Tuesday, May 17, 2011

AB 96 Slowed in Assembly, Still Expected to be Enacted into Law in June


The progress of 2011 Assembly Bill 96, which would change the appointment of the WDVA Secretary to a governor’s appointment with Senate confirmation and restructure the Board of Veterans Affairs as an advisory body, was slowed in the state Assembly today on a procedural vote split along party lines (Vote #344).

AB 96, introduced earlier this year by Rep. Kevin Petersen (R-Waupaca) at the request of several veterans service organizations including DAV Department of Wisconsin, was among several measures today slowed by the Assembly prior to the third reading of the bill using a procedural delay being used by the minority party on a host of other bills this year.

The original AB 96 was replaced last week by a substitute amendment in committee that was adopted by a vote of 9-1.  The substitute was also authored by Petersen and contained nearly all of DAV’s requested amendments, including requiring the WDVA Secretary to be a veteran as defined in Chapter 45.01 (12). 

Today’s vote was to suspend the rules and allow for a third reading of the bill and passage by the Assembly.  The motion requires a two-thirds vote, and failed along party lines, 56-37, with five members not voting.  Several amendments were offered by the minority party during today’s floor session. All were tabled (and thus defeated) on party-line votes.

Three amendments not approved in today’s floor session were introduced by Rep. Nick Milroy (R-Superior).  One would have delayed the bill from taking effect until 2015, after the next gubernatorial election (AA5).  Another would have required a supermajority two-thirds Senate vote for confirmation of the Governor’s nominee (AA6) .  A third would have included the CVSO Association of Wisconsin in addition to the six veterans groups required to be consulted by the Governor prior to the nomination of a WDVA Secretary (AA7) . 

Milroy, the Ranking Member of the Assembly veterans affairs committee, had also introduced all three amendments in committee (AA1, AA2, AA3); all were voted down in committee along party lines. 

Another amendment, authored by Representatives Mark Pocan (D-Madison), Amy Sue Vruwink (D-xxxx), and Penny Bernard Schaber (D-Appleton) would have dramatically expanded the bill’s definition of veteran, a requirement for the WDVA Secretary under AB 96, to include anyone who had served in the active or reserve forces or national guard for as short as one day and with any type of military discharge including bad conduct and dishonorable (AA8).

An amendment by Rep. Janis Ringhand (D-Evansville) and Assembly Minority Leader Rep. Peter Barca (D-Kenosha). would have retained AB 96’s Board size increase to nine members and the requirement for the Secretary to be a “veteran,” but would have left “veteran” undefined (AA9).

The final amendment offered was a substitute bill by Rep. Christine Sinicki (D-Milwaukee) that would have removed provisions related to the WDVA Secretary being appointed by the Governor while retaining provisions increasing the Board to nine members (currently seven), reducing Board term length to four years, and making Board seats representative based on Congressional districts (ASA2). Like the current version of AB 96, the Sinicki substitute would also have removed the current law requirement that two Board members be Vietnam War veterans.

Sincicki, who serves on the Assembly Committee on Veterans and Military Affairs, did not introduce this amendment during the committee’s proceedings on the bill.

An amendment by Rep. Mark Radcliffe (D-Black River Falls) defeated in committee was not reintroduced on the Assembly floor today (AA4).  Radcliffe’s proposal would have created a new statewide election system for Board members run by CVSO’s and WDVA. 

According to the bill summary memo for the current version of AB 96 by the non-partisan Wisconsin Legislative Council:

Under current law, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs is appointed by the Board of Veterans Affairs to serve at the pleasure of the board. The Board of Veterans Affairs is composed of seven members appointed by the Governor for six-year terms. All of the members must be veterans, and at least two of the members must be Vietnam War veterans. Under current law, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs promulgates, with the approval of the board, the rules for administering DVA and for performing DVA's duties.

Assembly Substitute Amendment 1 requires selection of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs through nomination by the Governor and confirmation by a majority of the state Senate.

Prior to appointment, the Governor must personally consult with the presiding officer of at least six Wisconsin veterans organizations.

Board of Veterans Affairs membership is expanded to nine members appointed to staggered four-year terms, with a requirement that at least one member of the board is a resident of each congressional district in the state.

The secretary and all board members must be veterans [Editor’s note: with active duty military service, and in accordance with the Chapter 45 definition of veteran] with no requirement that any represent a particular war or conflict.

Assembly Substitute Amendment 1 vests authority to promulgate rules in the secretary, and requires the secretary to provide a copy of any proposed rule to the Board of Veterans Affairs. The board may make written comments to the rule, which are required to be included in the rule analysis submitted by WDVA under s. 227.14 (2), Stats.

DAV’s support for this legislation was approved twice – and requested amendments also approved -- by the DAV Department of Wisconsin’s Executive Committee in accordance with DAV’s constitution and bylaws.  Support for the bill is based on restoring accountability to the troubled department and reducing politicization through a public, open confirmation process for the WDVA Secretary.

Currently, the WDVA Secretary is appointed through secret, closed door decisions by unaccountable, unelected Board members that typically have close partisan ties with the Governor who appoints them but who are often unknown to the veterans community.  Only the Board’s vote, a purely procedural measure that in each of the most recent appointments has been made without open discussion or any public input, is made in open session. 

DAV had sought a further amendment to the bill that would have required the six veterans organizations consulted by the Governor to include the six largest by Wisconsin membership, which would have guaranteed DAV be included among those consulted. However, all of DAV’s other requested amendments have been included in the current version of AB 96.

The bill now awaits a final vote, which will likely be during the Assembly’s next floor session on June 8, 2011.  The minority party is expected to use another procedural stalling technique that has been used frequently this year and would delay the bill by another week, or until June 15, from being messaged to the Senate for a vote.

The final bill is still expected to be completed and sent to the Governor for signature and enactment right on target before the end of June and with the continued support of DAV Department of Wisconsin.

--Anthony Hardie



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