The Legislature’s budget writing committee voted on Gov. Scott Walker’s budget Thursday, addressing transportation, consumer protection laws and a proposal requiring residents to provide DNA upon arrest.

Transportation

The Joint Finance Committee voted to cut transportation funding in Walker’s budget to ensure the transportation fund ends with a positive balance by the end of 2015.

Based on the JFC previous actions and re-estimates of the budget, the transportation fund would have faced a $56.2 million deficit at the end of the biennium, according to a motion authored by committee co-chairs Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, and Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette. However, actions undertaken by the JFC in a 16-0 vote would leave the fund with a positive $5.1 million balance.

“I think what we have here is a really good motion addressing one of our priorities which is to improve our infrastructure,” Darling said. “I think it’s been done in a very reasonable way and it balances a lot of the issues that are of concern to us like the cost of bonding.”

The committee voted to shift the funding for mass transportation from the transportation fund to the general purpose revenue fund, the main source of funding for many state services including education, justice and health.

JFC also voted to pass a Democratic amendment, which would present a 4 percent increase in mass transit aids beginning in 2014.

“I think it does a lot to help make our department more cost effective and effective, which is one of our goals too,” Darling said. “Another one of our priorities is growing jobs and our economy because infrastructure is so important to get people to work in a safe way.

The Senate and Assembly will vote on the budget in June.

Rent-to-own companies

The state’s budget writing committee struck down a part of Walker’s budget that would have excluded rent-to-own companies from the state’s consumer protection laws.

The JFC voted 10-6 to delete the provisions from the budget, with the six Republican Assembly members voting to support Walker’s provision. 

“This is an industry that preys on people who are having a bad time making ends meet,” Rep. Jon Richards, D-Milwaukee, said. “Even without these changes, this industry traps people in a spiral of debt.”

He said he thought it was unfortunate Wisconsin is on the brink of making it easier for these companies to operate.

According to a Legislative Fiscal Bureau analysis, a rent-to-own company rents a product to someone without a credit background check for a period of time, typically 18 months. At the end of the rental period, the renter becomes the owner of the property, in the process paying between what the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions estimates is 200 and 500 percent more than the cost of purchasing the product outright.

Scott Walker’s budget would remove rent-to-own companies from current laws requiring them to fill in all blank spaces on a contract before the customer signs it, according to the LFB analysis.

“We can focus on the negative, which is going to win the day, but there is an appropriateness for this product and this business,” Nygren said. “It is unfortunate that we are not going to have this discussion today, but I do believe we are missing an opportunity.”

DNA on arrest

Upon a felony arrest, Wisconsin residents will have to provide a DNA sample to the police, under portions of Walker’s budget the JFC approved Thursday.

The JFC passed the proposal 13-3, with Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend; Richards; and Sen. Bob Wirch, D-Kenosha, voting against the proposal. Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls, said the proposal will be useful for solving and preventing crimes.

“I’m convinced that this is going to be beneficial for catching career criminals, saving lives, and actually saving dollars,” Harsdorf said.

According to a LFB analysis, Walker’s budget required police to collect biological specimens for DNA analysis from anyone arrested for an alleged felony or for certain alleged misdemeanor including sexual assault and indecent exposure.

The Joint Committee of Finance voted to delay the DNA collection portion of the budget for six months, require Circuit Courts to notify defendants they can seek to expunge their DNA samples from the state’s database and would delete biological samples for any alleged misdemeanor.

Wirch said that the issue of collecting DNA at arrest raises constitutional questions and deserves a public hearing. He added the Legislature has time to deal with the issue in the fall, not at the end of an eight-hour executive session on the budget.

“When you deal with a major constitutional issue, you don’t put it on for 20 minutes at the end of a long day,” Wirch said. “Finally, the Supreme Court of the United States is wrestling with this issue, and we should wait and see what they say.”

However, Sen. Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, said DNA helped solved the murder of her parents.

While the proposal has constitutional and civil concerns, Shilling said building a database bank of DNA gives hope for survivors and the victim’s family.