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Senate leader signals lame-duck session on fast track, says it could happen Tuesday

November 30, 2018

The Republican leader of the state Senate has signaled GOP lawmakers are pursuing a fast track for a lame-duck legislative session before Gov.-elect Tony Evers takes office, saying it could happen as soon as Tuesday.

Text of the bills to be considered could be released Friday, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald told the Wisconsin State Journal in a brief, exclusive interview.

Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said lawmakers could hold public hearings on the bills Monday. It was not immediately clear which committees would convene.

GOP lawmakers are expected to take up bills in the lame-duck session that could include scaling back certain powers of the governor’s office or moving the date of Wisconsin’s 2020 presidential primary.

Also in the mix is a subsidy package to help paper giant Kimberly-Clark retain hundreds of jobs in the Fox Cities, though Fitzgerald said Tuesday that bill may lack support to pass the Senate.

Fitzgerald said Assembly Republicans are working on a large omnibus bill, meaning one that could address a range of topics. But he said Senate Republicans may proceed differently.

“I don’t think we’re going in that direction — maybe breaking it up,” Fitzgerald said.

Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, said several dates have been discussed for its session. Speaking Thursday morning, he said Assembly Republicans hoped to release information about the extraordinary session Thursday afternoon after meeting with their Senate counterparts, but no details had been released by Thursday night.

“It’d be good if we’re all on the same page” heading into the session, he said.

Steineke said there’s at least one topic Assembly Republicans will not consider in the session: any changes to the decennial redistricting process of redrawing legislative and congressional districts.

Steineke said there’s “no possibility” redistricting changes will come up and they’ve never been discussed.

Some Democrats, including U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Black Earth, and former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, speculated redistricting might come up in the lame-duck session, which would be the last chance for GOP lawmakers to send bills to a supportive Gov. Scott Walker before he leaves office. Evers is set to be sworn in Jan. 7.

The office of Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, did not respond to a request for comment on Fitzgerald’s remarks.

Vos spokeswoman Kit Beyer did note that Vos has said he wants a lame-duck session to include passage of a bill addressing health coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.

Such a measure would only have an impact if provisions of the Affordable Care Act are repealed or struck down in court, because it already assures people with pre-existing conditions can get coverage and won’t be charged more for it. The prospects of repeal have diminished with Democrats taking back control of the House in January.

Some lawmakers believe changing the next presidential primary date, now set for the first Tuesday in April, could give a better chance in the 2020 election to Walker’s state Supreme Court appointee, conservative-backed Justice Daniel Kelly. That’s because Kelly currently would stand for election on the same date as the presidential primary, and that contest is likely to spur higher voter turnout among Democrats because of what’s expected to be a more competitive fight for the Democratic presidential nomination.

But many of the local clerks who run Wisconsin’s elections have concluded it would be impossible to hold the presidential primary in March, as reportedly has been discussed, Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell said Thursday. McDonell said in a release that if a recount were needed for the February or March election, it would “categorically squash any possibility of this triple election cycle being feasible.”

Fitzgerald suggested earlier this week that lawmakers also could push the presidential primary date later than April, perhaps as late as June.

GOP legislative leaders also have said bills that could come up in the lame-duck session include changing the state agency rule-making process and adding to state law Walker’s newly approved work requirements for certain childless adults on the state’s Medicaid-funded health coverage program for the poor or disabled.

Other changes Republican lawmakers have said they’re considering include writing into state law existing rules on the requirement to show a photo ID to vote, and rolling back some powers of the governor’s office, including by giving lawmakers more say over the makeup of the board for the state’s job-creation agency, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.

Fitzgerald said Tuesday that GOP lawmakers are looking at changes — though it isn’t yet clear what — to the state solicitor general’s office, which represents the state Department of Justice in high-profile appellate cases.

Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, said in a statement the extraordinary session is a bid by Republicans “to undermine Governor-elect Evers before he takes the oath of office.”

“This special session has been a bait and switch to rush through more partisan bills, rig elections, and consolidate more power in the hands of Republican politicians,” Shilling said.

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