Assembly leaders on what to expect in 2024 legislative session

By: - December 22, 2023 5:45 am

Assembly Minority Leader Greta Neubauer (D-Racine) speaking at a press conference before an April 25 floor session. (Baylor Spears | Wisconsin Examiner)

Assembly Minority Leader Greta Neubauer (D-Racine) told the Wisconsin Examiner that her caucus will do everything it can to push back on Assembly Speaker Robin Vos’ attack on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives across the state.

In an interview reflecting on the past year and looking forward to the 2024 legislative session, Neubauer said that she hoped that the recent deal struck between Republicans and the University of Wisconsin doesn’t set a precedent, and said Vos “is on a personal mission to attack” DEI despite its importance.

“We know that Wisconsin has significant racial disparities that persist in everything from maternal health care and outcomes to incarceration and we should be focused on addressing those challenges…,” Neubauer said. “We simply cannot allow diversity, equity and inclusion to be a bargaining chip, and I hope that Vos recognizes this agenda is deeply misguided and we should be focused on supporting and strengthening our universities and government.”

Republicans have been targeting DEI initiatives since early this year when a provision was included in a law that increased local government funding to ban funding for DEI positions in the city of Milwaukee. GOP lawmakers then cut the UW System budget by $32 million in an effort to eliminate DEI.

Lawmakers did not agree to release the money until a recent deal made by the UW System and Vos, which the top Republican has declared the “first step” towards eliminating DEI completely. The UW System will freeze DEI hiring, “realign” a third of the current DEI positions across campuses to focus generally on academic and student success rather than specifically on historically marginalized groups and will hire a “chair of conservative thought” at UW-Madison as a part of the deal.

Vos’ next step is to identify DEI practices throughout Wisconsin government. He said in an interview with Wisconsin Eye on Thursday that he would like for there to be an audit of DEI practices throughout every state agency in Wisconsin.

“I’d like to have a complete audit of DEI practices of every agency from top to bottom,” Vos said in the Thursday interview. “We are so desperate for prison guards. I have a feeling that inside the department of corrections, they are not using a DEI statement in order to become a prison guard, right?”

Vos said that he would want the audit to be completed by the Legislative Audit Bureau and presented to the Legislature by January 2025.

Democrats to reup focus on child care in 2024

Reflecting on the past year, Neubauer said that Democrats have focused on upholding the governor’s veto to keep Republicans from enacting a far right agenda, putting forward “proactive” vision for the future of Wisconsin by introducing over 300 bills and working across the aisle whenever possible to get things done.

“We know that’s what the people of Wisconsin sent us here to do, and we try to find every opportunity to address the challenges that Wisconsinites are facing by working with our Republican colleagues and the governor,” Neubauer said. “That is often challenging as many of the biggest issues facing Wisconsinites have been ignored by the GOP, but we continue to look for every opportunity to pass good legislation.”

Lawmakers will return in January to continue their work, and top on Democrats’ list of priorities for next year is child care, Neubauer said. She said her caucus will continue to talk about the issue in the coming year and that she hopes there will be renewed focus on it in 2024, especially as she expects the pressure will continue to build on Republicans regarding the issue.

“The governor was able to put funds into supporting child care this year, but they will run out and the Legislature really needs to take action on this issue,” Neubauer said.

Evers announced in October that he would be moving $170 million in order to extend state support for child care providers until 2025. The funds were allocated after failed attempts to get Republicans to put more money into the Child Care Counts program — first during budget negotiations and then during a special session Evers called, asking the Legislature to take up the issue.

“We know that the child care industry will collapse if it does not receive support from the state Legislature and other governmental entities,” Neubauer said. “We have talked to providers from across the state and parents who are very concerned about how they’ll keep their doors open and continue providing care, education for those kids, how those families will be able — whether or not those families will be able — to participate in the workforce.”

She said that the Legislature should look at the state’s continuing budget surplus to find a way to provide relief to working families.

Republicans to propose abortion referendum, medicinal marijuana bill

Vos said in the Wisconsin Eye interview that his caucus would also be working to potentially pass an abortion bill that could put the question to voters and would likely introduce a bill on medicinal marijuana.

Vos has said that Assembly Republicans will seek to put a question to voters on the April ballot about making abortion illegal after 12 or 15 weeks, instead of the current 20 weeks. The idea would require the support of Gov. Tony Evers, who has already said he won’t support it

“I don’t think we need to spend the next 50 years arguing about what the position on abortion should be so that every single election, every single campaign only focuses on abortion, it’s not healthy for our democracy,” Vos said during an interview with Wisconsin Eye.

This month a Dane County judge ruled that the 1849 law, which was initially widely interpreted to apply to abortion, applies only to feticide, and that there is “no such thing as an ‘1849 Abortion Ban.’” The case, which was filed by Attorney General Josh Kaul, is being appealed by Sheboygan District Attorney Joel Urmanski to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Neubauer said she is skeptical of any proposals related to abortion coming from Republican lawmakers.

“Legislative Republicans are not aligned with the people of Wisconsin on the issue of reproductive health care,” Neubauer said. “Since the fall of Roe v. Wade, they have celebrated the period where we did not have access to abortion services in Wisconsin and done very little, if anything, to ensure that people have access to comprehensive health care. We know that the people of Wisconsin want access to abortion and they want it enshrined in law and we’re going to continue to do everything we can to make that possible.”

GOP support for medical marijuana

Vos said Assembly Republicans will be introducing a bill that would legalize medical marijuana. According to the Associated Press, he said the bill will be modeled after the bill that was in place in Minnesota before it fully legalized marijuana earlier this year.

A group of Assembly Republicans have been working on a medicinal marijuana bill for the past six months, according to Vos, and working to make sure that they can get enough support in their caucus.

“Unfortunately, we know from our Democratic colleagues that unless we do full recreational marijuana, you’re not going to be able to count on anything,” Vos told Wisconsin Eye.

Neubauer said that whether the bill would have Democratic support would depend on the details, but that her caucus is open to discussions.

“We of course would like to see full legalization of marijuana in Wisconsin, we know that that is overwhelmingly supported by the people of our state and that we should be regulating and taxing marijuana,” Neubauer said. “We’re open to serious policy conversations about medical marijuana as well, and we need to ensure that any bill provides real access to people struggling with pain management or other health issues.”

2024 legislative maps and elections

Along with from child care, Neubauer said that a top priority for her caucus will be redistricting. She said she hopes a current Wisconsin Supreme Court case challenging the state’s legislative maps will put the state in a position to have fair maps and have democracy restored.

“That will change so many things about what happened in this building and how we govern, and I’m hopeful for the people of Wisconsin that they have the opportunity to make their voices heard,” Neubauer said.

She said that the gerrymandered legislative map means that the will of the people is not necessarily being represented by the Legislature.

The legal challenges to Wisconsin’s gerrymandered maps, which have threatened Republicans’ large majority control of the Legislature, led Republicans to propose an overhaul in how Wisconsin draws its legislative maps.

Vos also threatened to impeach Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Janet Protasiewicz — who took her seat in August, giving liberals a majority on the Court for the first time in 15 years — if she does not recuse herself from a case challenging Wisconsin’s voting maps. Now, Vos has said it is “super unlikely” that Republicans would impeach Protasiewicz.

Neubauer said the threats remain a concern for Assembly Democrats.

“I believe that Speaker Vos would impeach [Protasiewicz] if he saw a path to do so,” Neubauer said. “GOP legislators have made very clear that they will take any opportunity to enshrine their power and to limit the voice and Wisconsinites here in the Capitol.”

Neubauer said she thinks Republicans haven’t moved forward with impeachment now because Wisconsinites don’t want them to remove a justice they recently elected. She noted that there are 12 Republicans in the Assembly who represent districts that Protasiewicz won.

“I believe that they did not move forward because many members of the Republican caucus in both houses did not want to vote to impeach Justice Protasiewicz,” Neubauer said. “They knew that they would be held accountable for that by other districts.”

The Examiner also contacted Speaker Robin Vos seeking a year-end interview.


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Baylor Spears
Baylor Spears

Baylor Spears is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner. She’s previously written for the Minnesota Reformer and Washingtonian Magazine. A Tennessee-native, she graduated with a degree in journalism from Northwestern University in June 2022.