Democratic Gov. Tony Evers signed more than a dozen bills into law Thursday, bringing the total number of laws he approved in his more than 10 months in office to 47.
While a time of split state government has put the brakes on the passage of major legislation, the number of laws enacted by Evers and the Republican-controlled Legislature isn’t too far behind former GOP Gov. Scott Walker in the first year of the last legislative session, when Republicans controlled both the Legislature and governor’s office.
By this time in 2017 — the first year of the 2017-18 legislative session — Walker had signed 64 bills into law.
Still, that was a relatively small number for Walker, given that by mid-November 2015 — the first year of the 2015-16 legislative session — he had signed 113 bills into law.
Neither Republican lawmakers nor Evers so far this session have enacted any major partisan initiatives.
This week, Evers signed into law a number of minor bills covering a range of topics.
Minority teacher loan program
Evers this week signed off on a bipartisan bill expanding eligibility for a forgivable loan program aimed at diversifying Wisconsin’s teaching pool. Only one college loan was awarded last school year from the program.
The state’s Minority Teacher Loan Program offers loans to African American, Latino, American Indian and certain Southeast Asian populations to attend a Wisconsin college in pursuit of a teaching degree. They can have the loans forgiven after four years of teaching by meeting certain requirements.
But limitations to the program eligibility made in the 2015-17 budget made it more difficult to qualify for the loans.
Since 2015, loan recipients had to agree to work at a public or private school only in Milwaukee, teach in a high-demand field and receive a rating of proficient or distinguished in a teacher evaluation. If the requirements were met, 25% of the interest and principal on loans were forgiven per year.
Before the changes, recipients could pursue any teaching discipline and work at a Wisconsin school with a minority student population of 29% or more — a threshold about 60 school districts meet, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
In the three school years prior to the eligibility changes taking effect, the program awarded 212 loans. Only 11 loans were awarded in the three school years after the changes, including just one in 2017-18.
Under the new law, recipients can get their loans forgiven if they work at schools composed of 40% or more students of color, which is the case in about 25 school districts, or at a tribal school, while still working in a high-demand field such as special education, math or bilingual teaching.
Most Madison schools would meet the 40% threshold.
Despite calls by some environmental groups for the legislation’s veto, Gov. Evers this week signed into law a bipartisan bill that makes it a felony to trespass on land associated with oil or gas companies and pipelines.
Supporters had said the bill would protect critical infrastructure and utility workers while also guarding the right to protest, but more than 20 environmental groups — including Midwest Environmental Advocates, the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council and the Wisconsin chapter of the Sierra Club — were opposed, arguing it would silence groups that protest pipeline projects.
Trespassing on or causing damage to an energy provider’s property is a Class H felony, punishable by six years of combined prison and extended supervision and a $10,000 fine. Under the new law, the definition of an energy provider was expanded to include gas, oil and petroleum companies, as well as the pipelines containing those fuels.
In a statement, Evers said he did not sign the bill “without any consternation or objection” and he maintains that Wisconsin’s tribal nations deserve to have their voice in state policies.
“Thus, while I am signing this bill today, I expect that moving forward members of the Legislature will engage in meaningful dialogue and consultation with Wisconsin’s Tribal Nations before developing and advancing policies that directly or indirectly affect our Tribal Nations and indigenous persons in Wisconsin,” Evers said.
Other bills signed this week include:
- The bipartisan legislation defines and creates a regulatory framework for electric bicycles. The law creates three categories of electric bicycle based on the type of motor and assistance it provides the rider; prohibits those under 16 years old from riding a Class C electric bicycle that can reach speeds up to 28 miles per hour; requires manufacturers to include classification labels on all bikes; and regulates electric bikes in the same manner as human-powered bikes, while allowing such bicycles to be banned from bike paths.
- A Republican bill that creates a five-year minimum sentence for drunken drivers who kill someone. It also provides an exemption to the minimum, should the courts find a compelling reason that the driver should receive less than five years “When someone takes the life of another, they must be given a sentence that provides justice for the family members who have lost a loved one,” bill co-author Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, said in a statement.
Miller Park tax:
- Evers’ signature will end the tax created more than 20 years ago to pay for construction of Milwaukee’s Miller Park, the home of the Brewers. The five-county 0.1% sales tax has been in effect in Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Washington, Waukesha and Racine counties since 1996 and was originally planned to end in 2014. Under the new law , the tax must end on Aug. 31. The estimated $16 million in taxes collected beyond what the stadium district needs to pay off its bonds and satisfy reserve requirements will be redistributed to the five counties for property tax relief, public safety, parks and recreation and economic development.
Verona tax :
- This new law allows the city of Verona to reimburse property taxpayers on the hook for a $135 hike in city property taxes this year due to an extra zero mistakenly added to the value of a tax incremental financing district.
- Evers signed a bill meant to alleviate youth homelessness by allowing 17-year-olds to apply for admission to a homeless shelter or transitional living program. To apply for admission to a shelter, the youth must be homeless and not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian.
- Evers signed legislation meant to increase access to immunization, especially in rural areas, by allowing properly trained pharmacists and supervised pharmacy students to administer vaccines to children of any age if the vaccine is prescribed by a doctor or is listed on the Center for Disease Control’s immunization schedule.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.