44 bills introduced to the Wisconsin legislature during the last ( 2007-2008 ) legislative session were tracked by the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters (LCV). Now that the legislature has adjourned until 2009 (long after the November general election will be over) what has been the fate of those bills?
Seven of the 44 bills were passed unanimously in both houses. Six of those were recreation bills. They had to do strictly with hunting and fishing opportunities and access to parks for military personnel, children, and disabled veterans. That’s all good. Nothing wrong there. We all approve of those six recreation bills. But that’s all they are. They are the kind of easy bills that politicians love to trot out in public, back home, to the universal acclaim of their constituents, to show how they are “working hard” for us, and how they “support the troops” and “care about children”. But make no mistake. These bills had absolutely nothing to do with conservation or public health or environmental protection. (And, to tell the truth, they had very little to do with the real needs of children or troops or disabled veterans, either.) Certainly, none of these bills had anything to do with clean air and water, or reducing and cleaning up toxic emissions, or wildlife habitat restoration and protection, or public health.
The seventh (almost) unanimous bill (Ethics Reform, Act 1) was an important reform victory (following years of persistent grassroots effort) over a very few hard case legislators (five Senators and the Assembly leadership) who previously had managed to sidetrack it despite widespread bipartisan support, until the last session. Persistent public interest and rising demand finally paid off there. (The Ethics Reform bill, Act 1, received only two “no” votes, both from strong proponents of reform in the Assembly, who insisted on a better bill, and voted “no” to protest restrictions on public access to information that were in the final bill. So, we’ll keep it simple and call it seven bills passed unanimously by both houses.)
Lets see how the biding – er, I mean, the voting went on the other 37 bills, which did have something to do with “conservation” issues.
First, seventeen of the bills tracked by the LCV did not even get a vote in either house. And the really important news is that only one of the 37 bills tracked that were not unanimous shoo-ins got the respect and courtesy of an up-or-down vote in both houses. That was Act 20, the compromise Budget Bill, passed last October, which was tracked by LCV because it contained some conservation provisions. But the budget for the year has still not been approved, so very faint praise is due there, if any. Did I hear anyone whisper “partisan gridlock”?
The gridlock is not due to the people of the state being deeply divided on these issues, or even because members of the legislature are unable to come to consensus when voting. It’s because members of the Legislature are seldom permitted to even cast a vote on a bill when frowns appear on certain lobbyists wearing the tailored suits and imported tasseled loafers lurking on and near “the hill”. After all, that’s where the Party gets its “campaign contributions” and its sleazy phony “issue ads” that swing elections. The Party leaders know that, and make sure “their” legislators do their little part to keep their Party flush. That’s how the game is played. The rare exceptions prove the rule.
Only three of the bills passed by the Assembly (out of the 13 non-unanimous bills voted on there) were endorsed by the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters. All of the other 10 majority vote counts recorded by the Assembly were opposed by LCVWI. The slightly majority Republican Assembly means that the Assembly leadership, all committee chairs, and the agenda is Republican.
All of the 9 non-unanimous bills voted on (and passed) by the Senate were endorsed by LCVWI. The slightly Democratic majority Senate means that the Senate leadership, all committee chairs, and the agenda is Democratic.
This article will more closely examine the Senate votes. I’ll look at Assembly votes later.
Eight Senators out of 33 voted against at least three of the bills that were endorsed by Wisconsin Conservation Voters and which surfaced for a vote in the Senate. They are Glenn Grothman (parts of Washington, Ozaukee, Sheboygan, Fond du Lac, and Dodge counties), Mary Lazich (eastern Waukesha and Racine, and western suburban Milwaukee counties), Neal Kedzie (western Waukesha, parts of Jefferson, Walworth, and Kenosha counties), Theodore Kanavas (parts of Washington, Dodge, and Waukesha counties), Alan Lasee (Door, Kewaunee, and parts of Brown, Manitowoc, and Calumet counties), Scott Fitzgerald (parts of Waukesha, Dodge, Jefferson, and Dane counties), Joseph Liebham (parts of Sheboygan, Manitowoc, Fond du Lac, and Calumet counties), and Dale Schultz (the lone outlier, in counties way over in south west Wisconsin). Note that this group (with the single exception of Schultz) “represents” largely suburban population, joined-at-the-hip Senate districts in east and southeast Wisconsin.
Senators Glenn Grothman and Mary Lazich are the most notorious, zero percent conservation legislators, sticking out like two sore thumbs among 33 Senators. Every one of their votes on all six conservation bills that were not unanimous in the Senate was opposed to the recommendation of Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters. Glenn Grothman is one of only four current Wisconsin Senators with a 100 percent cheerleader rating from Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC). Mary Lazich is one of five Senators with a 95 percent rating from WMC.
If conservation issues (like wildlife habitat protection, and clean air and water, and control and reduction of pollution, and addressing climate change, and protection of the Great Lakes) are important to you, you may be interested in what your state legislators have been doing – and not doing, in your name.