By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Legislature begins the 2017-2018 session on Tuesday. Among the major issues it’s expected to address:
President-elect Donald Trump’s victory in Wisconsin, albeit with lukewarm initial support from Gov. Scott Walker and other state Republicans, gives the GOP an opportunity to make major changes in policy it hasn’t had in nearly 50 years. Walker and others have talked about seismic changes in funding affecting Medicaid, transportation and education, but with Trump as president other GOP initiatives that had been blocked in the state by President Barack Obama’s administration like drug-testing of food stamp recipients could move ahead. And Walker is hoping Wisconsin’s hybrid approach to health care, which includes some elements of Obama’s law, may serve as a model for what Trump and Congress does nationally.
BUMPY ROAD AHEAD
Road funding is the $1 billion elephant in the room. The Department of Transportation, at Walker’s direction, proposes plugging a nearly $1 billion shortfall with a mix of more borrowing and delaying ongoing road expansion and improvement projects. But Assembly Republican leaders say other ideas, including tax and fee increases, should be in the mix. Walker, and other Republicans, say nuts to that. The issue has publicly divided Republicans and absent a solution that will make everyone happy, it’s likely to be one of the most contentious problems of the session.
DIVIDE THE DNR?
Just what the duties of the Department of Natural Resources will be, and how the agency that oversees air and water quality and wildlife management will be organized, is expected to be a major fight this session. The agency proposed its own reorganization, which Walker was expected to include in his budget. But a Republican lawmaker is also pushing for the DNR to be broken up, a move Walker said he is open to considering but that outdoor and recreational groups are fighting.
Some Republicans have talked about changing the state’s recount law to prevent candidates who have no chance from winning asking for a recount,as Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein did. Proposals to limit early voting times and locations, following a federal judge’s tossing of a state law that did just that, are also expected.
A federal court in November threw out Republican-drawn legislative district boundaries, saying they amounted to unconstitutional gerrymandering that harmed Democrats. The question now is whether the Legislature will be forced to redraw the maps before the next round of elections in 2018. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide that.