MADISON -- Thursday, March 15th was the final day of the two-year Legislative session, and it ended just as it began - partisan votes, over polarizing issues. The Senate adjourned in the afternoon Thursday, but the Assembly may stretch debate into Friday morning.
Thursday, lawmakers gave the okay to a home brewing bill allowing people to make beer and wine in their homes as long as they don't make more than 200 gallons a year, and don't sell it. The Assembly also passed education reform legislation that will require a consistent method for evaluating teachers. That bill is aimed at strengthening reading skills.
Democrats and Republicans had very different views on the success of the session. "It's been a session of lost opportunities. Obviously the governor had set two top priorities - mining, and the venture capital bill, neither of which he was able to accomplish," Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca said. "I'm real proud. There was a special session charge that included 10 bills. We passed nine our of 10 at breakneck speed. All of those bills, I think you can argue, had an impact on economic development, job creation in the state. That's never happened before," Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said.
The final day had a familiar feel. "Having some financial difficulties, and so the teacher's union along with the school board have agreed to go into the contracts and help out with the financial situation that is there. So I want to thank them for offering that to us," State Representative Dan Knodl (R - Germantown) said.
Knodl congratulated the Assembly for passing a bill that allowed Milwaukee Public Schools to reopen labor contracts, but what he really did was reopen the debate over collective bargaining. "I wouldn't hurt your arm patting yourself on the back too hard," one lawmaker said. "Here you are standing up and bragging about the train wreck you've created," Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca said. "On a day that we should be really dealing with the number one crisis in our state, you laud the fact that there's less money in the Milwaukee Public School system," Rep. Sandy Pasch (D - Whitefish Bay) said.
It was a flashback to perhaps the most contentious Legislative session in recent memory - one that, despite large-scale protests Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, says was a success. "Obviously Act 10 and the budget repair, everything kind of broke loose here at the Capitol, but then we were able to bring back focus after the reforms were passed," Fitzgerald said.
The Senate was adjourned for most of the day Thursday. The Assembly was set to vote on a bill that would replace the entire MATC board with members more connected to the business community, bills that Assembly Minority Leader Barca says are a distraction from the state's most pressing concern. "We have to quit the Herbert Hoover approach to job creation and bring forward bills that we know there is bipartisan support for," Barca said.