Legislature sends UW ‘automatic admission’ bill to Evers’ desk

The plan was part of deal between the Universities of Wisconsin Board of Regents and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos

Wisconsin state Capitol at night
Wisconsin state Capitol. Joe Tarr/WPR

State universities would be required to admit the top academic performers from Wisconsin high schools under a Republican measure passed by state lawmakers Tuesday.

The plan would enshrine in state law part of a GOP-authored deal that unlocked state funds for university pay raises and building projects in exchange for new limits on campus diversity, equity and inclusion programs, or DEI.

The bill would require the University of Wisconsin-Madison to admit the top five percent of students from state high schools. Other Universities of Wisconsin campuses would be required to admit the top 10 percent of high school students.

The bill was first introduced in June amid GOP concerns that UW-Madison rejects high-achieving, in-state students and favoring out-of-state applicants. The idea later became part of a compromise between Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and the UW System Board of Regents late last year.

Vos blocked pre-approved pay raises for UW employees for months while demanding that campus diversity, equity and inclusion programs be eliminated. In December, regents approved a deal with Vos that unlocked the funding for raises and campus building projects. In exchange, regents agreed to support the automatic admissions policy and new limits on DEI staffing and programs. 

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The bill heads next to the governor’s desk. Evers has been sharply critical of the deal, which was struck against his wishes.

Constitutional amendment giving Legislature final say over federal funds passes state Senate

Voters in November would be asked whether the Legislature should have a say over how Wisconsin governors spend federal funds under a proposed constitutional amendment that passed the state Senate Tuesday.

The measure follows GOP criticism over not having input on how Democratic Gov. Tony Evers spent federal COVID stimulus funds. 

The Republican-controlled state Senate approved the joint resolution during its Tuesday floor session. It passed along party lines with a vote of 22-10 without any discussion from lawmakers. 

Because Senators amended the plan to reschedule the referendum, it would still need final approval by the state Assembly before it goes to voters.

Assuming that happens, voters would be asked two referendum questions: whether the state Constitution should be amended to prohibit the Legislature from delegating “its sole power to determine how moneys shall be appropriated” and whether the governor should be prohibited from allocating any federal funding” on behalf of the state without the approval of the Legislature.” 

The proposed amendment was introduced by Republicans in 2022 following nearly two years of acrimony between Republican lawmakers and Evers over how to spend billions of dollars in federal COVID-19 funding. 

Senate passes several election bills

GOP Senators also passed several election bills Tuesday. They include:

  • A plan that would require Wisconsin’s nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau to conduct random audits of election results in four counties, one city and one village. The bill would also allow lawsuits to be filed compelling local election officials to comply with the audit. People who don’t comply could be fined $500 per day. 
  • A bill that would require courts to notify the Wisconsin Elections Commission when a person has been declared incompetent to vote, and require the WEC to notify local clerks. The bill would also require nursing home administrators to notify clerks when “special voting deputies” can assist residents with voting. 
  • A measure that would ban local governments from closing more than half of their polling places within 30 days of an election. It would also require local leaders in large cities to get approvals from the election clerk and governing body before closing a polling place. One Republican bill author pointed to Milwaukee’s decision in 2020 to close polling places due to COVID-19 concerns as justification for the bill.

Republican bill allowing people to arm themselves with electric weapons passes Senate

GOP lawmakers also passed legislation that would end Wisconsin’s prohibitions on the sale and possession of electronic weapons “designed to immobilize or incapacitate” people with electric weapons.

Currently, those weapons are only approved for use by police or residents who are licensed to carry concealed weapons.

The measure passed the Senate on a party line vote of 22-10 and now heads to the Assembly.