While final action from Gov. Scott Walker awaits, opponents already are contemplating legal challenges to bills curtailing early voting and powers of the incoming Democratic governor and attorney general, passed by GOP lawmakers in an all-night lame-duck session last week.
It’s not yet clear when Walker may decide to sign, veto or partially veto appropriation provisions in the bills. Walker spokesman Tom Evenson said Friday that the governor is reviewing them.
As of Friday the bills had not yet been sent to Walker. The governor has until Dec. 20 to call for the bills. If he has not done so by then, they would be sent to him automatically. Once they’ve been received, the governor has six days, excluding Sunday, to act on the bills under the state Constitution.
Passed in a lame-duck “extraordinary session” late Tuesday and early Wednesday, the bills have sparked fierce pushback — in Wisconsin and nationally — for provisions that would curtail powers of incoming Gov.-elect Tony Evers and Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul.
Some of the changes would restrict early voting, change the administrative rule process and write into law certain rules related to Walker initiatives such as voter ID and work requirements for Medicaid recipients.
Lester Pines, a prominent Madison Democratic attorney and activist, said “there’s going to be some kind of litigation” if Walker signs the bills — it’s just a question of when and who brings it. Evers and Kaul have not ruled out legal challenges, and outside groups also could pursue them.
“Whether it starts before Gov.-elect Evers is inaugurated or after remains to be seen,” Pines said.
Some provisions curtailing the powers of the governor and attorney general appear vulnerable to a court challenge, Pines said. These include giving lawmakers the right to intervene in a court challenge to state law or requiring the Legislature’s budget-writing Joint Finance Committee to approve any time the state stops prosecuting a civil action or reaches a court settlement.
One Wisconsin Institute, an arm of the liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now, has signaled it may rekindle its legal fight against the early voting restrictions, which would re-establish a start date for early voting of no sooner than two weeks before an election.
That’s similar to a prior law that was struck down in 2016 by a federal judge as unconstitutional in a court challenge brought by the institute. Since that ruling some of the state’s large municipalities, including Madison and Milwaukee, have begun early voting 40 or more days before elections.
“The ball is in Scott Walker’s court, but we are ready to pick it up and run with it,” the institute’s director, Scot Ross, said Friday.
GOP Rep. John Macco said in a statement Friday the early voting change in the bill “merely standardizes” the process for each municipality in the state. In many small municipalities, local election clerks are part time and “do not have the ability to open offices for the same hours as larger municipalities,” said Macco, of Ledgeview.
“Your ability to vote should not depend on your ZIP code,” Macco said.
Walker vetoed some provisions
ACLU of Wisconsin director Chris Ott declined to comment directly on whether his group would consider a legal challenge to the measures. But in a statement, Ott noted ACLU volunteers helped organize opposition to the bills before they passed the Legislature and called them “a result of backroom dealings and underhanded attacks on Wisconsin’s democracy.”
“In one of his last actions in office, Governor Walker should listen to the people of Wisconsin and veto the proposal,” Ott said.
State Rep. and former Assembly Democratic leader Peter Barca wrote Walker, in a letter released Friday, urging him to veto the bills “for his legacy.”
Barca, of Kenosha, also noted that at least four provisions in the bills were similar or identical to those previously passed by GOP lawmakers and vetoed by Walker in 2017.
They include provisions that would:
- Prevent the Department of Transportation from transferring state and federal funds between highway programs, which Walker previously said would “inhibit the department’s ability to allocate funds in the most advantageous manner.”
- Require the Department of Administration to present annual reports to the Legislature on the state’s self-funded information technology and communications portal, which Walker said “encroaches on the executive branch’s responsibility to manage state agency programs within the statutes and funding levels set by the Legislature.”
- Require legislative review of transfers from the state veterans home to the veterans trust fund, which Walker said are “administratively burdensome and redirects valuable staff time away from care for veterans.”
- Give the Legislature more control over implementing a Medicaid work requirement, which Walker said would create “unnecessary and burdensome reporting requirements that could delay approval of the waiver,” though the waiver has already been approved.
“It would be the height of hypocrisy for Walker to say that he believes these requirements should not apply to him, but should apply to the successor that defeated him,” Barca wrote.