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Walker Says Lincoln Hills Plan Is ‘Imperative’ And Downplays Liquor Law Rewrite

Comments Come Day After Sen. Fitzgerald Calls Lincoln Hills A 'Heavy Lift'

Scott Walker
Gov. Scott Walker, left, speaks to reporters Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, at the state capitol. Shawn Johnson/WPR

Gov. Scott Walker renewed his call Wednesday for lawmakers to pass a bill that would close the troubled Lincoln Hills juvenile prison before they adjourn for the remainder of the year.

At the same time, Walker downplayed the prospect of a major overhaul of Wisconsin’s liquor laws, saying such a move was not a priority for him.

Walker’s comments came a day after Sen. Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said the plan to close Lincoln Hills might be a “heavy lift” in the waning days of the legislative session.

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“We feel it’s imperative that that get done by the end of the session,” Walker told reporters Wednesday in Madison.

Walker said he was generally supportive of a plan introduced Tuesday by a bipartisan group of state legislators that has the support of Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester.

That plan would close the Lincoln Hill School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls north of Wausau by July 2020 and transfer many of the inmates to smaller regional facilities run by county governments.

Serious juvenile offenders — those serving time for offenses like armed robbery, sexual assault or homicide — would be moved to other state-run institutions.

Walker referenced his time as Milwaukee County Executive as he discussed the bill, saying he was open to giving counties more of a role in juvenile corrections as long as they want it.

“As long as the counties are supportive of that, that’s something I’m interested in pursuing,” Walker said.

The bill to close Lincoln Hills has been scheduled for a public hearing in an Assembly committee Thursday.

Liquor Laws

Also up for a hearing Thursday is Fitzgerald’s bill to revamp Wisconsin’s current system of regulating liquor distribution, a plan that critics have dubbed a “liquor czar” bill.

The plan is similar to one lawmakers considered but never pursued during budget deliberations last year.

Fitzgerald told reporters Tuesday the plan was a priority for him, arguing that under current law, the state is not properly enforcing liquor laws.

Asked about the plan, Walker said he was not familiar with the details and it was not on his agenda.

“He’s throwing the idea out,” Walker said. “I don’t know how far it’s going to go.”

Many of the same groups that fought the initial version of the bill were lining up against it again, including MillerCoors.

“We oppose the creation of a new, standalone alcohol enforcement agency since we believe the current regulatory structure is effective,” said MillerCoors Media Relations Manager Marty Maloney.

Fitzgerald’s bill would also carve out a special liquor license for Kohler Co. to allow it to sell chocolate brandy at its resort.

The bill is especially specific on that provision, saying it would only be allowed for a facility “that includes at least 300 guest rooms and includes all of the following located within 15 miles of these guest rooms: at least one spa; comprehensive food and beverage services consisting of at least five separate restaurants; and championship golf courses consisting of at least 36 holes.”

Sales Tax Holiday

Walker said a plan to create a two-day sales tax holiday was a popular idea, though he wasn’t ready to predict that it would pass the Legislature.

Walker and Assembly Republicans agreed on a plan that would attach the sales tax holiday to the governor’s proposal to create a child tax credit of $100 for every child under 18.

Fitzgerald said Tuesday that some of his members had issues with the sales tax holiday in the Senate.

“I think there’s a lot of appeal out in the public,” Walker said. “Whether or not get that all through remains to be seen. But I think at a minimum our hope is that we’ll get a child tax credit so that families can get that $100 per child.”