Legislative bodies perform two critical and complementary functions. The first is to pass bills; the second is to not pass them.
So far this legislative session, nearly 1,000 bills have been introduced in the GOP-controlled state Assembly and Senate, including some identical bills in both houses. As the first year of the two-year session draws to a close, about 100 bills have passed. Just over half of these have been signed into law; the rest await Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s approval or veto.
That leaves hundreds of other bills, including ones dealing with rubber duck races, drones and woodchucks, in the session’s remaining year. These could pass, be voted down, or face a slow death of neglect. Let’s pluck a few examples from this pile of unfinished business.
Smart meters (AB 345): This GOP-backed bill would bar utilities from installing modern wireless meters in the homes of customers who object, due to privacy concerns. The utilities say most of these meters are already in place, as are rules against sharing private customer information. More than a dozen lobby groups have registered in opposition, with none in favor. The bill, introduced in August, has not had a public hearing.
Wind energy suits (SB 167): This GOP bill, introduced in April, would make it easier for people who live near wind energy turbines to sue for lost property value or “physical and emotional harm.” It says utilities cannot escape liability to their neighbors just by complying with applicable rules. The bill, a departure from other GOP bills that make it harder for people to sue, is opposed by 21 of the two dozen lobby groups to weigh in. It had a hearing in November.
Rubber duck races (SB 340, AB 422): These bills (pun intended) would end the state’s reign of terror against charitable groups that hold races involving plastic or rubber ducks. It was introduced by Republicans in October after several groups received stern letters of warning from the state Department of Justice, and had a hearing almost right away. No group has registered for or against.
Drone attack (SB 196, AB 203): Introduced in May with bipartisan support, these bills would make it a crime to use pilotless aircraft to observe others in places where they expect privacy, except for law enforcement with a warrant or in emergency circumstances. An Assembly committee held a hearing in May. The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin is for it.
Woodchucks and wood ducks: SB 164 and AB 137 would create a hunting season with no bag limit on woodchucks. AB 149 and SB 133 would limit the state Department of Natural Resources’ ability to prohibit leaving decoys unattended in water (so long as no racing bets are involved). All were introduced in April but have not advanced, aside from a hearing on the woodchuck bill.
Gun laws: Democrat-backed bills to require background checks for most firearm sales (AB 138 and SB 124), ban assault weapons, large capacity magazines and hollow-point bullets (AB 222 and AB 221), and prohibit the carrying of concealed weapons in the state Capitol (SB 102) have all gone nowhere, which is expected to be their final destination.
Campaign disclosure: AB 378 and SB 282 would end the requirement that state and local candidates report the principal place of employment of larger campaign donors. Kevin Kennedy of the nonpartisan Government Accountability Board says this would “undermine the right of the public” to track activity meant to influence elections and make it harder to identify and prosecute violations of law. The bills have had hearings and await possible committee votes.
More money for candidates: AB 225, as amended, would double the maximum contribution limits for state offices. A dozen lobby groups, including Common Cause in Wisconsin, have registered in opposition; none has registered in favor. It passed the state Assembly in June on a voice vote (how’s that for accountability?) and now awaits action in the Senate.
Bill Lueders is the Money and Politics Project director at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.