The Wisconsin Senate and Assembly met this month for what is expected to be the last floor sessions of 2019. The Senate met on Nov. 5, and the Assembly met on Nov. 7 and 12. Both chambers also met very briefly in accordance with Gov. Tony Evers’s call for a special session on gun reform on Nov. 7.
After November, indications are each house will only meet three to four times in 2020 before adjourning in March (if not earlier).
Nov. 12 – Assembly
On Nov. 12, the Assembly passed a variety of bills, including a bill that would make various changes to physician assistants’ and advanced practice nurses’ abilities to activate living wills and health care powers of attorney (AB 287) and a bill that would add 12 new circuit court branches (AB 470). Both of these bills now head to the Senate for approval.
The Assembly sent to the governor’s desk a bill (SB 304) that would essentially prohibit auto manufacturers from responding to automobile dealers who use an enhanced warranty reimbursement rate. The bill’s inclusion on the calendar was somewhat surprising as the Assembly Committee on Consumer Protection had not voted to recommend passage of the bill. The bill would directly interject the legislature into pre-existing private contractual agreements strongly favoring one business entity over another. It is now up to the governor whether or not to sign the bill into law.
Nov. 7 – Special Session
On Oct. 21, Gov. Tony Evers issued Executive Order #54, calling for a special session of the Legislature on Nov. 7 to address gun violence. The executive order directed the legislature to consider two bills: a “red-flag” law and universal background check requirements.
The Wisconsin Constitution allows the governor to convene the legislature in special session, during which “no business shall be transacted except as shall be necessary to accomplish the special purposes for which it was convened” (Wis. Const. Art. IV § 11). However, the governor cannot force the Legislature to take up any bills.
Leaders of the Republican-majority legislature indicated their respective caucuses were not supportive of the governor’s recommended legislation. Consequently, the Senate and Assembly leaders adhered to the governor’s order for a Nov. 7 special session by quickly gaveling in and gaveling out of the special session without taking up the proposals.
Nov. 7 – Assembly Attempts Budget Veto Overrides
The Assembly took votes to override the governor’s partial vetoes that:
- Removed $5 million in funding for Medicaid reimbursement rate increases for physicians and behavioral health providers in both years of the biennium from the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) supplemental appropriation. The governor objected to keeping the funds in the JFC appropriation and directed the Department of Health Services (DHS) to provide rate increases from current resources. (Veto D-45)
- Removed the northern Wisconsin regional crisis center project. Instead, the governor directed the $15 million in general fund supported bonds be used for the Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center expansion. (Veto A-4)
- Removed a provision allowing DHS to distribute grants to hospitals with qualified treatment trainee programs that provide practice for graduate students seeking to become social workers, counselors, therapists, or psychologists. The governor objected to the “overly prescriptive” requirements for the funds in the legislature’s budget and instead directed DHS to develop grant criteria, seek applicants, and award the grants. (Veto D-47)
Veto overrides require a two-thirds vote in both the Assembly and Senate. All three override attempts failed in the Assembly on 62-34 votes, along party lines. Assembly rule changes passed in October allow the Assembly to attempt to override a veto multiple times, so these or others of the governor’s vetoes could be taken up again in a 2020 floor period.
Aside from the veto override attempts, the Assembly passed several bills from the Speaker’s Task Force on Suicide Prevention and a bill that would allow pharmacists to prescribe birth control (AB 304). The Assembly also passed a bill that would require DHS to reimburse Medicaid services provided via telehealth (SB 380). Having passed the Senate on Nov. 5, the telehealth bill now heads to Gov. Evers for signature.
Nov. 5 – Senate Rejects Evers Appointee
For the first time in at least thirty years, on Nov. 5 the Senate voted to reject one of the governor’s cabinet appointees. The Senate voted 19-14, along party lines, to reject Department of Trade, Agriculture & Consumer Protection (DATCP) nominee Brad Pfaff.
After the Senate vote to reject Pfaff, Gov. Evers announced DATCP deputy secretary Randy Romanski will take over as interim secretary. Meanwhile, Pfaff has joined Gov. Evers’s Department of Administration as director of business and rural development.
On Nov. 5, the Senate did unanimously approve the appointments of Mark Afable as the Commissioner of Insurance and Rebecca Valcq as chairperson of the Public Service Commission. Read more about the status of Gov. Evers’s cabinet appointments.
Later in the Nov. 5 session, the Senate on party lines approved a resolution (SJR 59) that would amend the Wisconsin Constitution to prohibit the governors from using their partial veto power to increase appropriations.
Also on Nov. 5, the Senate passed two bills imposing mandatory minimum sentences for certain OWI offenses (AB 17 and SB 6), two bills seeking to improve apprenticeship opportunities in Wisconsin (SB 72 and SB 44), and a bill making it a felony to harm certain health care providers (SB 163).
The Senate sent to the governor’s desk two bills changing legal procedures for notice of claims and pleadings and a bill making it a felony to trespass and cause intentional damage to pipelines (AB 426).