In the closing day of its spring session, the Wisconsin Senate voted, 33-0, to approve a bill which establishes a system that would allow the UW System to pursue classified research contracts and grants. The bill was passed, 99-0, last month by the Wisconsin Assembly and now goes to Gov. Scott Walker for his approval. 

Previously endorsed unanimously by higher education committees in both houses of the Legislature, Assembly Bill 729 and its companion bill, Senate Bill 578, establish 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 33 senators for their action, noting that Sens. Sheila Harsdorf, Paul Farrow, Jennifer Shilling, Jon Erpenbach and Rick Gudex were among a bipartisan group of lawmakers who helped move the 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 public hearings.

“The Growth Capital Coalition is appreciative of the Senate vote, and the ability of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to see the potential in this bill for the UW System and our economy,” said Steve Lyons, president of the WGCC.