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Wisconsin Republican-led Senate votes to override 9 governor vetoes in mostly symbolic action

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Democratic Sen. Tim Carpenter talks during a Wisconsin Senate session to consider overriding bills vetoed by Gov. Tony Evers on Tuesday, May 14, 2024, in Madison, Wis. (AP Photo/Scott Bauer)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Republican-controlled Wisconsin Senate voted Tuesday to override nine vetoes of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers in a mostly symbolic move that comes less than six months before the November election.

The overrides included bills combatting PFAS pollution, setting a population goal for gray wolves and requiring a new post-election audit.

But despite the Senate’s votes, all of Evers’ overrides are likely to stand.

To be successful, two-thirds of both the Senate and Assembly must vote to override a veto. Republicans have a two-thirds majority in the Senate, but they are short of that in the Assembly. There are no immediate plans for the Assembly to hold a vote and Republican leaders there did not return messages Tuesday.

Democratic Sen. Mark Spreitzer said lawmakers were “wasting time” on overrides that Republicans “know won’t be sustained.”

Even though the overrides appear ultimately to be doomed, the votes will give Republicans fodder for the campaign trail to use against Democrats.

One of the most contentious ongoing fights between Republicans and Evers was the focus of one override.

The Senate voted to override the veto of a bill that would have created grants to spend $125 million fighting pollution from “forever chemicals” known as PFAS.

Evers and Republicans have not been able to agree on the best way to combat pollution from PFAS, chemicals that have polluted groundwater in communities across the state. Evers and Republicans have both said that fighting the chemicals is a priority, but they haven’t been able to come together on what to do about it.

“We’ve done nothing on PFAS,” said Democratic Minority Leader Dianne Hesselbein. “Worse than nothing.”

She urged Republicans to “get the dollars out the door.”

Republican Sen. Mary Felzkowski accused Democrats of playing politics over PFAS funding.

“You’re playing with peoples lives, their investments and their families,” she said. “And it’s time to stop.”

Evers has repeatedly called on lawmakers to release the $125 million in funding approved last year in the state budget. But Republicans object to handing the money over to the state Department of Natural Resources and instead want to funnel it through the grant program created under the bill Evers vetoed.

Republican Sen. Eric Wimberger said doing what Evers wants would give the state DNR a “slush fund” that wouldn’t protect innocent landowners from lawsuits, fines and other harm.

The bill Evers vetoed called for spending the money on grants for municipalities, private landowners and waste disposal facilities to test for PFAS in water treatment plants and wells. Landowners with property that became contaminated through no fault of their own also would have been eligible for grants.

Evers said in his veto message that he objected to the bill because it would limit the DNR’s authority to hold polluters liable.

The Senate also voted to override the veto of a bill to make $15 million available for emergency hospital services in Chippewa or Eau Claire counties.

Similar to the fight over the PFAS funding, Evers and Republicans have not been able to agree on the best way to spend $15 million on health care in the wake of hospital closures in Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls. Evers signed a bill into law allowing for the spending, but the Legislature’s GOp-controlled budget committee has yet to approve it.

Among the eight other vetoes the Senate voted to override were bills that would require new post-election audits; set a new goal for the state’s gray wolf population; change the framework for teacher apprenticeship programs and require the transportation department to put the words “not valid for voting purposes” on identification cards of people who are not citizens.

Not a single Democrat voted for any of the overrides.

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