Wisconsin State Senate

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Wisconsin State Senate

Seal of Wisconsin.svg.png
General Information
Type:   Upper house
Partisan control:   Republican Party
Term limits:   None
2015 session start:   January 5, 2015
Website:   Official Senate Page
Senate President:   Mary Lazich (R)
Majority Leader:   Scott Fitzgerald (R)
Minority Leader:   Jennifer Shilling (D)
Members:  33
Length of term:   4 years
Authority:   Art IV, Sec 5, Wisconsin Constitution
Salary:   $49,943/year + per diem
Last Election:  November 4, 2014 (17 seats)
Next election:  November 8, 2016 (16 seats)
Redistricting:  Wisconsin Legislature has control
Meeting place:
Architectural detail Wisconsin Capitol.JPG
The Wisconsin State Senate is the upper house of the Wisconsin State Legislature. There are 33 state senators from 33 state senate districts.

Senators are elected for four-year terms with no term limits. Half of the senate is up for election every two years. Each member represents an average of 172,333 residents, as of the 2010 Census.[1] After the 2000 Census, each member represented 162,536 residents.[2] In the 2009-2010 session, senators made $49,943.[3] That was up from $47,413 in the 2007-08 session.[4]

As of May 2015, Wisconsin is one of 23 Republican state government trifectas.

See also: Wisconsin State Legislature, Wisconsin House of Representatives, Wisconsin Governor


Article IV of the Wisconsin Constitution contains provisions related to the meeting of the Wisconsin State Legislature, of which the Senate is a part. Section 11 of Article IV states that the times for regular sessions are to be provided by law. Section 11 also states that the Governor of Wisconsin has the power to call the Legislature into special session.


See also: Dates of 2015 state legislative sessions

In 2015, the Legislature will be in session from January 5 through December 31 .

Major issues

Like many states, the issue that tops the Wisconsin State Legislature's to-do list is the state's budget. Wisconsin currently faces a $2.2 million budget shortfall, and lawmakers will be forced to address the issue before any other projects. The Republican agenda will also focus on reducing the size of government, tax cuts, entitlement reform and school accountability. The Democrats, on the other hand, have emphasized their interest in focusing the debate on raising the minimum wage, income inequality and other issues Democrats say the middle class is concerned about.

Alongside those issues will be the media and some lawmaker's preoccupation with whether or not Governor Scott Walker will announce a presidential bid for 2016. But, Walker says that his ability to run for the country's highest office will largely depend on how his state fares, and so his potential bid is a motivation for the state.[5]


See also: Dates of 2014 state legislative sessions

In 2014, the Legislature was in session from January 14 through June 4.

Major issues

Major issues during the 2014 legislative session included income tax, public school funding, health care and jobs.[6]


See also: Dates of 2013 state legislative sessions

In 2013, the Legislature was in session from January 7 to December 31.

Major issues

Following the extreme polarization of the last two years, Gov. Scott Walker (R) said he would push for a more moderate agenda in 2013. Alongside the creation of a new budget, main issues will include job creation, workforce development, tax cuts, education reform and transportation infrastructure.[7]


See also: Dates of 2012 state legislative sessions

In 2012, the Senate was in session from January 10 through March 16 with a return for limited business on April 24.

Major issues

With potential recalls of Governor Scott Walker (R), Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch (R) and four Republican state senators, debate on major legislation was expected to be limited.[8] Going into the session, Republican leaders said they were focused on passing bills on only four main issues - clearing the way for an ore mine in northern Wisconsin, easing laws regarding development on wetlands, environmental regulation, and creating a venture capital fund to help start-up businesses.[9]

The six recalls dominated the session. Ultimately on June 5, recalls against the Governor, Lt. Governor, and three of the state senators were unsuccessful. The fourth recall, that against Van Wanggaard, went to a recount. Wanggaard was defeated, giving Democrats control of the Senate.

On July 24, 2012, one week after Democrats gained the majority in the state Senate, Tim Cullen (D) quit the Democratic caucus after newly named Majority Leader Mark Miller did not give him chairmanship on a committee with clout. Cullen, who had been offered chair of the Committee on Small Business Development and Tourism called it "an insult to my district" and said he might leave the party altogether to become an independent.[10]

Cullen said the move was "intended to send me a message that I am not welcome and that he can treat me however he wants to and that somehow I am supposed to take it." Cullen's decision did not alter the partisan makeup of the chamber.[11]

Three days later Cullen rejoined the caucus, receiving the chairmanship of two new committees and a leadership position on two others. Miller said he could have handled the situation better but welcomed Cullen back to the caucus.[12]


See also: Dates of 2011 state legislative sessions

In 2011, the Senate adjourned a special session at the request of Governor Scott Walker on January 4, 2011. The ongoing special session was called to consider legislation regarding tax credits, tort law, medical savings accounts, other legislation relating to taxation, and the budget repair bill. The regular session began on January 11. An extraordinary session was called by the Legislature from June 13-30, with another extraordinary session called for July 19-29.[13]


See also: Dates of 2010 state legislative sessions

In 2010, the Senate convened its legislative session on January 19, and it ended its last scheduled floor-period on April 22. Some special sessions went until June 19, 2010.[14]

In the 2009-2010 session:

  • 708 bills were introduced.
  • 246 bills were enacted into law.
  • 459 bills failed (26 because they failed concurrence)[15]

Role in state budget

See also: Wisconsin state budget and finances
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Wisconsin operates on a biennial budget cycle. The sequence of key events in the budget process is as follows:[16][17]

  1. Budget instruction guidelines are sent to state agencies in June.
  2. State agencies submit budget requests in September.
  3. The governor submits his or her proposed budget to the Wisconsin State Legislature in January.
  4. The legislature adopts a budget in June or July. A simple majority is needed to pass a budget.
  5. The biennial budget cycle begins in July.

Wisconsin is one of 44 states in which the governor has line item veto authority.[17]

The governor is constitutionally required to submit a balanced budget. In addition, the legislature is constitutionally required to pass a balanced budget.[17]

Cost-benefit analyses

See also: Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative Cost-Benefit Study
Map showing results of the Pew-MacArthur cost-benefit study.

The Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative released a report in July 2013 indicating that cost-benefit analysis in policymaking led to more effective uses of public funds. Looking at data from 2008 through 2011, the study's authors found that some states were more likely to use cost-benefit analysis, while others were facing challenges and lagging behind the rest of the nation. The challenges states faced included a lack of time, money and technical skills needed to conduct comprehensive cost-benefit analyses. Wisconsin was one of the 10 states that used cost-benefit analysis more than the rest of the states with respect to determining return on investment regarding state programs. In addition, these states were more likely to use cost-benefit analysis with respect to large budget areas and when making policy decisions.[18]

Ethics and transparency

Following the Money report

See also: "Following the Money" report, 2014

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a consumer-focused nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., released its annual report on state transparency websites in April 2014. The report, entitled "Following the Money," measured how transparent and accountable state websites are with regard to state government spending.[19] According to the report, Wisconsin received a grade of A- and a numerical score of 90, indicating that Wisconsin was "leading" in terms of transparency regarding state spending.[19]

Open States Transparency

See also: Open States' Legislative Data Report Card

The Sunlight Foundation released an "Open Legislative Data Report Card" in March 2013. Wisconsin was given a grade of D in the report. The report card evaluated how adequate, complete and accessible legislative data was to the general public. A total of 10 states received an A: Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Kansas, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia and Washington.[20]



See also: Wisconsin State Senate elections, 2014

Elections for 17 seats in the Wisconsin State Senate took place in 2014. A primary election took place on August 12, 2014. The general election was held on November 4, 2014. The signature-filing deadline for candidates wishing to run in this election was June 2, 2014.


See also: Wisconsin State Senate elections, 2012

Elections for the office of Wisconsin State Senate were held in Wisconsin on November 6, 2012. A total of 16 seats were up for election.

The signature filing deadline was July 10, 2012.

The following table details the 10 districts with the smallest margin of victory in the November 6 general election.

Nine of the 16 senators up for election faced recall elections in 2011.

Republican Party Robert Cowles
Republican Party Alberta Darling
Republican Party Sheila Harsdorf
Democratic Party Dave Hansen
Democratic Party Jim Holperin
Republican Party Randy Hopper
Republican Party Dan Kapanke
Republican Party Luther Olsen
Democratic Party Robert Wirch

Dan Kapanke and Randy Hopper were removed by voters.

The seven senators who faced re-election in 2012 but did not face recall in 2011 were:

Democratic Party Spencer Coggs
Republican Party Glenn Grothman
Democratic Party Julie Lassa
Republican Party Mary Lazich

Democratic Party Mark Miller
Democratic Party Fred Risser
Democratic Party Lena Taylor


See also: Wisconsin State Senate elections, 2010

Elections for the office of Wisconsin's State Senate were held in Wisconsin on November 2, 2010.

The signature-filing deadline for candidates wishing to run in these elections was July 13, 2010. The primary Election Day was September 14, 2010.

In 2010, the candidates for state senate raised a total of $4,251,736 in campaign contributions. The top 10 donors were:[21]


See also: Wisconsin State Senate elections, 2008

Elections for the office of Wisconsin State Senate consisted of a primary election on September 9, 2008, and a general election on November 4, 2008.

During the 2008 election, the total value of contributions to Senate candidates was $4,912,818. The top 10 contributors were:[22]


See also: Wisconsin State Senate elections, 2006

Elections for the office of Wisconsin State Senate consisted of a primary election on September 12, 2006, and a general election on November 7, 2006.

During the 2006 election, the total value of contributions to Senate candidates was $4,536,726. The top 10 contributors were:[23]


See also: Wisconsin State Senate elections, 2004

Elections for the office of Wisconsin State Senate consisted of a primary election on September 14, 2004, and a general election on November 2, 2004.

During the 2004 election, the total value of contributions to Senate candidates was $4,324,018. The top 10 contributors were:[24]


See also: Wisconsin State Senate elections, 2002

Elections for the office of Wisconsin State Senate consisted of a primary election on September 10, 2002, and a general election on November 5, 2002.

During the 2002 election, the total value of contributions to Senate candidates was $3,014,637. The top 10 contributors were:[25]


See also: Wisconsin State Senate elections, 2000

Elections for the office of Wisconsin State Senate consisted of a primary election on September 12, 2000, and a general election on November 7, 2000.

During the 2000 election, the total value of contributions to Senate candidates was $3,869,105. The top 10 contributors were:[26]


Section 6 of Article 4 of the Wisconsin Constitution states, "No person shall be eligible to the legislature who shall not have resided one year within the state, and be a qualified elector in the district which he may be chosen to represent."


See also: How vacancies are filled in state legislatures
How Vacancies are filled in State Legislatures
NevadaMassachusettsColoradoNew MexicoWyomingArizonaMontanaCaliforniaOregonWashingtonIdahoTexasOklahomaKansasNebraskaSouth DakotaNorth DakotaMinnesotaIowaMissouriArkansasLouisianaMississippiAlabamaGeorgiaFloridaSouth CarolinaIllinoisWisconsinTennesseeNorth CarolinaIndianaOhioKentuckyPennsylvaniaNew JerseyNew YorkVermontVermontNew HampshireMaineWest VirginiaVirginiaMarylandMarylandConnecticutConnecticutDelawareDelawareRhode IslandRhode IslandMassachusettsNew HampshireMichiganMichiganAlaskaVacancy fulfillment map.png

In the event of a vacancy in the senate, the Governor must call for a special election when allowed by law.[27] Special elections to fill legislative vacancies cannot be held after February 1st preceding a spring election or September 1st preceding a fall election.[28] If the vacancy happens before May 15th, the Governor must fill the vacancy as soon as possible.[29]


See also: Redistricting in Wisconsin

Redistricting in Wisconsin is under the control of the state legislature. If the state legislature fails to reach an agreement, the maps are drawn by either state or federal courts. The State Senate and State Assembly draft maps for the new state legislative districts and the U.S. Congressional districts. Both chambers must pass the new map, and the governor can sign or veto the map for any reason.[30]


According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Wisconsin's population increased from 5.36 million to 5.69 million between 2000 and 2010.[31] This population growth was large enough to allow the state to retain its eight Congressional seats.[32]

Republicans held the majority in the State Senate, State Assembly, and the governorship after the 2010 elections. As a result, the redistricting process was completely under the control of one party.

The Republican leadership dismissed the Democratic-hired firm that was going to aid with redistricting and instead brought in an outside group to aid the process. This new firm's leader had donated to Republican candidates in the past.[33] The redistricting process was accelerated by the summer 2011 recall elections, and Governor Scott Walker signed a bill that gave the legislature the power to redistrict state boundaries before the localities finished their redistricting processes.[34] The state Republicans unveiled their plan on July 8, 2011. Democrats criticized the plan as gerrymandering, but Republicans defended their map.[35] The maps passed the legislature on July 19, 2011, and were signed into law by Governor Walker on August 9, 2011.[36]

Several lawsuits were filed as a result of the new maps.[37] The Wisconsin Government Accountability Board identified errors in the maps, likely due to the creation of the state boundaries before the localities finished drawing their boundaries. A court also determined that two Milwaukee-area districts needed to be redrawn to better represent minority-area populations.[38]


Tour of Wisconsin State Capitol


See also: Comparison of state legislative salaries

As of 2013, members of the Wisconsin Legislature are paid $49,943/year. Legislators receive a maximum of $88/day per diem, set by the compensation commission. Based on the maximum, the leadership of each house determines what amount to authorize for each session.[39]

When sworn in

See also: When state legislators assume office after a general election

Wisconsin legislators assume office the first Monday in January following the election.

Partisan composition

See also: Partisan composition of state senates
Party As of May 2015
     Democratic Party 14
     Republican Party 19
Total 33


Wisconsin State Senate[40]
August 20111617
November 20101815
November 20081815
November 20061419
November 20041518
November 20021815
November 20001716
November 1998**1617
November 1996**1716
November 1994**1716
November 1992**1914
November 1990**2013
**In the 1993, 1995, and 1997 Legislatures, majority control of the senate shifted during the session. On 4/20/93, vacancies were filled resulting in a total of 16 Democrats and 17 Republicans; on 6/16/96, there were 17 Democrats and 16 Republicans; and on 4/19/98, there were 16 Democrats and 17 Republicans.

The chart below shows the partisan composition of the Wisconsin State Senate from 1992-2013.

Partisan composition of the Wisconsin State Senate.PNG


The Senate, by roll call vote, elects a member to serve as President of the Senate and one to serve as President pro tempore. They serve for the duration of the biennial session.[41]

Current leadership

Current Leadership, Wisconsin State Senate
Office Representative Party
President of the Senate Mary Lazich Ends.png Republican
President Pro Tempore of the Senate Rick Gudex Ends.png Republican
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald Ends.png Republican
Senate Assistant Majority Leader Paul Farrow Ends.png Republican
Senate Majority Caucus Chair Sheila Harsdorf Ends.png Republican
Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling Electiondot.png Democratic
Senate Assistant Minority Leader Dave Hansen Electiondot.png Democratic
Senate Minority Caucus Chair Julie Lassa Electiondot.png Democratic

List of current members

Architectural details on the exterior of the Wisconsin Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin where the Wisconsin State Senate meets
Current members, Wisconsin State Senate
District Senator Party Assumed office
1 Frank Lasee Ends.png Republican 2011
2 Robert Cowles Ends.png Republican 1987
3 Tim Carpenter Electiondot.png Democratic 2003
4 Lena Taylor Electiondot.png Democratic 2005
5 Leah Vukmir Ends.png Republican 2011
6 Nikiya Harris Electiondot.png Democratic 2013
7 Chris Larson Electiondot.png Democratic 2011
8 Alberta Darling Ends.png Republican 1993
9 Devin Lemahieu Ends.png Republican 2015
10 Sheila Harsdorf Ends.png Republican 2001
11 Stephen Nass Ends.png Republican 2015
12 Tom Tiffany Ends.png Republican 2013
13 Scott Fitzgerald Ends.png Republican 1995
14 Luther Olsen Ends.png Republican 2005
15 Janis Ringhand Electiondot.png Democratic 2015
16 Mark Miller Electiondot.png Democratic 2005
17 Howard Marklein Ends.png Republican 2015
18 Rick Gudex Ends.png Republican 2013
19 Roger Roth Ends.png Republican 2015
20 Duey Stroebel Ends.png Republican 2015
21 Van Wanggaard Ends.png Republican 2015
22 Robert Wirch Electiondot.png Democratic 1997
23 Terry Moulton Ends.png Republican 2011
24 Julie Lassa Electiondot.png Democratic 2003
25 Janet Bewley Electiondot.png Democratic 2015
26 Fred Risser Electiondot.png Democratic 1963
27 Jon Erpenbach Electiondot.png Democratic 1999
28 Mary Lazich Ends.png Republican 1999
29 Jerry Petrowski Ends.png Republican 2012
30 Dave Hansen Electiondot.png Democratic 2001
31 Kathleen Vinehout Electiondot.png Democratic 2007
32 Jennifer Shilling Electiondot.png Democratic 2011
33 Paul Farrow Ends.png Republican 2012

Senate committees

The Wisconsin State Senate has the following standing committees:


Partisan balance 1992-2013

Who Runs the States Project
See also: Ballotpedia:Who Runs the States and Ballotpedia:Who Runs the States, Wisconsin
Partisan breakdown of the Wisconsin legislature from 1992-2013

From 1992-2013, the Democratic Party was the majority in the Wisconsin State Senate for 11 years while the Republicans were the majority for 11 years. The final three years of the study depicted a shift in the Wisconsin Senate with all three years being Republican trifectas.

Across the country, there were 541 Democratic and 517 Republican state senates from 1992 to 2013.

Over the course of the 22-year study, state governments became increasingly more partisan. At the outset of the study period (1992), 18 of the 49 states with partisan legislatures had single-party trifectas and 31 states had divided governments. In 2013, only 13 states had divided governments, while single-party trifectas held sway in 36 states, the most in the 22 years studied.

The chart below shows the partisan composition of the Office of the Governor of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin State Senate and the Wisconsin House of Representatives from 1992-2013. Partisan composition of Wisconsin state government(1992-2013).PNG

SQLI and partisanship

To read the full report on the State Quality of Life Index (SQLI) in PDF form, click here.

The chart below depicts the partisanship of the Wisconsin state government and the state's State Quality of Life Ranking (SQLI) ranking for the years studied. For the SQLI, the states were ranked from 1-50, with 1 being the best and 50 the worst. During the course of the study, Wisconsin experienced both Democratic and Republican trifectas as well as divided governments. The state's SQLI rankings were higher earlier in the study, with its highest ranking, finishing 7th, occurring in 1992, 1995 and 1998 during both Republican trifectas and a divided government. Its lowest ranking, finishing 30th, occurred in 2007 during a divided government. The state's rankings began to improve during the most recent years of the study, finishing 13th in 2012 during a Republican trifecta.

  • SQLI average with Democratic trifecta: 21.00
  • SQLI average with Republican trifecta: 10.00
  • SQLI average with divided government: 17.27
Chart displaying the partisanship of the Wisconsin government from 1992-2013 and the State Quality of Life Index (SQLI).

See also

External links


Wikipedia® has an article on:


  1. census.gov, "Population Distribution and Change: 2000 to 2010," accessed May 15, 2014
  2. U.S. Census Bureau, "States Ranked by Population," April 2, 2001
  3. Wisconsin State Legislature, "Legislative Branch," accessed August 9, 2014
  4. Wisconsin State Legislature, "Wisconsin Legislators," accessed August 9, 2014 (dead link)
  5. Scott Bauer, The Washington Times, "Walker, Legislature focusing on budget problem in 2015," January 3, 2015
  6. Wisconsin Realtors Association, "2014 Election Themes Take Shape," accessed January 14, 2014
  7. Wisconsin State Journal, "With state bitterly divided, Walker promises more moderate agenda," January 7, 2013
  8. Governor Journal, "Recalls Make for Quiet Session," January 16, 2012
  9. Appleton Post Crescent, "Wisconsin legislative agenda influenced by negative effects of recalls," January 16, 2012
  10. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Cullen quits Senate Democratic caucus," July 24, 2012
  11. NBC 15, "Sen. Cullen Leaves Democratic Caucus," July 24, 2012
  12. Wisconsin State Journal, "Cullen rejoins Democratic caucus after getting committee chairmanships," July 27, 2012
  13. National Conference of State Legislatures, "2011 Legislative Sessions Calendar," December 19, 2011
  14. National Conference of State Legislatures, "2010 Legislative Sessions Calendar," December 8, 2010
  15. Wisconsin State Legislature, "Session statistics of the 2009-2010 session of the Wisconsin State Senate," accessed August 9, 2014
  16. National Conference of State Legislatures, "State Experiences with Annual and Biennial Budgeting," updated April 2011
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 National Association of State Budget Officers, "Budget Processes in the States, Summer 2008," accessed February 21, 2014
  18. Pew Charitable Trusts, "States’ Use of Cost-Benefit Analysis," July 29, 2013
  19. 19.0 19.1 U.S. Public Interest Research Group, "Following the Money 2014 Report," accessed April 15, 2014
  20. Sunlight Foundation, "Ten Principles for Opening Up Government Information," accessed June 16, 2013
  21. Follow the Money, "Wisconsin Senate 2010 Campaign Contributions," August 14, 2013
  22. Follow the Money, "Wisconsin 2008 Candidates," accessed August 14, 2013
  23. Follow the Money, "Wisconsin 2006 Candidates," accessed August 14, 2013
  24. Follow the Money, "Wisconsin 2004 Candidates," accessed August 14, 2013
  25. Follow the Money, "Wisconsin 2002 Candidates," accessed August 14, 2013
  26. Follow the Money, "Wisconsin 2000 Candidates," accessed August 14, 2013
  27. Wisconsin Legislature, "Wisconsin Election Law," accessed December 18, 2013(Referenced Statute 17.19 (1), Wisconsin Statutes)
  28. Wisconsin Legislature, "Wisconsin Election Law," accessed December 18, 2013(Referenced Statute 8.50, Wisconsin Statutes)
  29. Wisconsin Legislature, "Wisconsin Election Law," accessed December 18, 2013(Referenced Statute 8.50(4)-(d), Wisconsin Statutes)
  30. Wisconsin Legislature, "Wisconsin Redistricting Profile," accessed August 9, 2014
  31. U.S. Census Bureau, "2010 Census: Wisconsin Profile," accessed August 9, 2014
  32. Northland's News Center, "Minnesota and Wisconsin Both to Keep Eight Seats in House," December 21, 2010
  33. Chicago Tribune, "Democrats cry foul over GOP hiring law firms," January 5, 2011
  34. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Walker allows new legislative mapping, doesn't OK actual maps yet," July 25, 2011
  35. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Parties joust over Wisconsin redistricting plan," July 13, 2011
  36. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Walker signs legislation to redraw district boundaries," August 9, 2011
  37. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Wisconsin's redistricting trial goes to judges," February 24, 2012
  38. Wisconsin State Journal, "Court strikes down GOP redistricting, orders just 2 districts redrawn," March 22, 2012
  39. NCSL.org, "2012 State Legislator Compensation and Per Diem Table," accessed March 18, 2013
  40. Wisconsin Blue Book, "2011," accessed August 9, 2014
  41. Wisconsin State Legislature, "Wisconsin State Senate Rules," accessed August 9, 2014