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Wisconsin Assembly to attempt first overrides in 9 years

November 6, 2019
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Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, seated at center, listens to a Senate debate regarding his pick to head the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection during a session at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison, Wis. Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. Walking behind during the proceedings is Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau. (John Hart/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)
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Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, seated at center, listens to a Senate debate regarding his pick to head the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection during a session at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison, Wis. Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. Walking behind during the proceedings is Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau. (John Hart/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Republican-controlled Wisconsin Assembly was preparing Wednesday to attempt the first veto overrides in nearly a decade, targeting three partial budget vetoes by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.

Democrats vowed to block the override attempts scheduled for Thursday. The vetoes at issue killed funding for a new crisis center and redirected money intended for doctors and to train behavioral health care workers.

Republican Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke urged support of the overrides Wednesday, saying in a letter to lawmakers that it was a chance to “correct a mistake” made by Evers.

Republicans have been trying to out-maneuver Evers since before he took office. They convened a lame-duck session last year to weaken his powers and have been aggressively attempting to block his will since his governorship began in January. On Tuesday, the Senate fired Evers’ pick to run the agriculture department and took the first step to amend the state constitution to weaken the governor’s veto authority.

Not to be outdone, the Assembly announced late Tuesday that it would be attempting three veto overrides on Thursday.

Veto overrides in Wisconsin are rare. The last was attempted in 2010, when Democrats tried unsuccessfully to override the veto of a bill by the Democratic governor that would have taken away his ability to appoint the leader of the Department of Natural Resources. The last successful override was in 1985, a 34-year span that is the longest in Wisconsin history, according to the Legislative Reference Bureau.

It appears likely that there won’t be a successful override this year, either. Overriding a veto requires two-thirds of lawmakers present in the Assembly and Senate to succeed. Republicans have a 63-36 majority in the Assembly but would need 66 votes if everyone is there. Overriding a veto would also need 22 votes in the Senate, where Republicans have 19 seats. The Senate doesn’t plan to return until January.

No Democrat will vote for the overrides in the Assembly, said Democratic Minority Leader Gordon Hintz.

Under a rule change Republicans approved last month, the veto overrides can be attempted multiple times. Democrats objected to the change, saying it opened the door to Republicans attempting to have surprise votes when Democrats are absent and the numbers are in the GOP’s favor.

Steineke, the Republican leader, said Tuesday that only one vote attempt would be made for each of the three items. Steineke said he was “hopeful” and had his “fingers crossed” that Democrats could be persuaded to join with Republicans to override the vetoes.

A spokeswoman for Evers had no immediate comment Wednesday.

The Evers vetoes up for override votes killed $15 million in funding to create a northern Wisconsin regional crisis center, instead allowing the money to be used to expand Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center in Madison; blocked $5 million a year for doctors who care for people in state health care programs; and gave the Evers administration more flexibility in how to spend $500,000 to increase the number of health care providers, nixing the Legislature’s plan to create a new grant program.

Wisconsin governors enjoy expansive veto powers. Evers made 78 partial vetoes to the state budget passed this summer, leading to a lawsuit that’s before the state Supreme Court and the push to limit his power through a constitutional amendment. He particularly angered Republicans when he used his veto creatively to increase funding for schools by $65 million above what they wanted.

The constitutional amendment passed by the Senate on Tuesday would disallow governors from using a partial veto to increase spending. Before becoming law, the amendment must be passed by the Assembly this session, the full Legislature in the 2021 session, and be approved by voters in an election.

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This story has been corrected to show the last veto override attempt was in 2010, not 2009.

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