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Lawsuit to target GOP laws reducing power of Wis. governor

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A coalition of liberal-leaning groups planned to file a lawsuit on Thursday seeking to void laws passed by Wisconsin Republicans who were trying to reduce the powers of the newly elected Democratic governor and attorney general.

The legal challenge will be the first seeking to undo all the laws approved during a lame-duck legislative session held last month. The lawsuit argues the session was unconstitutional because it amounted to an illegal gathering of lawmakers. Then-Gov. Scott Walker, who was defeated by the Democrat Tony Evers in November, quickly signed the legislation before leaving office.

Among other things, the new laws took away Evers’ ability to withdraw the state from lawsuits without legislative approval. Such a prohibition would prevent Evers from fulfilling his campaign promise to remove Wisconsin from a multi-state lawsuit seeking the repeal of the federal health-care law commonly called Obamacare. The laws also prevent Evers from rescinding federal Medicaid waivers approved under the Walker administration.

Another new law gives the Legislature, rather than newly sworn-in Attorney General Josh Kaul, the power to decide how to spend money obtained from lawsuit settlements.

The coalition’s lawsuit questions the procedural step Republicans took to call themselves into what is known as an “extraordinary session.” The lawsuit argues that the Wisconsin Constitution allows for the Legislature to meet only “at such time as provided by law” or in a “special” session, which is a session called by the governor. The lawsuit contends the session held in December didn’t fall into either category.

The groups filing the lawsuit are the League of Women Voters, Disability Rights Wisconsin, Black Leaders Organizing for Communities and three Wisconsin voters.

Their attorney, Jeffrey Mandell, provided a copy to The Associated Press and said it would be filed on Thursday morning in Dane County Circuit Court.

Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, both Republicans, did not immediately return messages seeking comment on Thursday.

Evers’ spokeswoman, Melissa Baldauff, said the governor expected there to be a legal challenge of this sort and said Evers would consult his attorney about his next steps.

“This legislation was a hasty and cynical attempt by Republicans to override the will of the people,” Baldauff said on Thursday.

Legislative “extraordinary sessions” are common in Wisconsin, but the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau said the session held in December was the first time one had been used to restrict the powers of an incoming governor and attorney general.

The lawsuit comes as state Rep. Jimmy Anderson, D-Fitchburg, also was planning to file a complaint with the Dane County district attorney seeking to void the lame-duck laws. Because of a car crash, Anderson is paralyzed from the waist down and is in a wheelchair. He contends Republican lawmakers violated the state’s open-meetings law by not revealing when they would vote on the bills.

Anderson, who said he can’t be in his chair more than 16 hours a day, missed the vote on the lame-duck bills because it took place after Republicans had negotiated over the bills in private all night long.

Tom Kamenick, an attorney at the conservative group Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, said Anderson’s allegation was groundless because the state Supreme Court has already ruled courts can’t hear open-meetings law complaints against the Legislature.

“I’m not aware of any cases or interpretations of open meetings law holding that a session can be ‘too long’ such that it excludes somebody,” Kamenick said.

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