Republicans Advance Cash Bail and Welfare Referendum Questions
Both likely to be on April ballot, could influence turnout for state Supreme Court election.
Republican Senators approved two resolutions during their first floor session Tuesday setting up ballot questions to go to voters in April. One of the measures creates an advisory referendum asking voters if they want to impose work requirements on people receiving welfare benefits; the other is a proposed constitutional amendment that would change the way judges consider bail. Republican lawmakers also rejected Democratic calls for a voter referendum on Wisconsin’s 1849 abortion ban.
Putting hot-button questions to voters on the spring ballot could influence the outcome of a competitive election for Wisconsin’s Supreme Court that will decide the balance of the Court, which is currently a conservative 4-3 majority. Both the bail issue and the question about enforcing work requirements to receive welfare could help to drive conservative turnout.
“It’s so important to show the support of Wisconsin voters that if you’re going to receive workforce benefits that you need to apply for work,” LeMahieu said. “An able-bodied adult should be working.”
Wisconsin already implements work requirements for people who receive Foodshare — or food stamp — benefits and there are work search requirements for those receiving unemployment benefits. Evers waived work requirements for unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic, but Republicans reinstated the requirements in 2021.
But LeMahieu said there aren’t work requirements for people on Medicaid and that’s something lawmakers could look into changing.
Wisconsin does not currently enforce work requirements to receive Medicaid benefits because the Biden Administration revoked a policy in 2021 that allowed states to implement these requirements.
Dems push abortion question
Gov. Tony Evers alongside Democratic lawmakers offered an alternative referendum just hours before the floor session, renewing their calls to ask voters about Wisconsin’s abortion ban.
“Our attempt with the substitute here is to, once again, give the people of Wisconsin the chance to talk about their belief about abortion and to advise the Legislature,” Evers said during a press conference in the state Capitol. “That said, the present referendum that the Republicans have laid out is about something that already exists. It’s advising something that already exists, so I think theirs is frankly ridiculous.”
“Republicans didn’t bother to gauge the public’s opinion when they originally fast-tracked pieces of legislation to increase work requirements. There were no advisory referendums and no seeking of public input,” Agard continued, “not until now, several years after these bills became law. Republicans are looking for a public pat on the back for legislation they enacted years ago.”
Democratic lawmakers proposed an amendment during the session that would have replaced the welfare work requirement question with one that asked voters “Shall Wisconsin’s 1849 abortion law be repealed and the constitutional rights guaranteed under Roe v. Wade be restored?”
“You all know as well as we do that if we put this on the spring ballot, it would pass overwhelmingly,” Agard said during floor debate. “You all know that if people were asked clearly if they want to restore abortion rights in Wisconsin, they will respond with a resounding ‘Hell yes.’”
Republican lawmakers swiftly shut the amendment down.
Constitutional amendment on bail
Senators also voted 23-9, with Pfaff and Sen. Robert Wirch (D – Somers) joining all Republicans, to approve a constitutional amendment that would eliminate the requirement that bail be set only to ensure that people charged with crimes appear in court. The amendment, if passed by the Assembly on Thursday, would go to voters for approval in April.
Republicans argue the amendment will give judges more flexibility in setting bail by allowing them to consider other factors in violent offender cases — including defendants’ past convictions as well as the need to protect the public from bodily harm.
“The proposal is about one thing: fixing Wisconsin’s broken bail system. Anyone taking an honest look at Wisconsin’s bail system knows that it’s broken and needs to be fixed,” Wanggard said during the floor session.
Democratic opponents said there were better ways of addressing the problems in Wisconsin’s criminal justice system than a constitutional amendment.
Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) criticized the policy because of its lack of definitions for terms like “serious harm.” She also said the criminal justice system needs more resources.
“We need funding for our courts, not a change in our constitution. We need data-driven approaches, not a change in our constitution,” Taylor said. “We need prosecutors and defense attorneys and interpreters and court reporters funded for our understaffed courts.”
“Republicans, who took a 10-month vacation last year to campaign and who were the least active full-time legislature in the nation during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, are using their substantial power to punish poor people, abuse LGBTQ youth, worsen mass incarceration, and play political games they hope will help them achieve even more power in the April Supreme Court race,” Larson said in a statement.
The constitutional amendment and advisory referendum will go to the Assembly for consideration on Thursday. If passed, voters will see them on the April ballot.
Senate advances bail constitutional amendment, welfare work requirement referendum was originally published by the Wisconsin Examiner.