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Wisconsin Legislature

Inside Wisconsin's State Capitol in Madison

WISCONSIN — Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, isn’t happy with the headlines that claimed he’s threatened to take power away from Tony Evers.

Vos, R-Rochester, told The Journal Times that he is open to limiting the powers of Wisconsin’s governor, and that his words were misconstrued as an attack on Evers, who is a Democrat. The Speaker denied that his proposed restriction of powers was an attempt to handcuff Wisconsin’s governor-elect before he ever took office.

Vos hopes that a special session of the Legislature will be held before Evers officially replaces Gov. Scott Walker on Jan. 7.

Until that date, Republicans will still hold the majority in the State Assembly, Senate, and Executive Branch. After Jan. 7, they’ll still control the Assembly and Senate, but Evers (and several other Democratic newcomers) will lead the Executive arm of Wisconsin’s state government.

“Of course I’m going to sit at the table. Of course I’m going to listen to him (Evers) … but I also am not going to sit idly by and let him repeal Act 10 (the legislation proposed and signed by Walker in 2011 that sparked months-long protests at the Capitol) by executive action alone, or to try to undermine Voter ID, or say that people on welfare don’t have to work,” Vos said. “I want to make sure that, if any of those changes happen, that we’re at the table negotiating and it’s not just him dictating.”

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What does Vos want?

Vos wants a special session of the Legislature to be called before the new governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and state treasurer (all of whom are Democrats) take office in two months.

Before Walker lost the election to Evers, some Republicans were already calling for a special session to offer a $100 million tax break bill that would keep a paper products plant owned by Kimberly-Clark Corp. in Appleton to save about 500 jobs, the Associated Press reported Thursday.

During that possible special session, Vos — the leader of the Republican Party in Wisconsin’s State Assembly — hopes to “codify” three other measures.

  • Solidify the state voter ID law, which Vos says worked flawlessly on Election Day.

Wisconsin voters have been required to show a form of identification (such as a driver’s license, Veterans Affairs card, or state-issued voter ID) to cast a ballot since April 2015. The law was challenged in court over several years. Most of the law was approved, but a few changes needed to be made. Rather than restart the whole lawmaking process, Gov. Walker filled in the gaps with executive orders, according to Vos.

To prevent Evers (who disapproves of voter ID requirements) from stripping the law by redacting Walker’s executive orders, Vos wants the Republican-controlled Legislature to replace Walker’s executive orders with laws Evers can’t immediately overturn.

  • To get the Senate to pass a bill already approved by the Assembly that would protect people with pre-existing conditions.

“That was a major issue in the campaign, probably more than anything else, and that’s why I want to make sure we get it done so that nobody has to worry about what happens with the Obamacare lawsuit,” Vos said, referencing the lawsuit filed by 20 states (including Wisconsin) that aims to suspend the Affordable Care Act.

  • Require the governor to get the Legislature’s approval before requesting or revoking federal waivers.

This came into play during the last week of October when a waiver submitted by Walker was approved by President Donald Trump’s administration. The waiver requires certain able-bodied people who receive welfare benefits to be employed or actively seeking work to continue receiving benefits.

Vos said that whenever Walker planned to submit such a waiver during his eight years in office, the governor always got the Legislature’s approval first — even though he wasn’t required to. Vos wants to make sure that Evers, and any future governors, are required to follow that practice.

“We never even thought to put it into statute (until now),” Vos said.

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Where’d the controversy come from?

Evers felt that the timing of Vos’ calling for a special session was a direct result of Walker losing the election and being replaced by a member of the opposing party. The governor-elect openly questioned the speaker’s intentions in a statement issued earlier this week.

“The Republicans and Speaker Vos should stop any and all attempts to play politics and weaken the powers of the governor’s office in Wisconsin before I take the oath. This is a complete violation of the separation of powers in our system,” Evers said. “There is a lot of common ground we can find. But I will not tolerate desperate antics to cling to power and violate the checks and balances of Wisconsin’s government.”

State Rep. Greta Neubauer, D-Racine, who was re-elected uncontested on Tuesday, spoke out against Vos as well.

“After eight years of single-party rule in Wisconsin, our citizens decided to elect Tony Evers and put a check on the Legislature. But instead of moving forward and working together, Speaker Vos is moving to consolidate his own power,” Neubauer said in a statement Thursday.

The Associated Press reported Friday that Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, said if Republicans were really concerned about overreach, they could have acted years ago to limit the governor’s power.

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Vos countered, telling The Journal Times: “I think that Democrats are making a mountain out of a molehill … I don’t like the outcome of the election, but I’ll certainly accept it … it’s about making sure what we have in practice stays in practice.”

Despite this early speed bump, state Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, is confident that the next full legislative session will be successful and productive, even though one party controls the Legislature and another leads the executive branch.

“I don’t think we (Republicans and Democrats) are too far apart on a lot of the things we want to do ... everyone is going to have to compromise a little bit,” Wanggaard said. “In the last legislative session, 93 percent of the bills passed had bipartisan support ... what we have here, statewide, is not like what’s going on in D.C.”

“I also am not going to sit idly by and let him (Governor-elect Tony Evers) repeal Act 10 by executive action alone, or to try to undermine Voter ID, or say that people on welfare don’t have to work.” Robin Vos, R-Rochester, Wisconsin State Assembly Speaker

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Adam Rogan (SCHS '14, Drake U. '17) has been covering homelessness, arts & culture and just about everything else for the JT since March 2018. He enjoys mid-afternoon naps, loud music played quietly and social media followers @Could_Be_Rogan

Managing Editor

Stephanie Jones is the managing editor for The Journal Times. She was previously the city reporter, government reporter, and police reporter. She grew up north of Green Bay and enjoys spending time in the community with her family.

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