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Updated: Sunday, 06 Jan 2013, 3:07 PM CST
Published : Sunday, 06 Jan 2013, 11:08 AM CST
MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Wisconsin's next legislative session is set to get under way Monday with plenty of handshakes, humor and hugs.
Enjoy it while you can. It may not last.
Republicans led lawmakers through one of the ugliest sessions in state history over the last two years. The GOP used majorities in the Senate and Assembly to pass bills that stripped most public workers of nearly all their bargaining ability, required voters to present photo identification and redrew legislative boundaries to benefit themselves.
Voters handed Republicans complete control of state government again in November's elections. Minority Democrats are still stinging from the last go-round, setting the stage for more turmoil in Madison. Tempers could flare right off the bat as Republicans craft a bill to overhaul the state's mining regulations and start work on the next state budget.
"What happened last time is every time we came in ... all of a sudden these extreme social issues would come into play, or these anti-democracy issues," Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, said. "I certainly hope they will be (more bipartisan.) The cards are in Republican hands."
Monday's festivities will begin with both parties holding morning news conferences. State Supreme Court Justice Shirley Abrahamson will swear in new Democratic Assembly members at 11 a.m. The state Senate has planned a lunch-time reception for new and returning members.
Both houses will swear in all of their members in simultaneous afternoon ceremonies. The Assembly plans a reception at the state historical museum across from the Capitol. The Senate has scheduled a dessert reception.
Then the work will begin in earnest.
The public union restrictions sparked massive protests at the state Capitol and the GOP's other measures prompted a band of agitators to disrupt committee meetings and floor sessions. Some demonstrators were so defiant police had to drag them out of proceedings. Meanwhile, Democrats looking for payback forced Republican Gov. Scott Walker and a host of other GOP officeholders into recall elections.
Walker survived the election, but protesters still gather daily at the Capitol to sing against him, and someone continues to chalk anti-Republican messages on the sidewalks around the building.
Republicans will start work with a 59-39 advantage in the Assembly, an 18-15 edge in the Senate and Walker in the governor's office. Still, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, have promised to strike a more bipartisan tone.
Both leaders have said job creation is their top priority. Vos has talked about cutting income taxes and eliminating tax credits for business sectors that aren't producing an economic boost - concepts that figure to sit well with Democrats.
"We'll continue to have lively debates and disagreements on issues," Vos said in a statement. "However, I am hopeful that we'll find areas of common ground where both Democrats and Republicans can work together."
Still, Republicans cheered when they learned Senate Democrats picked freshman Chris Larson of Milwaukee as their leader. Vos himself likened Larson's election to a gift from God.
Fitzgerald said he's been talking with other senior senators on how to shore up security in the Senate, which could ruffle Democrats. And the rest of the GOP's political agenda offers plenty more flashpoints.
Assembly Republicans have promised their first bill will deal with mining regulations, threatening to ignite another round in what's quickly become one of the fiercest environmental debates Wisconsin has seen in decades.
The GOP has been working for more than a year to streamline mining rules to help Florida-based Gogebic Taconite open a huge iron mine just south of Lake Superior. The company has promised the mine would create hundreds of jobs but environmentalists say the project would devastate one of the last pristine regions in the state.
Republicans introduced a bill last session but it died in the Senate. Assembly Republicans haven't revealed much about what provisions will be in the new bill, saying only they'll use last session's measure as a starting point.
From there Republicans will turn to the two-year state budget. Walker is expected to release his version of the spending plan in February. The governor has offered few specifics about what he might include in the budget. He has said he's mulling income or property tax cuts, wants police to take suspects' DNA upon arrest and wants to expand the voucher school program, which provides state subsidies to parents who send their children to private schools. Democrats see the program as a drain on resources that could go to public schools.
Lawmakers will spend most of the spring revising the spending plan before voting on it. The state is expected to go into the biennium with a surplus, but deliberations still figure
to be brutal.
Democrats also will likely take issue with Fitzgerald's plans to revisit recall election law - Fitzgerald, a Juneau Republican, survived a recall attempt last year - and replace the retired judges that comprise the state Government Accountability Board with partisan appointees.
Vos has talked about revisiting voter ID to shore up the law against legal challenges - Democrats see the law as attempt to suppress the liberal vote - and conducting a top-to-bottom review of state agencies' rules with an eye toward reducing small businesses' regulatory burden.
Rep. Joel Kleefisch, D-Oconomowoc, is busy drafting another bill to establish a sandhill crane hunt. His measure last session sparked a bitter fight in a state that serves as home to the International Crane Foundation
Plus, Democrats fear Republicans might push right-to-work legislation, which would allow workers to opt out of unions, and might end same-day voter registration. Republican leaders have said right-to-work won't happen, though, and Walker has said he wouldn't sign a bill repealing same-day registration because the state would have to spend $5.2 million to do away with it.
"If people are true to their campaign rhetoric ... it'll be a much more bipartisan effort," Barca said. "That's what the public expects. We'll find out soon enough."