Assembly passes on bill on reducing workers' hours, and secretary of state powers
MADISON, Mar 06, 2013 (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Wisconsin's employers would get new flexibility to lower the hours of a group of workers instead of laying off just a few of them, while the secretary of state would lose his power to briefly delay legislation from taking effect, under bills passed by the state Assembly Wednesday.
The unemployment insurance bill would also bring in a modest amount of federal tax dollars both to implement the bill and to pay workers' benefits. The bill passed on a bipartisan vote of 74-22 after Republicans beat back an amendment to provide an added protection for labor agreements that was supported by unions and business groups on a state advisory council.
"This bill is going to result in more money in the pockets of employees around the state," said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), noting it would protect some workers from a full layoff.
Democrats said they supported the unemployment bill but wanted language taken from similar legislation endorsed by the state's Unemployment Insurance Advisory Council, a group made up equally of representatives of state business lobbies and unions. The amendment would have essentially inserted in the bill a reminder to employers that they would have to respect collective bargaining agreements when setting up a plan with the state to avoid layoffs by cutting a larger group of workers' hours.
Republicans said the bill already required employers' plans to follow state and federal law so the further warning was unneeded.
Assembly Republicans also passed the secretary of state bill, sending it to Walker since it had already passed the Senate in January on a party-line vote of 17-14. The proposal renewed in part the 2011 fight over Gov. Scott Walker's labor legislation in which Democratic Secretary of State Doug La Follette had a significant role in both a court fight over the law and in delaying it for a time.
Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie said that the governor was focused on the state budget and economy, but would evaluate the bill when it reaches his desk.
The proposal's lead sponsor in the Assembly, Rep. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) said that the secretary of state no longer needed to have any role in determining when a law takes effect. He said there was also no need to delay the date that bills take effect in the era of the web, when citizens can learn instantly and remotely what their elected officials are doing.
"It's archaic . . . It's simply unnecessary quite frankly," Nass said. "The law was created long before technology, computers, and the Internet."
Democrats such as Rep. Sandy Pasch of Whitefish Bay criticized the proposal as a "vindictive bill" done out of spite for La Follette and said it was damaging to a spirit of bipartisan cooperation at the Capitol. They questioned why Republicans had made the proposal a priority rather than a bill relating to the state's economy and sluggish job growth.
"The direction that we want to go in the state is together," Pasch said.
La Follette has also sharply criticized the proposal, which is the latest in a long line of steps to strip the secretary of state's office of most of its meaningful duties and powers.
Bills that are passed by both houses of the Legislature and then signed by Walker currently must go through a final process to become law. Within 10 working days of receiving the signed legislation, La Follette must designate a date for it to be noticed in the official state newspaper, the Wisconsin State Journal, and notify the Legislative Reference Bureau so it can publish the legislation.
This process is normally so automatic that few people even notice it. But that changed during the fight over Walker's legislation to repeal most collective bargaining for most public employees in the state.
In that case, Democrats and opponents of the proposal sued in March 2011 to block the signed bill from becoming law, arguing that the Legislature violated the state's open meetings law in passing it.
In the ensuing legal scuffle, La Follette delayed publishing the bill as long as he legally could, which was long enough that a Dane County judge was able to order La Follette not to go any further.
The lawsuit was so divisive that later on a pair of state Supreme Court justices had a physical altercation while discussing it. Ultimately, in June 2011 a divided Supreme Court overturned the lower court's decision and reinstated the law.
Under the proposal, bills would be published by the Legislative Reference Bureau on the day after they are signed by the governor. Unless otherwise specified in the bill itself, all legislation would take effect the day after being published by the Reference Bureau.
The bill wouldn't change the responsibility of La Follette in designating a day for a notice on the bill to run in the Wisconsin State Journal.
Assembly Republicans also turned back, 59-38, an attempt by Democrats to have Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen file a friend of the court brief to support the federal Voting Rights Act in a challenge to that law currently before the U.S. Supreme Court.
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