- Associated Press - Thursday, November 5, 2015

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Bills doing away with the nonpartisan elections board and rewriting state campaign finance laws were scheduled Thursday for a vote in the Senate on Friday, but details had yet to be released on what exactly the proposals would do.

Republicans who control the Legislature made the rare move of calling themselves into a previously unscheduled session for Friday to vote on the bills, which the Assembly approved last month but that the Senate planned to alter.

The Senate was also planning to take up more than two dozen other noncontroversial proposals on Friday, including a measure making it easier for pharmacies to dispense the drug Narcan to help treat heroin overdoses.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald had promised that the proposed changes to the elections board and campaign finance bills would be released on Thursday. But Fitzgerald’s spokeswoman Myranda Tanck said late Thursday afternoon those details would not be coming until Friday morning, hours before the votes were scheduled.

“We will put them out as soon as we have them,” she said.

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, of La Crosse, decried what she called a “super secret” process.

“The public doesn’t know what we’re voting on, let along those of us who have to vote on it,” she said.

GOP senators emerged from a private meeting Tuesday saying they had agreements on the two stalled bills that they would vote on Friday. Fitzgerald said Wednesday he had enough votes to pass them, but the actual changes from what the Assembly approved last month that were to be voted on by the Senate were still being worked on.

Tanck said the holdup was due to getting the amendments drafted, not any breakdown in the compromise reached among Republican senators.

The Assembly plans to vote Nov. 16 on both bills, the final step needed before they would go to Gov. Scott Walker for his consideration.

The proposal doing away with the nonpartisan Government Accountability Board as passed by the Assembly called for creating separate ethics and elections commissions with an equal number of Republican and Democratic appointees. The current board overseeing elections, ethics, campaign finance and lobbying laws is comprised of six retired judges, a feature that makes it unique nationwide.

Fitzgerald and other Republican senators have said the Senate version would put two retired judges on the new commission dealing with ethics, campaign finance and lobbying laws. No retired judges would be on the new elections commission.

Republican critics said the current board is out of control and nonpartisan in name only, while its supporters say it was simply enforcing the law and its nonpartisan makeup is a model for the country.

The Senate was also scheduled to vote Friday on another bill rewriting the state’s campaign finance laws. The bill as it passed the Assembly would double contribution limits that candidates can accept, make clear in state law that candidates and issue advocacy groups can work closely together, and allow for unlimited corporate and union donations to political parties and legislative campaign committees.

It would also do away with the requirement that donors divulge their employer. Instead, they would only have to identify their general area of employment.

Democrats have decried both bills - along with one already signed into law by Walker doing away with secret John Doe investigations into political misconduct - as opening the door to more corruption. But they don’t have the votes to stop them.


Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP

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