(CN) – Outgoing Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed three bills Friday giving more power to the Republican-controlled Legislature and weakening the incoming Democratic governor and attorney general.
Backtracking from early indications that he might veto certain items in the lame-duck bills, the Republican governor approved them in their entirety, solidifying into law restrictions on the powers of incoming Governor-elect Tony Evers and Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul, both Democrats.
The provisions in what are now Wisconsin statutes give the Legislature the power to appoint board members and restrict Evers’ ability to appoint the chief executive to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation,or WEDC, a public-private jobs agency formed during Walker’s tenure.
The new measures also give state lawmakers broad oversight power over moves the governor could make on future health care waivers.
In addition, the new laws implement drug testing and minimum work requirements for some recipients of welfare such as food stamps, as well as a statewide two-week limit on early voting that is likely to spur legal challenges.
Flanked by two Republican legislators – Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau and Representative John Macco of Ledgeview – Walker pointed to a poster-board Venn diagram showing that the powers held by him and the incoming governor are the same.
Signing the bills at a state office building in Green Bay, Walker reiterated that the fundamental executive powers of the governorship will remain intact.
The two-term governor brushed aside press coverage of the lame-duck legislation, saying that “a lot of what’s being said will help fundraising efforts,” but assured the room that what he signed does not live up to the “hype and hysteria.”
Of the early voting limits that have been integral to the bills’ controversy, Walker called it “a simple measure that makes it easier to vote and harder to cheat.”
“I like early voting,” Walker said, “but I like it to be fair.”
Whereas before voters in more populous areas of the state,namely the safely Democratic cities of Milwaukee and Madison, had as long as six weeks to vote early, they now will only have two weeks, a limit that has been decried by state clerks and election officials in those areas as a logistical nightmare.
“It should be uniform in terms of the number of days,” Walker said.
A sticking point that delayed Walker acting on the legislation was a deal to provide tax incentives and save jobs at Kimberly-Clark, a paper products company based in Wisconsin’s Fox Valley. That deal was never even discussed during last week’s brief lame-duck legislative session.
Walker claimed that he would not consider the legislation until he was able to secure that deal, which he announced had been completed Thursday.
Kimberly-Clark will receive $28 million of taxpayer money over the next five years, the company’s plant in Fox Crossing will remain open,and it expected to retain around 2,400 jobs statewide. Its facilities in Neenah, Wisconsin, and Conway, Arkansas, will close as part of that agreement.
Walker’s actions conclude two weeks of scrambling and tension across the Badger State that started with a surprise introduction of lame-duck proposals from Republican lawmakers in the late afternoon of Friday, Nov. 30.
The legislation then went to state’s Joint Committee on Finance on Monday, Dec. 3, before entering Tuesday’s all-night floor sessions in the Senate and Assembly that did not wrap up until around 8 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 5.
The Senate passed the package by a slim 17-16 vote, with Senator Rob Cowles of Green Bay being the only Republican to break the party line. The Assembly, which has a top-heavy Republican advantage, passed the bills by a vote of 56-27.