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Walker optimistic on juvenile justice, not ‘alcohol czar’

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker said Wednesday he’s confident that his legislative priorities, including a tax rebate for people with children, an overhaul of the juvenile justice-system and a new work requirements for food-stamp recipients, will pass before the session ends next month.

But Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald repeated concerns that the juvenile-justice proposal was too much for the Legislature to get done this year, saying lawmakers may only put the “structure” in place and leave the carrying out of the plan for later. He added that a proposed sales-tax holiday, which Walker also has among his priorities, remains “up in the air.”

Walker is pushing the Legislature to pass a long series of policies in the final days of the legislative session this year. The Assembly expects to complete its work next week. The Senate, for its part, plans to meet only on Tuesday and one day in March.

Walker’s priorities calling adding to the work requirements that already apply to recipients of food stamps, setting up a new juvenile-prison structure, giving parents a $100 tax rebate for every on of their child and shoring up the private health-insurance market.

Walker, meanwhile, isn’t showing much enthusiasm for a bill that would appoint an “alcohol czar” to head up an office of alcohol-law enforcement. That idea, put forward on Tuesday by Fitzgerald, drew strong opposition on Wednesday from MillerCoors.

“He’s throwing the idea out, I don’t know how far it’s going to go,” Walker said of Fitzgerald’s proposal.

Fitzgerald argues that current laws covering the manufacturing, distribution and selling of alcohol in Wisconsin aren’t being adequately enforced by the Department of Revenue, necessitating the new position and office.

“It’s the wild, wild west when it comes to alcohol regulation and how the product is moved,” Fitzgerald told reporters on Wednesday.

MillerCoors, in a letter to members of the Legislature on Wednesday, came out forcefully against the proposal.

“The Department of Revenue has been effectively and efficiently regulating alcohol in this state since prohibition and this change is unnecessary,” said Paul Lucas, a lobbyist for MillerCoors.

MillerCoors is not aware of any enforcement deficiencies that Fitzgerald was talking about, Lucas said. But if they exist, Lucas argued there is a simpler, less expensive way to deal with them than setting up the new office that Fitzgerald proposed.

The proposed “alcohol czar” bill was scheduled for a public hearing on Thursday. It was unclear, though, whether it would have enough support to pass the Assembly. Republican Speaker Robin Vos said on Tuesday the proposal “could be a big lift.”

Walker’s priorities that still need to be taken up by the Legislature include:

— A bill to close the troubled Lincoln Hills juvenile prison, move serious offenders into state-run prisons and have counties house less serious offenders. The proposal is up for a public hearing on Thursday. Fitzgerald said, “That’s a heavy lift in the amount of time we have” but he was hopeful something would pass. He said the Legislature could put a structure in place this session and execute the plan next session, but didn’t elaborate. Walker said he would work with lawmakers on “tweaks” but “nothing that’s going to dramatically alter the concept.”

— A proposal to make various changes to the state’s welfare policies. One of the change would add to the work requirements that food-stamp recipients now must meet. Another would require recipients to show a photo ID before receiving their benefits. Fitzgerald said the Senate supports the proposed changes.

— A proposal that would both provide a $100 per-child tax rebate and institute a sales-tax holiday for the first weekend in August. Fitzgerald said the sales-tax holiday part if the bill was “up in the air” because of its $50 million price tag. Walker said he thought there was public support for the idea, but in a nod to the opposition, said “at a minimum, our hope is we’ll get a child tax credit.”

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