Insiders are saying a lame-duck session of the Republican-controlled Legislature might be in the works.
This speculation comes on the heels of an announcement on Oct. 2 by Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald that a so-called extraordinary session would be held after the general election on Nov. 6 to consider legislation that would help Kimberly-Clark retain hundreds of jobs in the Fox Valley.
Skeptics are wondering if the extraordinary session is a way for Republicans to prepare for a possible Democratic takeover of the governor’s office or the state Senate. A lame-duck session would give Republicans an opportunity to pass many of their priorities before losing complete control of the statehouse.
Lame-duck extraordinary sessions are rare. There has been only one session since 1980. Democrats called it in 2010 to secure the adoption of employee contracts before ceding control of the Legislature to Republicans.
As for the extraordinary session scheduled for this year, it remains unclear if Senate Republicans will be able to muster the 17 votes needed to pass incentives for Kimberly-Clark. Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, questioned why Republicans, if they are serious about saving jobs, are waiting until after the election.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, told reporters he’d be open to taking up other business in the extraordinary session.
The possibilities, Vos said, could include legislation to provide health insurance to people with pre-existing conditions. A bill meant to provide coverage to people falling into that category cleared the Assembly in June 2017 but wasn’t passed by the Senate.
“If we’re going to be back in I’ll always be open to looking at other issues that are unfinished,” said Vos, adding while the Kimberly-Clark bill should be the “main focus,” he wouldn’t rule out looking at other pieces of legislation. Fitzgerald said in a statement that Vos has approached him about expanding the agenda when lawmakers return.
“While the Senate’s focus will be on tackling the Kimberly-Clark issue first and foremost, I would certainly not rule out taking up additional bills if there is support from the caucuses and the governor,” Fitzgerald said.
Vos also said he doesn’t think the Assembly will have to come back to approve the Kimberly-Clark bill, which had cleared his chamber previously this year.
“I would never say never,” he said of reconvening to take up any changes the Senate might make. “I’ll take a look and see if they make any changes. But I believe that the version that we passed is the one that they should get to Gov. Walker.”
Vos said Walker could always veto part of the bill to make it pertain only to the Cold Spring plant.
“My understanding is he can make a veto that has to deal with the one plant, which is why we’re not required to come back in, but I’ll have to look at the language and kind of work with that,” he said.
Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz said he wouldn’t be surprised if Republicans used the extraordinary session to pass legislation that could be used to undermine the Democratic candidate for governor, Tony Evers, should he beat Walker in the general election. Nor would it catch him off guard, he said, should his GOP colleagues decide to take steps during the session to limit the power of any future Democratic majority.
“That’s something that should be talked about,” Hintz said.
He also suggested Republicans’ plans to vote on the Kimberly-Clark plan after the election “maybe demonstrates how unpopular these corporate cash payouts are.”
“I think this is a placeholder for a Republican Party that is having a tough time making decisions, because of the headwinds they face in the electoral cycle,” he said.
Unsure of their ability to get an incentives offer for Kimberly-Clark passed before the general election, lawmakers have asked if company officials could wait until after Nov. 6. So far, Kimberly-Clark is going along.
“While we remain eager to firm up our plans and minimize the uncertainty being felt by our employees, we will not make any final decisions regarding the Neenah Cold Spring Facility until the Legislature completes its extraordinary session,” a company spokesman wrote in an email.
With two GOP members already publicly opposing to the bill, Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, will need every remaining Republican in his caucus and at least one Democrat to pass it.
Britt Cudaback, a spokeswoman for Evers, declined to commit on the bill, saying Kimberly-Clark workers and their families deserve a “bipartisan solution months ago,” but Walker and Republicans are playing politics.
“We need a long-term, bipartisan and industry-wide solution to the challenges facing the paper industry, not last-minute political gamesmanship,” she said.
The Capitol Report is written by editorial staff at WisPolitics.com, a nonpartisan, Madison-based news service that specializes in coverage of government and politics, and is distributed for publication by members of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association.