Democrats, Republicans break down legislative priorities

MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -- Ahead of Tuesday's legislative session, Assembly Republicans and Democrats broke down their priorities for the next 10 days.

Democrats echoed Governor Tony Evers' call for a special session on education funding, while Republicans turned their attention to an agenda focusing heavily on crime.

Democrats said Tuesday that the Assembly should be holding the special session on education, as Governor Evers requested. Assembly Democrats said the budget fell short, and legislators need to dedicate more money towards public education.

Governor Evers' plan would dedicate $250 million to special education and mental health services, provide money for rural school districts and reduce property taxes.

"We have a surplus, we should be able to utilize that funding to go back toward our students and give them the services that they need and deserve," said State Representative LaKeshia Myers (D-Milwaukee).

Republicans focused instead on their Safer Communities in Wisconsin package. Those bills tackle everything from penalizing robocalls and porch pirates to increasing penalties for OWI offenses.

Republicans also pushed back on efforts to reduce prison population, saying it is important to make sure violent criminals cannot get back on the street. One of their bills called for the Department of Corrections to recommend revocation hearings for people who violate parole conditions.

"I think there is a strong sentiment, regardless of what your position is on crime or criminal justice reform, individuals who create those violations should not be out in the community," said State Representative Rob Hutton (R-Brookfield).

The two parties also clashed on legislation to prevent a backlog of untested sexual assault kits. Republicans included their own proposal on Tuesday's legislative agenda, but Democrats said they are unhappy with the bill.

In October 2019, the Senate passed two bipartisan bills to create a process for tracking untested sexual assault kits. Assembly Democrats said the Assembly should take up those bills, not the Republican bill introduced in early February.

The bill, introduced by Assembly Republicans, would require police to notify immigration officials of sexual assaults. It also allows student victims to enter school choice programs.

Assembly Democrats—and Attorney General Josh Kaul, who has pushed for legislation to prevent a backlog—said these added measures will set up the bill to fail if it reaches Governor Tony Evers.

"I don't think Republican members want rapists to walk free, want victims to go without justice, but that is what the action today is ensuring," said Minority Leader Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh) about Tuesday's agenda.

Republicans accused their Democratic colleagues of putting their ideology ahead of getting justice for victims.

"The only ones who are choosing to make it partisan are the very people who began this process in a partisan way by saying that if it's any bill but these, it's going to be a partisan answer," said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester).

Hintz hopes that if the Republican bill reaches the governor's desk, Governor Evers will veto it.

As of 7 p.m. Tuesday, the Assembly was still in session. The bills voted on had all passed, some of them unanimously, some along party lines.