Lazich elected Senate president to replace Ellis

November 7, 2014

MADISON Republican Sen. Mary Lazich will become the first woman state Senate president in Wisconsin history, a powerful position overseeing debate and working behind the scenes steering legislation through the process.

Republicans increased their majority in the Senate by one seat, to 19-14, as a result of Tuesday's election. Newly elected members met for the first time Thursday to select leaders for the coming two-year session that begins in January.

Lazich said in an interview later that she wanted to fairly enforce Senate rules, avoid conflicts before lawmakers become "lathered up," and make sure the process runs smoothly.

Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, the majority leader who led the GOP's campaign efforts, retained his position unopposed. Fitzgerald, of Juneau, said after the meeting that he would talk with Gov. Scott Walker's chief of staff this week about legislative priorities and he would be meeting with Walker soon.

Major issues that Fitzgerald, Walker and Republican Assembly leaders have said they intend to tackle next year include cutting property taxes, overhauling the state elections board, increasing enrollment in the statewide private school voucher program and stabilizing the state's transportation fund projected to be $680 million in the red.

Fitzgerald said raising the gas tax would be rejected by Senate Republicans, so another solution to the transportation fund would have to be found. He also floated the possibility of returning to an elections board consisting of partisan appointees, rather than the current makeup of nonpartisan retired judges.

Fitzgerald said the Senate was more conservative as a result of Tuesday's election and the retirement of more moderate lawmakers like Dale Schultz and Mike Ellis, the outgoing president.

"You look around the room, it's a pretty conservative caucus we have right now," Fitzgerald said.

One conservative senator who won't be back Glenn Grothman made a brief appearance at the beginning of the meeting. Grothman was elected to Congress and a special election to fill his spot in a heavily Republican district is likely to be held in mid-January.

"You're going to have more fun this session than the previous 75 sessions combined," Grothman told them, a nod to the increased Republican majority.

Walker said Wednesday he wanted to tap into that stronger GOP control in the Legislature to move quickly and aggressively in passing his priorities.

More moderate Republicans including Schultz, Ellis and Sen. Luther Olsen worked behind the scenes to stop or change bills backed by more conservative lawmakers. Assembly Republicans will have a 63-36 majority if results from Tuesday's election stand. Two Republican victories are close and may head to a recount.

The Senate president position was created after a constitutional amendment adopted in 1979 eliminated the lieutenant governor as presiding officer in the Senate. Lazich, of New Berlin, beat Sen. Jerry Petrowski, of Marathon, for the position.

The Senate president typically presides over debate, but is also one of three Republicans on the committee that determines which bills get taken up. The Senate president also decides which committees will handle bills that are introduced.

Common Core 'definitely' on Senate agenda

MADISON Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald says changes to Common Core academic standards are definitely going to be addressed by the Legislature next year.

Fitzgerald said Thursday that he wasn't sure yet exactly what would be done as the issue continues to evolve.

Gov. Scott Walker has called on the Legislature to replace the standards with something written in Wisconsin. But it's up to local school districts to adopt the standards, which are the basis for statewide tests and college admittance exams.

Senate Education Committee chairman Sen. Luther Olsen says instituting new standards is extremely complex and affects how prepared students will be for those tests.

Another complication is how far the Legislature's authority extends into education policy the state Department of Public Instruction controls.

Fitzgerald says elections board could be partisan

MADISON Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald says the state elections board could be compromised of partisan appointees again, rather than nonpartisan retired judges.

Republicans have been critical of the current structure of the Government Accountability Board, which was created in 2006 as a replacement for the Elections Board which was widely viewed as ineffective and too partisan.

But Republican legislative leaders say they want to overhaul the board next year. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says he's looking at perhaps lessening the power and influence of board staff.

Fitzgerald said Thursday that he was open to the idea of going back to the model of partisan appointees, but it was still being discussed.

He predicts if that change is made "certainly the Democrats will demagogue on it."