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Wisconsin Legislature passes transgender athlete ban that governor promises to veto

Committee approves pay raises for Wisconsin state workers
Posted at 9:51 AM, Mar 12, 2024

MADISON (AP) — The Republican-controlled Wisconsin Legislature passed a ban on high school transgender athletes competing on girls teams Tuesday, a measure that almost certainly won't become law in the face of a promised veto.

The Senate vote came on the last planned session day for the Legislature this year.

Numerous bills with bipartisan support, including one to allow for early processing of absentee ballots, were destined to die for lack of a vote. Democrats called on Republicans to extend the session to vote on those and other measures.

Democratic Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers has promised to veto the bill requiring that high school athletes play on teams that match the gender they were assigned at birth. Republicans don't have the votes to override a veto.

Democratic Sen. Mark Spreitzer said he was frustrated that Republicans were bringing forward the bill given Evers’ pledge to veto it and bipartisan opposition to the measure in committee. The bill will “never become law in Wisconsin” but debating it will only further harm transgender children, he said.

The Senate passed it 20-11, with one Republican joining all Democrats against.

At least 20 states have approved a version of a blanket ban on transgender athletes playing on K-12 and collegiate sports teams statewide, but a Biden administration proposal to forbid such outright bans is set to be finalized this year after multiple delays and much pushback. As proposed, the rule would establish that blanket bans would violate Title IX, the landmark gender-equity legislation enacted in 1972.

A measure backed by elections officials and both Republicans and Democrats alike that would have allowed for early processing of absentee ballots was not up for a vote and appeared to be dead for the session.

Supporters said the measure would have sped 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 those so-called ballot dumps are the result of election fraud.

Republican Sen. Dan Knodl, chair of the Senate committee on elections, said he opposed the bill because he did not think a new process should be added in a presidential election year.

Democratic Sen. Mark Spreitzer said the change would “put to rest complaints from conspiracy theorists,” but Republicans don't want to do it so Trump can spread lies and complain when he loses.

The Senate also fired eight of Evers' appointees, including two members of the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents in a dispute over diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. The Senate has rejected 21 Evers appointees since 2019. In more than 40 years prior to that, only four gubernatorial appointees had been rejected.

The Senate gave final approval to a proposed constitutional amendment that would give the Legislature final say over how the governor spends federal money that is allocated to the state. Republicans brought forward the measure after Evers had full control over the distribution of billions of dollars in federal COVID-19 relief money.

The Legislature also passed it last year, meaning once it is approved Tuesday it will go before voters on the Aug. 13 primary. Governors can’t veto constitutional amendments.

Some bipartisan deals were expected to win final approval Tuesday, including a measure that will ensure full staffing of an office that assists schools with addressing school safety concerns. The bill 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.

The Senate passed a bipartisan bill that requires the teaching of Asian American and Hmong American history lessons in school.

Several high profile proposals that had bipartisan support were missing from the Senate's agenda on its final meeting day.

That includes the bill to legalize medical marijuana that also never got a vote in the Assembly. Republican senators objected to the state running dispensaries. Democrats who want full legalization also had concerns about how restrictive the proposed program would have been.

Also not scheduled for a vote was a bipartisan measure that would limit competition among companies constructing power lines.

The bill, one of the most heavily lobbied this session, would give utilities already doing business in Wisconsin the first refusal on new power line projects. That would mean the state's three existing owners of transmission lines would not have to compete with out-of-state companies when building onto their existing lines.

Opponents fear adopting the law will lead to higher rates, while supporters say it would keep rates low and bolster the state's electric grid. The Assembly passed it, but it must also clear the Senate before it would go to Evers.