By SCOTT BAUER
Associated Press Writer
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Democrats in the Wisconsin state Assembly said bills passed on Thursday will help bolster the state’s struggling economy, while Republicans argued not enough was being done to create jobs.
“Wisconsin is open for business,” Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan, D-Janesville, said at a news conference before voting on the proposals. “This is a business-friendly state.”
Democrats have been trying to tout their efforts to create jobs and improve the economy as the state struggles under 8.7 percent unemployment, up from 5.9 percent a year ago. As of December, the state lost more than 137,000 jobs over the past year.
None of the bills brought forward by Democratic leaders were particularly controversial. All of them had bipartisan support in the Assembly and Senate as well as from the business community.
Republicans argued during debate that other bills that would do more to create jobs and improve the economy that were bottled up in committee should be voted on.
One bill that did pass Thursday would require state agencies to work more closely with small businesses to help them to comply with regulations to avoid unnecessary penalties.
Rep. Kristen Dexter, D-Eau Claire, said the proposal was in response to complaints she heard from dozens of small businesses who said the state was being rigid and slow in addressing regulatory reform.
The Wisconsin chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business supported the plan, which would streamline the regulatory review process and restore duties of an office to help small businesses within the state Department of Commerce.
Bill Smith, state director of the small business group, said the changes will make the regulatory process less costly, complex and confusing.
Anything the state can do to make dealing with regulations less time-consuming and expensive is appreciated, said Jeff Machut, general manager of an AmericInn hotel in Monona.
Another bill would protect businesses from hidden automatic renewal clauses in equipment and service contracts by requiring notice to be given. It previously passed the Senate.
Businesses often get trapped into paying higher fees, or suffering with declining service, due to renewal clauses that are hidden in long-term agreements, said Steve Robik of SDR Transmissions in Kenosha.
A third proposal passed by the Senate on Thursday would make it easier for local communities to join together to issue tax-exempt bonds to pay for projects determined to be in the public good.
Bill co-sponsor Rep. Donna Seidel, D-Wausau, said a similar program in California has been operating successfully for the past 20 years.