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Senate Passes Three Lame-Duck Bills

By John Forester | December 5, 2018

From WisPolitics.com …

GOP lawmakers worked all night on three bills Dems call a lame-duck power grab, with one bill still being debated in the Assembly as of 8 a.m.

The third and most controversial measure passed the state Senate on a 17-16 vote around 6 a.m. And now the Assembly appears poised to send it on to GOP Gov. Scott Walker, who has indicated he will sign all three.

The Senate then took up a bill to protect pre-existing conditions, but that failed. The Senate is now adjourned.

The last bill was revised by GOP senators, who often convened in closed caucus.

Lawmakers would still strip Gov.-elect Tony Evers of the power to appoint the head of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. But that power would be restored in September in a move that appears designed to give the new guv and the GOP lawmakers a window to feel each other out on the direction of the state’s job creation agency.

That revision was one of several changes Republican senators made to a bill that would alter the relationship between the Legislature and the guv and attorney general ahead of Evers and fellow Dem Josh Kaul assuming those offices. It also included a host of other provisions, such as new restrictions on in-person absentee voting after a federal judge issued an order preventing the state from enforcing similar steps.

In tweaking the bill, GOP lawmakers, for example, previously planned to give themselves the authority to remove the AG from a case challenging the constitutionality of a state statute.

The amended bill instead would give lawmakers the power to intervene in those cases. It also would give them final approval of a settlement in such a case.

The bill cleared the Senate 17-16 after GOP Sen. Rob Cowles, of Green Bay, joined Dems in opposition to the bill.

The WEDC proposal approved today was slightly different than the original plan.

GOP lawmakers first wanted to give the Assembly speaker and Senate majority leader a majority of the appointments on the WEDC Board, which would have the power to appoint the agency CEO.

The revised proposal would still give the speaker and Senate majority leader a majority of the appointments on the board. It would go to 18 voting members with 10 of them appointed by the speaker and Senate majority leader, six by the guv, and one each by the minority leaders.

The board would then pick the CEO.

But the board would drop to 16 members Sept. 1 as the Assembly speaker and Senate majority leader would each lose one appointment. Under the political composition of the next session, that would mean eight Dem picks and eight from the GOP.

The guv’s power to restore the agency CEO would also be restored Sept. 1.

Dems knocked a series of proposals in the bill, including one that would drop the requirement that the agency annually and independently verify the jobs created as part of tax credits it doles out. Instead, there would be an annual check of a sample of grants, loans and tax credits to check on job creation.

The revised bill was released shortly before 5 a.m. Wednesday, and Senate Majority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, slammed Republicans for keeping lawmakers hanging around the Capitol overnight as GOP legislators met behind closed doors to strike a deal.

She called the spectacle “embarrassing” and said Republicans were irresponsible for beginning the floor session without the votes needed to pass the bill.

“You’re so wrapped up in the power grab you can’t think clearly,” Shilling said. “You can’t get on the same page.”

The hours-long debate on the extraordinary session bills featured protests and national attention.

Evers appeared on CNN last night to bemoan the GOP Legislature’s action and talk about possible countermeasures.

Walker lit the Christmas tree in the Capitol but was booed, according to media reports.

And the Senate gallery had to be cleared for a time yesterday afternoon.

See more below in headlines.

The state Senate earlier this morning rejected a bill to provide new state protections for those with pre-existing conditions, which became a central issue in the fall campaigns.

GOP Sens. Dave Craig, of Big Bend, and Chris Kapenga, of Delafield, joined Dems in shooting down the bill 16-17.

Craig told WisPolitics.com afterward that he sought to amend the bill with a “state-based solution” that included high-risk insurance pools. But once that amendment was rejected, the bill too closely resembled “the failed Obamacare mess.”

Dems slammed the proposal as inadequate because it didn’t include any caps on coverage costs for consumers. They tried to amend the bill to include caps on out-of-pocket expenses, but Republicans shot down the amendment.

“This legislation becomes a very cruel joke on people with pre-existing conditions,” said state Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton.

Among other things, the Affordable Care Act prohibits health insurance policies from imposing preexisting condition exclusions.

If that protection went way, the bill would require every health insurance policy to accept anyone applying for coverage regardless of whether that person has a preexisting condition.

No Republicans stood during the debate in the Senate to address the bill’s merits.

The Dems who knocked it included Sen. LaTonya Johnson, D-Milwaukee, who told the chamber she was diagnosed with a tumor not long after her election to the Legislature and would have died without health insurance.

Johnson also choked up recalling not being able to take her daughter to the doctor because she couldn’t afford it.

“I am just so angry right now,” Johnson said, accusing Republicans of wasting time and resources on the extraordinary session when there were more pressing issues concerning Wisconsin residents.

See Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Coverage here.

See Wisconsin State Journal Coverage here.

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