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Rotunda Report
  • Rotunda Report
    December 12, 2022

    2023-24 Legislative Preview: Budget Surplus Sets the Stage

    With a massive budget surplus projected, the upcoming legislative session offers big opportunities for government funding and tax reform, but only if the Governor and Legislature can work together.

    Cale Battles

    Wisconsin Capitol behind holiday lights

    December 12, 2022 – When the calendar turns to 2023, the new year brings optimism and hope of a fresh start and a new beginning. Many of us will set our own personal and professional resolutions and strive (at least for a few days) to meet our prospective aspirations. For the Wisconsin Legislature and Governor, the 2023-24 session will offer a unique and possibly transformative opportunity to make wide and dramatic changes to the funding of government and the state’s tax structure. The question will be can they work together, even minimally, for that to happen?

    State Bar to Focus on Funding Priorities for Criminal Justice System

    The State Bar of Wisconsin’s lobbying focus, especially in the early spring session, will be on several criminal justice agencies and staff that need an investment in state funding. Court funding and budget needs of District Attorneys, the State Public Defender, and the private bar rate will continue to be a bedrock of the State Bar’s agenda. Wisconsin is currently projected to have a budget surplus of $6.6 billion by the end of this fiscal year, and while lawmakers might not agree on all funding priorities or potential tax reductions, there should be ample bipartisan support for investments in public safety and the court system.

    The State Bar is on record strongly supporting the budget requests from District Attorneys, the State Public Defender, and the court system. These proposals include:

    • Private Bar Rate – increasing the private bar rate to $125/hour for in-court work, $100/hour for out-of-court work, and $50/hour for travel time

    • State Public Defender and District Attorney funding – increase in overall budget, additional staff, and pay progression to retain and recruit qualified attorneys

    • Court system – full funding for four additional circuit court branches in addition to increased funding for counties throughout the state to retain and recruit qualified judges and court staff

    Cale Battles Cale Battles, is a government relations coordinator with the State Bar of Wisconsin. He can be reached by email, or by phone at (608) 250-6077.

    Additional budget priorities include state support of civil legal needs and expanding funding opportunities so Wisconsinites can receive assistance from attorneys with expertise in civil matters from employment, veterans’ issues, domestic violence issues, and more. It is also time for the Judicial Council to receive state funding for staffing support.

    The State Bar also anticipates working on several additional non-fiscal issues. Efforts over the past three sessions to pass bipartisan reform of the expungement statute have just narrowly missed. The State Bar will also monitor bail reform discussions and legislative proposals that might arise during the session. Reintroduction of the “Second Chance Bill,” which would return first-time, nonviolent 17-year-old offenders to the jurisdiction of the juvenile justice system, will also be a priority for this session. Wisconsin is one of only three states that continue to treat 17-year-olds as adults in court proceedings. State Bar practice sections that lobby will also be active with legislative initiatives during the next session and those issues will be highlighted in a future Rotunda Report article.

    State Government Composition Stays Almost Exactly the Same from Previous Session

    The Rotunda Report recapped the fall elections results in November, Mixed Results Statewide Yields Status Quo for State Government, with most of the legislative leaders in the Assembly and Senate returning to their posts for the 2023-24 session. Rep. Robin Vos (R-Burlington) remains as the Speaker of the Assembly, but Rep. Tyler August (R-Lake Geneva) will move into a new role as Majority Leader after serving as Speaker Pro Tempore. In the Senate, Sen. Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) returns as Majority Leader and as does Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield) for the position of Senate President. On the Democrats side, Greta Neubauer (D-Racine) will serve as Assembly Minority Leader after being elected to that position by her colleagues in early 2022 and Melissa Agard (D-Madision) will serve in her first stint as Senate Minority Leader. Joint Finance Committee leadership will also stay the same as last session with. Sen. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green) and Rep. Mark Born (R-Beaver Dam) will jointly lead the committee as it deals with Governor Evers biennial budget proposal this spring.

    The biggest changes will likely be to committee structures and committee chairs. At writing, those assignments have not been determined, but with over 30 newly elected members, there will likely be several changes going into the next session. Another change came with the announcement that Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) would be resigning from the Senate on December 1, 2022. This vacancy will leave Senate Republicans one seat short of a supermajority needed for veto overrides and other possible Senate procedural votes. However, Governor Evers announced that a special election to fill the vacancy will coincide with the 2023 spring election dates already established. At least two sitting Assembly Republican members have announced their intentions to run for the open seat.

    State Bar’s Grassroots Advocacy Network

    Launched in 2019, the State Bar continues to grow our outreach efforts to members and encourages lawyer participation in the legislative process. Member engagement is a vital tool to let policy makers know of support or concerns for legislative issues. The State Bar’s Advocacy Network encourages a productive and positive contribution to the legislative process. Attorney input, advice and expertise is very impactful on the legislative process and continued engagement into the process leads to better policy outcomes. You can also contact the grassroots outreach coordinator, Devin Martin, with any questions or ideas about advocacy.

    The State Bar Government Relations Department also encourages members to subscribe to our department’s newsletter, Rotunda Report, or follow us on Twitter at @SBWRotundaRpt.

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