Senate takes up controversial bills as legislative session ends

MADISON (WITI) -- The Wisconsin State Senate is taking its final votes of the two-year legislative session on Tuesday, March 11th. The Senate took up several controversial bills on its last day in session -- the most controversial being the absentee voting bill -- a bill that would standardize early voting hours across the state of Wisconsin.

The measure would require county clerks to limit early voting to between 8:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. It would end weekend early voting hours.

The bill would make early voting hours uniform across the state.

"What we're trying to do is bring some consistency to voting hours throughout the state.  I've heard from a number of constituents that watch (FOX6) and other Milwaukee news outlets that it just seemed to be unfair when you see a line of people in Milwaukee ready to vote on a Saturday and yet somebody in rural Wisconsin or Dodge or Washington County is unable to go to the town hall that they may vote in and cast a ballot," Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said.

Democrats say the bill is baffling -- and say it targets urban areas.

"The uniformity is inconsistent with the need to remember that each municipality needs to be in control of its own. On top of the Capitol, we have Lady Forward. There's no question that this really reeks of Jim Crow and backwards," Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) said.

Republicans say current rules are unfair, since many in rural areas with part-time election clerks are not given the same opportunities to vote as those in cities.

"I think it's time to make it uniform as soon as we can. It doesn't restrict anyone's voting. You know, if you want to vote absentee, that's still open to everyone," Sen. Glen Grothman (R-West Bend) said.

Debate over this bill led to some fireworks inside the Capitol on Tuesday night.

Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) is demanding an apology from Sen. Tim Carpenter (D-Milwaukee) -- not for something he said about her, but for accusations he made against a lawmaker from New Berlin.

Sen. Carpenter, during debate on Tuesday, told Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) she must hate blacks and Latinos -- and fireworks ensued.

A vote on this issue has been delayed until Wednesday, March 12th.

The bill is expected to pass, since Republicans control the state Senate.


The Senate on Tuesday approved a bill that would create a mental health board to oversee and manage Milwaukee County's troubled Mental Health Complex.

"A solution is needed there,  and I think the biggest thing that needs to come of it is there needs to be a direct line of acceptability when somebody dies or somebody gets hurt there -- there is a clear line drawn to who is going to be held accountable," Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) said.

"It gives us an opportunity to create a board that's going to look at the problems in Milwaukee County -- a board of experts. These experts are in the best position to determine what will be in the best interest of those suffering from mental illness," Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa) said.

The Milwaukee County Mental Health Board bill passed unanimously 33-0.

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele released the following statement following the Senate's passage of this bill:

“The fact that every Republican and Democratic State Senator voted for this bill is an inspiring reminder that on issues as important as this, everyone can come together. This legislation ensures that providing the best system of care will no longer come second to any other priority.”


Also on the agenda for the Senate on Tuesday -- a vote on the so-called "Shoreline Bill" -- a measure that would allow private development along Milwaukee's Lakefront -- like the proposed 44-story couture project -- planned for the current Downtown Transit Center site.

Opponents say the property must remain publicly-held.

"Lakefront development is very important for preserving the integrity of the lake, which is a huge priority for everybody, so what we're doing is going back to the 1913 lines that were drawn and saying 'this is the boundary we need to respect,'" Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) said.

"The state is getting involved in something -- again the state stepping into local issues. This is probably the 20th or 30th time the state is stepping into a local issue where it should not be," Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) said.

This bill was approved by the Senate on Tuesday.

Abele released the following statement on the approval of this measure:

“Not only does this bill provide important legal clarity for the Downtown Transit Center project, it also creates certainty for future downtown developments and prevents the need for future unnecessary delays. When developers are considering significant investments in our community, anything we can do to clarify the process makes us a more attractive place to do business and create jobs.”