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Fitzgerald says changes needed to juvenile bill (UPDATE)

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Republican leader of the state Senate said Wednesday that changes will be needed to an $80 million overhaul of the state’s juvenile-justice system, which the Assembly had passed unanimously and which is a top priority of Gov. Scott Walker’s.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald bristled at the bipartisan negotiations that led to the bill’s passage but did not include him, calling them “horrendous.”

“It didn’t go through the right channels,” Fitzgerald said. “I don’t think we had the right people in the room. … As a result of that, it’s not ready for prime time.”

The bill would close the Lincoln Hills juvenile prison by 2021, move the most violent inmates into state-run prisons and put counties in charge of housing the rest.

The Assembly will have to come back into session to approve the bill if the Senate makes any changes. Republican senators were meeting privately on Wednesday to discuss that juvenile-justice plan and Walker’s other priorities. The governor planned to make his case personally with the senators during the closed-door meeting.

Walker, who is up for re-election in November, has been negotiating with lawmakers on the juvenile-justice bill, which would also close the troubled Lincoln Hills prison, provide a $100 child tax rebate and propose ways to bolster school safety in the wake of the recent  school shooting in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 dead.

Republicans, who control the Wisconsin Senate 18-14, were meeting to decide which bills have enough support on their final planned session day, which is scheduled for March 20. Walker is fighting for the tax cut, prison plan and school-safety measures to help with his re-election campaign.

State Superintendent Tony Evers, one of the most prominent Democrats running for governor, sent Walker and legislative leaders his ideas this week. They call for giving schools $50 million more to spend on security guards and counselors and services designed to reduce school violence.

The Republican-controlled Assembly approved making grants available to schools to pay for more armed guards, a proposal Walker has said he supports.

Fitzgerald said Republicans in the Senate instead want to give schools an undetermined amount of money to pay for safety improvements at school buildings.

Sen. Luther Olsen, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said Wednesday that he opposes the Assembly plan to pay for armed guards. Olsen also favors scrapping Walker’s $174 million plan to send parents a $100 per-child tax rebate and waive sales taxes for one weekend in August.

Olsen said he’d like to instead give schools about $100 million to spend as they see fit on school safety.

“It has to be substantial enough that it does some good,” he said. “Let’s invest it wisely.”

Amy Hasenberg, a spokeswoman for Walker, declined to comment on the various school-safety proposals that have been discussed. She said Walker would announce a school-safety plan before the Senate’s final session day in two weeks.

Walker’s tax-credit bill, which would impose a sales-tax holiday in August, has already passed the Assembly. But Fitzgerald said there is not enough support for the sales-tax holiday to pass the Senate.

Approving a scaled-back version would require Assembly lawmakers to meet again even though they have already officially adjourned for the year. The adoption by the Senate of a school-safety plan that’s different from the one the Assembly has approved could also lead them to return.

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