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Bad bills, good bills die in the Assembly

Empower Wisconsin | Feb. 26,  2020 

By M.D. Kittle 

MADISON — As the Assembly checked out of the short-lived legislative session last week, some bad bills mercifully died with their departure. 

Unfortunately, some good bills that should have been passed also perished in the mad dash out. 

Ranking among the top of good bills facing an untimely death, a measure that would create a state license for a dental therapist position — similar to a physician’s assistant — that could perform basic oral health procedures.  

Proponents late last year predicted the powerful Wisconsin Dental Association would do everything it could to kill the bill. That prediction came true. It got a hearing, but never made it to the Assembly floor. 

The bill’s co-author, state Rep. Mary Felzkowski (R-Irma), said the bill may be dead, but the fight is far from over. 

“There are groups that are still going to push for it. We always figured it was going to be more than a one-session bill,” she said. 

Meanwhile, the oral health care gap widens in Wisconsin. As Empower Wisconsin has reported, dental provider shortages exist in 65 of the state’s 72 counties, affecting some 1.5 million Wisconsinites — many of them children. Dental therapists, as they have done in other states, including Minnesota, help close the gap, many serving in underserved communities. 

Red-light camera bill stalled

Among the dead bills is the Big Brother-esque legislation that would bring red-light cameras to Milwaukee. It had plenty of bi-partisan support and made it through committee, but hit a red light at the Assembly floor. 

The bill creates a five-year pilot program that would place red-light and automated speed enforcement cameras at Milwaukee’s most dangerous intersections. Motorists running a red light would get a ticket in the mail. 

Proponents insist the automated cops would save lives. Opponents point to multiple states that have banned the cameras as unconstitutional. 

“That policy should come nowhere near the borders of the state of Wisconsin. As demonstrated in other places it causes nothing but logistical problems and, most importantly, civil rights problems,” state Sen. Dave Craig (R-Town of Vernon) said in late October during a committee hearing on the bill. 

A report by the Illinois Policy Institute found local governments in the Land of Lincoln generated more than $1 billion combined in red-light camera revenue from 2008 to 2018. 

Also problematic is the fact that thousands of motorists in the Milwaukee area are driving without a valid license plate — or worse, someone else’s license plate. 

Anti-competition bill dies 

It appears wedding barns are safe — for now —  from the recent legislative onslaught of the Tavern League of Wisconsin and their legislative chums. 

The powerful lobbying group, it seems, flew a little too close to the sun. Instead of backing a standalone bill that would extend bar hours in more than a dozen counties during the week of the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee, the League demanded the bill include a provision requiring agriculture event venues like wedding barns obtain liquor licenses to operate. And the bill included other competition-killing language. 

As support from conservative lawmakers waned, a last-minute deal removed the controversial provisions from the bill. It is now in the Senate, sans the wedding barn licensing language. 

The Tavern League has tried several times to go force more regulations on wedding barns.

Also dead … the Evers administration’s sneak attack measure that would have watered down Wisconsin’s Homeowners’ Bill of Rights protections against unwanted home assessments. 

Billed as a mere technical change to the 2018 law, the legislation would loosen language that requires assessors, when requesting to view the interior of a residence, to provide written notice informing property owners of their right to refuse entry. 

Bad bills, bad bills … whatcha gonna do? 

Bad bills that made the cut included legislation that mandates the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to sell insect repellant in state parks and forests to combat Lyme disease. Several conservatives scratched their heads over that one, but not enough to stop the big-government mandate from moving on. 

The bills that made the cut are now in the hands of the Senate, which wraps up hits legislative business next month. 

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