Assembly passes two school safety bills
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Assembly Republicans passed two school safety packages Thursday despite complaints from Democrats that neither goes far enough and GOP leaders are just trying to give their members campaign talking points.
School safety issues have weighed heavily on the Legislature since last month's mass shooting at a Florida high school left 17 people dead. About 3,000 students rallied at the state Capitol last week demanding tighter gun restrictions, putting Republicans who support gun rights in a political quandary.
Two days after the rally, Gov. Scott Walker introduced legislation that would hand schools $100 million for security upgrades, require mandatory child abuse reporters to report school threats to police and require schools to develop safety plans and drill their students on them annually.
The state Senate passed its own plan Tuesday that closely mirrors Walker's proposals. That legislation includes the $100 million for security upgrades but removes Walker's proposal to allow schools to share surveillance footage with police — Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said schools already can do that — and his mandate that schools notify parents of bullying incidents within 48 hours.
The Assembly passed the Senate plan on a 78-8 vote Thursday evening. It goes next to Walker for his signature.
Republicans also adopted two additional school safety bills on voice votes. One would require the state Department of Justice to conduct background checks on long-gun buyers. Currently the DOJ conducts handgun background checks and the federal government conducts long-gun checks. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said the DOJ consults a broader range of state databases than its federal counterparts, casting a wider net to catch people who shouldn't possess guns.
"We're trying to look at the real root of the problem," Vos said.
The other bill resurrects Walker's language allowing school boards to share surveillance footage with police.
Both bills would establish an online hotline for reporting bullying and prohibit attackers from profiting off their stories.
Those bills now go to the Senate. Their fate is uncertain. Both houses must pass identical bills before they can go to the governor and the Senate wrapped up its two-year session on Tuesday. Fitzgerald refused to commit Thursday to reconvening to take up the proposals.
Democrats spent more than three hours railing against all three bills. They said none of the measures go far enough because they don't impose gun restrictions. Democratic Minority Leader Gordon Hintz ridiculed the background check measure as "the DOJ double-check," imitating Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers' signature championship belt celebration in front of reporters.
"It just shows you what cowards they are," Hintz said. "This is the best they can do?"
Democrats charged that Fitzgerald will never bring the Senate back and the DOJ long-gun checks are merely designed to make Republicans look good in front of their constituents as they campaign this summer.
"You're just sitting there talking into thin air," Democratic Rep. Fred Kessler said. "(Students) marched because there's a proliferation of guns and it cost their friends and colleagues their lives. You're never going to have the guts to deal with the important things like background checks, like the 48-hour waiting period, because you're afraid of special interests."
Republicans acknowledged the bills are merely a start. Republican Rep. Dale Kooyenga said neither party has a clear solution to school shootings but Democrats aren't helping Republicans face evil like Americans.
"We don't challenge each other's courage," Kooyenga said.
In other matters Thursday, the Assembly unanimously passed an $80 million bill to close Wisconsin's troubled youth prison by 2021 and replace it with smaller regional facilities. That bill now goes to Walker for his signature.
The Assembly also passed Walker's plan to give parents a one-time $100 per-child tax rebate and establish a sales tax holiday on the first weekend in August. That measure cleared the chamber on a 59-31 vote and now goes to the governor for his signature.