As the year winds down to its final days, so does the Legislature’s fall Session. A flurry of bills were acted on by the Senate and Assembly and sent on to the Governor for the final stop in the legislative process. Governor Doyle took his ink pen to numerous bills – some that grabbed much attention across the state.
Of particular interest to outdoor groups including many local rod and gun clubs and the Conservation Congress was legislation returning the appointment of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Secretary to the Natural Resources Board. I heard from several hundred local people who expressed their support for my co-sponsorship of the bill. I joined the majority of my colleagues in voting in favor of giving the Natural Resources Board authority to appoint the Secretary.
But late Friday afternoon, Governor Doyle vetoed this legislation arguing a Secretary appointed by the Governor is better able to accomplish more for Wisconsin’s environment. Those supporting the Governor’s veto say the DNR must be responsive to the people and the best way to do this is to have the Governor, who is elected by the people, appoint the head of the department.
However, many of the local people I spoke with are concerned the DNR, which oversees hunting and fishing and enforces environmental regulations, has become too political. Hunting and environmental groups say rules governing our natural resources should be made based on science, not on what is politically expedient. And up until 1995, the DNR Secretary was Board appointed. It was Governor Tommy Thompson who changed the appointment authority to the Governor.
Immediately after Governor Doyle’s veto, the Assembly lead author of the bill, Representative Spencer Black, called for a veto override. This would require two-thirds of both the Senate and Assembly membership voting for an override and legislative leaders are saying there are not enough votes.
Another bill of interest the Governor will sign into law is the ‘impartial justice’ bill that provides public financing to Supreme Court elections. The bill funds Wisconsin Supreme Court elections with a check-off for taxpayers on their income tax forms.
Many allege the Supreme Court elections are manipulated through money. Interest groups buy television ads supporting the candidate who favors their issues and agenda. The new law provides money for candidates but does not regulate the ‘issue ads’ run by interest groups that often dominate a campaign. Voters find it difficult to get unbiased information so they will often stay home instead of exercising their right to decide who sits on our Supreme Court.
Earlier in the year, Senate Democrats did pass a bill to regulate issue ads and subject the outside groups to all the rules candidates must follow. In Senate debate, Republicans and Democrats alike urged the Senate leaders to bring the issue ad regulation bill to the full Senate for a vote. The Senate Majority Leader agreed and we look forward to acting on this bill in January.
The Governor used his ink pen to sign a bill fixing problems with the troubled Wisconsin Shares child care program. This program helps low-income working families pay for child care. A recent audit, conducted by the Legislative Audit Bureau, found serious problems with the rules and oversight of Wisconsin Shares. Governor Doyle publically thanked me and three of my legislative colleagues for our efforts to crack down on fraud in the program.
Governor Doyle also thanked me and the co-authors of a bill focused on protecting children in child care settings. The new law will bar criminals from operating or working in child care centers. Keeping our children safe when they are away from home is our common goal.
Of the 391 bills introduced in the Senate and 579 in the Assembly, the Governor has signed 79 into law. As we prepare for the January 2010 Session, legislative committees will continue to engage the public in a discussion of those remaining bills and ideas that have yet to be introduced as legislation. I appreciate the benefit of your phone calls, letters, email messages, postcards and face to face conversations on all of issues facing our great state.