Wisconsin Senate passes bill limiting governor's powers

GOP proposals were debated at a lengthy and heated public hearing Monday in Madison

Republican lawmakers, who hold a majority in the state legislature, approved a package of bills to curtail the incoming governor's ability to set certain rules and policies after he is sworn into office in January.

Republicans pushed on through protests, internal disagreement and Democratic opposition to the measures created to reduce the powers of incoming Democratic Gov. -elect Tony Evers and Democratic Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul.

The lame-duck maneuvering in Wisconsin is similar to what Republicans did in North Carolina two years ago and is being discussed in MI before a Democratic governor takes over there.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, left, with the help of the Mary and Don Miller family from Plainfield, Wis., flipped the switch to light the state Christmas Tree in the Capitol Rotunda in Madison.

The legislation would weaken the governor's ability to put in place rules that enact laws and shield the state jobs agency from his control until September.

Other measures would weaken the attorney general's office by allowing Republican legislative leaders to intervene in cases and hire their own attorneys.

The plan would also take away from the governor the power to withdraw the state from a lawsuit, allowing lawmakers to make the decision instead.

Among other things, the Wisconsin Republicans want to stop Evers and Kaul from having power to block GOP gerrymandering, as well as stopping Kaul from fulfilling his campaign pledge to withdraw Wisconsin from a lawsuit aimed at overturning the Affordable Care Act's provisions protecting people with preexisting conditions.

"It's really an attack on our democratic values and structures", Michigan Democratic Representative Christine Greig, the next minority leader in the state House of Representatives, said. But he didn't even try to hide the motivation behind the bills, saying that the bills were necessary because "we don't trust Tony Evers right now".

Last month, he voiced support for ideas including moving the 2020 presidential primary from April to March. But Fitzgerald said Walker and his chief of staff had been deeply involved in crafting the measures. "If the GOP thinks they can disenfranchise voters by cutting early voting without a fight, they are wrong", he said.

Democrats and Republicans traditionally agree on time limits for debates, but Hintz said no agreement was reached for this debate.

Sen. Jon Erpenbach speaks out against proposal to allow legislative leaders to hire their own attorneys
Sen. Jon Erpenbach speaks out against proposal to allow legislative leaders to hire their own attorneys. Credit Screenshot WisconsinEye

The state Elections Commission unanimously adopted a motion Monday declaring that the shift would be "extraordinarily difficult" and costly without additional funding. The new legislation will rescind much of that power from his Democratic successor.

Gov. Walker lost his election to Tony Evers by fewer than 30,000 votes out of more than two million cast. Similar limitations were found unconstitutional by a federal judge in 2016 and Democrats have threatened legal action again.

Both the state Senate and Assembly passed the bill, and current Republican Governor Scott Walker has indicated he will sign it.

Crowds of protesters descended on the state capitol in Madison, gathering outside in freezing weather and shouting "shame" at lawmakers inside. The bills were moving quickly in Wisconsin, having just been made public late Friday afternoon.

Wisconsin Republicans have provoked uproar by limiting the power of a newly elected Democratic governor. "This is embarrassing we're even here". Both Evers and Kaul urged Republicans not to do it, warning that lawsuits would bring more gridlock to Wisconsin when the new administration, and the first divided government in 10 years, takes over.

The last lame-duck session in Wisconsin was eight years ago, just before Walker took office, when Democrats tried unsuccessfully to approve union contracts.

State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, said the bill will make it hard for the Evers administration to solve problems like providing better prenatal care, as every state pilot program would need approval from the Legislature's budget committee.

Both the Senate and Assembly delayed their planned starts of debate Tuesday, a sign that opponents took of potential disagreement over how to proceed.

Kaul says that's created to prevent Evers from ordering him to withdraw from a multi-state lawsuit challenging federal health care laws.

Republicans have had majorities in the state Senate and Assembly since 2011, and worked with Walker the past eight years to past a host of conservative priorities.

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