State hiring, firing up for debate at Capitol


State lawmakers are considering the impacts of a bill that would make it easier to hire or fire Wisconsin state employees.

The sponsor, Sen. Roger Roth, R-Appleton, defended his measure at a public hearing Tuesday before the Senate Labor and Government Reform Committee.

“Nothing in this bill takes away from what the core concept of the civil service system is,” Roth said. “The core tenet is that as an employee you’re not going to be suspended, you’re not going to be terminated or docked in pay except for just cause, and nothing in this bill changes that.”

He said the goal is to speed up the hiring process to help deal with an aging workforce. The measure would base layoff decisions on a person’s job performance, not give preferential treatment based on seniority and do away with a civil service exam.

It would affect about 30,000 state workers.

The civil service system was implemented in Wisconsin in 1905 to make the hiring process of state employees less political.

State officials from the Departments of Administration, Revenue and Financial Institutions testified that hiring was taking too long and that they were unable to quickly terminate employees who had committed misconduct on the job.

“Just because something is 100 plus years old doesn’t mean it somehow is above change,” Department of Financial Institutions Secretary Ray Allen said.

Opponents including Democrats and state employee union leaders said at a Senate hearing Tuesday that it will erode protections workers have under the 110-year-old civil service system.

“You’re consolidating authority to hire employees into the most political of all state agencies,” said Jim Thiel, with the Association of Career Employees.

AFSCME officials argue that the civil service system is not what is keeping people out of the system.

“The problem is that public employees have been pounded on for so long that most reasonable people would have to think twice about taking a public job in today’s environment,” AFSCME Wisconsin executive director Rick Badger said.

The bill is moving quickly through the Legislature and could be debated in the Senate and Assembly later this month.