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Session Ends with No Major Accomplishments

by Rep. Jon Richards, Assistant Democratic Leader, 19th Assembly District

If you care about the progressive traditions of Wisconsin, it is good news that the state legislature has adjourned its 2002-03 regular session. The Republicans have majorities in the State Assembly and State Senate. With that control, Wisconsin got a full taste of the bitter “God, Gays, and Guns” agenda they are pushing at all levels of government this election year. The fires they start with this agenda suck the oxygen out of the serious debate we should be having on jobs, economic development, health care, and education. This session of the legislature, except for very limited business, is over. We cannot take up any new business until the next session convenes next January. There are only two ways we can come back and take up any business. One is if the Governor calls us back, which is unlikely. The other is by extraordinary session called by the Republican leadership. With the way they have been running the session, no one knows if or when that may happen. During this session, we spent hours and days of debate on bills allowing people to carry concealed weapons, on banning gay marriage — which is already illegal — and on allowing health care professionals to deny birth control. Then we spent more time upholding the vetoes of those bills. After failing on those issues, the Republicans decided to play politics with our state constitution and we wasted more valuable time arguing about a potential constitutional amendment banning already illegal gay marriage. It was the ultimate for the far-right Republicans. Their agenda prevailed. It got so bad that one of the few moderate Republicans left in the legislature is leaving. Rep. DuWayne Johnsrud, from western Wisconsin, is ending his 20-year career because the right wing has totally taken control of his party. During their pursuit of their divisive social agenda, the Republicans stonewalled Democratic bills to raise the minimum wage, lower health care costs, increase funding for job training, and provide meaningful assistance to our manufacturers. The Republicans were also AWOL on addressing the high cost of prescription drugs. It took the Governor to stand up to the Bush Administration to create a way to get relief. He set up one of two web sites in the country that allow people to buy lower cost prescription drugs from Canada. The site’s address is www.drugsavings.wi.gov. Granted, the Republican legislature made some progress on issues like procedures cities and towns must follow to get reimbursed for fire calls, contracts for people who take depositions, recording and filing documents with the Register of Deeds, and designating the cranberry as the state fruit. At a time when our economy is lagging, jobs are scarce and health care costs in southeastern Wisconsin are soaring, there was no action on any of these fronts from the Republican leadership this session. Democrats will continue fighting to address these issues.