Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, says Senate Republicans already have “a pretty clear path” on how to proceed with new legislation related to election procedures without first waiting to see what former Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman produces from his 2020 election probe.
Senate Republicans a year ago passed a series of election-related bills that were either vetoed by Gov. Tony Evers or died in the Assembly.
In an interview with WisPolitics.com, LeMahieu said his caucus now has the Legislative Audit Bureau’s review of the 2020 election as well as a report from the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty. Both will help shape two or three bills his caucus will take up during the spring floor period.
He said some of the original bills the caucus took up a year ago “went a little beyond where the Audit Bureau was” on procedural issues with the 2020 election. Now that the non-partisan LAB has weighed in, it will shape the new bills. LeMahieu also said it was important to see where Evers is on the issues LAB highlighted.
Asked whether Gableman’s review will produce anything of value, LeMahieu said, “Whenever he finishes up his investigation, we’ll look at what he comes out with. But I have no idea.”
LeMahieu also said he supports the push by Chair Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, for the Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules to direct the Wisconsin Elections Commission to write emergency rules on the use of drop boxes and the ability of clerks to fill in information on absentee ballot envelopes. Doing so would give GOP lawmakers a say in the guidance the commission has provided clerks on both topics in recent years.
The LAB found state law neither expressly allows nor bans drop boxes. The Senate passed legislation last year that would’ve originally limited communities to one drop box each. It was amended to allow communities of more than 70,000 to have up to four drop boxes. But it died in the Assembly.
LeMahieu said he believes there is a place for drop boxes, though he wants provisions in place to guard against ballot stuffing and to ensure ballots are protected. He is less concerned about the number of drop boxes allowed per community.
“I think the most important thing is security,” LeMahieu said.
Also during the interview, LeMahieu said Senate Republicans don’t plan to take up Gov. Tony Evers’ remaining appointments to the boards overseeing the UW System, Tech Colleges or the DNR.
If Republicans knock off Evers this fall, it would allow his GOP successor to keep control of the Natural Resources Board in the party’s hands while flipping the UW Board of Regents.
LeMahieu raised concerns about the appointments, saying some were partisan. But he declined to go into specifics about the individual appointments.
Among those who have yet to be confirmed: UW Regent John Miller, a longtime Dem donor. The other six regents awaiting confirmation include Ashok Rai, a Green Bay doctor who has given almost exclusively to GOP candidates, according to a state database.
“If you go into some of the different appointments, some seem to be highly partisan and maybe not good appointments to these boards,” LeMahieu said. “We definitely aren’t going to confirm some of these appointments.”
The Board of Regents currently has nine Evers appointees and seven who were appointed by former GOP Gov. Scott Walker. Without confirmation, the seven Evers regents awaiting confirmation could see their appointments rescinded if a Republican wins the guv’s office this fall. That would put the board back in the hands of GOP appointees after Evers picks took control last year.
Meanwhile, the Natural Resources Board has remained in control of Walker appointees because Chair Frederick Prehn has refused to leave until his successor is confirmed by the state Senate.
Prehn and fellow Walker appointee Julie Anderson saw their terms end in May. Anderson vacated the post, but Prehn’s refusal resulted in a lawsuit by Dem AG Josh Kaul seeking to force him off the board. That case is now before the state Supreme Court.
Evers’ picks to replace Prehn and Anderson have been bottled up in Senate Org, which typically doesn’t hear appointments.
The 13-member Tech College System Board now includes five Evers appointees and five Walker appointees. The five include three members appointed by Walker who have refused to vacate their positions even though their terms have expired. The board also includes three Evers-friendly ex-officio members who serve because of their positions: state Superintendent Jill Underly, Workforce Development Secretary Amy Pechacek and Evers-appointed UW System Regent John Miller.
LeMahieu said the Senate’s spring agenda includes legislation to encourage people to get back to work, though he declined to offer specifics.
LeMahieu cited the challenge employers have had in filling openings in saying the state needed to find ways to encourage people to get back into the workforce. That effort will include changes to the unemployment insurance program and making it easier for people licensed in various jobs by other states to come to Wisconsin and continue their employment.
He added the Senate plans to wrap up its work by March 10, the final day of the regularly scheduled floor period.
And he said Sen. Kathy Bernier, R-Chippewa Falls, is the only member of his caucus up for reelection this fall who’s thinking about retiring.
“Things can change with people, but I think we’re going to have a lot of our incumbents running for reelection, which I think is fantastic,” he said.
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