Legislative Update for
Wisconsin Technical Colleges
February 5, 2020
February Legislative Update
The Assembly and Senate are each tentatively planning two more floor session days this spring, with one additional “clean up” day possible, along with a possible veto override day. Floor periods typically finish early in even-numbered years, leaving additional time to campaign leading into the fall elections.
The Legislative Fiscal Bureau released its January revenue re-esimates January 23rd, announcing that state tax collections are expected to exceed prior estimates by $818 million. Under current law, half that amount must be deposited in the state’s budget stabilization or “rainy day” fund. Other changes to non-tax receipts and net appropriations meant a positive change to the estimated ending balance of $451.9 million by June 30, 2021. Including the previously budgeted ending balance, a total of $620.2 million is projected to be the closing net general fund balance.
In response to the news, the majority caucuses in each house huddled to determine how to expend the larger-than-expected balance. A number of options for tax reductions are being considered, along with a handful of relatively small increases in expenditures for oversubscribed state programs. In particular, there are calls for additional funding aimed at supporting the state’s beleaguered dairy industry.
In other news, Governor Evers visited Waukesha County Technical College to announce the creation of his Student Debt Task Force, aimed at strategies to contain education-related debt, even as student debt amongst Wisconsin residents climbed to an estimated $24 billion. System President Morna Foy or her designee will sit on the task force, along with the UW System President, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, and several cabinet secretaries.
Updates on the progress of bills of interest to technical colleges can be found below.
- AB-444/SB-403 – Requirements for free speech policies in the UW System and WTCS: As introduced, the bill applied only to UW institutions, but a substitute amendment (ASA-1 to AB 444) was subsequently introduced by Reps. Dave Murphy and Cody Horlacher, and Sen. Chris Kapenga in the Senate, to make it applicable to technical colleges. ASA-1 to AB-444 is extremely prescriptive, specifically supersedes all local college policies on free speech, and requires suspension or expulsion of students who violate the policy.
This bill requires both the Board of Regents of the UW System and the Technical College System Board to adopt a policy on free expression that applies at each UW institution and technical college and supersedes and nullifies any prior policies or rules restricting free expression, and requires the policy to be adopted no later than 120 days after the bill's effective date. The policy must contain statements regarding the following: 1) that the primary function of a UW institution or technical college is the discovery, improvement, transmission, and dissemination of knowledge; 2) that it is not the proper role of a UW institution or technical college to shield individuals from speech protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution; 3) that students and faculty have the freedom to discuss any problem as permitted by the First Amendment and within specified limits; 4) that any person lawfully present on campus may protest or demonstrate, but may not engage in conduct that materially and substantially disrupts another's expressive activity in a campus space reserved for that activity under the exclusive control of a particular group; 5) that campuses are open to invited speakers; 6) that public areas are public forums and open on the same terms to any speaker; and 7) that UW institutions and technical colleges may not take action on public policy controversies in such a way that requires students or faculty to publicly express a given view of social policy.
The policy must include a range of disciplinary sanctions for anyone under a UW institution's or technical college's jurisdiction who engages in violent or other disorderly conduct that materially and substantially disrupts the free expression of others. The bill also requires the boards to make annual reports to the legislature and governor that describe institutional neutrality, free expression barriers and disruptions, and administrative handling and discipline relating to those barriers and disruptions. Before a legislative standing committee can take any action regarding a report, the bill requires the committee to hold a public hearing. The bill also requires all technical college instructors to receive annual training on the policy.
The Assembly higher education committee held a hearing at UW-Oshkosh on December 12, 2019, and the bill as amended was recommended for passage January 31. The Senate held a public hearing on January 22.
- AB-361/SB-334 – Requirements for colleges when service members are called into active duty: Introduced August 8, the bill provides administrative protections to students who withdraw from a college or university because they are called to active military service for any period of time. Under current law, students receive these protections only if they are called to active duty for a period of 30 days or more. The Assembly held a public hearing on September 12, and it passed out of committee November 4. The Senate held a public hearing on September 25, and passed the bill out of committee October 16. It was passed by the full Senate November 5. The Assembly concurred January 15, and the bill was signed by the Governor as 2019 Act 74 on January 22, 2020.
- AB-230/SB-205 – Transferring academic credits from military transcripts to UW System schools and technical colleges: Introduced on May 8, this bill allows a student enrolled in a UW school or technical college who served in the military to object to the transfer of academic credit from the student’s military transcript to the UW school or technical college. Current law generally requires our institutions to accept all American Council on Education recommendations included in the joint services transcript, and accept all credits included in a Community College of the Air Force transcript, and award academic credit accordingly. The bill received a Senate hearing September 25 and passed out of committee October 16. It passed the full Senate November 5. The Assembly held a hearing January 23, 2020, and recommended passage January 31. The bill awaits scheduling for a floor vote.
- AB-684/SB-537 – Veteran-related tuition grants for certain veterans and dependents enrolled in WAICU member institutions: The bill, introduced on October 31, 2019, creates a private college and university grant, somewhat equivalent to the veterans tuition remissions program that is available to certain veterans, spouses, and dependents to attend WTCS and UW institutions tuition-free. Under the new program, after applying federal education assistance, the state would pay a grant equal to the lesser of $2,000 or 50% of the difference between federal assistance and tuition charged. The private college or university would be required to match the amount of the state grant. The bill appropriates $2,500,000 annually beginning in 2020-21. The Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (WAICU) and several member institutions have registered in favor. The Senate higher education committee held a hearing on December 4, 2019, and a paper ballot executive session recommended the bill for passage on January 9, 2020. The Assembly committee on colleges and universities held a public hearing on January 23.
- AB-161/SB-142 – Late payment of tuition benefits for student veterans enrolled in UW or a technical college: Introduced in April, the bill would conform state law to federal requirements that no college or university charge late fees or penalties to students whose federal veterans tuition benefits are paid after the school’s tuition payment deadline. The bill received a Senate hearing on August 27, and an Assembly hearing on September 12, with executive action by the Senate Committee September 30th. The bill was passed by the full Senate on October 8th, and the Assembly concurred on November 7th. The Governor signed the bill as 2019 Act 47 on November 21.
- AB-72/SB-72 – Requiring occupational areas to be included in the Youth Apprenticeship program: The bill, introduced in March, requires the Department of Workforce Development to include all 16 identified career clusters under the youth apprenticeship program. DWD currently maintains a list of approved youth apprenticeships in an array of career clusters supported by employers, but current law does not specify required clusters. The bill was passed by the Senate workforce committee on May 10, and passed the full Senate 19-14 on November 5. A public hearing was held in the Assembly on September 24 and the bill was recommended for passage on January 28, 2020. It now awaits scheduling in the Assembly.
- AB-36/SB-44 – Tools of the Trade apprentice scholarships: Introduced in February, the bill would create a program to provide up to $100,000 annually in grants to financially needy technical college students for tools, equipment, and clothing required for their apprenticeship. The program is modeled on the private Tools of the Trade scholarship, created and funded by the Ascendium Education Group, which has helped more than 1,000 Wisconsin apprentices complete their education over the past six years. The bill received public hearings in both the Assembly and Senate workforce development committees in March. SB-44 as amended passed the Senate unanimously on November 5 and awaits Assembly action.
- AB-57/SB-88 – Youth apprenticeship: Bill was passed out of committee on May 10, 2019, and awaits further action.
- AB-189/SB-165 – Transferability of courses between WTCS, the UW System, private and tribally-controlled colleges: The bill was introduced in April, and coauthors Repr. Mark Born and Sen. Duey Stroebel worked with both the UW System and WTCS to refine the legislation over the course of several months, finally arriving at a bill both systems could support. As amended, the bill expands the list of universally accepted general education courses from a minimum of 30 credits to a minimum of 72 credits, and requires a joint report to the Legislature on program to program articulation agreements from UW and WTCS. The bill passed the Assembly on a voice vote on October 10th, with one member requesting to be recorded as a no vote. The Senate unanimously concurred on November 5. The Governor signed the bill into law as 2019 Act 46 on November 21.
- AB-371/SB-342 – Uniform course numbering and the transfer of course credits among technical colleges and University of Wisconsin System schools and eliminating certain restrictions on the UW System and WTCS: Introduced in August, the bill received a public hearing in Assembly Colleges and Universities on September 12, 2019. It would require implementation of a uniform course numbering system between UW and WTCS within five years, under which courses with the same number would automatically transfer between and among all institutions. The bill would also delete s. 36.31(1) of the statutes, which is the section that prohibits transfer programs at most technical colleges without Board of Regents approval, and prohibits UW institutions from “broadening the system’s post-high school training mission to include the preparation of persons for semiprofessional or skilled-trade occupations” without approval of the WTCS Board. Unfortunately, uniform course numbering implementation at this stage would be quite complex and costly. The bill is not expected to move forward.
- AB-76/SB-103 – Hours of Instructional Program for CNAs: Introduced in March, this bill prohibits the Department of Health Services from requiring an instructional program to exceed the federally required minimum hours of training and clinicals for Certified Nursing Assistants. The current federal minimum is 75 hours of training, including 16 clinical hours. The bill enjoyed bipartisan support, supported by a coalition of health care associations operating in Wisconsin. Due to a shortage of CNAs, long term care providers in particular sought to lower Wisconsin’s required training hours from 120 hours to the federal minimum 75 hours. The bill passed the Assembly on a vote of 66 to 31, on May 15. The Senate concurred on November 5, but the bill was vetoed by the Governor on November 20, 2019. The Assembly attempted to override that veto during its January floor session, but fell three votes short of the 66 votes necessary to form a two-thirds majority.
- Senator Howard Marklein introduced a series of bills on January 8, 2020, aimed at improving access and talent supply to EMS services, including Senate Bills 665, 666, and 667. SB-666 prohibits the Department of Health Services from requiring an applicant to register with or take the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) examination in order to become certified as an emergency medical responder. However, an employer would be permitted to require the NREMT registration and/or examination as a condition of employment. The bill received a Senate hearing on January 23.
- AB-81/SB-89 – Bill received a public hearing August 21 in the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services. The bill received a public hearing in the Assembly committee on Medicaid reform and oversight on December 18.
Additional bills of interest to technical colleges:
- SB-612 – Increasing the minimum retirement age under the WRS: The bill would increase the minimum retirement age under the Wisconsin Retirement System from 55 to the greater of age 59.5 or the age at which the IRS does not penalize taking a distribution from a 401(k) plan. It would first apply to individuals under age 40 on the bill’s effective date. The bill would also allow an annuitant who is hired by a WRS employer to elect not to suspend his or her annuity for no more than 36 months. Finally, the bill reduces the waiting period to 45 days for recent retirees who return to covered employment as a participating employee. While intended in part to alleviate teacher shortages by allowing retired teachers to return to work, the bill has drawn nearly uniform opposition from K-12 education advocacy groups. It received public hearings on January 29, 2020, in the Senate committee on government operations and the Assembly committee on state affairs.
- LRB-3579/P1 – Popular election of members of technical college boards: The draft, which would restructure technical college district boards to be elected at-large rather than appointed based on a representation plan, was circulated for co-sponsorship September 5, but was not formally introduced as a bill. The proposal has not moved forward.
- AB-13/SB-17 – Workforce training grants micro-credentials in high-demand fields: Bill was passed out of the Senate committee March 28, 2019. It received a public hearing in the Assembly March 6, 2019.
- AB-23/SB-16 – Career and technical education incentive grants: Bill received a public hearing March 6, 2019 in the Assembly. In the Senate, it was passed out of committee March 28, 2019.
For more information on these efforts, please contact Layla Merrifield.