The Wisconsin State Assembly met Wednesday to pass a variety of bi-partisan assembly bills, from loosening hunting restrictions to allowing hair braiding without a license. But the later half of the session was overtaken by debate on whether to honor the late conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh.
Wednesday’s session began with asking for a moment of silence for the victims of two shootings that occurred in the 24 hours prior; eight people who died in a shooting in Georgia, including six Asian women, and two victims in a shooting in Oconomowoc. The moment was brought by Representative Barbara Dittrich, a Republican from Oconomowoc.
The Assembly then went on to pass a variety of bills with near total bipartisan approval.
The assembly approved a bill requiring public energy utilities to fund a board of consumer advocates. The bill, aimed at protecting the interests of residential and small commercial energy customers, would collect more than $900,000 from Wisconsin utility companies to fund the Citizens Utility Board.
Representative Mike Kuglitsch, a Republic from New Berlin, introduced the bill earlier this year. Democrat Beth Meyers of Bayfield says the bill has rare bipartisan support.
“This bill prioritizes dialogue and compromise, encouraging advocates like CUB and government agencies like the Public Service Commission to sit at the same table and come to decisions that best reflect the needs of everyone in Wisconsin,” she said.
But the bill also loosens restrictions for applications to the Public Service Commission on large electric generating facilities. And, it loosens other rules for the Public Service Commission related to strategic energy assessment.
Another bill passed by the Assembly would remove certain restrictions on the size of hunting bullets.
The bill comes after certain bullet sizes were accidentally outlawed by language in previous legislation. The new bill prohibits the Department of Natural Resources from limiting the use of shot shells based on shot size for the hunting of fur-bearing animals.
Ron Tusler, a Republican from Harrison, put the blame on the DNR under the Ever’s administration, saying they had failed to act swiftly in correcting the law.
“This bill is another opportunity for us to fix one of Governor Ever’s administration’s mistakes and return a gun right to our citizens,” he said.
But Democrat Mark Spreitzer of Beloit called out Tusler for politicizing the bill. Spreitzer said it already has broad bipartisan support, adding the reason the correction took so long was because Republicans had gummed up the legislature.
“We’re not here because of any intransigence, we’re not here because of any unwillingness to fix a mistake,” he said. “We’re here because everybody dropped the ball, and now some folks wanna make it a partisan issue instead of just taking a win. Let’s just pass the bill and fix this issue and be done with it.”
That bill now heads to the state Senate.
Also passing Wednesday was a bill that lifted restrictions on hair-braiding, making it so a barbering or cosmetology license is no longer needed for Wisconsinites to perform natural hair braiding.
Democrat Sheila Stubbs of Madison was one of the lawmakers who introduced the legislation at the start of March. She said passage would be particularly meaningful for black women.
“The original statue was not crafted with the needs and the thoughts of black woman in mind, and does not consider the cultural practices of the black community throughout this time,” she said. “This legislation will allow more individuals, especially female entrepreneurs, to practice braiding.”
One of the few roll calls of the day was made for this bill, which passed 88 to 5. All five opponents were Democrats. The bill will now be sent to the Senate.
Passage of these bills took about an hour. The next hour of the Assembly session was pure politics – devoted to the passage of a joint resolution to honor conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh.
Limbaugh, who passed away last month, has been revered by Republican lawmakers and conservative speakers across the country. Yet many Democrats and other activists have pointed to a decades long history or racist, sexists, and hateful comments.
Last month, Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos asked Governor Evers to lower flags at half mast for Limbaugh. Evers denied the request, and later Republican lawmakers introduced the resolution to honor Limbaugh.
Democrats used their time today to denounce the statements of Limbaugh and urge Republicans to vote against the resolution. Democrats also called out Republicans for repeatedly failing to take up a resolution recognizing Black History Month this year, but finding time to honor Rush Limbaugh.
The resolution passed the Assembly, mostly on party lines, with just one Republican voting against. The resolution was approved on Tuesday by the state Senate. Joint Resolutions don’t go to the Governor for approval.