MADISON — With two major bills out of the way — the state budget and Milwaukee Bucks arena deal, both of which passed last month — activity in the state Legislature has quieted.
That figures to change soon enough.
Lawmakers are gearing up for debate on measures that will likely prove contentious, including a possible overhaul of the state’s elections agency. Bills banning the sale of fetal body parts and reforming John Doe laws are also on the table.
“It’s going to be a pretty aggressive fall session,” said state Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine.
GAB reform probable
Since last year, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has called for reforming the state Government Accountability Board, which in addition to elections oversees ethics, campaign finance and lobbying.
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That appears more likely than ever after the state Supreme Court last month halted an investigation into Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign — an investigation in which the GAB was involved.
Vos, R-Rochester, said he hopes a bill reforming the agency is introduced later this month or early September.
Legislation could call for a bipartisan board, possibly with former elected officials and judges, and may split the GAB’s duties into separate boards, he said.
Vos said he wouldn’t mind putting partisan people on the board, which currently consists of six former judges. Since every person is inherently biased in some way, he would rather have those biases out in the open, he said.
“One of the flaws with the current GAB is that it assumes that they are always impartial,” Vos said. “And I don’t think that’s the truth.”
GAB officials have defended their work, saying it has proven successful over the past eight years. And Democrats have ripped the idea of injecting partisanship into the board.
“Just because you don’t like a couple of decisions, you shouldn’t throw out the GAB,” said state Sen. Bob Wirch, D-Somers.
“It’s one more example where the majority of Republicans are drunk with power and anyone who dares to offer a counter opinion, they want to eliminate them.”
The Supreme Court decision also intensified calls to change the state’s John Doe laws — secret court proceedings which have come under criticism after the Walker campaign investigations.
Wanggaard co-sponsored legislation, which a Senate committee approved earlier this year, adding oversight measures and putting limits on the length of proceedings and the types of cases for which it can be used.
“It can be an effective tool,” Wanggaard said. “But also if it’s used improperly, it can be something that can be abused.”
Planned Parenthood targeted
A hearing on the bill banning fetal body parts, meanwhile, is scheduled for Tuesday. Republicans proposed the bill after a series of videos showed a Planned Parenthood medical director in California meeting with people posing as potential buyers of intact fetal specimens.
Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin has called the bill a political attack and says it will accomplish nothing because the group does not offer tissue donation services.