Try 1 month for 99¢
Scott Fitzgerald on floor of Senate (copy) (copy)

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, center, talks with Democratic colleagues Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, and Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, in the Senate chamber at the state Capitol.

Despite having the support of a bipartisan majority of senators, a proposal to help parents access treatment for children who suffer seizures was blocked Tuesday night through some procedural maneuvering.

Parents who advocated the bill's passage were left frustrated and confused by the move after the legislation had already cleared the Assembly by such a large margin that only a simple voice vote was required.

What's the legislation?

The bill would allow the sale of cannibidiol (CBD oil) without a prescription.

The oil, derived from marijuana plants, has been used to treat seizures in children. Its use was legalized in 2014, but under current law only licensed providers can obtain it. This legislation would have eased those rules to allow easier access for parents.

Authored by Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, and Rep. Scott Krug, R-Nekoosa, the bill had broad, bipartisan support.

What happened in the Senate?

The bill wasn't scheduled for a vote during the Senate's final floor session on Tuesday. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said there were strong feelings about the bill at both ends of the spectrum, but the concerns of three Republican senators were enough to halt its passage.

Republicans currently hold 19 seats in the 33-seat body.

As the Senate came close to completing its work Tuesday night, Sen. Robert Wirch, D-Pleasant Prairie, attempted to bring the bill to the floor for a vote.

Fitzgerald informed the Senate that he had scheduled the bill for a public hearing on Thursday, making it unavailable for a vote. A bill can't be brought to the floor if it has a hearing pending.

That public hearing was canceled Wednesday morning.

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, pushed back with a motion to suspend the rules and take up the bill. Doing so would have required a two-thirds majority vote. But before that motion got a vote, Fitzgerald abruptly adjourned the Senate.

In doing so, he prevented members of his caucus from having to cast a procedural vote against a bill they support.

How did people react?

Wanggaard said he is "disappointed and angry" by the procedural moves that blocked the Senate from voting on the bill.

As Madison as it gets: Get Cap Times' highlights sent daily to your inbox

"This is why people hate politics and why politicians have a bad name. It is, literally, tragic," Wanggaard said.

Wirch said children suffering from seizure disorders and their parents were "collateral damage" in an act of "pure partisan politics."

Fitzgerald said he understands why people would be frustrated by the bill's fate, acknowledging that, "from the outside looking in, it probably doesn't make much sense."

But, he said, the polarization on the bill was too much to overcome — particularly, the concerns of Senate President Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, and Sens. Duey Stroebel, R-Cedarburg, and Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa.

Fitzgerald said those lawmakers are concerned the bill could open the door to unintended consequences, including full legalization of marijuana.

"With clear support for a fix, a select few politicians in leadership positions once again failed us. Failed Lydia," wrote Sally Schaeffer of Burlington, whose daughter was the namesake of the 2014 law legalizing the use of CBD oil. Lydia Shaeffer died about a month after that law was passed, before she was able to receive the treatment. 

Where does it go from here?

Fitzgerald said he expects lawmakers to revisit the issue when they return in January. He also said he hopes federal guidelines might be clearer by then.

Share your opinion on this topic by sending a letter to the editor to tctvoice@madison.com. Include your full name, hometown and phone number. Your name and town will be published. The phone number is for verification purposes only. Please keep your letter to 250 words or less.

Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.