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Wisconsin bills to fight 'forever chemicals' pollution, speed ballot counting in jeopardy

Wisconsin State Capitol
Posted at 3:20 PM, Feb 22, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-22 16:22:43-05

MADISON (AP) — Measures that would legalize medical marijuana, spend $125 million to combat pollution from "forever chemicals" and allow election officials to speed up the counting of absentee ballots all appear to be doomed as the Wisconsin Legislature approaches the end of its session for the year.

The Assembly plans to meet for a last time on Thursday, while the Senate will return for a final day in March. Lawmakers will then quickly turn to campaigning for the fall election under new maps Democratic Gov. Tony Evers signed into law on Monday. Republicans are expected to lose seats under the maps that create more competitive districts.

With the session almost over, the fate of some measures is clearer than others. Here is a rundown:

— MEDICAL MARIJUANA: The proposal backed by Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos is dead under opposition from Senate Republicans. They objected to the state running dispensaries. Democrats who want full legalization also had concerns about how restrictive the proposed program would have been. Vos said he planned to hold a public hearing later to build support for next session.

— TAX CUTS: Evers has indicated he will support parts of a package of tax cut bills sponsored by Republicans that passed on Tuesday. The centerpiece of the package, a nearly $800 million income tax cut, appears to be the least likely to become law as it is similar to tax cuts Evers has rejected twice before. A measure expanding a child care tax credit, which got bipartisan support in the Legislature, is similar to an Evers proposal and appears to have the best chance of becoming law. Two other bills would increase the income tax credit for married couples and increase the amount of retirees' income exempt from the state income tax.

— PFAS: A Republican bill that would spend tens of millions of dollars on grants to help municipalities test for contamination from so-called forever chemical known as PFAS appears to be dead. The Senate passed the measure in November, and the Assembly was set to approve it on Thursday. But Evers opposes the proposal because it limits the Department of Natural Resources' authority to hold landowners accountable for contamination.

— ABSENTEE VOTING: Vos on Tuesday urged the Senate to pass a bill that would allow for absentee ballots to be processed the day before Election Day, a bipartisan measure the Assembly already passed. Supporters have said the measure will speed up the counting of ballots on Election Day by easing the workload of election officials, particularly in Milwaukee, where the counting of ballots at a central location can go deep into the night. Former President Donald Trump and election skeptics have falsely claimed that those so-called ballot dumps are the result of election fraud.

— CHILD CARE: The Senate passed a bipartisan measure that would extend Medicaid coverage for women in poverty who have just given birth from 60 days to a full year. Evers supports the measure, but Vos is blocking it in the Assembly, saying that "I don't think it's right to give it away for free." Vos said those in need of the coverage could leave state-funded Medicaid and instead purchase private health insurance.

— SCHOOL SAFETY: The Assembly was set to pass a bill Thursday that would use state money to replace federal pandemic relief funds to fund positions in the state Department of Justice's Office of School Safety for nine months. The current funding is slated to run out at the end of the year. Approval would send the measure on to the Senate, but it is unclear if it will get a vote there.

— POWER LINES: The Assembly passed a bill that would limit competition among companies constructing power lines, but the proposal has yet to come up for a vote in the Senate. The bill would establish a right of first refusal on new power line projects for utilities already doing business in Wisconsin. Transmission line owners such as American Transmission Company, Xcel Energy and Dairyland Power Cooperative wouldn't face competition from out-of-state companies on projects that call for building lines that connect with their existing lines.

—WOLVES: The Legislature has passed a Republican-authored bill that would force the DNR to set a limit on the state's wolf population in the agency's new wolf management plan. Evers is likely to veto it.