MILWAUKEE (CN) – With Wisconsin’s union-busting budget bill simmering before the state Supreme Court and as many as nine recall elections expected in July, state Republicans are pushing several more bills through the Legislature and laying plans for a U.S. Senate seat, now that four-term Democratic Senator Herb Kohl has announced he will not run again next year.
At least three Republican state senators will face recall elections in July, and voters are gathering signatures to try to recall another three Republicans and three Democrats.
Republicans hold overwhelming control of the Assembly, 60 to 38, but control the state Senate by only 19 to 14, so a swing of three seats there could throw that house to the Democrats.
“They know there’s a very strong possibility their days of controlling every level of government are numbered,” Democratic Assembly Leader Peter Barca told The Associated Press. “(The Republicans are) moving forward huge pieces of legislation that dramatically change the direction and traditions and values of this state. Generally, doing that takes much longer.”
The Republican majority pushed through a controversial Voter ID bill and Gov. Scott Walker is expected to sign it into law Thursday.
The bill requires voters to show photo identification at the polls.
“Requiring photo identification to vote will go a long way to eliminate the threat of voter fraud,” Walker told the Wisconsin State Journal. “If you need an ID to buy cold medicine, it’s reasonable to require it to vote.”
Opponents of the law, which also will require a poll book signature and a new 28-day residency requirement, say it singles out students, seniors, poor people and minorities, who are less likely to have the required photo ID – and are more likely to vote Democratic.
Only 20 cases of voter fraud have been prosecuted by the state Department of Justice and Milwaukee County district attorney’s office, the State Journal reported, and none of those involved voters using someone else’s name at the polls.
The Legislative Fiscal Bureau said the bill could cost more than $5.7 million to implement.
Republicans also introduced two bills legalizing concealed weapons in Wisconsin: one to allow the Department of Justice to issue permits to anyone 21 or older who passes a background check, and one to allow a “constitutional carry,” by which anyone could carry a concealed weapon, unless he or she is prohibited from possessing a firearm, except on school grounds or in police stations, jails, prisons, courthouses or beyond security checkpoints at airports. There would be no permitting process.
Opponents say the bills are dangerous and would be expensive to implement.
In legislation he signed Monday, Gov. Walker gave himself power to block administrative rules written by state agencies and elected state officials, including the Department of Justice and the Department of Public Instruction.
According to bloggingblue.com, a Democratic website, “Previously, administrative rules were written by state agencies and reviewed by the Legislature, but Republicans in the State Senate and Assembly were all too willing to cede that power to Gov. Walker, in the process weakening the ability of their branch of state government to act as a check and balance against the power of the governor.”
Meanwhile, the announcement of the retirement of Wisconsin’s senior senator, Herb Kohl, has set off a scramble in both parties to find a strong candidate for the seat.
Kohl, who owns the Milwaukee Bucks and helped build his family’s Kohl’s department and grocery stores, is completing his fourth 6-year term. He is 76.