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Senate Republicans are a roadblock to progress in Wisconsin, leaving Madison with unfinished businesses
newspaper brief

By Senate Democratic Leader Dianne Hesselbein, (D-Middleton) 

and Senate Democratic Assistant Leader Jeff Smith , (D-Brunswick)

Despite a number of lawmaking session days remaining, Republicans in the State Senate ended their work early, leaving the people’s business unfinished and several strong, bipartisan proposals without the necessary action to become law.  

As leaders of the Senate Democratic Caucus, we urged Republican leaders to vote on several outstanding bills last week, the last general-business floor period of the 2023-24 legislative calendar. Unfortunately, they chose to neglect their duties as leaders, forgo their responsibilities as elected officials, and stay home. 

During the 2023-24 legislative session, the State Assembly passed a number of bipartisan proposals to address issues facing Wisconsinites, but without Senate action, the bills will fail to become law. From providing grants for human trafficking victim services and increasing the affordability of housing for veterans to enhancing penalties for sexual assault by a healthcare provider and creating a task force for missing and murdered African American women and girls, more work should have been done this year. 

One proposal of specific interest to Wisconsin election officials, citizens, and statewide leaders would have allowed clerks to begin processing absentee ballots the day before an election. Because processing absentee ballots is a timely process and clerks must currently wait until Tuesday to begin canvassing absentee ballots, large vote tallies can be reported late into the night. You may remember that in 2020, Donald Trump exploited Wisconsin’s restrictive process to fuel his false claims of election fraud and ballot “dumping.”

Despite years of broad support for this bipartisan proposal, Senate Republicans failed to pass this bill, which would have helped to restore trust and strengthen transparency in our election process during the year of an already rancorous presidential election. 

While Republicans and Democrats may not agree on every issue, the State Senate should build upon the collaborative work that was achieved in the Assembly. We should have approved these bills and presented them to Governor Evers to be signed into law as a testament to our shared commitment to Wisconsinites. We firmly believe that the Senate should not be a roadblock to progress in our state but rather a platform for bipartisan cooperation. 

Together, we could have pushed these important proposals across the finish line, effecting positive change in Wisconsin and making our state safer, stronger, and more prosperous for all who reside here. 

Unfortunately, Republicans at the helm are content with abandoning their duties and leaving Madison early, with unfinished business looming. There is simply no good reason that these bipartisan bills should fail because of their inaction.

Senate Democrats have and will continue to work for the betterment of all Wisconsinites. We welcome the opportunity to work across party lines for the hardworking people throughout the state, but Republicans must show up. 

— Dianne Hesselbein represents Wisconsin’s Senate District 27, which includes northern Green County and parts of Iowa, Sauk, Columbia and Dane counties. Jeff Smith represents Senate District 31 in western Wisconsin. Hesselbein and Smith are the state’s Senate Democratic Leaders.