Republican lawmakers, after an all-night push made mostly behind closed doors, passed legislation Wednesday morning diminishing the powers of incoming Gov. Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul and curtailing the timeline for early voting.
A Senate amendment to the bill was made public shortly before 5 a.m. Wednesday, and senators passed it at about 6 a.m.
The vote was 17-16, with Sen. Rob Cowles, R-Green Bay, the lone GOP “no” vote siding with all the state’s Democrats, who also voted in opposition to the bills.
The Assembly signed off on the scaled back measure by a 56-27 vote roughly two hours later.
The bills now head to Gov. Scott Walker, whose spokeswoman has not yet said if or when he plans to sign them. Walker was in Washington on Wednesday attending the funeral of former President George H.W. Bush.
Evers, appearing on CNN late Tuesday, called the late-night lame-duck push “bad public policy, and it’s telling the people of Wisconsin that their vote doesn’t count.”
Evers acknowledged Walker is unlikely to veto it. Asked if he’d have any recourse if the bills become law, Evers said “everything’s on the table, from litigation to other actions.”
The change to the bill scaled back a controversial provision restricting the attorney general. It would have allowed a legislative panel to name outside special counsel to effectively replace the attorney general defending the state if a law is challenged.
Under the amended bill, legislative leaders still could choose to obtain special counsel to intervene in a case on its behalf if a statute is challenged in court. But the outside attorney would not act in place of the attorney general, as in the original proposal.
The bill tweaks proposed changes for governance of Walker’s jobs agency, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., which Evers has sought to dissolve. Under current law, Democrats would control eight of 12 seats on its governing board.
But the amended bill would ensure Republicans would maintain control of an 18-member board through September, at which point Democrats and Republicans would have equal influence over a 16-member board. The GOP-dominated board also would control who the agency’s CEO would be until Sept. 1.
Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, said the new timeline raises the question of what the agency will be doing, and why Republican lawmakers want to protect it, for the next nine months.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said at a news conference Wednesday morning he hopes current WEDC CEO Mark Hogan would stay on in the position for the next nine months to change Evers’ mind on the agency, which he has vowed to dissolve.
The Senate amendment preserves the bill’s restrictions on early voting, permitting it to begin no sooner than two weeks before an election.
That would curtail the current date window for early voting in large cities such as Madison or Milwaukee — shortly after record early voting totals, especially in those large cities, helped Democrats win every statewide race in the November election.
It also could land the state back in court, as a federal judge struck down a similar restriction in a 2016 ruling.
Vos said he’s confident the provisions will be deemed constitutional and downplayed any costs involved in litigation.
Senators took up but failed Wednesday to pass an Assembly GOP bill dealing with health coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. The vote was 16-17, with Republican Sens. David Craig and Chris Kapenga joining Democrats in opposition. Craig and Kapenga had proposed another version of the bill that also was rejected in a related Senate vote.
Vos said he was “deeply disappointed” at that outcome and said he would keep pushing forward in the next session on the proposal, which he said was partially to blame for the delays in the vote.
The bill would bar insurers from denying coverage to people with, or charging them more on the basis of, a pre-existing health condition — though with exceptions if the person had a gap in coverage.
The bill also lacks Obamacare’s broader suite of protections for people with serious health issues, such as as the assurances that certain basic benefits are covered or that coverage will not be capped.
It also would not apply to those who get their insurance through a self-funded employer plan, because federal law only permits the federal government to regulate those plans.
One of the bills passed Tuesday writes into law some of the signature health and human services initiatives of Walker, including a Medicaid waiver approved in October by President Donald Trump’s administration. It requires some childless adults on Medicaid to comply with work requirements and pay premiums and co-pays.
Another bill, dealing with taxes and transportation, includes a tax break for certain high-earning small business owners. It is proposed to align the state tax code with the federal tax cut measure enacted by congressional Republican and Trump in December 2017.
The bill aims to direct federal transportation funds to certain projects to exempt those not receiving federal money from federal requirements on worker wages and environmental protections.
Another controversial proposal, to move the state’s presidential primary from April to March, was left for dead Wednesday. So was a bill that was the original stated reason for the lame-duck session: a state subsidy package to preserve Kimberly-Clark manufacturing jobs in the Fox Cities.