Evers condemns GOP-backed bills that would limit his authority in office

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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV / AP) - The Wisconsin legislature approved a series of bills Wednesday morning that aim to weaken the authority of incoming Democrats into the executive branch and strengthen the GOP-controlled legislature.

The bills in particular weaken the power of incoming Democrats Gov.-elect Tony Evers and Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul.

The Wisconsin Assembly approved the lame-duck bills Wednesday morning, and the Wisconsin Senate approved the bills late Tuesday night.

The bills now head to Gov. Scott Walker for final approval, who said he will sign them.

Gov.-Elect Evers, Attorney General-elect Kaul and Lt. Governor-elect Mandela Barnes commented on the bills at a press conference Wednesday afternoon.

"The whole thing is a mess," Evers said. "And so, my belief is the people of Wisconsin have spoken, and the collective piece of legislation - the collection of bills - is a repudiation of that."

"I am very concerned about the 2.6 million people that voted that represented Wisconsin. They didn't have their voices heard because of the actions of the legislature in the last few days," Evers added.

"There are clichés we hear about of things being done behind closed doors in the middle of the night," Kaul said. "In this case, this was literally done behind closed doors in the middle of the night. Wisconsinites deserve better than this."

The lame-bills came after GOP candidates lost all state-wide races, but kept control of the House and the Senate.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said the bills would ensure a balance of power in state government.

"Most of you realize that when the constitution was written, the first branch of government is the legislature," Vos said. "We are the most representative, and I believe the one that is closest to the people. That's why in this proposal you'll see that it guarantees legislature and the executive are co-equals.

Judges could block the bills if they become law, by issuing temporary injunctions, or orders. But to repeal the bills for good Democrats would need a permanent injunction. Republicans would appeal and the case would head to the Wisconsin Supreme Court - controlled by conservative justices.

The bills are referred to as lame-duck bills, because the bills alter the authority of offices held by an outgoing administration, whose successors have already been chosen.

The lame-duck bills weaken the incoming Democratic administration in a number of ways, according to the Associated Press:

• Limit early voting to no more than two weeks before an election.

• Give the Legislature’s budget committee, rather than the attorney general, the power to withdraw the state from lawsuits. That would prevent Democratic Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul from withdrawing Wisconsin from a multi-state lawsuit to repeal the federal Affordable Care Act.

• Give Republicans in the Legislature the majority of appointments to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., the state’s quasi-private job-creation agency that Evers wants to reorganize. Evers would also be barred from replacing the leader of the agency until Sept. 1, at which point the number of appointments Evers and Democratic lawmakers can make would be equal to legislative Republicans.

• Require state health officials to implement a federal waiver allowing Wisconsin to require childless adults under age 50 to work in order to receive health insurance through the BadgerCare Plus program. The legislation prevents Evers from seeking to withdraw the waiver request.

• Eliminate the attorney general’s solicitor general office. The office currently handles some of the highest-profile and most political lawsuits.

• Require all settlement money the attorney general wins to go to the state’s general fund rather than the state Justice Department.

• Prohibit judges from giving greater weight to state agencies’ interpretations of laws in court challenges. That change could make it easier to win lawsuits challenging environmental regulations.

• Require the governor to get permission from the Legislature before asking for changes in programs run jointly by the state and federal governments, limiting the governor’s authority to run public benefits programs.

• Reduce income tax rates next year to offset about $60 million in online sales taxes from out-of-state retailers.

• Require the governor to get permission from the Legislature before he could ban guns in the state Capitol.

• Require state agencies to file quarterly spending reports.

• Lawmakers did not pass three proposals that were originally part of the package: moving the 2020 presidential primary election; allowing Republican legislative leaders to intervene in lawsuits and hire their own attorneys, pushing aside the attorney general; and instituting a state-level guarantee of coverage for people with pre-existing conditions that would have been weaker than the one in place under federal law.