Advocacy Update for
Wisconsin Technical Colleges
July 02, 2020
2019-20 Legislative Session Wrap-Up
The end of the 2019-20 floor session came abruptly and unexpectedly, with the sudden onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the Legislature returned briefly to pass limited pandemic-response legislation, for the most part legislation has been halted. Occasional committee hearings aside, the doors to the Capitol remain locked for two more weeks. A possible July extraordinary session to wrap up the session was being floated as recently as the past two weeks, but, as of this writing, the prospect appears remote. Therefore, this update is being provided as a wrap-up for the 2019-20 Legislative Session.
State Revenues: The Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) released its January revenue re-estimates January 23, announcing that state tax collections were expected to exceed prior estimates that formed the basis of the 2019-21 state budget. LFB has since issued two subsequent memos on tax collections, in light of the COVID pandemic and subsequent economic shut down. Drastically lower tax collections were reported by the Department of Revenue, with collections down $870 million in April 2020 compared to April 2019. However, some portion of that was due to state and federal tax filing deadlines being pushed back to July 15 by state and federal COVID response legislation.
May 2020 tax collections data were down $66 million compared with May 2019, showing much greater resiliency than indicated in the April numbers and attributable primarily to a drop in sales tax collections. For the first 11 months of the 2019-20 fiscal year, in total collections were down $380 million compared to the prior year. showed some evidence of recovery, and unemployment numbers edged downward. However, LFB made clear that tax collections for the 2019-20 fiscal year will remain fuzzy until after the July 15 filing deadline, since income and franchise tax payments made by July 15 will accrue to the 2019-20 fiscal year for state budgeting purposes.
At the same time, seasonally adjusted unemployment in Wisconsin was roughly 14% in April 2020, an 11 point jump from the month prior. That marked the sharpest one-month contraction in employment since the data series began in 1976. Although continuing claims for unemployment benefits declined weekly beginning April 18, suggesting that some individuals were already returning to work, initial weekly claims through May still exceeded the average weekly peak experienced during the Great Recession.
Even as some states make draconian cuts, Wisconsin’s legislative leadership and the administration appear content to wait for the LFB’s final word on revenues, and to see whether Congress can agree to another fiscal relief package for the states. In the meantime, the Department of Administration imposed $70 million in lapses on certain state agencies by the end of the 2019-20 fiscal year (including $150,000 taken from the WTCS system office), and re-amortized some state debt, to reduce debt service payments by $66 million in 2019-20. A budget repair bill for Wisconsin could be taken up any time between August 2020 and February 2021, but the most likely timeframe appears to be following the November 2020 general election.
Wrap-up information on bills of interest to technical colleges follows.
- 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 UW Regents and WTCS 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. 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 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, but took no further action.
ACT 74 -- 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.
- ACT 147-- 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, and the Assembly concurred February 20, 2020. The bill was signed by the Governor as 2019 Act 147 on March 3, 2020.
- ACT 149 -- 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 passed the bill unanimously February 19, 2020, and the Assembly concurred the following day. The bill was signed by the Governor as 2019 Act 149 on March 3, 2020.
- ACT 47 – AB-161/SB-142 – Late payment of tuition benefits for student veterans enrolled in UW or a technical college
Introduced in April, 2019, 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 on September 30. The bill was passed by the full Senate on October 8, and the Assembly concurred on November 7. The Governor signed the bill as 2019 Act 47 on November 21.
Youth and Registered Apprenticeship
- ACT 171 -- 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, 2019, and by the full Senate 19-14 on November 5, 2019. The Assembly passed the bill on February 20, and the Governor signed it as 2019 Act 171 on March 4, 2020.
- AB-36/SB-44 – Tools of the Trade apprentice scholarships
Introduced in February 2019, 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 DBA was actively engaged in support for the bill, and SB-44 as amended passed the Senate unanimously on November 5, 2019, but did not advance past the committee stage in the Assembly.
- AB-57/SB-88 – Youth apprenticeship programs
The bill would have increased the appropriation for youth apprenticeship grants by $2,766,300, created an appropriation for $100,000 in the 2019-21 fiscal biennium for the development of youth apprenticeship curricula, and set priorities for curricula development. The Senate bill was passed out of committee on May 10, 2019, but did not advance to the floor.
- ACT 46 -- 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 10, 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, 2019.
- 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 did not advance past the committee stage.
- AB-76/SB-103 – Hours of Instructional Program for CNAs
Introduced in March, this bill would have prohibited the Department of Health Services (DHS) from requiring an instructional program to exceed the federally required minimum hours of training and clinicals for Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs). 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 of 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. However, the state government response to COVID response legislation, signed into law as Act 185 on April 15, 2020, incorporated the provisions of AB-76/SB-103, to prohibit DHS from requiring a CNA instructional program to exceed the federally required minimum total training hours or minimum clinical hours.
- 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-665 would have increased EMS funding assistance available for public, nonprofit, or volunteer ambulance providers. The Joint Finance Committee passed the bill 14-0 on February 18, 2020, but the bill did not advance.
SB-666 would have prohibited 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 did not advance beyond the committee stage.
SB-667 would have altered state staffing rules for ambulances. The bill was recommended for passage by the Assembly committee on health, but did not advance to the floor.
- AB-81/SB-89 – Licensure of dental therapists
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, 2019. The bill remains controversial with practicing dentists in Wisconsin, and did not advance beyond the committee stage.
Additional bills of interest to technical colleges:
- ACT 185 – AB-1085 – State Government Response to COVID-19 Pandemic.
Among other provisions, Act 185 provides the following: (1) CNA Instructional Hours: the Department of Health Services (DHS) is prohibited from requiring an instructional program to exceed the federally required minimum hours of training and clinicals for Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs). The current federal minimum is 75 hours of training, including 16 clinical hours. (2) Interest on Late Property Tax Payments: for property taxes payable in 2020, after making a general or case-by-case finding of hardship, a taxation district may provide that an installment payment that is due and payable after April 1, 2020, and if received after its due date does not accrue interest or penalties if the total amount due and payable in 2020 is paid on or before October 1, 2020. Interest and penalties will accrue from October 1, 2020, for any property taxes payable in 2020 that are delinquent after October 1, 2020. A county that has adopted a resolution authorizing the waiver of interest and penalties must settle any taxes, interest, and penalties collected on or before July 31, 2020, on August 20, 2020, as provided under s. 74.29 (1), and settle the remaining unpaid taxes, interest, and penalties on September 20, 2020. The August 20, 2020, settlement shall be distributed proportionally to the underlying taxing jurisdictions.
- 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. The bill was recommended for passage by the Senate Committee on Government Operations on February 12, 2020, but did advance to the floor.
- 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 and did not move forward.
- AB-13/SB-17 – Workforce training grants micro-credentials in high-demand fields
Bill was recommended for passage by the Senate committee on economic development March 28, 2019 but did not advance to the floor.
- 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 recommended for passage by the committee on economic development on March 28, 2019, but did not advance to the floor.
For more information on these matters, please contact Layla Merrifield