By ?TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Republicans promised the next two years would be all about jobs, jobs, jobs. Just not right away.
On their first day in complete control of state government Monday, Republicans circulated an initial round of bills that would end Wisconsin’s election-day voter registration, loosen age requirements for driving all-terrain vehicles, let off-duty police carry guns in schools, stiffen domestic violence penalties and strengthen self-defense statutes.
The bills do include measures that at least nibble around the edges of the economy, but Democrats looking to draw attention from GOP Gov. Scott Walker’s inauguration pounced on the legislation, saying the GOP had strayed from its promise to create jobs.
“Not one bill will create jobs,” said Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison. “We are seeing a blatant bait-and-switch that ignores job creation and focuses on right-wing social issues.”
Republicans who swept to control of state governments across the country in November proclaimed jobs were their top priority, but pressure has been building to achieve the party’s social goals. Republicans were sworn into power Monday in Wisconsin, with GOP Gov. Scott Walker taking the oath of office and Republicans officially seizing majorities in the Assembly and Senate.
Republicans insist that job creation remains their top priority. Protesters gathered outside the state Capitol hours before Walker’s inauguration ceremony Monday, promising to hold him to his campaign pledge to create 250,000 jobs in his first term.
The new governor planned to call a special legislative session to deal with the economy later Monday afternoon, demanding action by the end of February.
But Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, began Monday morning by circulating bills that would prohibit voters from registering at the polls and create automatic registration with driver’s license renewals and applications.
Other bills would permit children under 12 to drive ATVs on roads with parental supervision, grant off-duty and retired police officers the right to carry firearms in schools and give police authority to arrest people who don’t pay civil forfeitures. Another proposal would make violating a 72-hour no-contract requirement in a domestic abuse case a crime rather than a civil forfeiture.
Kleefisch circulated a number of bills with an economic slant, including measures to eliminate permits for stairway chair lifts in private residences, which could make life easier for mechanics and contractors.
Kleefisch also wants to lower the threshold for felony retail theft and make the state’s winter-time exemption on sales and use taxes on residential electricity and natural gas year-round. He also has authored proposals to amend the state Constitution to require a two-thirds vote in the Assembly to increase any state sales, income or franchise tax or any fee and to allow car dealers to operate on Sundays.
He also circulated a bill that would create a property tax exemption for machines and other property used in research — except for facilities that conduct embryonic stem cell research.
Rep. Dean Kaufert, R-Neenah, meanwhile, circulated a bill Monday that would make it legal to use deadly force against a home invader.
Democrats called the bills frivolous and assaults on freedoms such as voting.
“Voters put their trust in Republicans based on their promise to focus on economic development,” Rep. Kelda Helen Roys, D-Madison, said in a statement. “Now it appears Republicans aren’t even interested in pretending to care about people out of work.”
Kleefisch didn’t immediately return messages Monday.
Kaufert said jobs remain the GOP’s top priority but Republicans can multi-task, too. He circulated the self-defense bill because former Rep. Carol Owens, who had worked on it before him, asked him to keep fighting for it and he wants to gauge interest. He noted that the bill hasn’t even been formally introduced.
“It’s not a priority bill,” Kaufert said. “I don’t think it’s going to jump ahead of jobs and the economy. It doesn’t mean all these other things are going to sit on the sidelines.”
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee political scientist Mordecai Lee, a former Democratic state lawmaker, said people should expect the Republican Party to advance both financial and social legislation.
But voters likely aren’t tracking the order in which bills are introduced, Lee said.
Democrats are simply trying to score public opinion points and put Republicans on the defensive, he said.
“This is merely to score points in the daily media competition,” Lee said. “The more we get into the media era of Wisconsin politics, the more this type of temporary swooning of public opinion becomes important. Nowadays legislators want to be on the right side of public opinion every day.”