Senate to look at civil service changes in 2016, future of fetal tissue bill unclear

Sen. Harris Dodd won’t run for re-election

Changes to civil services laws are on tap for 2016 in the state Senate as lawmakers look forward to an election-year sprint.

The state Assembly passed an overhaul to civil service laws, but the bill has been held up in the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said the bill will be one of the first issues lawmakers tackle in the Senate after the new year.

“It’s another reform of a longstanding set of statutes that has been there for many years that probably should have been revisited over the years and hasn’t been done,” Fitzgerald said.

The bill would reduce the time required to hire a state employee and get rid of an exam required to get a state job, among other changes.

He defended the legislation, despite questions raised over some of the examples given by lawmakers for the need for the bill.

In one example of state workers caught having sex on the job that were unable to be fired, a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel report found not only that the state had never moved to fire the workers, but at least one was not a civil servant.

Fitzgerald said he’s talked to the Senate lead author of the bill, Sen. Roger Roth, R-Appleton.

“I said, ‘Listen, some of this stuff is anecdotal, which oftentimes, certainly in the Capitol, can move a bill along,” Fitzgerald said. “But at the end of the day it still has to be strong public policy, or you’re not going to be able to round up the votes for it.”

Senate Democrats have argued that the civil service bill is unnecessary and could lead to corruption in state hiring.

“People are frustrated with the direction of the state and frustrated with the issues we’ve been working on,” Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, said. “It just doesn’t resonate with them. I think there’s been an overreach.”

Shilling said Democrats want to focus in 2016 on the “Badger Blueprint” they’ve created to focus on innovation and workforce development.

“People want us to get back to basics and the meat and potatoes of education, health care, economic development and looking at infrastructure in this state,” Shilling said.

One issue that remains outstanding for the Senate and Assembly is a proposed ban on fetal tissue research in Wisconsin that drew concerns from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the state’s business lobby.

“I don’t know, as we sit here today, what it will look like,” Fitzgerald said. “If we are able to get the votes then that version of the bill would be substantially different than the bill that came out of committee in the state Senate.”

“We still have some of those issues they haven’t come to agreement on and from my perspective, if we don’t deal with them, that’s fine and what’s better for Wisconsin,” Shilling said.

Fitzgerald said the Senate is expected to be back in session on Jan. 12.

The legislative session is set to run until April 5.