GOP donor group announces the agenda for surprise legislative session

By: - July 26, 2021 1:59 pm
Unemployment benefits application (photo by Getty Images)

Unemployment benefits application (photo by Getty Images)

The Legislature quietly announced Friday that it will convene in a special session Tuesday for a veto override vote — but Democratic legislators and the public were not informed of what would be on the agenda.

Democrats and the public didn’t have to wait for Republicans to make an announcement, however. Tuesday morning before legislative leaders said which of Gov. Tony Evers’ vetoes they would be trying to override  — Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce let the cat out of the bag via a tweet. 

WMC tweeted twice issuing an action alert telling businesses to call legislators: WORFORCE (sic) SHORTAGE EMERGENCY: Tomorrow the WI assembly plans to override @GovEvers‘ veto of legislation that would end the $300 a week pandemic-related unemployment benefits! Contact your lawmakers today and tell them you support getting WI back to work! wmc.org/issues/legisla…

The above tweet was deleted and replaced an hour later with:

“It’s bad enough to schedule a veto override without being forthcoming about what bills we’re taking up,” says Democratic Assembly leader Gordon Hintz. “But finding out from their big money interest group what’s on the calendar via a tweet is a reflection of the utter lack of leadership and their continued disrespect for the Assembly as an institution.” 

Hintz added, with an additional slap, “…unless they didn’t know what they were voting on either. Maybe they were waiting for WMC to tell them what would be on the calendar. Many would not be surprised.”

Assembly Democratic Minority Leader Gordon Hintz

The Unemployment Insurance bill vetoed by Evers would have ended the additional $300 a week that jobless individuals are getting from a pandemic boost as many have needed to survive the pandemic. 

Called the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), this federal supplement is scheduled to end on Sept. 1. In 2020 the amount was $600 a week and was cut in half for 2021. Republicans passed an earlier bill to end it immediately that Evers vetoed.

Republicans have claimed the supplement is causing people to not want to return to work, with leadership claiming that employers are “competing with the couch” for workers. With many childcare centers and other services out of business permanently due to the pandemic, Democrats respond that it is these barriers along with low wages that are keeping people from being able to return to jobs and that if businesses pay more, they are able to find employees.

Evers adds to the agenda

Calling an extraordinary session in the middle of summer can be problematic when done at the last minute, because after closing the spring session and passing the budget, the schedule does not include the Assembly or Senate coming back into session until September and many legislators are on vacation.

Gov. Tony Evers

But Hintz indicates the Democrats in the Assembly will have the votes they need to preserve Evers’ veto of the cut to unemployment benefits.

When the Legislature decides to come in for a session outside the calendar dates to focus on a certain topic, it’s called an extraordinary session. When the governor calls the Legislature into session — as Evers has done frequently, although  legislative leaders have refused to take up his call to debate the issues — it is called a special session. 

With the Legislature convening for a veto override, Evers announced Monday that he would call a special session to vote on education funding, or as he put it, “to do the right thing and invest in our kids and our schools.” 

He went on to say, “If they have time to come into session to play politics, then they have time to come in and do what’s best for our kids.  He also posted a video making this request.

Evers’ agenda for the special session he called includes:

  • $200 million for special education aids,
  • $240 million in per pupil aid “that’s money that can go directly into the classroom to help support kids at every school district in the state.
  • $110 million for higher education and “our University of Wisconsin System, which is a key economic driver for our state, so that they can continue to be a critical asset in helping our state economy recover from this pandemic,” says Evers.

In his message announcing his special-session call, Evers spoke of his discontent with how little the 2021-23 budget provided for education at every level. He used $100 million of federal recovery funds he controls to help districts, but at the time he signed the budget he told the legislators in his budget response message that they needed to “finish the work they started — and it needs to start with education.”

“That’s why today I’m giving Republicans the chance to do the right thing,” Evers said in his video. “Through my broad veto authority I made sure we had state resources readily available for the Legislature to do the right thing and make meaningful investments in our kids, in our schools, like they should have done in a budget fight.”

He added a backhanded compliment to the Legislature for actually working in the summer (they took much of 2020 off from session going nine months without meeting) and told them while they are coming to Madison, they have a lot more work to do on the education budget.

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“If Republicans have time to come into session just to try and override my vetoes, then they sure as heck have the time to come into session and to do what’s best for kids,” Evers continued. “If they are going to come to Madison, then they have work to do … while they will already be here at the Capitol.”

When Republicans scheduled the session on Friday, they said the agenda would be determined Monday afternoon by holding a paper ballot of the organizing committee. (Lawmakers are not required to meet in person together in a room for a paper ballot vote, which can be cast remotely).

When the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel contacted Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke’s office on Tuesday, he would not confirm what bills would be taken up. 

Since Evers became governor, Republicans have attempted several veto overrides but while they control 61 seats out of 99 in the Assembly, they do not have the two-thirds supermajority needed to override a veto without Democratic votes. None of their veto-override attempts against Evers have been successful. 

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Melanie Conklin
Melanie Conklin

Melanie Conklin is proud to be a native of the state of Wisconsin, which gave humankind the typewriter, progressivism and deep-fried cheese curds. Her several decades in journalism include political beats and columns at Isthmus newspaper, the Wisconsin State Journal and other publications. When not an ink-stained wretch, she served time inside state, local and federal government in communications. She is excited to be back at the craft of journalism as Deputy Editor of the Wisconsin Examiner. It’s what she’s loved ever since getting her master’s degree in journalism from the UW-Madison. Her family includes one husband, two kids, four dogs and five (or more) chinchillas.

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