Correction: This story has been updated to correctly state the timeframe in which Gov. Scott Walker has to sign the bills passed by the legislature.
Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is on his way out, defeated in November by Democratic Gov.-elect Tony Evers. But with an assist from his GOP allies in the state legislature, Walker appear poised to sign off on a suite of measures designed to strip power from his successor.
The bills on Walker’s desk would weaken the state’s executive branch at precisely the time Democrats are set to reclaim it after nearly a decade on the outs. The legislation also targets the authorities of incoming Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul, who, like Evers, campaigned heavily on promises to expand health care and protect welfare programs.
Republican leaders in the state have made their motivations clear. On Tuesday, before the voting began, state Assembly Speaker Robin Vos set the stakes for his Republican colleagues: “We are going to have a very liberal governor,” he said, “who is going to enact policies that are in direct contrast to what many of us believe in.”
Unless, of course, they voted to limit that governor’s power. After a number of the bills passed, Vos pledged to “stand like bedrock” against the agenda of the state’s newly elected Democrats.
How is he going to do it? Here are the actions, authored and passed by Republicans, that are now before Walker. Walker has six days from when the bills arrive on his desk to make a decision on what to do with them.
Tom Evenson, Walker’s communicators director, tells CNN that Walker has yet to request the bill from the legislature, meaning the six-day countdown clock has not started.
Cutting early voting
One of the new measures would limit early voting to a period of two weeks, a substantial cut for places like Milwaukee, where Democrats have a significant advantage over Republicans.
Evers, who won the statewide election by fewer than 30,000 votes, defeated Walker in Milwaukee County by more 138,000 votes. Milwaukee’s early voting began in late September 2018 and went on for about six weeks ahead of Election Day.
This move will almost surely be challenged and decided in the courts, which previously shot down a similar initiative.
Cementing Medicaid work requirements
As part of the package passed early Wednesday morning, Republicans codified work requirements for some Medicaid recipients. The Trump administration in October granted Walker’s request for a waiver that would allow the state to enact the controversial policy, which Evers opposes and recently told reporters he might seek to unwind using his executive power.
But the new legislation would also require that Evers obtain permission from the GOP legislature before seeking to tweak the conditions of federal waivers or making changes to public assistance programs.
Diminishing the new attorney general’s powers
Both Evers and Kaul committed during the campaign to pulling Wisconsin out of a multi-state lawsuit seeking to invalidate Obamacare. That decision – whether to join or withdraw from this kind of litigation – has been one for the attorney general and governor. But the new legislation would add another party to the discussion: the legislature, which would essentially be given veto power over Kaul and likely keep the state in the suit.
The lawmakers would also grant themselves the power to hire private lawyers to defend state laws facing court challenges – another move designed to chip away at Kaul and the new administration’s powers.