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Legislative session begins with new faces

Republicans control both houses

MADISON, Wis. - The Wisconsin Legislature begins its two-year session with the swearing in of new members.

Twenty five new Assembly members and three new state senators officially took the oath of office on Monday and begin their terms.

There are 14 new Democrats and 11 new Republicans in the Assembly. There are two new Republicans and one new Democrat in the Senate.

Republicans have control of both houses, just as they did during the previous two-year session. They have a 59-39 advantage in the Assembly and an 18-15 edge in the Senate.

Republican leaders said they are focused on passing a bill making it easier to open a new iron ore mine near Lake Superior early in the two-year session.

New Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said Republican lawmakers want to move forward on a new agenda and look past the divisive elections of the past year.

"We have a lot of issues to deal with. Hopefully we can leave the contentious issues of the past behind us and instead focus on the things that will move Wisconsin forward," Vos said.

Assembly Republicans said a mining reform bill will be their first priority, and they will avoid bills the governor has called "distractions."

"I can tell you that right to work won't come up this session," Vos said. "Will a lawmaker introduce it? It's possible, but it's certainly not going to be something that gets to the floor. I want to focus as best I can in finding ways to bring people together on areas that we can agree."

Democrats said measures that could get more support across the aisle that should be taken up sooner.


"You take something like closing the skills gap. You have the governor appointing the Sullivan commission, which I sat on. I also was part of the Be Bold advisory committee. There are between a half dozen to a dozen ideas here that are strictly bipartisan that we could pass tomorrow," said Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca.

Senate Republicans now hold a three-vote majority, meaning it could be easier to pass GOP priorities in that house.

But the Senate majority and minority leaders said not to count out bipartisanship

"I'm never going to give up on getting all the Republican votes. Certainly that's our goal in our caucus, and I think that it's a real possibility that we get there," said Sen. Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald.

"You're going to see a governor who recognizes that he can't win statewide unless he is willing to work bipartisan, so it's a matter of us as Democrats drawing a line for what that means," said Senate Majority Leader Chris Larson.

Republicans and Democrats will first address the rules of the chamber in sessions this week and next.

In the Assembly, Vos said they're working on ways to avoid all-nighters or late-night votes in the session, which is a common tactic by the minority party to delay votes.

The Senate majority leader said Monday he hoped lawmakers could pass a mining bill through the Senate by early March.

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