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Legislature making dash to finish line

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Legislature plans to vote this week on several key bills that would lower insurance costs, cuts taxes and toughen welfare requirements, many of which are a part of Gov. Scott Walker’s re-election platform.

Both the Senate and Assembly were scheduled to begin the surge toward the end of session on Tuesday.

The Assembly hoped to complete its work for the year on Thursday, while the Senate plans to return for one final day of voting next month.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald earlier this month promised “chaos” as lawmakers worked to reach agreement and pass some of the most contentious issues of the year before adjourning to focus on selling what they did to voters.

Walker is seeking a third term and in the run-up to the election has proposed a bevy of tax cuts, tougher work requirements for food stamp recipients and more funding for rural schools to tout on the campaign trail.

Walker’s $200 million proposal to lower insurance premium costs for people who buy their plans in the private market under the Affordable Care Act was scheduled for votes in both the Senate and Assembly on Tuesday.

The measure received bipartisan support in the Legislature’s budget committee last week and has the backing of health insurance providers, doctors and Wisconsin’s medical community. Under the plan, the state would be authorized to seek a federal waiver to offer a reinsurance program to lower premium costs and pay for at least 50 percent of medical claims costing between $50,000 and $200,000.

Other bills up this week include:

— WELFARE OVERHAUL: Walker’s proposal to increase the work requirement for able-bodied adults on food stamps and impose it on parents for the first time is up for final approval in the Senate. A bill that would require a photo ID to use food stamps that the Assembly approved last week is not scheduled for a final Senate vote, casting doubts on whether it has the support there to pass.

— PAY RAISES: Pay raises for state employees and workers at the University of Wisconsin would increase 2 percent this year and another 2 percent in 2019 under measures slated to pass in both the Senate and Assembly.

— JUVENILE JUSTICE: The Assembly is expected to vote Wednesday on a plan that would close the troubled Lincoln Hills juvenile prison by mid-2020, put the most serious offenders in state prisons and have counties house the rest. Counties have raised concerns about the plan’s cost and how it would work, and Fitzgerald has questioned whether a final deal can be reached this year. Walker has said it’s imperative the Legislature act before ending the session.

— ATTRACTING WORKERS: The Assembly is considering Walker’s $6.8 million plan to market Wisconsin to young workers in the Midwest, specifically the Twin Cities and Detroit. The measure has broad support among Wisconsin’s business and hospitality industries. But Democrats have dismissed it, saying Walker’s policies have driven millennials out of the state and a marketing campaign won’t bring them back.

— ABORTION: The Senate is scheduled to give final approval to a bill that would prohibit state health insurance programs from covering abortions for state workers. The bill would allow coverage for abortions only in cases of rape or incest or to save the mother’s life. State health insurance plans currently cover only medically necessary abortions. But state law doesn’t define a medically necessary abortion and the bill’s sponsors want to remove any ambiguity. Twenty-one states already have similar laws. It passed the Assembly in November.

— WETLANDS: The Senate is slated to give final approval to on Tuesday to a bill that would let developers fill portions of urban and rural wetlands without a state permit. The proposal, which conservation groups oppose, would allow developers to fill up to an acre per parcel of urban wetlands and up to three acres per parcel of rural wetlands without permits.

— CHILD CREDIT: The Assembly plans to vote on Walker’s plan to give every family $100 for each school-aged child living at home and create a sales-tax holiday in August. Senate Republicans have previously opposed similar sales tax holidays. It isn’t expected to consider the bill until March.

— SCHOOL AID: About 100 low-spending school districts could raise property taxes without a vote and $6.5 million in additional aid would go to the state’s most sparsely populated districts under a bill up for final approval in the Senate.

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