2009 Dec. 2: WI Legis. may have special session Dec. 16 (Ind. DNR veto override vote may be on schedule)

2009 Dec. 2: WI Legis. may have special session Dec. 16 (Ind. DNR override vote may be on schedule)

 

Wis. lawmakers may have special session this month

By SCOTT BAUER
Associated Press Writer

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin lawmakers appeared Wednesday to be close to a deal on a bill to toughen the state’s drunken driving laws, and it could be passed in two weeks during a special session.

The Legislature isn’t scheduled to return until January, but leaders of the Assembly and Senate said Wednesday that lawmakers would likely come back Dec. 16. No agenda has been set, said Becky Sweeney, spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan.

State senators are close to a deal on a drunken driving bill, but that’s the only issue they appear ready to debate, said Carrie Lynch, a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker, D-Weston.

The Legislature left a number of issues unresolved when it adjourned in November. One of the largest was a much ballyhooed strengthening of the state’s drunken driving laws.

The Senate and Assembly – both controlled by Democrats – each passed their own versions of the bill.

The biggest difference between them was in funding. The Senate bill would have required drunken drivers and other convicted criminals to pay new fees to cover the cost of tougher enforcement. The Assembly bill would not.

The two lawmakers working on reaching a compromise – Sen. Jim Sullivan, D-Wauwatosa, and Rep. Tony Staskunas, D-West Allis – did not immediately return calls Wednesday seeking comment.

Both bills would criminalize first-offense drunken driving if someone under age 16 were in the car. Otherwise, it would remain a traffic offense. Wisconsin is the only state in the country where that is the case.

The bills also would make a fourth offense a felony if it occurs within five years of the previous offense – significantly toughen Wisconsin’s law. Currently, Wisconsin is one of only two states where drunken driving isn’t a felony until the fifth offense.

The proposals also would require ignition interlock devices for all repeat offenders and for first-time offenders who have a blood alcohol level of more than .15 percent, nearly double the legal limit of .08.

It didn’t appear that lawmakers were prepared to tackle other issues, including what to do about Milwaukee schools. Gov. Jim Doyle and some Milwaukee Democrats support an overhaul plan that would give control to the mayor, Democrat Tom Barrett. They argue the change would improve schools and help Wisconsin qualify for part of the nearly $4.5 billion in federal Race to the Top grant money.

But other Milwaukee Democrats have introduced a counterproposal that shakes up the district’s leadership but does not give the mayor control.

Doyle’s spokesman Lee Sensenbrenner did not immediately return e-mail and phone messages seeking comment.

Wisconsin and Minnesota lawmakers also have been trying to reach agreement on reviving a tax reciprocity deal that allows residents living in one state and working in the other to file one tax return. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty canceled the deal in September because Wisconsin wouldn’t agree to speed up its payments to Minnesota.

It’s unclear whether the Assembly would attempt to override Doyle’s veto of a bill that would strip the governor of the power to appoint the state Department of Natural Resources secretary and hand it instead to the Natural Resources Board.

The bill’s author, Rep. Spencer Black, D-Madison, said Democrats still have to discuss an override try among themselves.

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