WED PM Update: Fitzgerald backs registration, title fee increase; Senate approves four abortion-related bills

Exclusively for WisPolitics Subscribers

From …

— Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald told reporters today that Senate Republicans are looking at a $10 bump to the state’s $75 vehicle registration fee along with an increase to the title fee.

But Fitzgerald continued to rule out a gas tax increase, which he said would bring Wisconsin up to the 10th highest rate in the nation. Add in indexing, as Gov. Tony Evers proposed, and Fitzgerald said Wisconsin’s gas tax would be the third highest.

Quizzed by reporters on whether the Assembly would be on board the proposed increase in fees, Fitzgerald said it was “definately part of the mix and the discusson back and forth between the houses.”

Fitzgerald said the two proposals he touted today would generate an additional $10 million a year, which he hoped to use in combination with cash and bonding to provide an influx of dollars for transportation projects.

The Juneau Republican said GOP members are still examining which projects to prioritize as well as the price tags that would come along with completing them.

Evers proposed a $608 million boost for transportation through an 8-cent increase in the gas tax, indexing the tax going forward and raising some fees. He also proposed $338.3 million in bonding for transportation, including $45 million in general fund supported borrowing for passenger rail.

Fitzgerald indicated that a proposed increase to the heavy truck fee has “kind of fallen by the wayside,” while a tolling proposal was “still part of the discussion.”

He also said he didn’t see momentum behind the guv’s proposal to repeal the minimum markup on gas. While he indicated that some members of his caucus support it, he wasn’t sure what the effect would be in rural districts.

“In the City of Juneau, there’s one Piggly Wiggly and if it’s directly affected and it goes out of business — whether its minimum markup or not — guess who gets blamed for it? Me,” he said. “We need a grocery store in Juneau so that’s part of the equation.”

— The Senate’s top Republican and the Assembly co-chair of the Finance Committee say they’re open to a new plan floated today that would provide $133.6 million to counties and towns for road work.

But Fitzgerald and Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, both said they want to look at the proposal outside of the transportation plan JFC is expected to vote on tomorrow.

The new proposal from 10 Senate Republicans — including all six caucus members on the Finance Committee — would give each county $1 million and each town $1,000 per mile of road in its jurisdiction. The latter would total $61.6 million.

It would use a piece of the additional $753 million in revenue the state is now expected to take in through mid-2021. Much of that is expected to be one-time money as taxpayers take advantage of the 2017 rewrite of federal tax laws, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

Fitzgerald, who didn’t attend the news conference, called it a “laudable idea” to use one-time money. Meanwhile, Nygren stressed it was something that would be considered as a one-time use of surplus funds, not something to build into the transportation budget.

Sen. Howard Marklein said at today’s news conference the proposal represented the position of the 10 Senate Republicans who were there, not the full caucus.

“We want to use this one-time money to make a difference in the one thing all of our constituents have told us they want: to fix our roads,” said Marklein, R-Spring Green.

Backers also said they didn’t have an agreement on the proposal with Assembly Republicans.

“We’re going to sit down, and we’re going to negotiate an agreement,” said Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst and a member of Finance.

Marklein said the plan would distribute funds directly to counties and towns. He defended providing equal funding for all counties, regardless of size or population, saying smaller ones are at a disadvantage in the current funding system.

“They’ve been falling behind for a long time,” Marklein said. “I believe this is a way for them to catch up and level the playing field a little bit.”

But Jerry Deschane, executive director of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, was critical of the plan for not including cities and villages, which are home to 70 percent of the state’s population.

“We support the idea of investing in roads,” Deschane said. “This is not a holistic solution by any means.”

After the proposal was released, Washington County touted a transportation sustainability plan it’s board approved last year and argued others should have to put together a similar overview.

See the release:

See the Washington County plan:

— A GOP bill to require care for those who survive an abortion is heading to Gov. Tony Evers’ desk after clearing a divided Senate this afternoon.

It was one of four abortion-related measure the body approved today, though Evers has said he will veto the package and slammed it “nothing more than a distraction” from other priorities.

The “born alive” bill passed the body 17-14 with GOP Sen. Andre Jacque, of DePere, joining all Dems in opposing it. He voted against the bill after his amendment was rejected.

The bill would outline care requirements for children born alive following an abortion or attempted abortion, as well as penalties for physicians who don’t adhere to the legislation. But under the bill, the mother of the child who is born alive couldn’t be prosecuted. Jacque’s amendment would have removed protections for the mother.

Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling said the bill was based on “outlandish accusations that are not based in facts or science.”

“This is the same smokescreen the majority party uses to push abortion out of reach,” she said.

But Senate President Roger Roth dismissed Dems’ charge that the measure was a restriction on abortion.

“It’s not anti-abortion; it’s anti-murder,” he said.

The Senate also today passed on an 18-13 party-line vote a measure that would ban abortions on the basis of race, sex or disability despite the U.S. Supreme Court declining to review a federal appeals court decision striking down a similar law in Indiana.

The Indiana law would prohibit doctors from performing an abortion if a woman is choosing the procedure because of the fetus’ sex or race, or because of a diagnosis of Down syndrome or “any other disability.” That language tracks closely with Wisconsin’s AB 182, which is now heading to Evers’ desk.

But the U.S. Supreme Court last week left in place a 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision striking down the Indiana law. In an unsigned opinion, the court said it intended to “follow our ordinary practice of denying petitions insofar as they raise legal issues that have not been considered by additional courts of appeals.”

The body also passed two other abortion-related measures on party-line votes: AB 180, which would require a woman seeking a chemical abortion to be informed that the procedure is reversible at a certain stage; and AB 183, which would ensure abortion providers are not eligible to receive Medical Assistance dollars.

See the package:

— The Senate today OK’d a bill that would set standards and fees for wireless providers when they seek to install 5G infrastructure after Dem Sen. Tim Carpenter temporarily blocked a final vote on the measure.

The Milwaukee Dem brought forward a number of amendments to the bill. They ranged from a measure that would require a study committee to research health impacts stemming from increased transmissions to a proposal he said would allow for more input for the siting of these locations. But the body rejected each one in turn.

Carpenter and fellow Milwaukee Dem Lena Taylor slammed the timeframe in which the bill had been taken up. They noted the public hearing on the measure only took place last Wednesday and charged that the body had not been given enough time to adequately consider the measures.

“At the very least, let’s slow our roll so people can get adequate information,” she said.

Carpenter then objected to unanimous consent for a third reading of the bill, after which the body would have voted on the measure.

The Senate then recessed and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald called Republicans into caucus to decide how to proceed. When the body readjourned roughly an hour-and-a-half later, Carpenter dropped his objection and the bill passed 27-5.

See the measure:

— The state Senate today approved a measure that would ease the insurance appeals process.

The proposal addresses the so-called “step therapy” process, a cost-saving method employed by insurance companies that makes patients try a number of drugs recommended by the insurer before “stepping” up to cover the cost of the medication recommended by a doctor.

The measure, approved by voice vote, now heads to the Assembly.

Sen. Alberta Darling, the bill’s author, called it a “win-win” for patients and doctors and said it also had benefits for insurers.

“It leads to better health outcomes, which is good for the insurance companies,” the River Hills Republican said.

See the bill:

— The Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s official Twitter account has put on a full court press to advocate for an increase in the gas tax ahead of tomorrow’s Joint Finance Committee hearing on the agency’s budget.

But Republicans blasted the effort as “highly improper, unprofessional and possibly unethical.”

The account has sent six tweets touting the gas tax hike since Tuesday afternoon, all of which feature footage from a video the agency posted to YouTube on Monday.

GOP Rep. Joe Sanfelippo slammed DOT Secretary Craig Thompson for “losing control” of his employees.

“You would think the secretary of the department would have more professionalism and control over his staff than to allow something like that,” he said, before noting that the issue should be brought before the Ethics Commission.

Quizzed about whether the tweets would fall within his purview, Ethics Commissioner Dan Carlton said he would have to examine the specific tweets before making a definitive judgment.

“Generally speaking, the agency’s uses of their Twitter account is within the discretion of the agency,” he added.

Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald also voiced criticism of the move when speaking to reporters after the Senate’s floor session today.

“You would expect you would have somebody in that position that would be more about providing straight information about transportation instead of being such an advocate, but it appears Secretary Thomspon can’t help himself,” the Juneau Republican said.

A DOT spokeswoman told that the social media post were consistent the department’s traditional media strategy and cited editorials and media appearances by Thompson in which he promoted a gas tax increase.

See the tweets:

See the video:

— A unanimous state appeals court today ordered GOP Rep. Scott Krug to turn over electronic copies of documents a reporter had sought under the open records law, rejecting the lawmaker’s argument that paper versions were just as good.

The court — which includes former GOP Rep. Mark Gundrum and Supreme Court Justice-elect Brian Hagedorn — ruled the paper copies didn’t meet reporter Bill Lueders’ enhanced request for the records because they lacked information that could only be retrieved from the electronic versions.

That includes metadata such as the headers on the email that include information on the sender.

The court noted Krug, R-Nekoosa, didn’t refuse to provide the emails in an electronic format because he believed they were protected from release.

“Rather, Krug effectively indicated that the paper printouts were ‘good enough’ to satisfy Lueders’ second, enhanced open records request. They were not,” the court wrote.

Krug didn’t immediately respond to a message left at his Capitol office seeking comment, including whether he plans to appeal.

The conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty filed a similar suit last year against Rep. Jonathan Brostoff, D-Milwaukee, that resulted in the lawmakers agreeing to turn over electronic files and paying the group’s legal fees.

Read the decision:


FRIDAY: and discussion: Closing the urban-rural health care gap

The recent 2019 County Health Rankings report showed gaps in health care between suburban-urban areas and rural counties in Wisconsin. In southwestern Wisconsin, La Crosse County was ranked 6th among the state’s 72 counties in terms of health factors that drive healthy lifestyles such as lower tobacco and alcohol use; access to quality care, education, employment and social support; plus housing and water-air quality. But surrounding counties ranked between 19th and 59th.

Join us for a discussion on coping with these gaps in rural-urban health care. The cost to attend is free, thanks to the support of Health Tradition.

But you must register in advance.

WHAT: Closing the rural-urban health care gap

WHEN: Friday June 7, 11:30 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. with the program going from noon to 1:15 p.m.

WHERE: The Waterfront Restaurant & Tavern l 328 Front Street South Ste. 100, La Crosse WI 54601

FORMAT: Dr. Tim Bartholow, Chief Medical Officer of Health Tradition, will provide opening remarks, and then a panel of four experts will add commentary. The panelists include Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling of La Crosse, Wally Orzechowski of the Southwest Community Action Program, Dr. Paul S. Mueller, chair of Mayo Clinic’s general internal medicine, and Dr. Erik Gundersen, medical director of Kwik Trip Center for Health and incoming president of the Wisconsin Medical Society.

The event is organized by and, non-partisan news organizations that regularly convene discussions of important public issues. Sponsored by Health Tradition.

To register, visit:



AP: The Latest: Republicans eyeing $10 registration increase

AP: Wisconsin Senate approves prescription drug therapy step

AP: The Latest: Wisconsin Legislature passes 4 abortion laws

State Journal: Wisconsin’s 2018 job growth was slowest of Scott Walker era

Capital Times: Wisconsin Senate sends four abortion bills to Gov. Tony Evers’ desk for likely veto

WPR: Wisconsin Democrats Push for Repeal of Criminal Abortion Law

WPR: Republican Lawmakers Approve $588M Increase In Medicaid, Health Care Spending

Politico: Republicans at war over Trump’s tariffs

Politico: Trump teases tariff deal as Democrats accuse him of bluffing

Reuters: Trump administration suspends U.S. educational programs for migrant children

Reuters: Mexico, U.S. officials meet in high-stakes tariff talks at White House

NPR: Top Democrat ‘Confident’ Mueller Will Testify ‘Soon.’ Here’s What Congress Might Ask

NPR: Federal Government To Inspect North Carolina Election Equipment Over Hacking Fears

Washington Post: Trump administration cancels English classes, soccer, legal aid for unaccompanied child migrants in U.S. shelters

Washington Post: Trump is ‘making up’ for not serving in Vietnam with increased defense funding, he says


– 7 a.m. – 9 p.m.: Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative 2019 Annual Conference. Attendees are to hear from University of Illinois atmospheric science professor Donald J. Wuebbles, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, Quebec Consul General of Chicago Jean-François Hould, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and others.

– 7:30 a.m. – 9:30 a.m.: AMP! breakfast with former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, who serves as executive director of the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission.

– 7:45 a.m.: Board of Regents meeting.,_2019/Board-of-Regents-Thursday-Materials-(June-6,-2019).pdf

– 9:30 a.m.: Senate Committee on Health and Human Services public hearing on SB 28, relating to direct primary care agreements; SB 103 and AB 76, relating to hours of instructional program for nurse aides; and a series of appointments.

– 10 a.m.: Assembly Committee on Housing and Real Estate executive session on AB 117, relating to submission of building permit applications for one-family and two-family dwellings; AB 121, relating to housing navigator grants; AB 123, relating to housing grants to homeless individuals and families; and AB 125, relating to housing quality standards loans.

– 10 a.m.: Assembly Committee on Ways and Means public hearing on AB 251, relating to requiring marketplace providers to collect and remit sales tax from third parties and reducing individual income tax rates based on the collection of sales and use tax from out-of-state retailers and marketplace providers.

– 1 p.m.: Joint Committee on Finance executive session. Members are to take up budgets for the WEDC, Department of Justice, transportation, and other areas.

– 5 p.m. – 7 p.m.: Rep. VanderMeer fundraiser.

– 5 p.m. – 7 p.m.: Karofsky campaign fundraiser.

– 5 p.m. – 9 p.m.: Wisconsin Conservative Digest Keep America Great Conference. Event features training sessions, presentations on winning new voters and a panel discussion on grassroots organizing.

– 5 p.m. – 7 p.m.: Veterans Chamber of Commerce Chamber Muster.

All rights reserved. Reproduction or retransmission of this publication, in whole or in part, without the express permission of is prohibited. Unauthorized reproduction violates United States copyright law (17 USC 101 et seq.), as does retransmission by facsimile or any other electronic means, including electronic mail.