GOP Election Bills, COVID-19 Vetoes, ‘Convention Of States’ Highlight Busy Agenda In Wisconsin Legislature

Republican state lawmakers have a busy day ahead of them Tuesday, with votes scheduled on a handful of election bills likely headed for vetoes by Gov. Tony Evers and votes to try to override Evers on two COVID-19 bills he already rejected.

In between, they’ll take up a wide variety of other issues, from calling for a “convention of states” to amend the U.S. Constitution, to the first votes on a package of policing bills, to a requirement that the national anthem gets played at Wisconsin’s sports stadiums.

Here’s a rundown of some of the highlights from Tuesday’s agenda:

Private Election Grants, Other GOP Election Bills

Assembly Republicans have scheduled a vote on a contentious bill that would restrict future private election grants like the ones many Wisconsin communities received to help administer the 2020 election.

The move is part of an initiative by Republicans both here and in other states to push back on grants funded by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, started a group called the Center for Tech and Civic Life in 2020 to help communities run elections during the coronavirus pandemic. The group said it awarded private grants to 221 counties, cities, towns and villages in Wisconsin. The bulk of the funding — more than $6 million — went to Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, Kenosha and Racine, Wisconsin’s largest cities.

Groups with Republican ties filed lawsuits last year challenging the grants in state court and in federal court. The courts rejected both cases.

A bill up for a vote Tuesday in the Assembly would dramatically restrict future election grants, requiring them to be awarded to all communities based on a per capita basis and be approved by the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee first. The plan would also ban grants that include requirements about how to run an election. The Center for Tech and Civic Life grants had certain requirements on how the election should operate. A similar bill has already passed the Senate.

Republicans contend the plan would prevent groups like Zuckerberg’s from having undo influence over future elections. Democrats say it’s one of many ways the GOP is perpetuating the lie that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen.”

Republicans in Arizona recently passed similar restrictions.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin state senators will consider new restrictions on collecting absentee ballots. One of the plans they’ll vote on Tuesday would ban absentee ballot collection events like the “Democracy In The Park” drives the Madison city clerk held during the 2020 election unless they’re held within 14 days of the election and “as near as practicable” to the clerk’s office. They’d also need to be run by the clerk or their staff.

That same plan would also let for-profit companies like UPS and FedEx deliver absentee ballots instead of just the U.S. Postal Service.

Another proposal up for a vote in the Senate would ban municipal clerks from filling in missing information for an absentee ballot witness, something clerks are instructed to do right now.

Senators will also vote on a bill that would require municipalities that broadcast or livestream canvassing proceedings for any election to record the broadcasts and keep the recordings for almost two years.

The Assembly is also scheduled to take up a bill that would spell out requirements for posting Wisconsin Elections Commission minutes online. It already passed the Senate.

Banning COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates, Restrictions On Places Of Worship

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While it’s unlikely to change the outcome, Assembly Republicans have also scheduled votes to try to override two Evers vetoes, one for a bill that would ban vaccine mandates by the government and another that would ban the state from closing places of worship.

Evers rejected both plans last month, writing in his veto messages that he opposed taking away existing tools from state and local public health officers to deal with COVID-19.

Tuesday’s vote could be largely symbolic. It takes a two-thirds vote in each chamber of the Legislature to override a governor’s veto, meaning 66 votes in the Assembly. The vaccine bill received 60 votes and the places of worship bill received 61 votes when they passed, both shy of the two-thirds threshold.

While Evers vetoed the bill on vaccine mandates, he also told The Journal Times of Racine that a requirement for all Wisconsinites to get vaccinated against COVID-19 is “not going to happen.”

‘Convention Of States’

Assembly Republicans will also again wade into a national debate over cutting the federal budget.

A resolution they’re poised to pass Tuesday would add Wisconsin to the list of states supporting a “convention of states” to amend the U.S. Constitution. It’s similar to one Wisconsin Republicans passed almost four years ago.

While the process has never been used, the U.S. Constitution gives states the power to petition for what’s commonly referred to as an “Article V Convention” to offer amendments. The convention is called once two-thirds of all state Legislatures — or 34 of them — have signed on to a petition.

The latest resolution would call for a convention to consider amendments that would “impose fiscal restraints” and “limit the power and jurisdiction” of the federal government. It would also let the convention consider term limits for members of Congress.

While GOP backers say the plan would address runaway spending in the federal government, critics of the move say it could amount to a Pandora’s box, setting up a convention where any number of other issues could be considered.

Policing Laws

Wisconsin Republicans will vote on bills addressing the power of police Tuesday, the first time since the death of George Floyd and subsequent protests.

Bills up for votes in the state Senate include plans that would create a $600,000 grant program for community-based policing in large cities, require police to post their use-of-force policies online, require the state to gather more data on use-of-force incidents and force police to share personnel files with other agencies during hiring processes.

The plans would also require police and firefighter oversight commissions in Milwaukee and Madison to add union nominees. The bills are not scheduled for a vote in the Assembly.

Other Proposals

GOP lawmakers have also scheduled debate on a wide variety of other issues Tuesday. They include bills that would:

  • Require the national anthem to be played or sung before every sporting event held in a venue constructed with any public funding.
  • Increase penalties for crimes committed against elderly residents.
  • Expand Wisconsin’s taxpayer-funded private school voucher program and open it to families with higher incomes.
  • Legalize paddlewheel raffles often used for fundraisers.
  • Require judges to explain their reasoning in child custody cases if they grant less than 25 percent of physical placement to one parent.
  • Allow for alcohol sales at the Road America racetrack near Elkhart Lake and at State Fair Park.
  • Create a Hmong-Lau Veterans Day “to recognize Southeast Asians, Americans, and their allies who served, suffered, sacrificed, or died in the Secret War in Laos during the Vietnam War.”
  • Reduce the number of Wisconsin Blue Books and Wisconsin Highway Maps that the state prints on behalf of Wisconsin legislators.

Editor’s note: This story will be updated.