State Government and Political Roundup: Assembly passes bill to make recalls tougherWisconsin News
-- It would be a lot harder to recall Wisconsin’s elected officials under a constitutional amendment that got its first approval last night.
MADISON - It would be a lot harder to recall Wisconsin’s elected officials under a constitutional amendment that got its first approval last night. The Assembly voted 60-37 to allow recalls only against those charged with serious crimes or those suspected of violating the state’s ethics code.
All Republicans voted yes, and all Democrats voted no except for Milwaukee’s Peggy Krusick. The amendment’s chief sponsor, Burlington Republican Robin Vos, said the flurry of recall efforts over the past year needs to stop. He said Governor Scott Walker and others are being targeted unfairly just for doing their jobs. Vos said the recall process is “broken,” and the people should get to fix it. But Madison Democrat Brett Hulsey says it doesn’t need to be fixed. He said the right to recall public officials was a key part of Wisconsin’s Progressive movement at the start of the 20th Century, but it’s been rarely used until now. And Hulsey called Vos’s amendment the “Politician Protection Act.” It now goes to the state Senate. It would also have to be approved in next year’s session, and by the voters in a statewide referendum. Recall expert Josh Spivak of Wagner College in New York doesn’t give the amendment much of a chance. He said similar measures came up after recalls in California and Michigan, but they never went anywhere because quote, “Voters kind of like the recall.” Only 18 states allow recalls of public officials. Seven limit the reasons to malfeasance.
Get ready to lose some sleep if you plan on watching the Wisconsin Assembly in the final days of its session. The house was supposed to act on 80 bills yesterday. But as usual, they spent most of the day in closed party caucuses. They hit the floor around eight last night and spent six hours taking up only a dozen measures. Democrats blocked seven of them with procedural votes. And that means there will be an overflow calendar when the Assembly returns on Tuesday. Then, you can expect a lot of scrambling by both houses – and perhaps an all-night meeting or two – because any bills not approved by early next Friday will die when the two-year session ends.
The state Assembly voted 58-37 to end the practice of giving both a pension and a paycheck to government workers who retire and then return to public jobs later. And the Assembly voted 97-0 to let judges order GPS monitoring of those who violate restraining orders.
Wisconsin state senators voted yesterday afternoon to allow hearsay evidence during preliminary hearings in criminal court cases. The bill is designed to prevent crime victims from having to testify in the early stages of cases, before judges can decide whether there’s enough evidence to put the defendants on trial. Hearsay evidence indirectly quotes people who are not able to testify. Until now, it has generally been prohibited because it makes cross-examination more difficult. Under the bill, a single police officer can testify and recount all elements of a case from scientific evidence to a victim’s story. The state Senate passed the measure on a voice vote with no debate, and it now goes to the Assembly.
Some of those two-in-the-morning state budget deals could be a thing of the past, under a bill approved by the state Senate yesterday afternoon. The vote was 30-3 in favor of a requirement that lawmakers not pass a budget until there’s a report on the Internet which lists earmarks – extra spending that benefits local areas, in which the sponsors are sometimes never identified. The non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau would prepare the report, and it would list all earmark items – how much they cost – and which lawmakers benefit. Conference committees would be barred from adding earmarks after each house passes its version of a budget. The purpose is to prohibit spur-of-the-moment spending items in the middle of the night, to round up votes for a budget that often passes before dawn’s early light. Three Democrats voted against the process – Minority Leader Mark Miller of Monona, former Senate President Fred Risser of Madison, and Lena Taylor of Milwaukee. The measure now goes to the state Assembly.
Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan says his focus is on improving the economy and cutting the deficit before the U.S. gets into a European-style crisis, not the political games taking place in Washington and on the presidential campaign trail. Ryan says what matters most to him is how we handle this moment and the crisis America is facing, both now and four years in the future. Noting his name is still being mentioned as a possible future presidential candidate, Ryan stated this country’s economic problems are what need immediate attention. He says his ambition is not higher political office, but to protect those who have retired, get the economy growing, and get the national debt under control. Ryan says, if he really wanted to be President, he would have been running already because “it’s the most open field race we’ve had in modern history.”
Democrat Kathleen Falk said yesterday that she’d try to undo a number of high-profile things the Republicans did while controlling the State Capitol over the last 14 months. The former Dane County executive is running in the expected recall election against Governor Scott Walker. Among other things, Falk told reporters she would try to kill the new voter ID law. She said it quote, “discourages voters, and that’s not good in a democracy.” Falk and Senate Democrat Kathleen Vinehout are the only declared Democrats running so far. Falk said she would be different than Walker by being more upfront with voters. She cited Walker’s elimination of most public union bargaining that he didn’t directly mention in his 2010 campaign. Falk has said she won’t sign a state budget unless it includes a repeal of the union law. Today, she also vowed to restore public financing of State Supreme Court campaigns. She also said a citizens’ commission should re-draw state-and-congressional district lines instead of the party-in-power in the Legislature. Falk also said she would also reverse Walker’s move to designate three dozen top state jobs as political appointments – and she’d either dump them or return them to independent civil service posts. Falk also vowed to make the governor’s office more transparent by posting her daily schedule on-line, and putting a data-base of state government contracts and employee salaries on the Web. Walker’s administration has been working to post a new Internet site that details state spending.
The governors of Wisconsin and Minnesota asked President Obama today to quickly approve the bill which authorizes a new bridge over the Saint Croix River. In a letter, Wisconsin Republican Scott Walker and Minnesota Democrat Mark Dayton said leaders of the two states have been working for decades to replace the 81-year-old lift bridge that goes from Houlton to Stillwater. Last week, the House gave final congressional approval to exempting the new bridge from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, thus allowing its construction. Minnesota officials said yesterday the bridge would cost a few million dollars less than earlier estimated – around 626-million dollars. If Obama approves the bill, construction would begin in 2014 and run for three years.
Two strategists with President Obama’s re-election campaign will meet today with UW-Madison students. Former White House news secretary Robert Gibbs and national campaign field director Jeremy Byrd are hosting a student summit. It’s all a part of Obama’s effort to get young people enthused about supporting him again. Young adults were cited as a big reason why the Democrat Obama was elected in 2008. The president carried Wisconsin by 14 percentage points. But two years later, Democrats lost control of the governor’s office, both houses of the Legislature, and the majority of the state’s congressional delegation.