GOP bills would restrict Evers’, Kaul’s powers, limit in-person absentee voting

Photo by Michelle Stocker, The Capital Times

GOP lawmakers are considering sweeping new changes to state law that would restrict the powers of Gov.-elect Tony Evers and incoming Dem AG Josh Kaul.

The proposals also include changes to in-person absentee voting and state tax law, as well as stripping the guv of the power to appoint the WEDC agency head.

Still, it wasn’t clear all of the provisions in the bill drafts will make the final cut once Republicans meet next week in extraordinary session. For example, the bills include a provision that would move the 2020 presidential primary off the April ballot, but there is a split between the Assembly and Senate GOP caucuses on the provision.

The Joint Finance Committee scheduled a public hearing for 12:30 p.m. Monday on the bills with floor votes expected the next day.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, proclaimed after the bill drafts were released that Wisconsin law “written by the Legislature and signed into law by a governor should not be erased by the potential political maneuvering of the executive branch.”

While Dems will control every statewide constitutional office in Wisconsin starting Jan. 7, Republicans will still have majorities in both houses of the Legislature.

“The Legislature is the most representative branch in government, and we will not stop being a strong voice for our constituents,” they said in a joint statement.

But Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, fired back the bills amounted to a “partisan temper tantrum” after Dems won back the guv and AG’s offices earlier this month.

“It is absolutely ludicrous that Republicans are more concerned with clinging to power at a time when factories are closing, 584 Wisconsin dairy farms have shut down their operations this year and families are feeling the pinch going into the holiday season,” Shilling said.

The dozens of pages in the five bill drafts released this afternoon run the gamut of issues and seek to protect changes Republicans have made to state government over the past eight years.

A central theme is GOP lawmakers seeking to create more oversight and give them greater say in the relationship between the Legislature, East Wing and AG’s office.

For example, one provision would appear to undercut Kaul’s promise to withdraw the state from a lawsuit Republican incumbent Brad Schimel filed challenging the Affordable Care Act. Now, the AG only needs the guv’s permission to withdraw from such a suit. Under the bills, the AG would need the Legislature’s permission to do so.

The proposals also seek to prevent Evers from scrapping the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., which he has said he wants to replace with a new approach to commerce. Under current law, the agency board has 12 members, six of whom are appointed by the guv, who also has the power to appoint the agency head.

Under the bill, the appointments Fitzgerald and Vos make to the board would essentially have the power to pick the agency’s CEO.

The newly proposed board would consist of 18 members, with Vos and Fitzgerald able to appoint five picks each. The minority leaders in each house would get one pick, while the guv would get six. With the Legislature’s current political composition, that would mean 10 GOP appointees to eight Dem ones.

The bill also calls for the WEDC CEO to serve at its pleasure.

See today’s REPORT for more details of the bills. 

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