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GOP's 'lame duck' session at Capitol kicks off with marathon public hearing

Posted: 4:26 PM, Dec 04, 2018
Updated: 2018-12-04 23:24:16Z

The state legislature's Joint Finance Committee on Monday took up a series of proposals that would make changes to the powers of the Governor's office, limit early voting, and move the date of Wisconsin's 2020 Presidential Primary. 

The state Senate and state Assembly are expected to vote on the bills Tuesday. 

While Gov.-elect Tony Evers is a Democrat, Republicans will still hold majorities in both the Assembly and the Senate for the next two years. 

If passed, the policies would shift some powers from the governor's office to state lawmakers. That includes some oversight of state agencies like the Department of Administration and the Department of Justice.  

For instance, the changes could allow state lawmakers to block Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul, a Democrat, from withdrawing Wisconsin from a federal lawsuit seeking to overturn the Affordable Care Act. 

The plan also gives lawmakers, rather than the Attorney General, authority to determine how court settlements paid to the state are spent. 

Another proposal requires the DOA to submit any proposed changes to security at the state capitol, including the posting of a firearm restriction, to lawmakers for approval. 

The GOP-authored plan also strips the governor's office of the ability to choose the head of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, the public-private agency created by Republican Gov. Scott Walker. 

"We are here with pieces of legislation that, in our belief, really curtails the ability of the new attorney general to be the attorney general and the new governor to be the governor," said state Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) during Monday's hearing. 

But in a news conference before the hearing began, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said the changes were about making sure the two parties can work together in a period of divided government. 

"The number one priority for us is to restore the balance of powers between two, co-equal branches of government," Vos said. "We want to make sure the new administration doesn't try to work around the legislature and try to rule from the East wing." 

Other proposals being considered this week limit early voting to two weeks in future elections, and move the 2020 Presidential Primary from April to March at a cost of approximately $7 million.

During Monday's hearing, Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell, who opposes the election shift, read a letter signed by 64 clerks from around the state. 

"It would be an unfunded mandate which would waste taxpayer money, create logistical problems for clerks, and greatly confuse voters," McDonell read to lawmakers. 

Democrats allege the move is politically motivated and aimed at making sure a conservative justice appointed to the State Supreme Court by Walker wins a full term. 

Turnout among Democrats in 2020 is expected to be high due to the presidential primary race. 

Vos said he expects the GOP bills to have strong support in the Assembly. 

At the same press conference, Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said the fate of the proposals in the Senate, where the GOP majority is just 18-15, is less clear. 

"I don't want to stand here and guess, or try to forecast, where the caucus is on a number of these items," Fitzgerald said.