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Scott Fitzgerald: GOP lawmakers have deals on taxes, youth prison, paving way for possible end to 2018 session


Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said Tuesday that Senate Republicans had struck a deal with their Assembly counterparts on a youth prison overhaul package and a back-to-school sales tax holiday, potentially resolving two of the top issues facing state lawmakers as their 2018 business nears a close.

The Senate also will take up a school safety bill Tuesday is similar to Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal, with a few changes Fitzgerald described as “tweaks.”

“We’re working with the governor’s office and working with the Assembly to kind of put the final touches on that,” Fitzgerald said.

It was not immediately clear if the changes sought by the Senate would win approval from Walker and Republicans who control the Assembly. Assembly Republicans could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.

Fitzgerald said the deal involves a scaled-back version of the sales-tax holiday that passed the state Assembly last month. It also calls for the Senate to pass an amended version of an Assembly bill that would shutter and replace the state’s youth prison, Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls.

The Assembly convened last month for what Speaker Robin Vos said at the time was its final session of 2018. But Fitzgerald said the Assembly likely will convene an extraordinary session Thursday to give final passage to bills passed by the Senate on Tuesday.

The sales-tax holiday proposal initially was left off the calendar for Tuesday’s Senate session. Fitzgerald said the agreed-to plan for the holiday would cost the state about $12 million, compared to the $52 million pricetag for the measure that passed the Assembly.

GOP senators thought the $52 million pricetag “was too costly,” Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald said the deal with the Assembly retains provisions calling for replacing the youth prison with new, smaller facilities for juvenile offenders around the state. But it would be subject to final approval by the Legislature’s budget-writing Joint Finance Committee, he said.

Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, also confirmed Senate Republicans reached a deal with the Assembly on the youth prison bill, involving changes to a bill that passed the Assembly last month.

A Fitzgerald school safety plan released Tuesday mirrors Walker’s call to provide $100 million to the state Department of Justice to dole out grants to school districts for school safety. But it omits several provisions sought by Walker and Assembly Republicans:

  • Their call for legislation to allow schools to share surveillance video footage with law enforcement if it “serves a legitimate safety interest.” Fitzgerald said schools already are doing that and it’s unclear why a change to state law is needed.
  • A 48-hour notice requirement deadline for schools to notify parent or guardians of students that the child was involved in a bullying incident. The 48-hour requirement would apply after the incident was reported to a school district employee.
  • The stipulation that schools may use the safety grants to “employ armed school safety officers.”

The Senate also appears poised to put on hold a plan passed by the Assembly last month to offer paper giant Kimberly Clark the same tax-break deal as electronics maker Foxconn recently got to build a display-screen plant in Racine County.

Originally scheduled to be taken up by the Senate Tuesday, the bill now will be pulled from the day’s agenda, according to a spokesman for its author, Senate President Roger Roth, R-Appleton. It supporters plan to “re-evaluate once we hear from” Kimberly-Clark, according to Roth spokesman Matt Henkel.

Kimberly-Clark recently announced the closure of two factories in Neenah and Fox Crossing resulting in the loss of 600 jobs.

Heading into Tuesday’s session, which could be their final one of 2018, some Republican senators said they have sticker shock at parts of  an agenda passed by Assembly Republicans and backed by Walker.

In addition to the sales tax holiday, another bill passed by the state Assembly calls for rural economic development grants totaling $50 million.

If all the bills passed by the Assembly were passed in the Senate and signed into law, they would reduce the balance in the state’s general fund to $117 million relative to the previous projection of $385.2 million, according to a memo prepared by the Legislature’s nonpartisan fiscal bureau and released last week by Assembly Democrats.

Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, would prefer that balance be at least $200 million, according to his spokesman, Mike Mikalsen.

“The options the state Assembly sent over to us included a lot of spending,” Mikalsen said.

Mikalsen said some other Republican senator share Nass’ concerns.

Sen. David Craig, R-town of Vernon, is part of a broader concern among GOP senators about spending, according to Craig spokesman Adam Gibbs.

Assembly Republicans did not immediately respond Tuesday to a question about Senate Republicans’ spending concerns.

Here’s a closer look at some of the key issues:


Walker, heading into a re-election bid this fall, proposed giving families a $100-per-child sales tax rebate and a back-to-school sales tax holiday this August.

The Assembly passed that proposal last month.

A Senate GOP tax-cut bill would provide the $100-per child sales tax rebates but not the sales tax holiday.

Under the Assembly bill, families would receive $100 for every child living at home under 18 through a check in the mail this year. Parents would apply for the funds online and would have the option for direct deposit or to donate the amount to charity instead of receiving the money.

The proposal sets the sales tax holiday for Aug. 4 and 5. All consumers would be exempt from paying the state’s 5 percent sales tax on all retail items in stores that cost $100 or less. More expensive items would still be taxed at the normal rate.


The Assembly, in a unanimous vote last month, voted to close the state’s troubled youth prison in Irma, Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls, by 2021.

The bill would convert it to an adult correctional facility and create new, smaller facilities for juvenile offenders around the state.

A Senate Republican youth prison bill would close the prison — but instead of specifying how to replace it, it would create a committee to develop a plan to do so.

Nass is concerned with what Mikalsen described as a lack of clarity about the long-term cost of the Assembly bill.

“The Assembly version makes a lot of commitments,” Mikalsen said.

Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake have been plagued with allegations of inmate abuse and staff assaults for years, and have been under federal investigation since 2015.


Walker offered a proposal last week aimed at securing schools in the wake of recent school shootings. It would give $100 million in state grants to school districts and establish a new Office of School Safety under the state Department of Justice.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said the Assembly would convene a one-day special session to pass the measure.

Fitzgerald was slightly more circumspect, praising the bill but saying the Senate was crafting its own school safety bill that would closely align with Walker’s.

Democratic lawmakers, meanwhile, have derided Walker’s proposal for ignoring gun-control measures such as requiring universal background checks for all types of gun purchases.