Assembly Republican proposals on homelessness, housing shortages headed for votes

A bill criminalizing temporary living on public property is set to come up for a vote in the Wisconsin State Assembly when it convenes Tuesday.

The bill, AB604, moved out of the Assembly Committee on Housing and Real Estate after a party line 6-4 vote last week, with all the committee’s Democrats voting against a recommendation for the full Assembly to adopt the bill.

Under the legislation, temporary living on public property would become a Class C misdemeanor, with corresponding penalties of up to a $500 fine or 30 days in jail. It’d also prevent homeless support organizations from receiving certain grants in full unless those groups can prove their efforts have helped people get permanent housing, a job or reduced the number of people experiencing homelessness multiple times.

Republican supporters have said the homelessness bill is a matter of public safety, but city officials, Democratic state representatives and workers for shelter and homelessness programs have condemned some of the bill’s many provisions. Though many of those officials acknowledged the harsh realities of the state’s housing market, some said the proposals would exacerbate ongoing housing problems rather than addressing them.

Other housing bills

It’s one part of a sweeping housing legislation package Republicans have said is meant to address a worker housing shortage across Wisconsin. Much of that package will be the subject of floor debates during Tuesday’s session.

Some of the proposals included in the package received varying degrees of bipartisan support in the Assembly housing committee last week.

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AB610, which would disallow property tax assessors from using certain practices to determine a property’s fair market value, passed that committee on an 8-2 vote, with the only dissents coming from state Reps. Kalan Haywood, D-Milwaukee, and Jodi Emerson, D-Eau Claire.

Meanwhile, state Rep. Scott Allen, R-Waukesha and the committee’s vice chair, joined Haywood and Emerson in voting against the bill. That bill would require cities or villages with water and sewer service to have at least one area where multifamily housing would be allowed. The legislation’s provisions would also place some limits on local government oversight of home building developments.

Still other housing proposals up for consideration would, among other effects, provide for sales and use tax exemptions for certain construction materials, supplies and equipment used for the development or rehabilitation of workforce housing. 

Also up for discussion

Other bills under deliberation in the Assembly Tuesday include:

  • AB115, which would make tuition expenses for state Department of Workforce Development-approved programs deductible from income calculations for state income tax purposes.
  • AB152, which would exempt building and plumbing plans from examination for certain smaller public buildings.
  • AB297, which would provide for harsher penalties for people who break certain traffic laws in close proximity to emergency vehicles or tow trucks. The bill would also require a public awareness campaign from the state’s Department of Transportation on the dangers of construction and maintenance areas, utility areas and emergency areas, along with the traffic laws associated with those areas.

The Assembly is also set to hold a ceremony at the start of its Tuesday session to honor some of Wisconsin’s first responders.

Editor’s note: This story will be updated.