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Dems Quash Veto-Overrides, GOP Sidesteps Gun Legislation In Wisconsin Assembly

Andy Manis
Getty Images
Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, addresses the Assembly during a contentious legislative session on Dec. 4, 2018 in Madison, Wis.

Tougher gun laws and suicide prevention were the hot topics for Assembly Democrats and Republicans Thursday.

Democrats pushed for a pair of gun regulation bills to be taken up in a special session. While Republicans had their own plans on addressing mental health and health care.

Democrats wanted the Assembly to debate gun reform in a special session called by Gov. Tony Evers last month. But the partisan divide led to gridlock. 

In a rally and a press conference before the Assembly was set to meet, Democrats championed universal background checks and a "red flag" law that would allow judges to take guns away from people deemed to be a threat.

READ: Wisconsin Democratic Officials Unveil 'Red Flag' Gun Law Proposal

Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, pushed the Assembly for bipartisan support.

"If we can agree on the intent or the goal, which, again, is trying to keep firearms out of those hands that are a threat to themselves or others," said Hintz. "If we can agree on that, then le''s move forward and support this common-sense legislation. And if there are problems that you find with the language, then let's sit down, let's have a public hearing, let's hear those things."

Republicans have traditionally said these bills would infringe on Second Amendment rights.

Instead of taking up the Democrats’ gun reform bills via special session, Republicans — who control the Assembly — met in a regular session to focus on overriding several of Evers' line-item vetoes from the 2019-2021 budget.

That was 2019 Assembly Bill 56, sections A-4, D-45 and D-47.

This resulted in several inquiries to the chair from frustrated Democrats, like this exchange between state Rep. Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit, and Speaker Pro Tempore Tyler August, R-Lake Geneva:

Spreitzer: "Mr. Speaker, it is now over an hour past 2 p.m. And it is my understanding that the governor, under Executive Order 54, called a special session on gun safety to begin at 2 p.m., again over an hour ago. I'm wondering if the chair intends to convene that special session?"
August: "I intend to continue the regular session until it’s complete."
Spreitzer: "Do you intend to convene the special session at any point today?"
August: "I intend to continue the regular session until it’s complete."

Republicans instead proposed bills addressing suicide prevention they say would be more effective than a red flag law. One proposal would create a grant program to pay gun shop owners to store guns voluntarily turned over by gun owners or their families.

Another bill would create a new suicide prevention program within the state Department of Health Services.

Republicans ultimately "gavelled in and gavelled out" of the special session, and the adjourned without taking up the gun bills the Democrats proposed.

But Democrats, in turn, derailed Republican goals.

They wouldn't go along with the GOP override of Evers' vetoes. Evers had vetoed $15 million in funding to create a northwestern Wisconsin regional mental health crisis center. Under the veto, the money goes instead to the Mendota Juvenile Mental Health Facility.

Not a single Democrat voted to override, and Republicans didn't have enough votes for the two-thirds required to pass.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, tore into Democrats for not supporting what he says would be better local care.

"So here we are, if you didn’t think you actually wanted to stand up for your districts, for the people who are from northwestern Wisconsin. You chose instead to say 'We're going to pay higher property taxes.' Because who do you think transports those people to actually go to the mental health facility? It’s deputies that aren’t on the road, arresting people who might have a gun, because they're transporting people five hours each way to be able to go to a facility to get the care that they need," Vos said.

But Democrats said that was bluster. State Rep. Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee, said Evers proposed $148 million in mental health funding in his budget, and that the end Republican budget was $61 million.

"That's $86 million in mental health funding stripped by Republicans in this room," said Goyke. "And for the last hour-and-a-half we just heard over and over again: 'Where's your guts?' 'We're disappointed in the governor.' ... Well, where were two Republicans during the budget debate when they were stripping funding for mental health from the governor's proposed budget?"

Republicans attempted two other veto overrides and were shot down.

Hintz says the overrides were scheduled to deflect from Republicans not taking up gun control bills in a special session.

Republicans argued if Democrats were serious about combating mental health issues, they would have voted for the overrides.

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