Republican majority wraps up its intended business: Lots of bills destined for vetoes and lots of other ideas ignored.
The Wisconsin Legislature—one of only 10 in the country with lawmakers classified and paid as a full-time body—has likely passed its final bills of the year after a mad dash for the finish line last week.
While some noteworthy bipartisan legislation, like the long-awaited replacement of the troubled Lincoln Hills youth prison, is a shoo-in for approval from Gov. Tony Evers, other bills pushed by Republicans are all but doomed to be vetoed.
Meanwhile, Democrats proposed a slate of bills in recent weeks that didn’t get so much as a hearing from the Legislature’s top Republicans.
The low production of the 2021-22 session is in keeping with a pace seen in 2020, when a WisPolitics analysis found Wisconsin to have the least active full-time Legislature in the country. Lawmakers at the time went more than 300 days without passing a single bill.
Here’s a slice of what’s happening (and what’s not) after the end of the current session:
Headed for a Veto
Republican lawmakers passed some bills that will likely meet their demise by a stroke of Evers’ veto pen.
Among those are new restrictions to voting and conducting elections, such as banning communities from accepting private grants to help pay for elections, making it harder to cast a ballot as an “indefinitely confined” voter, and restricting the use of ballot drop boxes. Evers has already vetoed other Republican-authored election bills and has made fighting GOP election subversion efforts a central issue in his re-election campaign.
Another set of bills would make it harder to claim unemployment payments and other public assistance. Senate President Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield), who introduced the bills in January, said they were aimed at fighting the worker shortage, despite Wisconsin already enjoying a record-low unemployment rate.
A bill headed to Evers’ desk would ban state and local government employers from holding anti-racism or anti-sexism training, defined by the bill as “sex and race stereotyping.” Evers previously vetoed similar legislation that would have restricted teachers’ ability to teach about racism and sexism.
Republicans also passed legislation to ban businesses or government services from requiring someone be vaccinated against COVID-19, and another that would allow so-called “natural immunity” to be used in lieu of proof of vaccination. Evers vetoed a previously passed bill banning health officials from enacting vaccination requirements.
Never Had a Hearing
Republicans in charge of the Assembly allowed just seven of 263 bills authored by Democrats to receive so much as a hearing this session, according to Rep. Jodi Emerson (D-Eau Claire).
Just one of those eventually passed, according to Emerson.
Another package, proposed by Attorney General Josh Kaul, aimed to fight crime by increasing community policing and violence prevention funding, creating a hate crime reporting portal, and putting $10 million behind additional officer recruitment and retention programs.
It came as Republicans were pushing their own police-related bills that would have provided small departments with extra money for officer raises and bonuses, declared May “Law Enforcement Appreciation Month,” and funded a $1 million “Pro-Cop Wisconsin” marketing campaign.
A 22-bill package aimed at fighting climate change similarly went nowhere. It would have, among other provisions, put additional money behind fighting shoreline erosion, required schools to teach about climate change, and helped counties hire conservation staff.
“Republicans have missed every opportunity this session to put forward legislation that would address the challenges Wisconsinites are facing,” Emerson said in a statement after the Assembly concluded its final floor session.
Likely to Get Signed
Evers has long supported closing Lincoln Hills and building a replacement after a pattern of violence and abuse was revealed at the facility.
He is likely to sign the bill, which received unanimous support in the Senate and Assembly (Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos of Rochester initially said he would probably block the bill, but he changed course days later and allowed a vote).
A handful of bipartisan police reform bills inspired by recommendations made by the Assembly Speaker’s Task Force on Racial Disparities are also making their way to a likely signing at Evers’ desk.
Those include a bill to require the Department of Justice (DOJ) to produce an annual report on no-knock warrants—the controversial police tactic that in 2020 led to the high-profile police killing of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky—and another requiring the DOJ to create a grant program to help local law enforcement agencies buy body cameras.
However, the body camera bill does not provide the DOJ with any additional funding and would make the grants subject to approval by the Republican-controlled committee that writes the state budget.
It wasn’t only Democratic bills that failed to come up for a vote but some bipartisan proposals as well, ranging from something as serious as the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana down to the level of whether Colby should be designated the official state cheese.
Barring any special session (called by the governor) or extraordinary session (when the lawmakers call themselves into session), the Wisconsin Legislature may be done with legislating until floor periods that won’t begin until after Jan. 3, 2023, when Evers is either sworn in for a second term or a new governor is inaugurated.