The proposed bill that would tighten restrictions on recall elections worries Democrats that it is unconstitutional and threatens the democracy of citizens in Wisconsin.[/media-credit]

A Republican-sponsored bill would make guidelines for recalling local elected officials tougher by requiring an ethical or criminal reason to recall them. 

The bill, proposed Monday in the Legislature, seeks to make local recalls more difficult by requiring an ethical or criminal complaint for it to begin. It comes after two rounds of recall elections of state lawmakers over the past two years that stemmed largely from policy disagreements and not from an ethical or criminal complaint. 

The bill would only apply to local elected officials, such as alders, county supervisors or school board officials, rather than state lawmakers at the Capitol. A constitutional amendment that would have affected state lawmakers was introduced last year but failed.  

Government Accountability Board spokesperson Reid Magney said there are currently no restrictions on what the reason for recalling someone could be. This bill seeks to change that by requiring a copy of a criminal or civic complaint for a recall to begin, according to the bill.

The bill’s author, Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls, told the Wisconsin State Journal the bill would ensure elected officials are only recalled for violations. Policy disagreements, she said, can be worked out at regular elections, where voters can elect someone new.

“It is a very dangerous road to go down to allow recalls when there’s a disagreement on an issue,” Harsdorf told the State Journal. “You don’t want to discourage elected officials from making those tough decisions.” 

Harsdorf survived a recall attempt recently, which stemmed largely from her voting for Gov. Scott Walker’s collective bargaining law. A number of recall elections took place in 2011 and 2012, including an failed attempt to unseat the governor.

Common Cause in Wisconsin Executive Director Jay Heck said some people were simply tired of all the recall elections.

“If someone just doesn’t like an official, they can get signatures to get them recalled [and] we’re pretty unique in that respect,” Heck said. “You could argue that in 2011 and 2012, we have gone overboard with one recall after another.”

The two rounds of recall elections were unusual and likely will not happen in the near future, Heck said. 

Although he said the bill is a step in the right direction, he added it should be a bipartisan bill and part of a larger reform. 

“I think we want to take a look at reforming the process, but as part of a larger reform aspect, make it more difficult,” Heck said. “There ought to be some sort of crime or evidence of wrongdoing or malfeasance, but we should combine it with requiring the disclosure of all money spent on campaigns by outside groups and candidates.” 

But Scot Ross, executive director of One Wisconsin Now, said the bill is a “bad idea.” 

He said the system exists so Wisconsinites can hold officials accountable for their actions at the ballot box. 

“This bill is yet another attempt by Republicans to stop people from exercising their full constitutional rights,” Ross said. “It’s part of an alarming trend attacking the voting rights of Wisconsin workers through ill-advised and unconstitutional legislation.”