Political News

Republican-led Wisconsin legislature approves bills to diminish executive power after Democratic election wins

Posted December 5, 2018 7:37 a.m. EST

— The Republican-led Wisconsin legislature approved two bills that would diminish the powers of the state's governor and executive branch after a Democrat was elected to that office in November, Britt Cudaback, spokesman for Democratic Gov.-elect Tony Evers, told CNN Wednesday morning.

The Assembly and Senate are considering a number of bills designed to effectively prevent Evers and incoming Attorney General Josh Kaul from delivering on their campaign promises.

Both approved bills will now go to Republican Gov. Scott Walker for his consideration, Cudaback said.

The first bill, SB 886, would require permission from the state legislature before the state's executive branch could make waivers or changes to public assistance programs, including work- and drug-testing requirements for "able-bodied" adults.

It would prevent the state's department of health and the incoming governor from applying for a change/waiver to the program without getting legislative approval.

The second bill includes a measure that would eliminate the state's Department of Transportation's authority to transfer state and federal funding between highway programs.

If the lame-duck governor signs those bills and others still under debate, the state could reduce its number of early voting days, restrict gubernatorial appointments to a powerful economic agency and require legislative backing for certain decisions traditionally made by the attorney general and governor -- a move that would likely block Kaul from withdrawing the state from a federal lawsuit against Obamacare.

During the campaign, both Evers and Kaul took their Republican opponents to task over health care issues, in particular the state's participation in that legal challenge, which would end coverage protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions. Walker had promised to call a special legislative session to reimplement the rule on a statewide level, but questions lingered over how robust those new protections would be and the Democrats have credited their strong midterm showing in large part to the party's health care pledges.

Divided along party lines, the GOP-run state budget committee in Wisconsin acted overnight to advance many of the controversial measures after less than 12 hours of debate and amid growing protests in and around the capitol in Madison.

Before the committee vote, Evers, in prepared testimony, called the legislation and the process behind it "unfettered attempts to override and ignore what the people of Wisconsin asked for this November."

"This is rancor and politics as usual," Evers said. "It flies in the face of democratic institutions and the checks and balances that are intended to prevent power-hungry politicians from clinging to control when they do not get their way."

Walker denied on Monday that the moves were a partisan power grab.

"Much of what we did over the last eight years is work with the Legislature," he told reporters, "not at odds with the Legislature."

State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, a Republican, has been more open about the partisan machinations in play.

"I don't have any problem highlighting that right now," Fitzgerald said on Monday. "I want people to understand that, that there's going to be a divide between the legislative and executive branch."

In a statement Tuesday, Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee Executive Director Jessica Post called the GOP lawmakers' actions "shameful."

"Just because Republicans in Wisconsin and Michigan don't like the outcome of the election does not give them (the) right to put power over people and disregard the will of the voters," Post said. "After years of voter suppression laws enacted by Republican legislators who were elected on their own gerrymandered lines, this partisan gamesmanship has reached a new low."