Assembly ends session with bitter fights

  • Article by: SCOTT BAUER
  • Associated Press
  • November 15, 2013 - 2:35 AM

MADISON, Wis. — The Wisconsin Assembly wound down its last regular session day of the year in the early morning hours Friday with bitter partisan flare-ups, a broken deal over an anti-abortion license plate, a refusal to honor victims of the Sandy Hook shooting and a series of party line votes on changes to election law.

Many of the proposals passed during the marathon 12-hour-plus session face an uncertain future in the Senate, or also require a statewide vote in order to be added to the constitution. Other than a special session to delay a health insurance enrollment deadline, the Legislature will not be back again until January.

Just before midnight, the Assembly debated whether to create a special "Choose Life" license plate. That sparked anger from Democrats who thought Republicans were going to pull the measure as part of a bipartisan deal to institute a new procedure for creating specialty plates that would require qualified groups to apply to the Department of Transportation instead of going through the Legislature.

But Republican leaders backed off that bipartisan deal after getting angry over several moves by Democrats during the late-night debate, including a call to adjourn early. Democrats also tried to force a vote on a resolution honoring the 26 victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting last year in Connecticut, but Republicans wouldn't allow the measure to come forward.

The Sandy Hook resolution passed the Senate in September and all 33 senators were co-sponsors. No Republican spoke either in support or opposition to bringing the resolution up for a vote.

Republican Majority Leader Rep. Bill Kramer said the night started to come apart after Democratic Rep. Chris Taylor, of Madison, sent a message on Twitter questioning whether the anti-abortion license plate would be debated.

"You've got to be kidding me," said Democratic Rep. Josh Zepnick in disbelief that a tweet contributed to a breakdown in the license plate deal.

The marathon day came after the Assembly, acting on a bipartisan agreement reached earlier this year, largely avoided working deep into the night. But with a packed agenda full of hot-button issues, they could not get done by midnight as hoped.

The Assembly adjourned at 2:10 a.m.

On party line votes, the Assembly also voted to impose a new requirement to show photo identification at the polls, only allow recalls if the targeted officeholder has committed a serious crime or ethics offense, restrict the hours and days of in-person absentee voting, limit public access to a proposed iron ore mine site and change the procedure for choosing the chief justice of the state Supreme Court.

The recall change for state officeholders and the Supreme Court change must pass the Legislature next session and be approved in a statewide vote before taking effect. The mine access bill now heads to Gov. Scott Walker for his consideration, but all the other bills must still pass the Senate.

Proceeds from the "Choose Life" license plate would go to Choose Life Wisconsin Inc., a corporation that anti-abortion groups Wisconsin Family Action and Pro-Life Wisconsin set up to funnel money to crisis pregnancy centers' adoption programs.

The bill, which passed 54-39 on party lines, now heads to the Republican-controlled Senate.

While lawmakers entered the day thinking it would be the last time they would be in session this year, Walker on Thursday said he was calling a special session for December to extend a health insurance enrollment deadline until the end of March for about 77,000 Medicaid recipients slated to lose coverage in January.

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