First Wisconsin veto override attempt in 9 years fails

The Wisconsin Legislature’s first veto override attempt in nearly a decade failed Thursday, with no Democrats jumping ranks to provide Republicans with the votes they needed to succeed.

Despite not having the votes, Assembly Republicans forced votes on three budget items that Democratic Gov. Tony Evers vetoed over the summer. The votes marked the first time either legislative chamber tried to override a veto since 2010, with the last successful attempt happening in 1985.

The votes came on a tumultuous day at the end of a dramatic week of clashes between Evers and the Republican-controlled Legislature. Evers called a special session on gun control for Thursday, asking lawmakers to pass bills that would require universal background checks and allow judges to temporarily seize guns from people who pose a threat.

Republicans planned to avoid debating the bills by gaveling in and out without taking action. Gun control advocates rallied at the Capitol and Evers said he felt “positive” about the session, even though Republicans were not going to vote on the bills.

That bit of theater followed the state Senate’s vote Tuesday to fire Evers’ pick to run the agriculture department. Evers attended the debate in person and then tore into senators after the vote, calling the action “BS” in comments sprinkled with profanity.

Evers fared better on Thursday, with the first of three veto override attempts failing. The other two were also likely to be unsuccessful.

Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz said ahead of the session that Republicans bringing the veto overrides were “trying to have cover for their cowardice on the firearms issue.”

Republican Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke rejected that accusation as “ridiculous.”

Republicans argued that there was bipartisan support for building more regional crisis centers, so Democrats should back the override. Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul organized a summit just last week to discuss that need.

Backers cited the time and expense of transporting people up to eight hours away to get them to the Winnebago mental health crisis center in Oshkosh as reason to build a facility in northwestern Wisconsin. Evers’ veto allowed that money to instead be used to expand the Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center in Madison.

Republican Rep. Rob Stafsholt, whose district is in rural northwestern Wisconsin, said he was appalled with the veto because it places a burden on law enforcement and people in crisis who have to travel hours to get treatment.

“Today is our day where we can fix that wrong,” he said. “I hope that everybody sees this is not politics.”

The other vetoes up for an override blocked $5 million a year for doctors who care for people in state health care programs and gave the Evers administration more flexibility in how to spend $500,000 to increase the number of health care providers, nixing the Legislature’s plan to create a new grant program.

Overriding a veto requires two-thirds of lawmakers present in the Assembly and Senate to succeed. The first override failed, with all 62 Republicans in support and all 34 Democrats against. Two Democrats would have had to back the override attempt for it to have succeeded. Overriding a veto would also need 22 votes in the Senate, where Republicans have 19 seats. The Senate doesn’t plan to return until January.

Steineke said if the overrides fail but there’s support to try again in the future, he would bring them up for another vote. A rule change that Republicans adopted over Democratic objections last month allows for multiple veto override votes.

Get your weather forecast from people that actually live in your community. We update with short, easy-to-use video forecasts you can watch on your phone every day. Download the iOS or Android app here.