January 2018 Legislative Session Update

The 2017-18 state legislative floor session will soon draw to a close.  The session that began on January 3, 2017 is slated to end on March 22, 2018 and could conclude before then, according to reports from the Capitol.  While three two-week periods—January 16 to 25, February 13 to 22, and March 13 to 22, 2018—are designated as floorperiods, the state Senate and Assembly will not likely be on the floor more than a couple of those days.

After March 22, barring any special or limited-business sessions, legislators will be spending more time in their home districts as they prepare to campaign for reelection in the Fall. Typically, the legislature avoids taking up controversial issues in these last few months before campaign season begins and early signs are that this will hold true this session.  Seventeen of the 33 state Senate seats (the odd-numbered Senate District seats) and all 99 state Assembly seats are up for reelection in Nov. of 2018.

There are a number of K-12 education-related bills still being debated in the legislature and we wanted to bring those to your attention and update you to their status. When a Senate and Assembly bill are listed they are identical companion bills:

Assembly Bill 693 – “Teacher Protection Act” (Rep. Thiesfeldt, R-Fond du Lac)

AB 693, dubbed the “Teacher Protection Act” by its author, Education Committee Chairman Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt (R-Fond du Lac) has been referred to the Assembly Judiciary Committee chaired by Rep. Jim Ott (R-Mequon).  We are expecting a public hearing on this bill in early to mid-January.

Based on our member-approved resolutions, the WASB opposes this bill as written.  While all teachers deserve to teach in a safe environment, this bill would unnecessarily upset the administrative chain of command in schools and districts by allowing teachers to unilaterally suspend and remove students from class for up to two days without having to adhere to school board disciplinary policies, school district behavioral intervention plans, a student’s individual educational plan or a student’s service plan.

Under the bill, teachers could override a building principal’s decision to return a student to class.  The bill would also inject school boards into decisions about student suspensions that customarily have been delegated to principals and district administrators by allowing teachers to petition the school board to schedule a suspension hearing before the school board if the teacher’s written request that a pupil be suspended has been denied.

All of the major public education advocacy groups and advocates for students with disabilities oppose this bill.  There is no Senate companion bill and AB 693 has no Senate co-sponsors.

Senate Bill 236/Assembly Bill 307 – Competitive Bidding Mandate (Sen. Stroebel, R-Saukville & Rep. Brooks, R-Saukville)

SB 236, the Senate version of this bill has passed the state Senate.  AB 307, the Assembly version, had a public hearing in the Assembly Local Government Committee chaired by Rep. Ed Brooks (R-Reedsburg) but has not been voted out of committee.

These bills would statutorily mandate school districts to use competitive, sealed bidding for all construction, remodeling or maintenance projects and for the furnishing of related supplies or materials, where the estimated cost exceeds $50,000.  The WASB testified in opposition to both bills at their respective public hearings because they would take away local control and the flexibility to choose the project delivery method and the project contractor that best meet a school district’s needs.  School districts may already adopt competitive bidding requirements as a matter of board policy and many school districts have done so.  However, many other school districts currently enjoy flexibility to use a design-build procurement process or to negotiate directly with qualified local contractors for their construction and remodeling projects. This flexibility would be lost if these bills become law.

This bill is really “two bills in one” in that while it newly mandates competitive bidding on school districts, it also doubles the dollar threshold above which other local governments (counties, municipalities, etc.) must use competitive bidding–from all projects above $25,000 to those above $50,000. Thus, other local government groups are strongly supporting the bill.   As noted, Senate Bill 236 has already passed the Senate; however, Assembly Bill 307 remains in the Assembly Local Government Committee. We would like to see the bill remain in that committee for the rest of the session.

If you share our concerns, it is not too late to contact your state Assembly representative to let them know you oppose this mandate bill.

Senate Bill 402/Assembly Bill 496 – Suspension/Expulsion for Firearms (Sen. Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst & Rep. Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc)

SB 402, the Senate version of this legislation has not yet had a public hearing but is expected to in early 2018 in the Senate Judiciary & Public Safety chaired by Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine). The Assembly version, AB 496, had a public hearing in the Assembly Education Committee chaired by Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt (R-Fond du Lac).  The WASB, Rep. Joel Kleefisch, several school district administrators and others testified in favor of this local control bill.

Under current law, if a student is found in possession of a firearm on school grounds, the student must be suspended, the school must initiate the expulsion process, and, unless the school board exercises case-by-case discretion in connection with an expulsion hearing, the student must be expelled for a period of at least one year.

This bill provides local discretion to suspend or begin expulsion proceedings under specific circumstances (unloaded & encased in a locked vehicle) in which a student brings a firearm onto school grounds. The WASB initiated this bill because local school officials and law enforcement best know the pupil and the situation. Local school administrators can best make decisions related to suspension and expulsion rather than a blanket state law.