Gov. Tony Evers’ 126 vetoes since January 2021 help tell the story of the policy differences between Democrats and Republicans in Wisconsin. Here are some of the highlights.
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Few issues highlighted the differences between Evers and Republicans more than their disconnect over voting laws in the wake of the 2020 election. Evers vetoed nearly 20 GOP election bills. They would have:
- Banned private election grants like the ones funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in the 2020 election
- Limited the sites where people can return absentee ballots and restricted who can return them
- Banned mailing absentee ballot applications — a step the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission took unanimously in 2020 — and required voters who say they’re indefinitely confined to show their photo ID each time they vote
- Made it illegal for clerks to fill in missing information on absentee ballot witness certificates (a policy later enacted later by a Waukesha County judge)
- Made the Legislature more powerful by giving state lawmakers more power to block federal election guidance and giving the Legislature’s rules committee more power to block Wisconsin Election Commission guidance
- Cut funding and staff at agencies found to have violated election laws
- Guaranteed a closer vantage point for election observers during a recount
- Let district attorneys from contiguous counties charge people for election law violations
- Created new rules for voting at nursing homes, a point of contention for some Republicans in the 2020 election
- Restricted who can claim to be an “indefinitely confined” voter, a status that currently lets people vote absentee without showing their photo ID each time
- Forced the state to check voter registration information against Department of Transportation records, raising the prospect that people could be removed from Wisconsin’s voters list if that information doesn’t match
- Required people to send a separate request for an absentee ballot every election — producing a copy of their photo ID each time — and requiring voters to declare in writing if they want someone outside of their immediate family to return their absentee ballot
- Mandated the state to verify that people on the registration list are U.S. citizens and required courts to notify clerks when jurors say they’re not citizens
- Forced the Wisconsin Elections Commission, which is split 3-3 between Republicans and Democrats, to investigate every election complaint unless there’s a two-thirds vote against it
- Made cities that livestream their canvas, or official vote count, record the video and store it for 22 months
Some of these issues were repackaged and sent back to the governor again in a catch-all elections bill that would ban private election grants, change the rules for nursing home voting and put limits on how clerks can handle absentee ballots with missing witness address information.
Government’s powers during a pandemic
Republicans and Evers also rarely saw eye-to-eye in the past legislative session when it came to how the government should address the COVID-19 pandemic. GOP lawmakers passed several bills that would restrict the power of state and local governments to address COVID-19 or future pandemics. They would have:
- Banned vaccine mandates, banned anyone in the public or private sector from requiring proof that someone is vaccinated for COVID-19, and banned government from discriminating against someone based on whether they’re vaccinated
- Prohibited local health officers from closing places of worship to slow the spread of COVID
- Prevented future administrations from deeming businesses as “essential” or “nonessential” during a pandemic, meaning that if a public health emergency were ordered, the state could either close all businesses or none
- Required employers to accept proof of “natural immunity” in place of a COVID-19 vaccine
- Let parents opt out of their child’s school mask mandate
- Required the governor to submit a plan to the Legislature for a return to in-person work for all state employees
- Given the Legislature’s budget committee oversight of all federal COVID-19 funds
- Ensured that service members who are discharged because they don’t get the COVID-19 vaccine are still considered veterans under state law
- Terminated an employee’s non-compete agreements if they’re fired for not receiving the COVID-19 vaccine
Evers also rejected a broad COVID-19 bill that started out as a compromise with Senate Republicans in the early days of the legislative session. Initial drafts of the bill would have extended the requirement that insurance companies cover COVID-19 treatments, prescriptions and vaccines. It also would have extended a waiver of the state’s one-week waiting period for applying for unemployment insurance. The compromise fell apart after Assembly Republicans added measures like a ban on vaccine mandates.
Evers and Republicans were worlds apart on around 20 education bills, some of which would make dramatic changes to the way kids are taught in Wisconsin. They would have:
- Removed all income and enrollment caps on the private school voucher program, meaning any number of kids from affluent families could be sent to private, religious schools at taxpayers’ expense (often called “Universal School Choice”)
- Established a “Parental Bill of Rights” that would have given parents the power to review instructional materials for their kids and decide what name and pronouns they’re allowed to use at school
- Broken up the Milwaukee Public Schools system into smaller districts
- Limited the ability of schools to teach kids about systemic racism and sexism;
- Overhauled Wisconsin reading readiness assessment (Evers vetoed two versions of this bill)
- Expanded charter schools by making it easier for charter school operators to open more schools, by creating a new board to authorize charter schools and eliminating the limit of charter schools that may be authorized by two tribal nations
- Required schools to post all their teaching materials online and report data about crimes on school grounds
- Allowed for early admissions to 4K, kindergarten and 1st grade at choice schools, made it easier to transfer to choice schools and raised the income threshold for the statewide private school voucher program
- Let homeschoolers from multiple families learn together in “micro education pods” of up to 20 children
- Laid the groundwork for a “landscape analysis” of teacher preparation programs in Wisconsin with the Legislature’s budget committee overseeing the review
- Established new reporting requirements for gifted education programs
- Prescribed what the state should emphasize in its school accountability reporting
Evers also vetoed a handful of other Republican bills that dealt with similar themes of race in higher education. These would have:
- Restricted what University of Wisconsin campuses are allowed to teach about systemic racism and sexism
- Let students satisfy diversity requirements in their curriculum by taking a class about the U.S. Constitution instead
- Allowed “only objective criteria” when considering admissions to University of Wisconsin System institutions
- Eliminated immunity for lawsuits against campus administrators who are alleged to have violated a student’s free speech rights
Federal COVID-19 aid
On bill after bill throughout the legislative session, Evers and GOP lawmakers sparred over how to spend billions of dollars of federal COVID-19 funding made available through the American Rescue Plan Act, known as ARPA. Republicans argued the Legislature should have a say in how to spend the funds, but ARPA gave that exclusive authority to the governor.
Republicans passed, and Evers vetoed bills that would have:
- Made a total of $1 billion in direct payments to property taxpayers, a proposal Evers argued was prohibited under federal law
- Spent $200 million on grants to small businesses, $75 million on grants to promote tourism, $100 million to promote rural economic development, $150 million on payments to nursing homes and $10 million for talent and attraction grants focused on veterans
- Allocated $309 million to counties for local road projects and another $250 million to retire transportation debt
- Set aside $65 million for loans to reopen two shuttered paper mills in Wisconsin Rapids and Park Falls
- Spent $61 million on drinking water initiatives, including $40 million to replace lead laterals
- Enumerated $500 million for grants to support broadband and $69 million to support emergency communications
- Spent an unspecified amount on payments to the state’s unemployment insurance fund to keep taxes on businesses from going up when the fund gets low
- Set aside $20 million to promote apprenticeship programs and additional funds to support commercial drivers license training
- Parceled out federal funding for several law enforcement programs, including $10 million for policing costs, $1 million for a law enforcement marketing campaign, law enforcement training expenses, two new police academies and raises for prison workers
In many cases, Evers funded identical priorities on his own as he parceled out billions in federal funds the past two years.
Evers’ veto power was significant in the once-a-decade battle over redistricting, the process where legislative and congressional district lines are redrawn to reflect new population data from the U.S. Census.
- Evers vetoed the legislative redistricting plan drawn by Republicans, which sent the matter to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. A 4-3 majority of the court initially chose a new compromise map drawn by Evers, but after the U.S. Supreme Court intervened, the Wisconsin Supreme Court reversed course and chose the original legislative map passed by the Legislature.
- The governor also vetoed the congressional redistricting plan drawn by Republicans, only there, the final outcome was different. The Wisconsin Supreme Court chose a compromise map drawn by Evers, and it was not overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. The end result was a map that created an additional competitive district in southeast Wisconsin.
- Earlier in the session, Evers also vetoed a bill that would have changed the timelines for redistricting at the local level.
Evers and the Legislature have been miles apart when it comes to gun policy since he took office. When Evers called a special session to tighten gun laws in 2019, Republicans adjourned it without taking any votes. When Republicans sent bills to Evers’ desk to expand gun rights, the governor vetoed them. They would have:
- Exempted guns made in Wisconsin from federal firearm laws, and banned the enforcement of any federal firearm laws that restrict semi-automatic weapons or assault weapons
- Shielded gun and ammunition manufacturers from civil lawsuits like the one that resulted in a $73 million settlement between families of Sandy Hook victims and the gun-maker Remington
- Allowed concealed carry permit-holders to carry guns in their vehicles on school grounds
- Let concealed carry permit-holders carry guns at a place of worship on a private school campus
- Recognized concealed carry permits from other states regardless of whether they conduct criminal background checks on gun owners
Police and crime
The Republican push to make crime front-and-center in the 2022 campaigns was well underway this past legislative session. Among the plans they sent to Evers that he vetoed were a few that would have:
- Cut state aid to cities that cut police department budgets
- Banned local ordinances that prohibit no-knock warrants
- Make it a felony when someone graffitis or damages state statues
- Created new penalties for people who participate in riots
- Increased criminal penalties when people commit theft as members of a gang
- Enacted a mandatory minimum sentence for a third retail theft conviction
- Increased penalties for inmates who batter Department of Corrections employees while in custody
- Required police officers to have a seat on a board that would have reviewed allegations of police Milwaukee police misconduct
- Increased penalties for the butane extraction of resin from marijuna
Prior to the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, Republican lawmakers sent a handful of bills to Evers that would have restricted abortion. Evers vetoed all of them.
- One would have prohibited people from getting abortions because a fetus tests positive for a cognitive condition like Down Syndrome. Evers also vetoed a bill requiring doctors who administer these tests to give expectant parents “current, evidence-based information about the congenital condition.”
- Another would have further defunded abortion providers by banning them from participating in Medicaid except in cases of sexual assault or incest or if the woman’s life is in danger.
- Yet another would required doctors to provide care to babies that survive induced abortions.
- Evers also vetoed a bill that would have required doctors to tell women that chemical-induced abortions may not immediately work.
The social safety net
Evers vetoed several GOP bills that would have restricted the government’s safety net in Wisconsin. They would have:
- Potentially cut unemployment benefits from 26 weeks to as little as 14 depending on the statewide unemployment rate
- Cut off Medicaid, or BadgerCare, to adults without kids if they turn down an offer to work more, or turn down a raise in order to remain eligible for Medicaid
- Cut off Medicaid, or BadgerCare, to adults without kids for six months if they fail to report a change in eligibility for the program
- Required able-bodied adults without children who are seeking FoodShare benefits to search for work and get tested for drugs
- Penalized unemployment insurance recipients who “ghost” employers, or don’t show up to a scheduled job interview
- Rebranded Wisconsin’s unemployment insurance program as “reemployment assistance” and create new penalties for unemployment insurance fraud
- Prematurely ended Wisconsin’s participation in enhanced unemployment insurance benefits offered by the federal government because of the pandemic
- Given the Department of Workforce Development a variety of new requirements for running the unemployment insurance program and given the Legislature’s budget committee more oversight
Deregulation and licensing
In one way or another, several Evers vetoes rejected bills that would have deregulated various businesses, including proposals that would have:
- Expanded the legally allowed work hours for minors under 16
- Let federally-licensed private zoos sidestep state permits for holding various wild animals
- Let people who want to be emergency medical technicians bypass a national exam
- Allowed the use of chemicals to eradicate certain invasive aquatic plants
- Exempted some buildings from getting their plumbing plans approved by the state’s Department of Safety and Professional Services
- Exempted a variety of alternative health care services from licensing
- Created a new license for an “advanced practice nurse“
- Allowed for slower broadband as the Public Service Commission builds out a broadband network for underserved areas
- Required the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation to certify certain property as shovel-ready for residential development
- Shielded motor vehicle carries from taxation if they implement safety devices on their vehicles
From hunting bighorn sheep to paddlewheel raffles, vetoed bills ran the gamut
With 126 vetoes, the range of topics where Evers and Republicans did not see eye-to-eye was long.
- When it came to hunting and fishing, Evers vetoed bills that would have allowed for the hunting of farm-raised bighorn sheep or gazelle, required the Department of Natural Resources to stock pheasants and required the DNR to annually stock Lake Michigan with at least 100,000 brook trout.
- Another Evers veto would have let an organization with a Class B raffle license to conduct a paddlewheel raffle.
- Evers rejected a pair of bills dealing with membership in the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association, including one that would overturn a WIAA policy requiring high school students who transfer schools to wait a year to play sports.
- Evers also vetoed two bills that would have eliminated the personal property tax and added a tax deduction for apprenticeship programs.
- When it came to government operations, Evers vetoed bills that would have created a legislative human resources office and shielded it from public records laws and let the state hire small firms for construction projects. Evers vetoed a plan that would have required a report to the Legislature’s budget committee about talent and attraction grants. At a more micro level, he vetoed a memorandum of understanding for the village of Allouez and Dodge County to cover corrections costs.
- Similar to other bills dealing with race, Evers vetoed a plan that would have “banned sex and race stereotyping in training” for employees of local and state government.
- Evers also vetoed a plan that would have let private landowners create title over lands that were formerly submerged in the Great Lakes.
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