Two key initiatives are on their way to Gov. Scott Walker's desk after being volleyed back and forth between the state Senate and Assembly for a few weeks.
Lawmakers in the state Assembly voted unanimously on Thursday to approve changes made by the Senate to a bill overhauling the state's juvenile corrections system. Passed for the first time in a unanimous Assembly vote last month, the legislation awaits the governor's signature.
The plan, thought to be in jeopardy in the days leading up to the Senate's last day in session, was saved in the final hours before senators came to the floor on Tuesday. It comes after years of allegations of inmate abuse and unsafe working conditions at Lincoln Hills, the state's only juvenile corrections facility. The Irma facility is under a federal investigation and the subject of several lawsuits. Walker called for a plan to close the facility in January.
Under the bill, the most serious juvenile offenders — those who commit crimes such as murder or first-degree sexual assault — would be housed in new facilities overseen by the state Department of Corrections. Those who commit lesser offenses would be placed in secure residential care centers overseen by county governments with support from the state.
The bill requires the DOC to build at least one new prison for serious juvenile offenders. The Joint Committee on Finance would be required to approve those facilities before they are built. The state will also add capacity for at least 29 offenders at the Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center in Madison.
Lawmakers also voted 59-31 to approve a plan to give parents $100 for each child they have and to exempt some purchases from the state's sales tax during the first weekend of August. Democratic Reps. Jason Fields and Leon Young, both of Milwaukee, joined Republicans in supporting the legislation.
Originally passed by the Assembly last month, the Senate made several changes to the bill earlier this week.
Under the Senate changes, the cost of the sales tax holiday would go from $50 million to $12 million. The sales tax would be waived on clothing purchases under $75, computer purchases under $750, computer supplies under $250 and school supplies under $75.
Families with children living at home who were under age 18 at the end of 2017 could receive the child tax credit. There are no income qualifications for the credit, which is estimated to cost the state $122 million. The bill allows anyone who does not want the credit to opt out and instead donate the money to a charity or back to the state.
Because both tax breaks would show up just before the start of the school year — and not long before the August primary and November general elections — Democrats have panned the effort as an "election-year bribe." Republicans argue that any surplus tax dollars should be returned to taxpayers.