MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin's next two-year legislative session starts Monday with Gov. Scott Walker and lawmakers taking their oaths of office. Here are some key things to know about the session and issues lawmakers expect to take up:
REPUBLICANS ARE STILL RUNNING THE SHOW
Republicans will control state government for the third straight session after Walker won a second term in November and the GOP expanded their majorities in the Assembly and the Senate. Rep. Robin Vos of Rochester will serve a second straight stint as Assembly speaker. Sen. Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau will return to lead Senate Republicans for the third straight session. Rep. Peter Barca of Kenosha will lead Assembly Democrats and Sen. Jennifer Shilling of La Crosse will head up Senate Democrats, but both groups will be all but powerless.
One of Republicans' first jobs will be developing the 2015-17 state budget, a spending outline for state agencies. Walker will introduce an initial plan early in the year and the Legislature's finance committee will spend months revising it before the full Assembly and Senate approve it. The state faces a $2.2 billion deficit, which will make it more difficult for Walker to enact property tax cuts he promised while campaigning. Republicans also will have to figure out how to pay for road construction; the state Department of Transportation wants $751 million in higher gas taxes and fees to plug its own budget gap. This budget is especially crucial for Walker. He's mulling a 2016 presidential run and the spending plan represents his last, best opportunity for achievements that might play well on the campaign trail in Iowa.
MORE UNION STRIFE?
Four years removed from massive protests in Madison over Walker's law stripping public employees of almost all their collective bargaining rights, Republican lawmakers are mulling right-to-work legislation. Such laws prohibit unions from requiring private sector workers join them or pay dues as a condition of employment. Rep. Chris Kapenga of Delafield has promised to introduce such a bill, raising the specter of more protests. Fitzgerald has said he thinks the Legislature should move on the issue quickly. Walker has said he wants the Legislature to focus on his agenda, not right-to-work, but he hasn't said he would veto the legislation.
Republicans are looking to loosen or eliminate enrollment caps on the state's private school voucher program, which gives students subsidies for private schools. The program is now capped at 1,000 kids in schools participating outside of Milwaukee and Racine.
Vos has repeatedly said he wants to overhaul the Government Accountability Board, the nonpartisan panel that oversees Wisconsin elections, ethics, lobbying and campaign finance law. A number of Republican lawmakers want to shift back to a more partisan model.
SORTING IT ALL OUT
The Legislature's newly revamped website, http://legis.wisconsin.gov/, allows visitors to watch bills' progress, search committee and floor period schedules and follow floor debates in almost real time. The site also offers links to bills from previous sessions, lawmakers' biographies and their contact information, state statutes and a database of lobbyists.