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Wisconsin Assembly OKs closing prison, tax rebate

By TODD RICHMOND
Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin lawmakers finished their push on Thursday to close the state’s troubled youth prison and enact Gov. Scott Walker’s child-tax rebate, sending bills that would accomplish both goals on to the governor for his signature.

The $80 million prison bill calls for closing the Lincoln Hills/Copper Lake Schools outside Irma by 2021 and replacing it with smaller, regional prisons.

The bill cleared the Assembly unanimously in February and the Senate passed it unanimously on Tuesday. The proposal had to come back to the Assembly for a final vote, though, after the Senate included new language that required the Legislature’s budget committee to sign off on any spending on new prison after Lincoln Hills closes. Both chambers must pass an identical bill before it can go to the Walker.

The Assembly passed the bill unanimously again Thursday with almost no debate.

“This was a prime opportunity for people to put aside their differences and work for the common good,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said.

The tax-rebate bill would hand parents a $100 per-child tax rebate and establish a sales tax holiday on the first weekend in August. The bill was among the priorities set out by Walker, who faces re-election in November.

The Assembly passed the bill in February and the Senate followed suit on Tuesday.

Senate Republicans scaled the measure back, subtracting from the list of items that would be exempted from sales taxes. The list would now include clothing costing less than $75, computers that cost less than $750, computer supplies costing less than $250 and school supplies costing no more than $75. Senate Republicans said the changes would save the state $38 million worth of revenue.

The revisions meant the Assembly had to vote again. Democrats railed against the bill on the floor Thursday, blasting it as an election-year gimmick and arguing that Republicans should spend money on higher education rather than tax rebates.

Republicans countered that people would be grateful to have even a little extra money in their pockets to pay baby sitters, buy school supplies and pay the rent.

“It’s the best damn gimmick I ever heard,” GOP Rep. Dave Murphy said.

The chamber ultimately passed the bill 59-31. It goes next to Walker.

The governor issued a statement thanking the Legislature for passing both bills.

The Assembly was also scheduled on Thursday to consider a proposal that would provide $100 million to schools for security improvements. The Senate passed the bill on Tuesday. The Assembly’s approval would send the bill to the governor.

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