Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled state legislature passed a bill early Wednesday morning that will constrain the power of the state’s incoming Democratic governor and attorney general.
The bill, which will weaken Governor-elect Tony Evers and Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul, was approved by the state Assembly and Senate and will now move to the desk of outgoing governor Scott Walker, who is expected to sign it.
Evers and Kaul had cautioned the lame-duck legislature against passing the bill, warning that the legislation would invite legal challenges that would delay the work of the new legislature. Democratic lawmakers in the state, meanwhile, cast the bill as a transparent power grab on the part of Republicans, who lost every statewide race in November but retained their legislative majorities.
“Why are we here today?” Assembly minority leader Gordon Hintz asked as debate over the bill began Tuesday night. “What are we doing? Nothing we’re doing here is about helping the people of Wisconsin. It’s about helping politicians. It’s about power and self-interest.”
Republicans defended the legislation as an apolitical effort to restore the legislature to its rightful governmental role.
“We have allowed far too much authority to flow to the executive,” assembly speaker Robin Vos countered. “To you this is all about politics. To me, it’s about the institution.”
In a last-minute concession, Republicans abandoned one provision that would have allowed the legislature to appoint their own attorney, rather than relying on the attorney general, when state laws are challenged in court.
The bill does, however, constrain the governor’s rule-making authority and weaken the attorney general by requiring a legislative committee to sign off before the state can withdraw from any federal lawsuits — a significant provision considering the state’s participation in a class-action challenge to Obamacare.
Similar lame-duck legislation was passed by Republicans in North Carolina two years ago and is currently pending before Michigan’s legislature.