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Legislative Update

Updates on key bills affecting K-12 education

by | Feb 14, 2020 | Legislative Update Blog, State Issue | 0 comments

The 2019-20 legislative session is nearing its final stages. The state Assembly plans to meet twice—on Tuesday (2/18) at 1:00 p.m. and again on Thursday (2/20) and then adjourn for the year. The Senate plans to meet on Wednesday (2/19) next week and likely once more in March before adjourning.

The pace of legislative activity inside the Capitol has really picked up within last few weeks. Despite the short window for getting bills passed, lawmakers are still introducing new bills, and some of those are receiving committee hearings and being scheduled for floor votes, while many others likely will not advance. Numerous bills that had been previously introduced and been given hearings are at long last being voted out of committee, often with amendments. It can be a challenge to keep up with the flurry of activity. To help you, we’ve compiled a short non-exhaustive list of some of the bills that have drawn our attention.

Recent legislative activity on these bills affecting K-12 education include: Bills the WASB supports:

Assembly Bill 908 requires the DPI, for purposes of measuring a district’s improvement on school district report cards, to exclude data derived from a juvenile detention facility or secured residential care center for children and youth if 50 percent or more of the pupils residing at the facility do not reside there for the entire school term.

AB 908 has been reported out of committee with a unanimous (8-0) recommendation for passage. It is available to be scheduled for a floor vote.

The WASB supports this bill. The 2020 WASB Delegate Assembly passed a resolution proposed by the Franklin Board of Education that supports the concept detailed in this bill.

Senate Bill 364 would raise the legal age for sale, purchase, and possession of cigarettes and nicotine and tobacco products from 18 to 21, establish 21 as the new legal age for sale, purchase, and possession of vapor products, and provide penalties for those who violate these new legal age requirements.

Unfortunately, this bill has not yet received a hearing in the Senate Committee.

The WASB supports this bill because of WASB Resolution 6.02 which supports “learning environments free of tobacco, nicotine and vaping products and devices.” Unlike the companion bill (Assembly Bill 422,which has been amended—see below) this bill has not been watered down and the WASB still supports it.

Senate Bill 612 and Assembly Bill 670 are companion bills aimed at addressing Wisconsin’s teacher supply issues by allowing teachers who have retired and are receiving a pension from the Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS) to return to teaching for up to 3 full years without having to suspend receiving pension payments. These bills would also increase the earliest age at which a general employee or teacher covered by the WRS could receive a WRS pension payment from 55 to 59.5 years of age. This latter provision applies only to WRS covered employees who are under age 40 at the time this bill becomes law.

Both bills have been reported out of committee in each house of the Legislature with a favorable, albeit party-line vote, recommending passage. Both bills are available to be scheduled for a floor vote.

(The WASB supports both bills based on resolutions adopted by the WASB Delegate Assembly.)

Bills on which the WASB is neutral or took no position:

Senate Bill 688 and Assembly Bill 737 are companion bills that specify that an application submitted to a nonresident school board for a pupil to attend a virtual charter school does not count against the limit (currently 3 in one year) on the number of nonresident school boards to which parents may apply to have their child attend under the full-time open enrollment program.

Both bills have been voted out of committee with a unanimous recommendation for passage. Assembly Bill 737 is on Tuesday’s Assembly floor calendar. Senate Bill 688 has not yet been scheduled for floor action.

(The WASB is neutral (took no official position) with respect to these bills.)

Senate Bill 423 and Assembly Bill 476 would address lead in school drinking water by requiring testing and, if necessary, requiring that contaminated water sources be taken offline and replaced with clean water sources. However, the bill provides no state funding for this purpose and leaves it to schools and communities to address the costs associated with these mandates, which are largely unknown. As amended, the bill provides an exception to referendum restrictions for referendums related solely to lead remediation.

The WASB worked with the primary author of Senate Bill 423 to make several improvements to the bill, including changing the required testing cycle from once every three years to once every five years, but was not able to secure a guaranteed funding source for mitigation. The WASB and others were able to secure an additional referendum opportunity for lead mitigation as well as provisions allowing the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands to issue low-interest State Trust Fund loans to school districts for lead mitigation and requiring key state agencies to seek federal funding to address lead contamination.

Senate Bill 423 was voted out of committee with a unanimous (5-0) vote recommending passage and is available to be scheduled for Senate floor action. The report of the Speaker’s Task Force on Water Quality endorsed Senate Bill 423; however, Assembly Bill 476 has still not received a public hearing.

The WASB remains neutral on these bills. While we recognize the important interest in protecting schoolchildren’s we would have preferred that this mandate come with state funding attached. One of the unresolved questions about this bill is: “What does a school district do if remediation costs are substantial but the voter referendum fails?”

Assembly Bill 810 would create an 11-member school district and school financial information transparency advisory committee to advise the DPI on the creation and design of the financial information portal to assist members of the public in understanding school funding and school district finances. This advisory committee would submit a report to DPI by no later than April 15, 2021, on the recommended contents and design of the financial information portal. Beginning in the 2022-23 school year, the DPI would be required to make detailed information about receipts and expenditures collected through the uniform accounting system (WUFAR) and other financial information collected by the DPI available on a single web page of the DPI’s web site in a format that allows the public to download, sort, search, and access the information at no cost.

As amended by Assembly Substitute Amendment 1 to the bill, the WASB would nominate one representative to this advisory committee to be appointed by the state superintendent. In addition, the Assembly Speaker would appoint a rural school board member to the committee and Senate Majority Leader would appoint an urban school board member to the committee. The Governor would appoint a CESA representative. (No school administrators or school business officials would be appointed to this committee under the bill in its current form, which we believe is unfortunate.)

Senate Bill 744 and Assembly Bill 816 are companion bills that require the state superintendent to incorporate the Holocaust and other genocides into the model academic standards for social studies and to develop model curricula and instructional materials on the same subject.

The bills also require each school board, independent charter school, and private voucher school to include instruction on the Holocaust and other genocides in its curriculum at least once in grades 5 to 8 and once in grades 9 to 12.

Assembly Bill 816 was reported out of committee with a recommendation for passage by a unanimous (14-0) vote.

Bills the WASB opposes:

Senate Bill 705 and Assembly Bill 779 are companion bills to require school boards to allow pupils who reside in their district but attend a virtual charter school to participate in interscholastic athletics and extracurricular activities in the district. The bill also prohibits school districts from being members of an interscholastic athletic association (e.g., the WIAA) unless the association requires school district members to allow homeschooled pupils and virtual charter school pupils residing in a school district to participate in school district athletics.

AB 779 has been reported out of committee. Senate Bill 705 has not yet had a committee hearing.

(The WASB opposes both provisions of these bills based on member-approved WASB resolutions. Former Gov. Walker used his partial veto power to veto language similar to the latter provision (the one regarding WIAA membership) from the 2015-17 state budget.)

Assembly Bill 422, in its original form, would have, just like its companion bill Senate Bill 364, raised the legal age for sale, purchase, and possession of cigarettes and nicotine and tobacco products from 18 to 21, established 21 as the new legal age for sale, purchase, and possession of vapor products, and provided penalties for those who violate these new legal age requirements.

However, AB 422 was amended (by Assembly Substitute Amendment 1) to make the following changes:

  • Instead of raising Wisconsin’s minimum sales age for tobacco to 21 as in the original bill, the amended bill ties Wisconsin’s minimum sales age to the federal minimum sales age, which is currently 21 as the result of recently enacted changes to federal law. (The WASB supports this change.)
  • The amended bill excludes “vapor products.” Vapor products were included in the original bill but are not included in the substitute amendment, which uses a federalized definition that would exclude vapor products and devices if the cartridges used in the device do not contain nicotine. Vapor products were defined in the 2019-2021 budget) as a noncombustible product that produces vapor or aerosol for inhalation from the application of a heating element, regardless of whether the liquid or other substance contains nicotine.

Our reading of WASB Resolution 6.02, which states “The WASB supports learning environments free of tobacco, nicotine and vaping products and devices,” is that the goal expressed in that language is to remove vaping products and devices from schools. The amended bill, in our view, no longer accomplishes this goal.

Testimony from school principals, school board members and others at the public hearing on Assembly Bill 422 told us that vaping is more than a distraction that disrupts the learning environment is schools, it is a health concern of increasing proportions. Including all vapor products in this law, even those without nicotine, is important for two reasons. First, nicotine is not the only harmful substance in vapor products. Users breathe in other chemicals, including diacetyl (a chemical linked to a serious lung disease), cancer-causing chemicals, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and heavy metals such as nickel, tin, and lead. Youth should not have free access to these products, in school or elsewhere, whether or not they contain nicotine.

Additionally, there will be enforcement challenges if nicotine and non-nicotine vaping products are regulated differently. It can be difficult for law enforcement (let alone school officials) to determine which products contain nicotine and which do not, ultimately making their job of implementing this policy very difficult. Kids will simply argue “there’s no nicotine in it” to avoid sanctions. Covering all vapor products alleviates confusion and is clearer to enforce.

  • The amended bill only applies to licensed retailers (i.e., those licensed to sell tobacco and nicotine products), notably excluding unlicensed vape shops.

    The WASB opposes this change. The original bill included all retailers, whether licensed or not, that sell cigarettes, other tobacco products or vapor products. Exempting unlicensed vape shops from this state policy will provide an avenue for youth to continue to access harmful products and will hamper implementation and enforcement in communities and schools.  Think about this: If concerned retailers like grocers and convenience stores abide by the law and refuse to sell to 18-20 year-olds, those young people could simply take their business to the unlicensed vape shops to get what they desire. The law will have accomplished little.

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