Could be long night as Assembly takes up contentious bills

MADISON (WITI) -- Thursday, March 20th is the final day of the legislative session for the Wisconsin Assembly -- and leaders are expecting to debate all night. Two controversial topics are on the agenda: a bill that would limit early voting hours, and a bill that would make oral chemotherapy more affordable for cancer patients.

The "cancer drugs bill" has been on a roller coaster ride for the last two weeks. It appeared dead, was resurrected and passed in the Senate.

On Wednesday, Gov. Walker said he supports the bill and would sign it.

It seemed like a done deal in the Assembly, but now, Assembly Republicans are insisting on an amendment that makes the bill more friendly to insurance companies -- a move that has infuriated the Democrats.

"This could kill the whole bill.  This could be the one poison pill that makes this not pass," Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca said.

Barca says the Senate's version of the Cancer Treatment Fairness Act should be voted on with no amendments.

That bill would require insurance companies to cover chemotherapy pills the same way they cover traditional IV chemotherapy.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos say that was a non-starter for Assembly Republicans. They are concerned the Senate version doesn't contain "cost control measures" that protect small businesses and insurers.

"Do it in a way that doesn't break the bank for small businesses who are really the ones who are impacted by this new requirement," Vos said.

The amendment would require payment from cancer patients -- capped at $100 a month.

"What this amendment does is give insurance companies flexibility to say here's an either/or.  You can have the parity that was drafted, or you can go to a $100 a month co-pay," Rep. Pat Strachota (R-West Bend) said.

"It's disgraceful, what they're doing. People at one of the most vulnerable points in their lives, to make them have to come up with over $100 a month, $1,200 a year.  These are the people who have said they're giving a $10 tax cut and that's a lot of money, but this is $1,200 that a lot of people just can't afford," Barca said.

"Hopefully we can push the politics out of it, and our friends on the other side of the aisle won't make it a big political issue," Vos said.

The ultimate fate of the bill remains unclear -- given that if the Assembly changes even one comma in the bill that passed the Senate, the Senate would have to vote all over again, and that house plans to be in session one more day.

The Assembly also plans to take up the contentious bill that would limit early voting hours across the state. It could be a long night in Madison.