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Wisconsin Senate votes to override governor’s vetoes • Wisconsin Examiner

During a heated floor session Tuesday, the Wisconsin Senate voted to override nine vetoes issued by Gov. Tony Evers, including a divisive bill directing how funding to combat PFAS “forever chemicals” can be spent.

The override votes, which took place about six months before the 2024 general elections, mostly served as a platform for Republican legislators to send a political message, as the fate of the vetoed bills is unlikely to change. Veto overrides need to be approved by a two-thirds majority in both chambers — an accomplishable goal for Republicans in the Senate since they hold a 22-10 majority. In the Assembly, Republicans hold 63 of 99 seats, so two Democrats would have to join Republicans to pass any veto override. 

The session showcased the deep partisan divide, with debate lasting almost five hours and becoming increasingly intense when Republicans sought to end discussion and Democrats protested the move.

The last bill the Senate took action on was SB 1014, which sought to direct how the Department of Health Services (DHS) would spend $15 million in funding on grants for capital improvements for emergency medical services in Eau Claire and Chippewa counties. It led to the most explosive reactions on the floor. 

Sen. Jesse James (R-Altoona) said that overturning the veto on the bill would be the only way that the $15 million could be released. After the lawmaker’s comments, Republicans went straight to the vote on the measure, not allowing Democrats the chance to debate. Democrats were infuriated.

“This is bullsh*t,” Sen. Tim Carpenter (D-Milwaukee) yelled. He later threw a stack of papers into the air after being ignored.

“People are suffering in my district,” Sen. Jeff Smith (D-Brunswick) yelled. Senate President Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield) banged his gavel and told Smith that he was out of order. 

Smith said during a press conference after the session that the $15 million could be released by the Joint Finance Committee at any time. 

“Republicans bank on the fact that they can fool the public because they don’t really understand how the Joint Finance Committee works,” Smith told reporters. “I just am upset and livid that they’re gambling with people’s lives — literally gambling with people’s health care in Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls, in all western regions,” Smith said. 

“I just am upset and livid that they’re gambling with people’s lives — literally gambling with people’s health care in Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls, in all western regions,” Sen. Jeff Smith (D-Brunswick) said at a press conference. (Baylor Spears | Wisconsin Examiner)

Lawmakers also voted to overturn Evers’ veto of the divisive PFAS bill — it’s the latest action taken by Republican lawmakers in their disagreement with Evers over the guidelines for how $125 million can be spent to combat PFAS. Evers has urged lawmakers on the Joint Finance Committee to release the funds without the bill.

An “innocent landowners” provision in the bill was once again a major point of disagreement during the debate, with Democrats saying it would allow polluters to get out of being held accountable, but Republicans said it is necessary so that landowners are protected and can take advantage of the funds without fear of consequences.

Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Dianne Hesselbein and Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee), argued that the money could be released by the Joint Finance Committee and could be done without the provision. 

“I would hope that unlike those before us, we don’t simply wash our hands in the past, and we actually hold those who did the polluting accountable,” Larson said. “Otherwise, the incentive moving forward is going to be just ‘Pollute at will’ and do not think of the future because someone else will come along and clean it up.”

Sen. Mary Felzkowski (R-Tomahawk) said a successful veto override is the only way to get the money out the door and that the Joint Finance Committee cannot override a veto, and therefore cannot release the funds. Republican lawmakers have previously said that the Department of Natural Resources request to the Joint Finance Committee to release the money would go against legislative intent. 

“This is a political chess game for the Democrats and the governor… you’re playing with the people’s lives and their investments, and their families,” Felzkowski said. 

Democrats insisted the finance committee can simply release the funds.

Other bills on which lawmakers voted to overturn vetoes included one that would establish a statewide wolf population, one to create an advanced nurse practitioner license, one to create a teacher apprenticeship program and one to establish new post-election audits. 

Democrats also tried at one point to bring five bills to the floor that passed the Assembly, but never got a vote in the Senate including a bill to allow for Monday processing of absentee ballots and a bill that would create a task force on missing and murdered Black women and girls. But there wasn’t even a chance to debate the bills as Republicans didn’t allow it.

In a hastily organized press conference after the votes, Senate Minority Leader Dianne Hesselbein (D-Middleton) said that the repeated shut down of debate was an “act of desperation by Republicans.”  

“This is their last gasp of the gerrymandered majority,” Hesselbein said. “They know it. We know it and that’s exactly what they’re afraid of.” 

Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) told WisPolitics that debate was ended abruptly because a senator had a flight to catch. 

Hesselbein said after the session that the veto overrides were “clearly a stunt to try to appeal to voters ahead of the fall elections.” She said they wanted “political cover.”

“I don’t think they got political cover today. I think what they got was people realizing just how afraid they are to do the right thing,” Hesselbein said. 

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originally published at https%3A%2F%2Fwisconsinexaminer.com%2F2024%2F05%2F15%2Fwisconsin-senate-votes-to-override-governors-vetoes%2F by Baylor Spears

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