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Saturday, April 19, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 67.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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Bills to keep an eye on in the Wisconsin Legislature's 2013-14 session


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Anybody with Internet access can do it.

Just go to the Wisconsin State Legislature's website and click the "Current Session" option on the "Legislation" tab at left. This will lead you to lists of bills introduced in the current session, which runs through 2014.

The text and history of each bill are available on this menu.

Now comes the fun part. The menu option "Bill Notification" lets visitors sign up for emails whenever any particular bill has a hearing, fiscal estimate or vote.

There is always more happening in the Legislature than any person can track or every media outlet can cover. Civic groups may want to "Adopt a bill," like they might a stretch of highway.

Here, on the money and politics beat, are some of the bills we've asked to be notified about.

Assembly Bill 5 and its companion, Senate Bill 34, would expand existing sales and property tax exemptions for television and radio stations, for things like transmitters and vehicles. The state Department of Revenue estimates a $2.2 million annual decrease in sales tax and use revenues, and a shift of between $1 million to $2.1 million to other property taxpayers.

The bill, one of many over the years that have shifted state tax burdens, has mostly Republican cosponsors. But it's also backed by state Rep. Brett Hulsey (D-Madison), who told the Wisconsin State Journal he signed on because "the TV and radio stations in my district asked me to."

On the lobby front (click "Government Accountability Board information" on the bill's page), the cities of Madison and Milwaukee have registered in opposition; the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association has registered in support.

AB 19 and SB 13 would, like prior "tort reforms," raise the bar for people who want to sue. It creates new procedures and requirements for personal injury claims.

A fiscal estimate (PDF) released April 4 -- the email notification went out the next day -- concluded that these rules would have applied to 6,350 Wisconsin circuit court actions last year. The fiscal impact was "Indeterminant."

The bill, sponsored by Republicans, is shaping up to be a lobbying lollapalooza. Eleven groups including the business lobby Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce have registered in favor; five groups including the Wisconsin Association of Justice, representing trial lawyers, are opposed.

AB 83 and SB 71 is a GOP-led effort to let local governments impose tougher restrictions on wind-energy systems than those set by the state. It's similar to past legislative efforts blamed for keeping wind power projects, and jobs, from coming to Wisconsin.

The bill is opposed by some environmental groups, unions and General Electric. Supporters include the Wisconsin Realtors Association, Wisconsin Counties Association and Wisconsin Towns Association.

Also in favor is the Coalition For Wisconsin Environmental Stewardship, "a statewide grassroots organization" that has managed to pay a contract lobbyist more than $150,000 since 2008. You could look it up.

AB 8, introduced by Republicans, would sharply limit the ability of local governments to forbid hunting with a bow and arrow or crossbow within their jurisdictions. And it would exempt arrow flingers from the current statutory ban on hunting within 1,700 feet of a hospital, sanatorium or school.

A similar bill was introduced last session but failed to pass, despite a favorable committee vote. It was backed by the National Rifle Association, Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association, Wisconsin Bowhunters Association and Safari Club International, among others.

Some of these same hunting groups last year helped pass a bill that, as amended, opened state parks to hunting and trapping. Opponents included the Madison Audubon Society, the Nature Conservancy and Wisconsin State Horse Council.

This session, Democrats have introduced SB 17 to undo this requirement. The bill would restrict hunting and ban trapping in state parks. No supporters or opponents have yet registered.

If and when they do, the state's legislative website will provide this information.


Bill Lueders (blueders@wisconsinwatch.org) is the Money and Politics Project director at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. The project, a partnership with MapLight, is supported by the Open Society Institute.

The nonprofit and nonpartisan Center collaborates with Wisconsin Public Television, Wisconsin Public Radio, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

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