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Changes to electing Wisconsin chief justice approved in state Senate

MADISON, WI (WTAQ) - Wisconsin senators split along party lines again Tuesday afternoon, when the upper house gave its first approval to having the Supreme Court elect its chief justice. 

All 18 Republicans favored a proposed constitutional amendment to end the 124-year-old practice of having the justice with the longest seniority serve as the chief. All 15 Democrats voted no.

They said the measure was clearly aimed at removing liberal Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, who's been a justice for 37 years and the chief for the last 17. Democrats said the Legislature has no business deciding how the court is led. 

New Berlin Republican Mary Lazich said the people would have the final say in a statewide referendum as early as 2015. One Assembly Republican said earlier that having the justices elect their chief would lead to less political derision and more collaborative justice. 

The seven justices would choose their leader every two years, and there would be no limit on how long a chief justice could serve. A limit of six consecutive years was removed Tuesday. 

The Assembly is scheduled to take up the amendment on Thursday. If it's passed there, it must pass both houses next session before it goes to the voters.

Also Tuesday afternoon, senators voted unanimously to ban employers from asking workers and job candidates to hand over their Facebook passwords to their bosses.

Also, the Senate passed new requirements for high school students on a voice vote. Students would have to take three credits each of math and science instead of the present two. Computer science classes could be counted as a math course, and agricultural science could be a science credit.