GOP lawmakers in the state Assembly have tried -- and failed -- to override three of Gov. Tony Evers' budget vetoes, the chamber's first attempts to undo a governor's actions in nearly a decade.
In all, the overrides needed the approval of two-thirds of the members present to pass. But Republicans came up two votes short Thursday afternoon, as no Democrats joined their GOP colleagues to back the attempts.
The votes targeted partial vetoes that redirected funding for a crisis center in the northern part of the state to a Madison center, lowered reimbursement rates for physicians and behavioral health services and changed the parameters for treatment trainee grants to benefit social workers, those in family therapy and others.
On the floor, Republicans argued Evers' vetoes took away funding from important mental health measures that were initially included in the budget to increase access to resources and services in the state.
They also argued not supporting a new crisis center means law enforcement officials have to drive hours to transport individuals experiencing mental health crises to a facility across the state.
"We also have (mental health crises) in western Wisconsin and in northern Wisconsin and these people need the help as well," said Rep. Shannon Zimmerman, R-River Falls. "Redirecting to Madison is not the answer."
Democrats, though, countered some of the language was included in the budget at the last minute with little public oversight. They also said they'd support new legislation to fund a crisis center, rather than the veto overrides.
There are a number of bills looking to do so, including bipartisan legislation that would award a $15 million grant to expand mental health services in Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls -- language identical to what was in the budget. Another bipartisan push would create "regional crisis stabilization facilities" in five regions across Wisconsin and direct $5 million toward the effort.
Democratic Rep. Evan Goyke tied the veto override votes to the governor's special session call, arguing Republicans were seeking "to delay, to disguise, to distract" from the "reasonable" gun control legislation Evers wanted members to consider.
The votes comes after Republicans in the chamber last month changed the rules to allow for unlimited veto override votes. Previously, veto override votes could only occur once, as they weren't subject to be reconsidered.
Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, told reporters ahead of the vote that there aren't any plans to take up additional veto overrides when the chamber convenes again Tuesday. But he added it's "certainly possible after the first of the year" that more would be taken up.
The last time lawmakers attempted to override a governor's veto was in 2010, when the Assembly sought to override former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle's veto of a bill that would have taken away the governor's ability to appoint the Department of Natural Resources secretary. It failed on a 58-38 vote.
The partial vetoes Republicans targeted Thursday include Evers' decision to redirect $15 million in borrowing for the creation of a northern Wisconsin regional crisis center to support the expansion of the Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center in Madison.
Evers also deleted a $5 million increase in funding for higher reimbursement rates for doctors who treat patients on state health plans. He instead ordered the Department of Health Services to fund the higher rates through existing resources.
The final partial veto surrounds the Legislature's attempt to direct $500,000 annually toward qualified treatment trainee program grants for certain individuals that work in psychology, family therapy, social work and other fields. Evers' change instead directed DHS to award $500,000 annually to support treatment programs for supervision, training and resources, among other things.
In order for a veto override to be overturned, the Senate would also have to vote to undo them. In order for the overrides to clear the Senate, where Republicans have a 19-14 majority, Democrats would also have to support the language.
The veto override attempts came two days after the state Senate voted to oust former ag secretary Brad Pfaff. Evers Thursday morning announced he's elevating Randy Romanski, formerly the agency's No. 2, to interim secretary.
He also told WisPolitics.com that Pfaff won't stay at the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection or be transitioned into the deputy secretary role, as some had thought he would.