Wisconsin Senate ends with votes on youth prison and schools

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MADISON, Wis. – The state Senate closed Wisconsin’s two-year legislative session Tuesday night with votes on a proposal to create a new juvenile prison and Republican-backed efforts likely headed for vetoes that would destroy the Milwaukee school district and expand the state. school voucher program.

The Assembly met for the last time last week. The Senate completed work on 80 bills during a floor period that lasted more than six hours, allowing lawmakers to focus on campaigning for the fall election.

The Senate has given final approval to a bipartisan proposal that would authorize the borrowing of $42 million to build a new youth prison in Milwaukee County, the latest step in a years-long effort to close the juvenile prison in trouble from Lincoln Hills in northern Wisconsin.

The Irma facility has been the subject of allegations of prisoner abuse, sexual assault, intimidation of witnesses and tampering with records. A 2015 FBI investigation ended with no charges filed, but legal settlements with the detainees’ families cost the state Department of Corrections more than $25 million.

Four years ago, the legislature voted to close the prison, but lawmakers never found the money for a replacement facility.

Under the bill, Lincoln Hills would become a minimum-security adult prison. The measure does not specify where in Milwaukee County the new youth prison would be located, but the construction of the warrants would depend on the approval of the local government entity.

The Assembly passed the bill unanimously last week. The Senate approved the bill in a voice vote and sent it to Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who called the proposal “a step in the right direction.”

The Milwaukee School District bill calls for dividing the district into four to eight smaller districts starting in 2024. Republicans say the move would increase accountability and lead to better student performance. Opponents, including the state teachers union, say there is no guarantee the plan would lead to improved student outcomes.

The Senate passed the measure 19-12 and sent it to Evers, who will almost certainly veto it. He said on Monday the bill was “illogical” and there was no data to show it would help students.

Another bill pending final approval that also almost certainly heads for an Evers veto would expand the state’s school voucher program by eliminating income limits for applicants. The voucher program provides participants with state grants to cover private school tuition. Republicans insist the program provides options for struggling students; opponents say the state cannot afford to fund both public and private schools. The Senate approved the bill on a 20-11 vote Tuesday night. The Assembly passed the measure in February. He passes by Evers.

Other notable Republican-backed bills on the Senate agenda, all of which are vetoable, included:

– A plan to end the legal immunity of University of Wisconsin officials who interfere with free speech rights on campus. The measure is designed to pave the way for conservative speakers on campus. The Senate approved the bill on a voice vote. The Assembly adopted it last month. He passes by Evers.

– Proposals to allow parents to remove their children from school mask mandates, to require schools to offer in-person instruction and to end requirements that unvaccinated government employees submit to weekly COVID-19 tests. The Senate passed the Schools Act in a 19-11 vote and the Testing Bill in a voice vote. The Assembly adopted the measures earlier this year. They are now going to Evers.

– A bill that would require schools in the UW system to use objective criteria for admissions. The measure would outlaw criteria based on race, national origin or religion. Proponents of the bill say the current UW criteria are subjective and opaque, leaving the public no way to determine the standards a candidate must meet to be accepted. System officials say they do not test applicants based on race, ethnicity or religion. The Senate passed the measure 18-13. The Assembly approved it in February. It is now up to the governor.

— A proposal that would allow people to carry concealed weapons into churches on private school grounds. Republicans say the bill would help worshipers and security guards defend themselves against attacks. Opponents, including the Wisconsin Catholic Conference, argue the bill would only lead to gun proliferation, undermining a message of peace. The Senate passed the bill on a voice vote. The Assembly approved it in January. The measure now falls to Evers.

—A proposal that would allow parents to remove their child from a class or avoid teaching materials based on religious or personal beliefs, would give parents the right to be informed of any violence or crime occurring at school. their child’s school and give parents the right to choose the pronouns that refer to their children at school. Parents could sue schools that don’t comply. Democrats say the bill will result in banned books and lawsuits against school districts and take control away from local school boards. The Senate passed Bill 19-11. The Assembly adopted it in February. He passes by Evers.

— A bill that would enshrine the ability of police to use no-knock warrants into state law. The national debate over no-knock warrants, which allow police to storm residences without warning, has intensified in recent years. Proponents argue that the police need the element of surprise; opponents vie for the lead in violent clashes with locals. Last month, police killed Amir Locke of Minneapolis after they entered his apartment unannounced and he took a gun. The Senate passed the bill on a 20-12 vote without debate. The Assembly passed the measure in January. He passes by Evers.

The Senate also passed a constitutional amendment on Tuesday in a 20-11 vote that would strip the governor of his ability to spend federal aid and give that power to the Legislative Assembly.

Constitutional amendments must pass two consecutive legislative sessions and a statewide referendum. Tuesday’s Senate approval marked the first session the proposal passed. The next two-year session begins in January.

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Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1

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