Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Board Considering Abortion Referendum, Again

Board would place question on April ballot after failing to approve November election proposal.

By - Dec 8th, 2022 08:01 pm

Milwaukee County Courthouse. Photo by Sulfur at English Wikipedia [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Milwaukee County Courthouse. Photo by Sulfur at English Wikipedia (GFDL) or (CC-BY-SA-3.0), via Wikimedia Commons

The Milwaukee County Board is again considering an advisory referendum asking voters their opinion on Wisconsin’s 1849 law banning abortion. It narrowly voted to reject a similar proposal in advance of the November election.

On Thursday, the board’s Finance Committee recommended approving the referendum, which would ask voters if the state law “which bans abortion at any stage of pregnancy without exception for rape, incest, or health of the patient, be repealed to allow legal access to abortion care?”

The advisory referendum would have no legal effect, rather it’s intended to gauge public opinion for the purposes of policymakers. The referendum proposal will next go to the full board for approval, and it needs a two-thirds majority to pass. If approved it would appear on ballots in Milwaukee County during the April 4 spring election.

The resolution creating the referendum was authored by Sup. Ryan Clancy and co-sponsored by supervisors Sequanna Taylor, Priscilla Coggs-Jones, Juan Miguel Martinez, Peter Burgelis, Felesia Martin, Willie Johnson Jr. and Sheldon Wasserman.

“The push to get this question on the ballot came not from me, but from individuals and organizations in our community such as Reproductive Justice Action Milwaukee who want the ability to weigh in on this most pressing of issues,” Clancy said in a statement following the committee vote. The supervisor also thanked Reproductive Justice Action Milwaukee (RJA-M) for their work building support for the referendum.

The county board previously considered an identical referendum proposal in July, as well as two others pertaining to marijuana legalization and military-style firearms. It failed to secure the two-thirds vote necessary for an abortion referendum, but passed the other two measures. Taylor, a co-sponsor of the abortion referendum, was not present for the vote and theoretically would have provided the vote necessary to reach two-thirds support.

Clancy chided his colleagues in committee Thursday and in a press release following the vote for what he thought were “hollow” arguments about the county’s finances when the first abortion referendum failed to pass. Clancy also said he’s “certain of one thing, the results of this advisory referendum will form the basis for a statewide repeal of Wisconsin’s archaic and dangerous abortion ban.”

Earlier this year, the county’s Office of the Comptroller was projecting a budget deficit and warned supervisors against spending money out of an account controlled by the board because those funds would be needed to balance the budget at the end of the year.

The comptroller’s latest budget projections show the county with a $4.6 million surplus due to an unexpected $10 million rebate through the county’s health care plan. These savings were $5 million higher than budgeted for in 2022. Without the rebates, the county would be operating in a deficit and looking to cut $400,000 in 2023.

The board considered a number of spending proposals from the board-controlled account during the 2022 legislative cycle, despite the warning from the comptroller’s office. Many of them failed, with a handful of supervisors opposing most spending proposals from the fund. The supervisor who most frequently echoed the warning from the comptroller, Shawn Rolland, voted against the referendum questions and nearly all spending proposals from that account throughout the year.

The spending associated with the referendums, specifically, would only have amounted to $56,000. In total, the board spent nearly $2 million out of the account in 2022.

“Obviously, we’re in a different financial position than we were once ago,” Rolland told his colleagues Thursday before voting in favor of the proposal. Rolland has maintained that he supports legal access to abortion since the first referendum question. “I think we can do two things at once we can manage the budget while we advocate for groups. And I think when we do that, everybody wins,” he said.

Following the vote in July, the activist group that worked with Clancy on the referendum, RJA-M, held a protest outside of Rolland’s home. Though, Rolland wasn’t the swing vote that sunk the proposal. Supervisors Liz Sumner and Anthony Staskunas voted for the marijuana legalization and military-style firearms referendums, respectively, but not for the abortion referendum. Sumner did vote for the new, duplicate referendum at the meeting Thursday.

Staskunas was endorsed in 2016 by the anti-abortion group Wisconsin Right to Life, and as a Democratic legislator in the State Assembly broke from his party in 2012 to support legislation blocking the state’s health insurance exchange from covering abortions.

Categories: MKE County, Politics, Weekly

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