MADISON — The Wisconsin Legislature returns to work Monday, January 7th, with Republicans in control of both houses. Economic issues top the list of concerns for both sides as they get to work in the New Year.
Both Democrats and Republicans say their top priority remains passing bills that make it easier for companies to create jobs.
One lingering question is after all of the partisan fighting over the last two years, can the parties work together? Gov. Scott Walker says he doesn’t want any focus on partisan distractions.
Republicans now control the Senate, Assembly and the Governor’s office, and all say the top non-budget priority is passing a mining bill that streamlines regulations and permitting process.
“Mining is at the very top of our list. We pushed hard on that last session and we weren’t able to get it through the Senate, so we’re going to lead off with that,” Rep. Jeff Stone (R – Greendale) said.
Last session, the bill died when Republican Sen. Dale Schultz sided with Democrats, saying the Republican proposal weakened environmental protection.
“That will be a bill that will truly challenge that commitment to bipartisanship that many of his colleagues made over the campaign,” Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa (D – Milwaukee) said.
Rep. Zamarripa sits on the Assembly’s Jobs, Economy and Mining Committee.
“I’m looking forward to ensuring that bill is going to bring jobs here to Wisconsin and at the same time, not compromise our natural resources,” Rep. Zamarripa said.
Gov. Walker says he wants a new mining law passed by the spring. In the meantime, he has spent weeks traveling the state, laying out his priorities for the next two-year budget. He wants to work on job creation, workforce development, education reform, government waste elimination and transportation investment.
“I was elected to hone in on these things. These are the five priorities we’re going to point out and anytime a piece of legislation comes up that distracts from that we’re going to draw both public and private attention to say that’s not the right approach to do right now,” Gov. Walker said.
Gov. Walker’s message to lawmakers is to avoid the kind of divisive bills that led to massive demonstrations two years ago, and lingering distrust between the parties.
“I believe we can get past it, but there has to be a sincere commitment to bipartisanship. Many Republicans campaigned on promising Wisconsinites they would work across the aisle, so we have to stay true to that campaign promise we made this summer. I think our focus should be jobs, jobs, jobs so we have to be smart, but we have to look at the end goal and the end goal is jobs for Wisconsinites,” Rep. Zamarripa said.
“What you’re going to see is a Legislature that’s going to have a very narrow focus to say ‘what does this do to create economic opportunity, jobs, in our state?’ Really what we want to do is make the people of Wisconsin wealthier people,” Rep. Jeff Stone said.
New Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says an income tax cut is one of his top priorities.
“One of my biggest goals that I hope we’re going to enact this year is an income tax cut for Wisconsin families,” Vos said.
Vos says he wants to get the session started on a note of bipartisanship, and says he will host a reception for Democrats and Republicans Monday evening.