James Richardson
Phone: +1 404 527 4086 Email: james.richardson@dentons.com

James Richardson serves as managing editor of Soap Box and as a managing director in Dentons' public policy and regulation practice. A former spokesman and advisor to Governors Haley Barbour and Jon Huntsman and the Republican National Committee, he has written for the Washington Post, the New York Daily News, USA Today, The Guardian, TIME, The Atlantic, Newsweek, GQ, CNN, Fox News, Politico, and others.

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With budget signed, a look ahead at remainder of Wisconsin’s legislative session

The following comes by way of Dentons50 partner firm Capitol Consultants

Now that the budget has been signed and the type of vetoes that Governor Tony Evers has made are not compelling the Legislature back into session, attention now turns toward the remainder of the 2019-2020 Legislative Session.

Legislative Committee activity will drop in frequency for the next month, although some Committees will still meet. Committee activity then will ramp up again in August in preparation for the September, October and November floor dates.

2019-2020 Session Schedule at a Glance

January 7, 20192019 Inauguration
January 15Floorperiod
January 22-24Floorperiod
February 12-14Floorperiod
March 5-7Floorperiod
April 9-11Floorperiod
April 25Bills sent to governor
May 14-16Floorperiod
June 4-8Floorperiod
August 1
August 1
Nonbudget bills sent to governor
Budget bill sent to governor
September 17-26Floorperiod
October 8-10Floorperiod
November 5-14Floorperiod
December 5 Bills sent to governor
January 14-23, 2020Floorperiod
February 11-20Floorperiod
March 24-26Last general-business floorperiod
April 16Bills sent to governor

As of today:

  • Governor Evers has signed 10 bills into law, including the 2019-2021 Budget.
  • Vetoed 5 bills (4 abortion-related bills and a middle-income tax bill)
  • 15 bills await his signature or veto.
  • 334 bills have been introduced in the State Assembly
  • 315 bills have been introduced in the State Senate

Wisconsin Assembly passes budget on 60-39 vote

The following comes by way of Dentons 50 partner firm Capitol Consultants

After 10 hours of debate, the Wisconsin State Assembly passed the 2019-2021 Executive Budget on a 60 to 39 vote. All 36 Democrats and 3 Republicans voted against passage of the budget. Joining the Democrats, were Republican Representatives Janel Brantjen (R-Menomonee Falls), Rick Gundrum (R-Slinger) and Tim Ramthun (R-Campbellsport).

The amended legislation now moves on to the Wisconsin State Senate, which is scheduled to begin debate on the bill at 10:00 a.m. tomorrow.

Democrats offered five amendments to the budget that were tabled on a party-line 63-35 vote (Representative David Bowen, D-Milwaukee, was not present).

Those amendments were:

  • Assembly Amendment 2: Health Care related amendment. Includes Medicaid expansion and other healthcare investments.
  • Assembly Amendment 3: K-12 related amendment. Funds special education at the level that Governor Evers proposed, plus other provisions.
  • Assembly Amendment 4: UW related amendment.
  • Assembly Amendment 5: Clean water related amendment
  • Assembly Amendment 6: Dark Store “loop hole” related amendment

After a lively 10-hour debate, Co-Chair of the Joint Committee on Finance John Nygren (R-Marinette) noted the majority of the debate centered around issues that Assembly Democrats did not offer amendments on; like taxes, transportation funding, legalization of marijuana, shared revenue and increasing funding for stewardship

SCOTUS upholds redrawn Va. House of Delegates district lines

The following comes by way of Dentons 50 partner Capital Results in Richmond

The U.S. Supreme Court dismissed an appeal on Monday from Republicans in Virginia’s House of Delegates in a ruling that will uphold redrawn district boundaries that likely will make this fall’s state elections tougher for Republican candidates.

In a 5-4 vote, the high court ruled that the House lacked standing to appeal a lower court’s determination that legislators had racially gerrymandered 11 House districts. The court’s majority wrote that the Virginia attorney general’s office, led by Democrat Mark Herring, has the authority to represent the commonwealth in the matter but had opted not to do so.

The ruling is expected to roil election campaigns currently under way, with Republicans fighting to maintain their slim majorities (51-49 in the House of Delegates, and 21-19 in the state Senate).

For many longtime legislators, Monday’s ruling means that they will be campaigning for re-election in districts that are unfamiliar, and where many of the voters may not know who they are.

The 11 House districts determined to be racially gerrymandered were all occupied by Democrats, who claimed that Republicans had packed black voters into those districts in order to dilute their influence in surrounding districts, providing Republicans with an advantage to retain control.  Three of the affected districts are in the Richmond area; one district is in Petersburg, south of Richmond; and six are in Hampton Roads, which includes the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth.

With the redrawn boundaries now in effect, many Virginia Republicans will find themselves fighting in new territory in order to retain control of the chamber. House Speaker Kirk Cox and Appropriations Committee Chairman Chris Jones, who oversaw the House’s redistricting effort in 2011, are particularly vulnerable in districts that now feature considerably more Democratic-leaning voters.

Democrats, who hold all three executive offices, are looking to build on the electoral gains they posted in 2017 and assume control of one – or both – chambers in Virginia’s bicameral legislature.

The general election is set for Nov. 5, 2019, and the legislature will undertake its decennial redistricting in the 2021 session.

Everything you need to know about Virginia’s primary election

The following comes by way of Dentons 50 partner Capital Results in Virginia.

Republicans currently hold the slimmest of majorities in the Virginia House of Delegates (51-49) and Senate (21-19). With several veteran legislators announcing they would not seek re-election, both parties have identified this election year as an opportunity to flip seats or install new standard-bearers in key districts.

The biggest upset of the night occurred in the Democratic primary for Richmond’s Senate District 16, where former Del. Joe Morrissey trounced party favorite and incumbent Rosalyn Dance by 13 percentage points. Morrissey, an antagonistic and colorful attorney, has a checkered history; he once was disbarred for fighting another attorney at a courthouse, and in 2015, he served in the House while on work-release from jail for charges stemming from a sex scandal with a teenager whom he eventually married. Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe and U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, also a former governor, all campaigned for Dance.

The Senate’s Democratic Majority Leader, Dick Saslaw, barely survived a challenge from liberal activist Yasmine Taeb in the nominating contest for northern Virginia’s District 35. Saslaw, who has served in the Senate since 1980, raised nearly $2 million to Taeb’s $178,000. In the end, he earned about 500 more votes to secure the nomination. No Republicans have filed to challenge him in November.

On the Republican side, Sen. Emmett Hangar fended off an intense challenge from Tina Freitas, wife of Republican Del. Nick Freitas, who ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate last year. Tina Freitas campaigned heavily against Sen. Hanger’s years-long support of Medicaid expansion. Hanger, however, relied on his deep ties in the community and a pragmatic business sense to ride a nearly 15-percentage point margin to victory.

Republican Del. Bob Thomas didn’t fare as well for his support of Medicaid expansion. The Fredericksburg-area delegate was upended by Paul Milde, a former member of the Stafford County Board of Supervisors and strident opponent of Medicaid expansion. Milde edged Thomas by about 160 votes and will face Democrat Joshua Cole in the general election. While traditionally a Republican-leaning district, Democrats have made significant gains here in recent years.

The Republican nominating contest between Del. Chris Peace and challenger Scott Wyatt remains undecided. Peace also voted for Medicaid expansion and has enjoyed House caucus support. But Senate Republican leaders have lined up behind Wyatt, highlighting divisions between the party’s legislative leaders. Wyatt also carried Tea Party support and claimed victory at a May 4 convention for the nomination, while Peace claimed a firehouse primary victory on June 1. The outcome may not be resolved for weeks.

All 140 seats in the bicameral legislature are up for a vote in the general election on Nov. 5, 2019.

That’s a wrap on Connecticut’s 2019 legislative session

The Connecticut General Assembly wrapped up its 2019 regular session on Wednesday, June 6th with a flurry of bills passed in both chambers shortly before the House and Senate adjourned Sine Die.

In the end, many of the big ticket pieces of legislation Gov. Lamont and Democratic leaders had prioritized on the campaign trail did not materialize. Tolls, legalized sports betting, legalized recreational marijuana, and an increase in the state’s renewable portfolio standard all failed to make it to a vote on the floor of either chamber.

Despite falling short on those issues, however, the Democrats still racked up some significant accomplishments. After years of attempts, legislation authorizing a comprehensive paid family medical leave program was finally passed in both chambers. Lawmakers also voted to raise the minimum wage to $15.00 an hour, authorized the procurement of 2000 MW of offshore wind energy, and raised the smoking age to twenty-one.

What’s next now that the regular session has wrapped up? Lawmakers will head back to their districts to rest and meet with constituents, and will then be called back for at least two special sessions. One session will cover tolls, and the other will cover bonding and school construction. 

Paid family and medical leave passes Ct. Senate with threat of veto

After 6 hours of debate, the Senate passed Paid Family and Medical Leave legislation. The bill creates a quasi-public agency to oversee the funds gathered from a .5% tax on payroll, and funds up to 12 weeks of paid time off for an individual in need of time away from work. The bill passed with a margin of 21 to 15. Gov. Ned Lamont has already come forward to say that in its current form, he would veto the bill, putting a damper on what Senate Democratic leaders have called a major legislative victory. 

Under current FMLA laws, a company with 75 or more employees must offer paid time off, but this bill would extend FMLA to all private employees. Payroll deductions would begin Oct. 1, 2020, and paid leave would begin Jan. 1, 2022. The Office of Fiscal Analysis estimated that funding an agency to administer the program would cost $18.6 million a year, which would come out of the payroll deduction.

During the Senate debate, Democrats emphasized the benefits that Paid Family and Medical Leave would provide. “This bill will provide working families with time off to take care of their kids with wage replacement, so that they don’t have to pick between their family members and a paycheck,” remarked Sen. Julie Kushner. Republicans attacked the idea of a state-administered program of this magnitude as unnecessary and unwieldy.

Governor Lamont ran on a platform that included the passage of a paid FMLA program. He has threatened to veto the bill because of its creation of a new quasi-public entity to oversee the program. Governor Lamont would prefer to put oversight of the program out to bid to an insurance carrier. 

Minnesota legislature adjourns regular session ‘in a whimper’

The following comes by way of Dentons 50 partner Hill Capitol Strategies in Minnesota.

After nearly six months of committee hearings, floor sessions, long debates and a modern-day record of bill introductions, in the words of Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, “the Session ended in a whimper.” 

On Sunday, with less than 30 hours left before the constitutionally mandated end of the 2019 Legislative Session, the House, Senate, and Governor came to a budget agreement and global budget targets.  In a normal year, conference committees at that point in a session would have already resolved many of their policy differences and come to tenuous agreements on many of the provisions within each bill. However, this year’s general stalemate between the DFL Governor, DFL House and GOP Senate was too difficult to overcome. 

When the Constitutionally mandated deadline was reached at midnight Monday, the Minnesota Senate had passed two of the ten budget bills necessary to fully fund state government.  The House, like the Senate was able pass the Higher Education Omnibus Finance Bill and send the bill to the Governor. However, the House was unable to pass the Agriculture and Housing Omnibus Finance Bill before the midnight deadline.  This means most of the state government remains unfunded, the Legislature must pass the budget prior to July 1st, which is the start of the new biennium.  

For a session which started with bipartisan commitments to greater transparency, new deadlines intended to help move the budget process along and talk of easy early legislative wins, this session will likely go down as one of the least transparent sessions in the modern history of the state.  The late agreement of budget targets led to a final day of closed-door negotiations between members of the Legislature and the Walz Administration.  

Only two budget conference committees were able to meet a 5 pm Monday deadline to complete their work.  The failure of the remaining 8 Conference Committees resulted in what can only be described as individual budget tribunals involving the Governor, Senate Majority Leader, the Speaker of the House and the individual conference committee chairs.  It was suggested Leadership and the Governor would use these meetings to resolve any outstanding issues and close-up the budget bills. However, it doesn’t appear as though these meetings resulted in any final agreements.  

As it stands, larger bills, like the more than 1000-page Health and Human Services Omnibus Finance Bill and the Tax Omnibus Bill, must still be negotiated.  Numerous controversial policy provisions remain undecided in virtually every budget bill. While Conference Committee reports cannot be amended when heard on the floor of the House and Senate, during a Special Session the slate is wiped clean, and every bill must be reintroduced before being put to a vote. 

It is unclear as to exactly when the Governor will call a Special Session, House and Senate Leadership have both mentioned a possible one-day Session on Thursday, May 23rd. However, in order to complete their work quickly, the minority party in both bodies must agree to provide the votes necessary to suspend the rules and process legislation.  It appears unlikely the House Minority Leader is willing to help the House DFL pass the budget, especially given his exclusion from any of the budget negotiations. It does not appear one day will be enough to settle all the outstanding differences.