How Wisconsin Republicans changed lame-duck session bills before passing them Thursday
MADISON, Wis. — Three bills passed by the Republican-controlled Wisconsin legislature early Wednesday morning are awaiting Gov. Scott Walker’s signature after an all-night session at the state capitol.
Lawmakers made multiple changes to the bills behind closed doors in the early morning hours that both added and removed provisions.
“Our constituents who voted for us want us to have the ability to win a hand on occasion and that’s what these proposals do today,” said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester.
The winning hand for Republicans in the legislature, they say, is to retain power over a number of decisions.
The original bill they proposed would have stripped Gov.-elect Tony Evers of the ability to appoint the CEO of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., the state’s job creation agency, and given lawmakers a majority of appointments to the WECC board.
The bill passed early Wednesday lets Evers have some of those powers back in September of next year, allowing him to appoint the CEO after that date and reducing the number of seats on the board so that Democratic and Republican appointments are then equal.
The measure still limits Evers’ power to make administrative rules that enact laws in the state.
“You are incensed that we have a new governor and new attorney general and you’re trying to take away all of their power,” said Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay.
As for incoming Attorney General Josh Kaul’s powers, the initial bill gave lawmakers the power to remove Kaul from a case challenging the constitutionality of a state statute. Changes to that bill instead give the Assembly Speaker or Senate Majority Leader the power to intervene in his cases. The bill also requires any money due the state from legal settlements to go to the state’s general fund, rather than any directed initiatives.
The amended bill still requires Kaul to get approval from the legislature to withdraw from any lawsuits, like the one against the Affordable Care Act, which Kaul had pledged to drop by at Evers’ direction. The measure still removes the Office of the Solicitor General from the Department of Justice.
A bill focused on Medicaid also passed, but was slightly pared back. The measure now requires Evers to get approval on federal waivers for the Department of Health, rather than all agencies. That provision is aimed specifically at preventing Evers from accepting a Medicaid expansion, and putting into statute work requirements to get Medicaid care.
Other provisions in the bills passed early Wednesday morning include a new restriction on absentee voting that would limit it to two weeks. A similar measure has been struck down by a judge in the past.
Another provision would require Evers to get permission if he chooses to ban guns in the state Capitol. A bill also passed by the legislature would limit how many road projects would have to meet federal standards, which can be more strict than state laws.
Democratic lawmakers decried the last-minute changes and decisions in the early morning hours.
“Look at these documents, it just appeared on the table behind me, and without sleep I’m going to have to vote on them,” said Sen. Janis Ringhand, D-Evansville.
Vos said on the floor that a “balance of power” was what voters had asked for.
“We’re going to have plenty of disagreements, and Wisconsin having voted for disagreement should be ready for that,” Vos said.
Despite the votes and controversy at the Capitol, this is not a done deal. Gov. Walker has the ability to veto any of these measures or line items in them. He has not directly said when he will make those decisions, and which bills he supports.
Evers called on Walker late Wednesday to veto the bills, calling them collectively “a hot mess.”
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