Walker optimistic on juvenile justice, not ‘alcohol czar’

February 14, 2018

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, speaking to reporters, expresses confidence that his top priorities, including an overhaul of the juvenile justice system, will pass this session but he's not as enthusiastic about creating a new "alcohol czar," Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, in Madison, Wisc. (AP Photo/Scott Bauer)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker said Wednesday he’s confident that his legislative priorities, including a child tax rebate, overhaul of the juvenile justice system and new work requirements for food stamp recipients, will pass before the session ends next month.

But Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald reiterated concerns that the juvenile justice proposal was too much for the Legislature to get done this year, saying lawmakers may only put the “structure” in place and leave execution of the plan for later. He also said a sales tax holiday Walker wants is “up in the air.”

Walker is pushing the Legislature to pass a wide platform of priorities in the final days of the session for this year. The Assembly hopes to complete its work next week while the Senate is meeting just Tuesday and one day in March.

Walker’s priorities include increasing and adding work requirements for people on food stamps, creating a new juvenile prison structure, giving parents a $100 tax rebate for each child and shoring up the private health insurance market.

Walker isn’t showing much enthusiasm for a bill to create a new “alcohol czar” position to head up an office of alcohol-law enforcement. That idea, put forward on Tuesday by Fitzgerald, drew strong opposition Wednesday from MillerCoors.

“He’s throwing the idea out, I don’t know how far it’s going to go,” Walker said of Fitzgerald’s proposal.

Fitzgerald argues that current laws covering the manufacturing, distribution and selling of alcohol in Wisconsin aren’t being adequately enforced by the Department of Revenue, necessitating the new position and office.

“It’s the wild, wild west when it comes to alcohol regulation and how the product is moved,” Fitzgerald told reporters Wednesday.

MillerCoors, in a letter to members of the Legislature on Wednesday, came out forcefully against the proposal.

“The Department of Revenue has been effectively and efficiently regulating alcohol in this state since prohibition and this change is unnecessary,” MillerCoors lobbyist Paul Lucas said.

MillerCoors is not aware of any enforcement issues that Fitzgerald had alluded to, Lucas said. But if there are, Lucas argued there is a simpler, less expensive way to address it than creating the new office as Fitzgerald proposed.

That bill was scheduled for a public hearing Thursday. It’s unclear whether it will have enough support to pass the Assembly. Republican Speaker Robin Vos said Tuesday the proposal “could be a big lift.”

Priorities of Walker’s that are still pending include:

— Juvenile justice: A bill to close the troubled Lincoln Hills juvenile prison, move serious offenders into state-run prisons and have counties house less serious offenders is up for a public hearing Thursday. Fitzgerald said, “That’s a heavy lift in the amount of time we have” but he was hopeful something would pass. He said the Legislature could put a structure in place this session and execute the plan next session, but didn’t elaborate. Walker said he would work with lawmakers on “tweaks” but “nothing that’s going to dramatically alter the concept.”

— Welfare: The Assembly was scheduled to pass a package of Walker welfare proposals, including increasing work requirements for food stamp recipients and making those on food stamps show a photo ID. Fitzgerald said the Senate was also supportive.

— Child tax break: Walker proposed a $100 per-child tax rebate and a sales tax holiday for the first weekend in August. Fitzgerald said the sales tax holiday portion was “up in the air” because of its $50 million price tag. Walker said he thought there was public support for the idea, but in a nod to the opposition said “at a minimum our hope is we’ll get a child tax credit.”


Associated Press writer Todd Richmond contributed to this story.


Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP


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