The Wisconsin Assembly is in session today for its last scheduled day on the floor with a heavy calendar of bills to consider. The Assembly will vote on a bill requiring insurers to cover the costs of chemotherapy drugs if they already cover conventional chemotherapy. Governor Scott Walker is clear on what version of that he’d like to see the chamber pass. “I don’t think anybody wants to go through this whole process and then have it stuck because one house passed one version, and the other house doesn’t approve it,” Walker said. “I’m more than comfortable signing the bill that was passed by the Senate.” That bill passed on a 30-2 vote but Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has indicated he’ll amend it – and the Senate may not agree to that change.
The governor is also hopeful something may yet get accomplished on school accountability. “This school accountability measure in the last couple of months has been like riding a roller coaster – it’s been up, it’s been down. One week we think we got something that looks like a reasonable deal between the Assembly and Senate and us, the next week it looks like it’s blown apart.”
The Senate passed a school accountability bill last month which would track student performance at all schools that receive taxpayer dollars, and require those schools to report to the Department of Public Instruction beginning in 2015. The bill the Assembly will consider today would force action on failing public schools – including the possibility of closing them – and prohibit underperforming private schools from accepting taxpayer subsidized voucher students. Senate leaders have given no indication that they’d be willing to take up the Assembly version.
“My legislative affairs director, my chief of staff and others have been talking not only the leaders but to the committee chairs and others routinely, not just this week but for the last six or seven months, and it’s frustrating because it’s kind of a moving target,” Walker said.
The Assembly will also act on a bill that would restrict early in-person absentee voting – a measure that passed the Senate over strong protests from Democrats. The Republican-authored bill restricts in-person absentee voting to between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, for two weeks before an election. It also prevents clerks from holding weekend voting hours.
“To restrict weekend voting or restrict absentee ballots or the hours in which absentee ballots can be cast in person is just the wrong way to go,” said Jay Heck with Common Cause in Wisconsin. “We should be encouraging more people to vote, not making it more difficult.” Republicans argue that a standard time frame for early voting is needed to keep elections fair. Heck says the bill is aimed primarily at Milwaukee, Madison and Green Bay – cities which include significant numbers of Democratic voters. Madison and Milwaukee have already implemented expanded absentee voting, including weekends, and would have to curtail that if the bill becomes law.