Just as snow melt brings a rush of spring chores, the end of the two-year Legislative Session brings a rush to finish business. The pace at the Capitol has stepped up as legislators take stock of what work remains.
Like college students, writing papers and presentations the week before finals, legislators scramble to finalize ideas for bill drafts and to prepare testimony on bills pending before a committee or the full Senate. The past few weeks brought a dramatic increase in bills drafted, bills introduced, legislative hearings and work ‘on the floor’ with the full Senate. Deadlines loom and work not done by May will need to wait until next January when the new Legislature convenes.
Early spring always brings many visitors to the Capitol to share their concerns and ideas. Often the best ideas for bills come from citizens. While many folks will comment on the big issues – like health care, school funding and tax reform – frequently the bills that make life better for Wisconsinites in little ways started as someone’s good idea.
One example is a bill I introduced allowing for the use of neighborhood electric vehicles. Former Senator Rod Moen, the current Mayor of Whitehall, worked with me to write the bill allowing small electric vehicles to cross state highways. He realized the city would save money by using an electric rather than a gasoline powered vehicle to do city business. But state law forbids the electric vehicles from crossing a state highway. And Whitehall, like most rural communities, is divided by a state highway.
Another common sense bill I drafted would help increase the ability of taverns to offer bar patrons a free, safe ride home. Under current law, half of the SafeRide funding comes from fines on drunken driving convictions. The other half is raised by community members who volunteer countless hours to sponsor various fundraisers.
Tavern owners participating in the SafeRide program receive a grant from the state to cover half the cost to transport a person safely home. To make safe rides more available, my bill would increase the state grant amount to 80% using the state dollars set aside for this purpose. Last session, the Legislature increased the drunken driving fines making more dollars available SafeRide grants.
Both of these small but important bills easily passed the Senate and are scheduled for action in the Assembly.
Last week, the Governor signed into law two other small but important bills.
The first was a bill I worked on with local veterinarians that eliminated an old law requiring veterinarians to take continuing education as pesticide applicators. The old law dated back to the time animals had to be dipped in pesticides. Times have changed and now veterinarians use and sell pesticide products that require no prescription and are easily applied to the animal.
The second bill was one I worked on with volunteer firefighters and EMTs. Our rural communities are protected by these essential volunteers who give their time for training and to be on call when we need them. Because fires and accidents can happen at any time, it is possible volunteer fire fighters or EMTs are required to respond to an emergency call at the same time they are required to be at a regular job. The new law protects our local volunteer firefighters and EMTs from disciplinary action if their duties interfere with their regular job. Many local volunteers contacted me to say how much this new law means to them.
My job is working in partnership with local people who frequently offer the best ideas for legislation. If you have an idea for a bill, now would be a great time to contract me and talk through the idea. After the end of the session – some time the end of April or the beginning of May – the introduction of bills will no longer be allowed.
So now is the time to get the job done.