Wisconsin Republicans Propose Limiting Gubernatorial Veto Power

Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, center, and Republican members of the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee speak at a news conference about final revisions on the state budget on June 13, 2019.

Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, center, and Republican members of the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee speak at a news conference about final revisions on the state budget on June 13, 2019. Todd Richmond/AP Photo

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STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Court rules former Missouri governor did not violate transparency laws … San Jose mayor calls for oversight of PG&E … Officials in Seattle’s King County violated state sanctuary law by sharing information with ICE.

Following 78 partial vetoes of the Wisconsin state budget by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, Republican lawmakers are proposing a constitutional amendment that would bar governors from making any vetoes that increase state spending. Evers, the state’s former school superintendent, used his vetoes this session in part to increase education spending in the state by $65 million. The bill to limit his veto power is sponsored by two Republicans, state Sen. David Craig and Rep. Mike Kuglitsch. “This unilateral abuse of power taken by the executive branch cannot go unchecked by the Legislature without seriously damaging the separation of powers doctrine in Wisconsin. It is beyond time we right-size the governor’s veto pen to protect taxpayers and restore the Legislature’s constitutional authority," Craig and Kuglitsch wrote in a statement. The governor’s spokesperson, Melissa Baldauff, responded to the proposal as the move of “sore losers who "want to change the rules” when they don’t get their way. "Republicans in the Legislature chose to ignore the will of the people, but Gov. Evers listened to the people who overwhelmingly said they wanted to see more investments in our public schools. To be clear, this is a temper tantrum in response to Gov. Evers using his authority,” she said. Evers is not the first Wisconsin governor to use his veto power broadly on the budget; former Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, issued 99 partial vetoes of the state budget during his last year in office, and former Gov. Tommy Thompson, also a Republican, set a record with 457 partial vetoes during the 1993 budget session. In order to get a constitutional amendment needed to change veto powers, the bill would have to pass two consecutive sessions of the state legislature and be approved by a statewide voter referendum. The constitutional amendment Republicans seek now is the latest attempt of state lawmakers to limit the power of Evers’ administration. During a lame-duck legislative session held after he was elected but before he took office, for example, legislators voted to curb some of Evers’ powers, along with those of the state attorney general.  [Wisconsin State Journal; Wisconsin Public Radio; The News Tribune]

TRANSPARENCY LAWS | Former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens did not violate a state law that guarantees “openness in government” by using an app that automatically deleted his text messages with staffers, a circuit court judge ruled this week. A lawyer from the Sunshine and Government Accountability Project, Mark Pedroli, sued Greitens, a Republican, over his use of Confide, an app that allows messages to self-destruct, saying the practice violated state open-record laws. The court ruled that since the messages were never officially retained, they did not violate that particular law. “I think the idea that using Confide or burner apps excuses government officials from retaining records is not only wrong pursuant to the law, but it’s also dangerous from a public policy perspective. It sends the signal to countless officials in government that they can use burner apps. We need to get control of this as soon as we can,” said Pedroli after the ruling. Pedroli is now asking the legislature to ban the use of such apps; the Missouri House already approved legislation to do this during the 2019 legislative session, but the measure did not pass the state Senate. [Kansas City Star; Washington Post]

UTILITY OVERSIGHT | Potential week-long power shutdowns during fire season have prompted San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo to call on the California legislature to tighten oversight of PG&E. The utility company has been blamed for wildfires in recent years. Now, to prevent future blazes, the company may proactively shut down transmission and distribution lines during hot weather. Liccardo argued that the company does not have the authority to make that decision. “We need to ensure that these decisions are made with the public’s interests in mind,” Liccardo said, pointing to potential issues with senior homes and hospitals, traffic light failures, and gas station closures. “Those are all very serious impacts and they have life or death consequences,” he said. Instead, the mayor wants a state agency like the California Independent System Operator or the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services to have veto power over any decisions to cut power. PG&E released a statement in response saying company officials understand the safety risks on both sides of their decisions to cut power. “It is not a decision we take lightly. We know how much our customers rely on electric service, particularly those with medical equipment. We also know that turning off the power affects first responders, and critical facilities,” the statement reads. [San Jose Mercury News; ABC 7 News]

SHARING WITH ICE | In February 2018, King County, which includes Seattle, passed a law prohibiting county officials from sharing personal information of detained individuals with ICE unless the federal agency had a warrant. For a year afterward, however, ICE officers have been given access to the jail database more than 1,000 times, allowing them to see photos, descriptions, and addresses of people involved in more than 40,000 bookings into King County jails. The county auditor completed a report on the practice, and found that “with photos and addresses, federal agents can more easily identify and locate people, potentially leading to the detention or removal of county residents.” After discovering the data disclosures, the county auditor notified county’s detention department in April, which cut off ICE’s access to the database within five days. County Council Chair Rod Dembowski said he was frustrated with the county officials who allowed access to the database. “You pass a law. The executive is in charge of implementing it,” he said. County Executive Dow Constantine agreed with councilmembers that there needed to be more training, but said that “we know of no circumstance where federal agents used this data to detain or remove county residents.” Dembowski also accused ICE agents of deliberately violating the law to get information “in any way they could,” as they knew the database was legally closed to them. ICE spokeswoman Tanya Roman said that “ICE does not comment on investigation techniques.” [Seattle Times; Crosscut; KIRO]

BLOCKCHAIN POTENTIAL | North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest has launched an initiative to study potential applications of blockchain technology in the state government. Forest, a Republican, said he hopes the non-partisan committee will develop recommendations on how the new technology could be used to boost economic growth and cost efficiency. “It is my hope to provide a strategy to share with our General Assembly, Department of Insurance, Department of the State Treasurer, and other state agencies that will increase awareness, streamline regulatory oversight, and modernize state government,” Forest said. Those involved in the committee include technologists, lawyers, bankers, government officials, entrepreneurs, and policy analysts. North Carolina has already proved to be an early adopter of blockchain legislation, as in 2016, the state legislature passed a bill that expanded the state’s Money Transmitters Act to cover bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies that use blockchain. Forest called the passage of that bill “a turning point in the history of blockchain regulation in the United States, paving a path for other states to pass responsible legislative initiatives nationwide.” [Yahoo Finance; Bitcoin Exchange Guide]

Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.

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