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First Wisconsin veto override attempts in 9 years fail

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Legislature’s first veto override attempt s in nearly a decade failed Thursday, with no Democrats jumping ranks to provide Republicans with the votes they needed to succeed.

Despite not having the votes, Assembly Republicans forced votes on three budget items that Democratic Gov. Tony Evers vetoed over the summer. The votes marked the first time either legislative chamber tried to override a veto since 2010, with the last successful attempt happening in 1985.

The votes came on a tumultuous day at the end of a dramatic week of clashes between Evers and the Republican-controlled Legislature. Evers called a special session on gun control for Thursday, asking lawmakers to pass bills that would require universal background checks and allow judges to temporarily seize guns from people who pose a threat.

Republicans planned to avoid debating the bills by gaveling in and out without taking action. Gun control advocates rallied at the Capitol and Evers said he felt “positive” about the session, even though Republicans were not going to vote on the bills.

That bit of theater followed the state Senate’s vote Tuesday to fire Evers’ pick to run the agriculture department. Evers attended the debate in person and then tore into senators after the vote, calling the action “BS” in comments sprinkled with profanity.

Evers fared better on Thursday, with all three veto override attempts failing.

Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz said ahead of the session that Republicans bringing the veto overrides were “trying to have cover for their cowardice on the firearms issue.”

“This is all done to delay, to distract from the business we were called into for today,” said Democratic Rep. Evan Goyke, of Milwaukee.

Republican Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke rejected that accusation as “ridiculous.”

Republicans argued because there’s bipartisan support to build more regional mental health crisis centers in Wisconsin, Democrats should have supported overriding a veto that killed $15 million to build one in northern Wisconsin. Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul organized a summit just last week to discuss the need for more centers.

Evers’ veto allowed that money to instead be used to expand the existing Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center in Madison.

Backers of the override cited the time and expense of transporting people up to eight hours away to get them to the Winnebago mental health crisis center in Oshkosh as reason to build a facility in northwestern Wisconsin.

Republican Rep. Rob Stafsholt, whose district is in rural northwestern Wisconsin, said he was appalled with the veto because it places a burden on law enforcement and people in crisis who have to travel hours to get treatment.

“Today is our day where we can fix that wrong,” he said. “I hope that everybody sees this is not politics.”

The other vetoes targeted for override blocked $5 million a year for doctors who care for people in state health care programs and gave the Evers administration more flexibility in how to spend $500,000 to increase the number of health care providers, nixing the Legislature’s plan to create a new grant program.

All three failed on party line 62-34 votes, with Republicans in support and Democrats against. Two Democrats had to flip in order for them to succeed. Overriding a veto would also need 22 votes in the Senate, where Republicans have 19 seats. The Senate doesn’t plan to return until January.

In a statement after the override votes, Evers didn’t defend his decision to strike the items but instead said Republicans were “more interested in playing politics than getting anything done for the people of our state.”

Steineke said if the overrides fail but there’s support to try again in the future, he would bring them up for another vote. A rule change that Republicans adopted over Democratic objections last month allows for multiple veto override votes.

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