State Capitol Senate Chambers, Cap Times generic file photo (copy)

The Senate chambers at the state Capitol in Madison.

The Wisconsin state Senate has signed off on a Republican-backed constitutional amendment that seeks to curb governors' powerful partial veto authority, sending it to the Assembly for approval. 

While backers say the effort ensures that unauthorized spending isn't approved, Democrats — who unanimously opposed the measure — countered it was the latest example of a Republican power grab. 

They also argued lawmakers already have the ability to provide a check on vetoes they don't like: by taking veto override votes. 

"This is a destructive thing to do," said Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton. "This is kind of a shot across the bow of democracy here in Wisconsin because there is a Democratic governor."

But Sen. Kathy Bernier, R-Chippewa Falls, countered that the Constitution's intent is not to allow the governor to "create new dollars" in the vetoes he or she issues. 

"We have the power of the purse," she added. "The governor does not have the power of the purse. It’s our power."

The move, which aims to bar Wisconsin governors from using their veto powers to raise spending levels over what lawmakers approved in the biennial budget and other appropriations bills, came in response to Gov. Tony Evers' use of his veto pen in the state budget

At the time, Evers acted to increase per-pupil allocations by $87 million over the next two years as part of the current state budget.

During the floor period, Sen. Fred Risser worried the language would prevent a governor from rejecting a scenario where, for example, lawmakers vote to cut judicial salaries because they disagree with certain rulings.

That's because the amendment prevents a veto to raise spending "for any purpose," language he sought to remove in an amendment before a Senate committee last month, though the push was rejected.  

"Think about the consequences of this, think about the unintentional result of this," the Madison Democrat said. "There is a possibility a vindictive Legislature could do something."

In order to be adopted, the amendment would have to be passed by two consecutive sessions of the Legislature before winning approval from the voters in a referendum.

Lawmakers during their floor session Tuesday also unanimously passed a bill to end the sales tax that funded the construction and operation of Milwaukee's Miller Park. The legislation was previously approved by the Assembly, and now heads to Evers' desk. 

But legislation that didn't make it on the calendar have also attracted attention — notably a package of eight bills seeking to combat homelessness. 

The nearly $4 million package previously cleared the Assembly and includes measures seeking to prevent evictions and provide additional housing supports through grants and other means. 

Wisconsin Coalition Against Homelessness Executive Director Joseph Volk slammed the exclusion in a news release and lamented that homeless individuals would be left waiting for aid as winter sets in. 

Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling sought to use a procedural move to take up one of the bills, AB 119, to provide grants to homeless shelters. 

The La Crosse Democrat noted passing it Tuesday would allow the state to "give (shelters) the resources in a timely fashion." 

But Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald urged the chamber to oppose the move, which senators did along party lines, adding he's "well aware" of the legislation but he's currently talking it over with the Assembly. 

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Briana Reilly covers state government and politics for the Cap Times. She joined the staff in 2019, after working at WisPolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter at @briana_reilly.