With more than 40 bills on the agenda for the session, the state Assembly scrambled to pass the bills on to the Senate in what was likely the chamber’s last floor session of the year Thursday.
The chamber focused in particular on passing several controversial bills including legislation to reduce costs of critical oral chemotherapy medication for certain patients, a bill to increase school accountability through a report card system for all publicly funded schools and a bill that limits early voting in the state.
Assembly and Senate Democrats expressed mixed feelings on the session. They were content but somewhat unsatisfied with Republican-amended legislation to provide more affordable oral chemotherapy cancer treatment and to increase school accountability, but outraged with the early voting legislation. Democrats called this an attempt to suppress urban, and often Democratic, voters from early voting.
The divide was clear during the session, particularly in the heated discussion over early voting. Democrats argued that the bill, which would limit early voting to clerks’ offices between the hours of 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. on weekdays is a direct attack on individuals’ constitutional right to vote while Republicans argued it will level the playing field for urban and rural voters, as rural voters often have fewer time windows to vote early. The bill would limit clerks’ offices to accept ballots to 45 hours a week.
“The bill allows equal opportunity for all people to vote, whether you live in an urban or rural area, which [Rep. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater] thinks is an important change,” Nass’s spokesperson, Mike Mikalsen, said.
Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, said Wisconsin should be known for increasing voting patterns, not restricting them.
The bill to help make oral chemotherapy more affordable for cancer patients passed with an amendment that establishes a $100 co-payment cap for oral chemotherapy patients every 30 days. Republicans who wrote the amendment said it would take a similar path as other states’ laws.
As the Senate had earlier overwhelmingly passed a different version of the oral chemotherapy bill, Democrats had said the Assembly’s changes could mean the Senate might not approve those changes during its last April 1st session. That, Democrats argued, could effectively kill the bill’s chances this legislative session, although Assembly leaders expressed confidence the Senate would approve the bill.
“As new treatment options become available, it is important that we ensure cancer patients have affordable access to the medication that can save their lives,” Rep. Dean Knudson, R-Hudson, said in a statement. “They deserve every opportunity to fight this disease — some of these drugs can cost tens of thousands of dollars just for a month’s supply. Patients and families have enough to worry about as it is. Capping the co-pay at $100 helps remove another financial concern and ensure that these medications remain affordable.”
Instead of pushing for a broader bill, the Assembly passed the Senate’s watered-down version of the school accountability bill, which does not include sanctions for failing schools. The bill now heads to Gov. Scott Walker’s desk.
Any legislation that did not pass during the session is now likely dead for the year, Risser said.
Walker’s “Blueprint for Prosperity” tax cut bill passed the Assembly in Tuesday’s session and will now go to Walker’s desk to be signed into law.
Other important legislation left in limbo for the Senate to take up include bills to increase the speed limit to 70 mph and allow some workers to have a seven-day work week.