Democratic leader mulls potential Zepnick punishment

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Assembly Democrats weighed potential punishments for Rep. Josh Zepnick Monday, after two women accused him of sexual misconduct, prompting legislative leaders to demand his resignation.

Emily Pritzkow, a spokeswoman for Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, said Hintz's office was researching a possible course of action.

There are a number of options available to Hintz under Assembly rules, constitutional and state law.

Hintz could unilaterally remove Zepnick from the committees he serves on and lock him out of party caucus meetings. He could push the Assembly as a whole to censure Zepnick, which would equate to a reprimand. He also could introduce a resolution calling for Zepnick's expulsion. That process includes public hearings in which Zepnick could defend himself and would likely include testimony from his accusers. It would take a two-thirds vote by all Assembly members to remove him.

Hintz also could try to remove Zepnick through the impeachment process. A majority of Assembly members would have to vote to impeach him. That would trigger a trial before the state Senate. A conviction would require a two-thirds vote of the Senate. Once impeached, Zepnick would be expelled.

Zepnick has refused to step down. He didn't immediately reply to an email Monday seeking comment on potential punishments. He was next scheduled to appear in the Capitol on Tuesday morning for an Assembly Committee and Interstate Relations Committee meeting.

The Legislature last considered expelling a member in 2014, when Assembly Republicans discussed throwing out then-Rep. Bill Kramer after he was charged with sexually assaulting a political aide three years earlier. The Republicans scrapped the idea after Kramer announced he wouldn't seek re-election.

The Capital Times newspaper reported Friday that two women who requested anonymity accused Zepnick of trying to kiss them.

One woman told the newspaper she was working at the state Democratic convention in 2015 when a drunken Zepnick kissed her. The newspaper described the other woman as a former legislative staffer. She said a drunken Zepnick kissed her during a 2011 party for a state Senate recall candidate.

Zepnick said in a statement he didn't remember the incidents but still apologized to both women. He said he is a recovering alcoholic and he made many mistakes during his years of "irresponsible drinking."

The newspaper report prompted Hintz to tweet Friday that Zepnick should resign. Senate Minority Leader Jen Shilling called for Zepnick to step down Monday.

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and other GOP Assembly leaders issued a statement Saturday calling Zepnick's behavior "reprehensible and ... unacceptable for any human being, let alone a state representative." But they stopped short of calling for his resignation, saying Zepnick should decide whether he can continue to effectively represent his district.

Zepnick has represented a swath of Milwaukee since 2002. He was arrested for drunken driving in October 2015. He pleaded guilty and was ordered to pay a forfeiture, had his license suspended for six months and ordered to use an ignition interlock device for a year.
 

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