Wisconsin legislature ends another special session in seconds without debate
MADISON, Wis. (AP/WISC) — Wisconsin Democrats up for election in five weeks put abortion in the spotlight Tuesday, with the Republican-controlled Legislature taking less than a minute to reject Gov. Tony Evers’ call to create a way for voters to get a chance to repeal the state’s 1849 abortion ban.
The move by Evers is the latest by Democrats in the battleground state to turn the Nov. 8 election into a referendum on abortion. But Evers’ opponent Tim Michels, Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson and other Republicans are focusing instead on crime and public safety in arguing that Democrats have failed to keep the state safe.
A Marquette University Law School poll last month showed both the state’s governor and Senate races to be about even, while a majority of voters support abortion rights. That same poll also showed crime and public safety to be issues of high concern among voters.
The Wisconsin Senate convened for all of 15 seconds, to gavel in and adjourn, the special session called by Evers to pass a constitutional amendment that would create a pathway for an up or down vote on the state’s abortion ban. Republican Senate President Chris Kapenga presided, with no other Republicans in the chamber and only three Democrats present.
The Assembly, also controlled by Republicans, took about 20 seconds to dispense with Evers’ call, over howls of complaints from about a dozen Democratic lawmakers, some wearing T-shirts that said “Abortion is health care.”
Evers has repeatedly used the tactic of calling special sessions on hot-button political issues, including gun control and expanding Medicaid, to put Republicans on the spot. They have never acted on any of the special session calls, including one in June to repeal the state’s abortion ban.
Kansas voters in August rejected a ballot measure that would have allowed the Republican-controlled Legislature to tighten restrictions or ban abortion outright. Michigan voters will decide in November whether to put the right to an abortion into the state constitution.
Evers, Attorney General Josh Kaul and other Democrats scheduled a rally outside of the Capitol. Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, who is challenging Johnson, scheduled a separate event at a Madison restaurant as part of what he’s dubbed a “Ron Against Roe” tour.
Wisconsin clinics stopped performing abortions after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, as a legal fight plays out to determine whether the state’s 1849 abortion ban is in effect. Michels repeatedly voiced support for the 1849 ban, which has no exceptions for rape and incest, during the Republican primary.
But last month, Michels reversed himself and said he would sign into law a bill granting exceptions for rape and incest, a stance he reiterated at a Tuesday afternoon campaign event in Baraboo.
Evers supports a lawsuit filed by Kaul, who is also up for reelection, challenging the state’s abortion law. He also called a special session in June for the Legislature to repeal the law. Lawmakers adjourned that special session within seconds, just as they were expected to do Tuesday.
Evers called the latest special session after Johnson said he wanted voters of the state to decide the abortion issue via referendum. Unlike other states, Wisconsin law does not allow voters or the Legislature to place referendums on the ballot. If voters had that ability, then they could force a vote on whether to keep or repeal the 1849 abortion ban.
Johnson again on Tuesday said he wanted voters to get a chance to vote on abortion via a statewide referendum.
“At what point does society have the responsibility to protect life?” he said during an address at the Rotary Club of Milwaukee. “We haven’t put the question to the people. That’s what we need to do.”
Johnson said he had a sample ballot with 10 choices but did not elaborate. Johnson did not comment on Evers’ special session call that aims to do just that. His spokespeople did not immediately return messages seeking more details.
Asked about Johnson’s comments, Michels said he, “will work with the Legislature as I’ve said before.”
“(Under) the current process, the Legislature submits bills to the governor; if I agree with them I will sign them,” he continued. “That is the process that has been in place for a very long time in Wisconsin and I look forward to working with the Legislature, I look forward to working with legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle to move Wisconsin forward, to have a stronger economy, to have better schools and to reduce crime.”
Evers wanted the Legislature to approve a constitutional amendment that would allow voters to circulate petitions to place on the ballot proposals to reject laws passed by the Legislature and to enact new laws and constitutional amendments. Such a constitutional amendment would have to be approved in two consecutive sessions by the Legislature before any ballot initiatives could be circulated for the ballot.
News 3 Now’s Will Kenneally contributed to this report.