Lawmakers vote to fire Evers appointee, pass EV, tax cut and licensing bills

By: - January 17, 2024 5:45 am

GOP Senators voted to fire one of Gov. Tony Evers during a floor session on 1/12/2024. (Screenshot via WisEye)

During the first floor session of 2024, the Senate booted another of Gov. Tony Evers’ appointees and approved bills that would help establish additional electric vehicle charging stations throughout the state, ban public nudity and cut taxes. The Assembly focused the majority of its attention on approving bills that aim to help address the state’s ongoing workforce shortages by streamlining the licensing process for certain professions. 

GOP senators reject Evers PSC appointee

Senate Republicans voted 21-11 on Tuesday to reject Evers-appointee Tyler Huebner to the Public Service Commission (PSC). The action comes almost four years after Huebnerwas first appointed to the agency, which regulates what customers pay for monopoly utilities that provide electricity, natural gas and water, among other services. 

Huebner, who formerly served as the executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, was appointed by Evers to the PSC in March 2020 to fill the unexpired term of Mike Huebsch, who had been appointed by former Gov. Scott Walker. Huebner’s first term expired in March 2021 without a confirmation hearing or vote, and Evers reappointed him to a new term expiring March 2027.

The vote was expected after the Senate Utilities & Technology Committee voted 3-2 last week against confirming Huebner to the PSC. 

Democrats criticized the action during the Tuesday floor session, saying that the rejection was a political decision that would have a negative impact on the state. 

Sen. Jeff Smith (D-Brunswick) called on lawmakers to not remove Huebner from his position, saying he is “probably the most important, valuable asset we have in the utilities community right now,” and “leaves us less prepared for the challenges ahead.” 

“To reject this is such a head scratcher and [comes] at a time when Wisconsin is experiencing an unprecedented expansion of renewable energy. Mr. Huebner has proven himself to be an expert in this area — a person we need at this time in history,” Smith said. 

Huebner’s rejection is a continuation of Republicans’ targeting of Evers’ appointees since he first took office in 2019. In October, Republican Senators rejected seven of Evers’ appointees to various positions including a member of the Wisconsin Elections Commission and four members of the state Natural Resources Board. 

Sen. Brad Pfaff (D-Onalaska) spoke about his own firing by Senate Republicans from the position of Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) in 2019.  

“I was swifty rejected by this body, but let’s be clear about what this is all about. The rejection of Tyler Huebner is not just personal. This is really an attack on clean energy. It’s an attack on our environment, on our economy and it’s an attack on our overall democratic process,” Pfaff said. “Voters are sick of partisan political games, yet here we are again.” 

Pfaff said that the decision will send a message that qualifications don’t matter and that “what matters is your political party and who appointed you.” 

Sen. Julian Bradley (R-Franklin) rejected the idea that Republicans’ rejection of Huebner was a “purely political” decision and pointed to the Senate’s confirmation of a number of appointees on Tuesday, including Summer Strand to the PSC. 

Bradley said there was a reason lawmakers were moving to reject Huebner and mentioned concerns about Huebner’s support for an income-based rate program. 

“At some point we could have a Republican governor again, and that Republican governor could appoint somebody to these boards or commissions. Should we just accept them or should we vet them?” Bradley asked. “We have advice and consent. That is our job.” 

Following the vote, Evers called Huebner an “exemplary public servant who’s dedicated to serving the people of Wisconsin and building the sustainable future we want for our state” in a statement criticizing the Senate’s decision. 

“The decision by Senate Republicans to fire him today defies justification and logic,” Evers said in a statement. “Republicans’ ongoing efforts to harass, disparage, and fire dedicated public servants is a serious threat to the basic functions of our government and democracy in our state.” 

Evers also announced he was appointing Kristy Nieto, who is currently a division administrator for energy regulation and analysis at the PSC, to fill Huebner’s seat. This will leave the PSC with only two members after the current chair Rebecca Valcq leaves on Feb. 2

Senate approves electric vehicle, nudity ban and tax cut bills 

Without debate, the Senate passed two bills — SB 791 and SB 792 — that aim to help create a network of electric vehicle charging stations across the state in a 30-2 vote with Sens. Robert Cowles (R-Green Bay) and Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) voting against. The bills would allow Wisconsin to use almost $80 million in federal money, which was first approved in 2022, and will next go to the Assembly for consideration. 

Under the first bill, businesses, like gas stations, convenience stores or grocery stores, that supply electric vehicle (EV) charging stations for drivers to use would be exempt from regulation as a public utility. Private businesses would be allowed to sell electricity by the kilowatt-hour rather than by the length of time it takes to charge a vehicle, under the bill.  An excise tax at a rate of 3 cents per kilowatt-hour would be imposed on electric vehicle charging.

State agencies would be prohibited from operating an EV charger unless it is solely for vehicles owned or leased by a state agency. Local governments would be able to provide free access to certain types of charging and would be prohibited from selling EV charging. 

According to the WI Lobbying website, the bill is supported by a variety of companies and organizations including 7-Eleven, Kwik Trip, Tesla, the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, Clean Wisconsin, the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, Madison Gas & Electric Company and RENEW Wisconsin.

The second bill would allow the state Department of Transportation (DOT) to establish a program to provide funding for electric vehicle infrastructure projects. 

A bill that would make it a crime for adults to be naked in public and another that would prohibit children from attending events where anyone is nude both passed 23-9 with Sen. Bob Wirch (D-Somers) joining Republicans in favor. The bills were introduced in reaction to the 2023 Naked Bike Ride in Madison after reports of a young girl participating in the event.

The first bill — SB 477 — would prohibit a person from causing minors to attend any events where adults intend to “intentionally expose their genitals, buttocks, or other intimate parts in a public area.” It would also prohibit anyone from taking a picture of a child at such an event if it depicts the child’s intentionally exposed genitals, buttocks, or other intimate part. Violators could be found guilty of a Class A misdemeanor. 

The second bill — SB 478 — would update current law, which prohibits a person from “publicly and indecently exposing genitals or pubic area,” by eliminating the portion that says that the exposure be “indecent” and instead requires that the exposure be “intentional.” Anyone that violates the prohibition could be found guilty of a Class A misdemeanor. 

Republicans concurred in AB 386, which would condense the state’s income tax rates and provide specific tax cuts for retirees, in a 21-10 party line vote. The bill is another attempt by Republicans to secure substantial tax cuts this legislative session. 

Republicans first included a nearly $3.5 billion income tax cut in the state budget during the budget cycle, which Evers vetoed. Then, GOP lawmakers introduced a tax cut plan later in 2023 by replacing a special session bill authored by Evers with a $2 billion tax cut measure, which the governor also vetoed.

Sen. Rachael Cabral-Guevara (R-Appleton), who co-authored the bill, said that she was offering lawmakers a third attempt to get the tax cuts passed. 

“We’re looking at $2 billion in tax cuts, giving this back to the hard workers that we have in the state of Wisconsin,” Cabral-Guevara said during the floor session. “If you happen to be a no vote, what you’re, in essence, saying is ‘Give us your money down here in Madison. We know how to spend your damn money better than you do.’ I think that’s wrong.” 

The approval comes as Republican senators have said they are working on another tax cut proposal that would change the state’s second income tax bracket to include families making somewhere between $150,000 and $200,000. 

The Senate also approved several other measures including:

  • SB 559, which would allow companies including Uber, Lyft and DoorDash to offer drivers additional benefits without turning the drivers into employees, passed in a 21-11 party line vote. The bill is now in the Assembly. 
  • Senators concurred in AB 543, which would require election observers to be placed a maximum of three feet away from the table where voters announce their name and address and where people register to vote, in a 21-10 vote. Under the bill, violators of the provisions could face imprisonment for up to 90 days and a fine of up to $1,000. The bill will now go to Evers for consideration. 
  • Senators concurred in AB 545, which would require that technical college district board members are U.S. citizens, in a 20-11 vote. Sen. Joan Ballweg (R-Markesan) joined Democrats against the bill. The bill now heads to Evers for consideration.
  • Lawmakers concurred in AB 570, which would allow employees of a residential care facility or a qualified retirement home to serve as personal care voting assistants during a public health emergency or incident of infectious disease, in a 21-11 party line vote. The bill will now go to Evers for consideration. 

Assembly passes licensure bills

The Assembly passed several bills on Tuesday that would seek to address the workforce shortage within medical fields by changing certain licensing pathways, though Democrats said the bills were not adequately addressing issues in the state. 

“Instead of taking up legislation that we know is overwhelmingly popular in our state, like expanding access to affordable health care, or addressing our child care crisis. We are here to vote on bills that don’t address the root of the issues impacting Wisconsinites. We have bills on the calendar today that would irresponsibly deregulate Wisconsin’s licensing process including for important health care positions,” Assembly Minority Leader Greta Neubauer (D-Racine) said during the floor session. “We should be focusing on bills that will make our state safer, not undermining necessary guardrails in critical industries.” 

One of those bills — SB 158 — would  require the Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) to grant preliminary credentials to people who have recently completed the requirements to obtain a health care credential. The Assembly concurred in the bill with a voice vote, and sent it back to the Senate with an amendment. 

Rep. Joy Goeben (R-Hobart), who co-authored the bill, said on the floor that the bill would work to address the root of the workforce shortage problem.

“Let’s get people back to work. Let’s get them in there right as soon as possible,” Goeben said. “The crisis acutely impacts professionals that require extensive years of education and training, especially in health care, and with the lack of trained professionals in the industry, the demand is growing… This streamlines the credentialing process and allows more trained professionals to efficiently enter the workforce.” 

The Assembly also approved AB 143 in a voice vote. The bill would prohibit DSPS and certain credentialing and examining boards from requiring applicants for certain professions — including substance abuse counselors, advanced practice nurse prescribers, respiratory care practitioners, occupational therapists, pharmacists and professional counselors — to pass a statutes and rules examination as a condition of licensure or certification.

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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.

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