Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald says changes needed to juvenile bill

MADISON — The Republican leader of the state Senate said Wednesday that changes will be needed to an $80 million juvenile justice overhaul plan that the Assembly passed unanimously and that is a top priority of Gov. Scott Walker.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald bristled at the bipartisan negotiations that led to the bill's passage but did not include him, calling it "horrendous."

"It didn't go through the right channels," Fitzgerald said. "I don't think we had the right people in the room. ... As a result of that it's not ready for prime time."

The bill would close the Lincoln Hills juvenile prison by 2021, move the most violent inmates into state-run facilities and put counties in charge of housing the rest.

The Assembly would have to come back into session to approve the bill if the Senate makes any changes. Republican senators were meeting privately Wednesday to discuss that issue and other Walker priorities. The governor planned to make his case personally with the senators during the closed-door meeting.

Walker, who is up for re-election in November, has been negotiating with lawmakers on the juvenile justice bill that would also close the troubled Lincoln Hills prison, a $100 child tax rebate and ways to bolster school safety in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, high school shooting that killed 17.

Republicans, who control the Senate 18-14, were meeting to decide which bills have enough support on their final planned session day March 20. Walker is fighting for the tax cut, prison plan and school safety measures to help with his re-election campaign.

State Superintendent Tony Evers, one of the most prominent Democrats running for governor, sent Walker and legislative leaders his ideas this week. They include giving schools $50 million more to invest on hiring more security guards and counselors and more services designed to reduce school violence.

The Republican-controlled Assembly approved making grants available to schools to pay for more armed guards, an approach Walker has said he supports.

Fitzgerald said Republicans were not focused on that but instead he wants to give schools an undetermined amount of money to pay for safety improvements for buildings.

Sen. Luther Olsen, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said Wednesday that he opposes the Assembly plan to pay for armed guards. Olsen favors scrapping Walker's $174 million plan to send parents a $100 per-child tax rebate and waive sales taxes for one weekend in August. Olsen said he'd like to instead give schools about $100 million in categorical aids to spend as they see fit on school safety.

"It has to be substantial enough that it does some good," he said. "Let's invest it wisely."

Walker spokeswoman Amy Hasenberg declined to comment on the various school safety ideas that have been discussed. She said Walker would announce a school safety package before the Senate's final session day in two weeks.

Walker's child tax credit bill, which includes an August sales tax holiday, has already passed the Assembly. But Fitzgerald said there is not enough support for the sales tax holiday to pass the Senate.

Approving a scaled-back version would require the Assembly to return to session after they have adjourned for the year. Passing a school safety plan that's different from the grants for security guards the Assembly already approved would also force them to return.