The Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities voted unanimously Feb. 18 to approve Assembly Bill 729, which establishes a system that would allow the UW System to pursue classified research contracts and grants.

The bill is slated for quick action before the full Assembly; Senate action is also required before the bill can be sent to Gov. Scott Walker for his signature.

Assembly Bill 729 establishes a process under which the university may accept contracts or grants tied to classified or sensitive research. It’s an approach that will allow qualified UW researchers to engage on a pressing national security issue while safeguarding academic freedoms and attracting grants and contracts that currently fly over Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Technology Council President Tom Still thanked the 13 committee members for their action, noting that Rep. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, the committee chairman, was instrumental in moving the bipartisan bill forward.

“In addition to helping the UW compete for grants and contracts, this bill will expand the ability of federal private contractors, both within and outside Wisconsin, to form R&D partnerships with state campuses to help meet classified research and development needs,” Still said. “It also furthers the growth of a cybersecurity industry in Wisconsin that can provide training and internships for students who are now forced to go outside Wisconsin to pursue such careers. That’s vital in a state with a large health care and financial services base.”

Assembly lead sponsors of the bill are Reps. Mike Kuglitsch, R-New Berlin, and Robb Kahl, D-Monona.

The bill is supported by the Tech Council, the Wisconsin Growth Capital Coalition and the Wisconsin Security Research Consortium. Representatives of the UW-Madison and other parts of the university system testified or registered in favor of the bill at a recent public hearing.