Legislature leaves much undoneMADISON — Health care reform will have to wait. So will a statewide smoking ban and a deal to protect Great Lakes water.
By: By SCOTT BAUER/Associated Press Writer, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
MADISON — Health care reform will have to wait.
So will a statewide smoking ban and a deal to protect Great Lakes water.
Numerous economic development proposals, requiring insurance companies to cover autism, campaign finance reform and solving the state’s $527 million budget gap also have been pushed off, although the budget repair bill is the subject of a continuing special session.
The Legislature finished its regular session on Thursday. It will be remembered more for what it didn’t do than what it did.
And both parties blamed the other.
Democrats, including Gov. Jim Doyle, pointed the finger at Republicans who control the Assembly for not working hard enough (they were only in session 27 days over 15 months). Senate Republicans accused Democrats in the majority there of wasting time by pushing universal health care reform and other proposals they knew wouldn’t pass the Assembly.
Tension rose so high last week that Republican and Democratic lawmakers got in a shouting match during a news conference outside the Senate chamber over why a measure requiring voters to show identification hadn’t gotten a hearing.
“Go back in the Assembly and take care of your business there!” Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker, D-Weston, yelled at Rep. Jeff Stone, R-Greendale.
Republicans in the Assembly, who saw themselves as the last line of defense against Doyle and Senate Democrats, spent a lot of time blocking bills they didn’t like and making political points with issues they knew weren’t going anywhere.
The budget they passed Wednesday differs dramatically from what Doyle wants. Instead of a new hospital tax, as Doyle wanted, Republicans call for $250 million more in state government cuts, taking $100 million from reserves and delaying a state aid payment to schools.
Doyle lashed out at the plan Thursday calling it a sham and saying it would lead to “big layoffs.” But both Doyle and Assembly Speaker Mike Huebsch, R-West Salem, offered a ray of hope that this stalemate wouldn’t drag on as long as the one last year, which resulted in the budget being nearly four months late. Both said they were open to compromise in order to get a deal.
With the special session on the budget continuing, the Assembly bill goes to the Senate, which likely will pass its own version and set the stage for a conference committee to try for a compromise, possibly as early as next week.
Despite his apparent optimism, Doyle blamed Assembly Republicans for blocking several of his key proposals, including banning smoking, requiring insurance companies to cover autism, and passing the Great Lakes compact.
“There’s no doubt the Assembly Republicans have now left and walked away from some really basic issues,” Doyle said.
About 30 people gathered in a Capitol hearing room Thursday to rail against the Legislature. Some held signs that read “There’s still work to do!” and “Work till March 13 ... take the rest of the year off ... where do I sign up.”
Special interests forced lawmakers into gridlock, said Mike McCabe, executive director of the government watchdog group Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.
“This Legislature is an embarrassment,” McCabe said. “This is choreographed stalemate. They have deliberately run out the clock.”
Huebsch disagreed, declaring the two-year session a success shortly after the Assembly pulled an all-nighter and finished work around 5 a.m. Thursday.
He referenced bills past last year that reformed the state’s ethics and election laws, put a constitutional amendment before voters to limit the governor’s veto power, and increased funding for public schools.
He also highlighted the Assembly’s blocking proposed tax increases and passing a bill to make health savings accounts tax deductible, although that later failed in the Senate.
“I truly believe the progress we made this year has made Wisconsin a better place to live,” Huebsch said.
Assembly Democrats hammered Huebsch and Republicans, saying the Assembly did nothing this year. Its last day was a marathon that started at 10 a.m. with an address from Miss Wisconsin Christina Thompson and ended 19 hours later. Along the way, there was a surprise budget bill, partisan fights, long delays and passage of proposals that were going nowhere, such as one declaring English the official state language.
Around 4 a.m. Thursday, about 18 hours after the Assembly started, an exasperated Rep. Gary Sherman, D-Port Wing, voiced the apparent frustration of many.
“This is unprofessional. This is stupid. We have no business to be here,” he yelled. “There’s people in this room with cancer. There’s people in this room with heart disease. A third of the room has high blood pressure. There’s elderly people. There’s pregnant people. What the hell are we doing?”