Assembly Speaker Robin Vos offers grim assessment of several hot-button bills

MADISON — Just call him Dr. No.

Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos in an Associated Press interview Wednesday shot down the chances of passing several bills backed by fellow Republicans on hot-button issues including guns and abortion.

The Legislature is set to return to work sometime in January but probably will only meet a handful of days. That gives lawmakers little time to act on bills left over from 2017 or any new proposals.

Vos, the highest ranking Assembly Republican, said voters he's talked with in his district are more concerned about economic development, job creation and meeting basic needs of the state like road repair than they are with issues like allowing the carrying of concealed weapons without a permit.

The "right to carry" bill allowing permit-less carrying of concealed weapons has cleared a state Senate committee but has not been taken up for a vote in either chamber. Current state law requires anyone who carries a concealed weapon to obtain a permit and get training.

Backers say allowing carrying concealed weapons without a permit protects the Constitutional right to bear arms, while opponents say taking away licensing requirements makes no sense.

Vos said the bill is unlikely to pass because "there's not a big hue and cry" to do it.

There's also not enough support to pass proposals restricting the use of fetal tissue obtained from abortions, Vos said.

One bill would ban the use of aborted fetal tissue for research or any other purpose. A coalition supporting that proposal includes the Wisconsin Catholic Conference, Wisconsin Family Action, Wisconsin Right to Life and Pro-Life Wisconsin.

Another measure would target only the sale of fetal tissue and regulate certain research. Vos supports that one.

Similar proposals have failed to pass under opposition from the medical and scientific communities, which have been out in force again this session against the latest proposals.

"We just haven't been able to generate consensus," Vos said.

He also said a bill designed to force mega-retailers such as Menards, Lowe's and ShopKo to pay more in property taxes is unlikely to pass.

Vos said he had "serious concerns" with the measure that's won bipartisan support and the backing of communities across the state. Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state chamber of commerce, has been against the measure, saying it will hurt the economy by unfairly raising taxes on businesses.

The bill is designed to close the so-called "dark store" loophole and increase how much mega-retailers pay local communities in property taxes.

A string of court rulings in Wisconsin and across the Midwest have helped the retail giants lower the value placed on their stores for levying property taxes. The retailers have successfully challenged their tax assessments by arguing they are overtaxed and should pay the same rate as a store that is closed and vacant.

Democratic Minority Leader Gordon Hintz said he had hoped the bill would pass and cited it in a separate interview as one where Democrats and Republicans could work together.

But Vos said it appeared doomed.

"I worry about raising taxes on anybody, if they're a business owner or a homeowner," Vos said.

Another measure Vos said was going nowhere was a bill that would add a fee schedule for medical care to Wisconsin's workers compensation law. Including a fee schedule has been a divisive issue, pitting the state's business community that support it against health care groups including the Wisconsin Medical Society and Hospital Association that oppose it.

"Until we have some kind of a consensus, or there's an outcry from every day business people, it just seems the issue languishes," Vos said.

While there is much Vos does not expect to pass, he said he supported Gov. Scott Walker's call to spend $6.8 million on a marketing campaign to lure workers from Detroit, Chicago and the Twin Cities. And he said there appears to be support among Republicans for a bill up for a hearing Thursday that would give developers the green light to build on state wetlands without a permit. Environmentalists and Democrats are staunchly opposed to the measure.