Evers will sign offensive language bill despite his order

By TODD RICHMOND Associated Press

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers will sign a Republican bill removing the term “mental retardation” from five state agencies’ administrative codes even though he’s already issued an executive order that does just that and more, his spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and state Rep. John Jagler introduced the bill in February, and the measure has already cleared a Senate committee and was up for a public hearing in the Assembly on Wednesday afternoon. Evers got ahead of the GOP, though, by issuing an executive order late Tuesday that requires all state agencies to remove the term from their codes.

Fitzgerald and Jagler reacted with surprise, accusing the governor of copying them. They promised to push the bill forward, saying it would provide a more permanent fix than an executive order that a future governor could rescind — an unlikely move since that would equate to ordering agencies to restore “mental retardation” to their rules.

The bill calls for the state Public Service Commission as well as the departments of Health Services, Children and Families, Safety and Professional Services and Workforce Development to replace the phrase “mental retardation” and all its derivatives with the term “intellectual disability” in their administrative code. The measure closely mirrors legislation that former Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed in 2012 removing “mental retardation” from state law and replacing it with “intellectual disability.”

The Senate government operations committee approved the measure on Feb. 26, clearing the way for a vote in that chamber. The Assembly Committee on State Affairs had scheduled a public hearing on the proposal Wednesday afternoon.

Evers’ order requires all state agencies remove “mental retardation” and its derivatives from their codes and to replace the term with “intellectual disability.”

Evers’ spokeswoman, Melissa Baldauff, said some Democrats asked the governor to address the issue through an executive order. Asked to name them, Baladauff pointed only to Rep. Chris Taylor, a Madison Democrat. A message left at Taylor’s Capitol office Wednesday wasn’t immediately returned.
Baldauff said it makes sense for the governor to take the lead since the changes deal with administrative rules for state agencies. But she said he would “happily” sign the bill if it reaches his desk.

She didn’t answer directly when asked why Evers would sign the bill when his order goes further, responding instead by complaining that the GOP should have reached out to the governor to develop a more expansive solution and urging Republicans to reconsider their opposition to Evers’ plans to spend an additional $600 million on special education in the state budget and to expand Medicaid coverage.
Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter: https://twitter.com/trichmond1

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