal was introduced. Instead of the estimated $8.4 million, the fund sits at $101.8 million. A hearing on elimination of the personal property tax was held Tuesday. Watch a one-minute video.

On the Issues:

Campus Speech. An Assembly committee moved ahead on an amended version of AB 299 (companion bill Senate Bill 250). The bill would require the UW System adopt a policy on freedom of expression and suspend or expel those who violate the policy twice. The amended version requires the university system to punish “violent or other disorderly conduct” that disrupts a speaker. The original version centered on boisterous or profane conduct. Republicans say the bill is needed to ensure people can listen to constitutionally protected speech from speakers on campus, no matter how controversial they may be. But others say the bill creates a safe space for racists. See details.

Financial Literacy in Schools. The Assembly Financial Institutions Committee will meet on Wednesday, June 7, to act on AB-280, which would require incorporating financial literacy into the curriculum of public schools.

Guns.

  • A public hearing was held Wednesday on SB-169 (companion bill AB-247), which would allow anyone to carry a concealed weapon without a permit, background check, or training (also lowering the minimum age and opening the door for guns in schools).
  • A group of Republican legislators is circulating a bill that would create gun safety classes for high school students. Under the bill, the state superintendent would have to work with the state Department of Natural Resources or police or an organization that specializes in firearms safety or certifies firearm instructors to develop the curriculum for an elective class on gun safety. Schools would not be required to offer the course. The authors say the class would help educate students who participate in their schools’ trap and target shooting teams.

Referendum Restrictions. The first of a series of bills that restrict local control for conducting referendums, SB 187, received a public hearing this week, with some surprise changes. As amended, the measure would now require a school board to include specific financial information in a resolution and in the referendum question for all bonding /construction referenda, resulting in an impact on more districts than the original proposal. The new version spells out exactly how districts much formulate an estimate on the interest and related debt service costs – using the interest rate in effect immediately before the adoption of the resolution. Of particular note is the referendum restrictions were altered from affecting only school districts to instead include all municipalities. There are a lot of unanswered questions, given the last-minute substitute amendment, including how much cost school districts would have to incur to meet the requirements of this measure – and how many more hoops they’ll have to jump through. One thing is certain, this bill usurps local control on all levels. Contact the Senate committee members considering the bill.

Sale of Public Land for Merit Scholarships. SB 270 would call for the sale of  more than 70,000 acres of public land to the Department of Natural Resources Stewardship program to create merit scholarships for UW students and would all but gut the popular conservation fund, experts say. UW System President Ray Cross praised the move to create “Wisconsin Merit Scholarships” for state students who earn good grades and score high on standardized tests, rather than students who most need financial aid to attend college. The Stewardship program has a budget of about $33 million that would drop to $10 million a year. The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Universities and Technical Colleges.

Self-Insurance. The Joint Finance Committee has objected to ETF’s self-insurance passive review request.  JFC has scheduled a meeting for June 13 to decide on the contracts from Gov. Scott Walker’s administration, which the JFC co-chairs said the committee will reject. The panel has issues with Walker’s savings projections and saying switching employees to self-insurance is too risky.

Special Education Funding. SB211 and companion bill AB319 call for state funding of special education at 33 percent. The fiscal estimate of the Assembly version was received Tuesday. View Senate Bill History and Assembly Bill History, along with the Senate bill fiscal estimate and some additional notes.

Sales Tax Exemption. A state legislative panel gave a favorable recommendation Thursday to a bill that would extend a sales-tax exemption to materials bought for UW System and technical college projects.

School Board Salary Refusal. A bill authorizing school board members to refuse their salaries was signed into law this week as Act 9.

Tech Ed Equipment Grants. Technical education equipment grants for school districts were taken up this week through AB-199.

Testing. Public hearings are set Wednesday, June 7, on two pupil assessment bills.

  • AB-304 requires a school board, upon request of a parent or guardian, to excuse a pupil enrolled in any grade from 3 to 12 from taking any examination required under state or federal law, except the civics test that is a requirement for high school graduation. This bill expands the current law for exemptions to apply also to grades 3, 5, 6, 7 and 12. The bill applies to independently run charter schools, opportunity schools and private voucher schools.
  • AB-300 would go into effect at the beginning of the 2017-18 school year, and require school boards each year to provide parents or guardians with a summary of examinations that the school board must administer under state and federal law and any other examinations used to assess pupil, school, or school district performance.  The bill applies to independently run charter schools, opportunity schools and private voucher schools (but in that case, only private school students who have state-subsidized tuition would receive the information).

Vouchers. A fiscal estimate was received for AB-315 (companion bill SB-227), which would give property taxpayers affected by the Racine and statewide voucher programs the final say on whether they want to be on the hook for tax dollars taken directly out of public schools to fund vouchers. The bill would require a referendum to pass before voucher schools can take state aid out of a public school district. The 2015 state budget changed state law to divert state funding to voucher schools at a rate much higher per student than public schools receive.

Coming Up:

Tuesday, June 6

  • The Joint Finance Committee is expected to meet, taking up K-12 education funding.

Wednesday, June 7

  • Public hearings on two bills (SB-300 and SB-304) regarding student testing are scheduled.
  • The Assembly Financial Institutions Committee will meet to act on AB-280, which would require the incorporation of financial literacy into the curriculum of public schools.

Thursday, June 8

  • The Joint Finance Committee is expected to meet, taking up K-12 education funding.

Tuesday, June 13

  • The Joint Finance Committee has scheduled a meeting to decide on the self-insurance contracts from Gov. Scott Walker’s administration, which the JFC co-chairs said the committee will reject.

Don’t see something in the wrap-up? Looking for more information? Contact Christina Brey.