MADISON — Republican
lawmakers in Wisconsin found themselves in the unusual
position Wednesday of breaking with anti-abortion groups
and advocating for a bill that broadens birth control
access, an area where Democrats typically lead.
Republicans could undermine
a key Democratic campaign issue by passing the bill, but
they also find themselves in conflict with groups that are
typically their allies. Pro-Life Wisconsin and Wisconsin
Family Action, a leading anti-abortion group, oppose the
measure on moral and ethical grounds, saying increasing
access encourages premarital sex and the odds of
unintended pregnancies and abortions.
"I don't understand
the push for this legislation," said Wisconsin Family
Action President Julaine Appling, testifying before the
Assembly health committee. "I don't know where it's
coming from. I haven't heard a clarion call from masses of
people saying we've got to have more access to
Only doctors can prescribe
hormonal birth control under current state law. The bill
would allow pharmacists to prescribe hormonal
contraceptive patches and birth control pills, but
patients would first have to fill out a self-assessment
questionnaire and undergo a blood pressure screening.
Pharmacists would be prohibited from giving prescriptions
to anyone younger than 18.
Bill sponsor Rep. Joel
Kitchens, a Republican, said the measure would reduce the
number of unintended pregnancies, because more women would
be able to plan their pregnancies if they could get birth
control from a pharmacist.
"This is not a
Republican or Democratic issue," he said.
anti-abortion Republicans and liberal Democrats on the
health committee raised concerns.
Democrats questioned why a
more expansive proposal they presented in 2015 and again
this year wasn't being considered. Republicans raised
concerns about giving pharmacists the prescription power
and the merits of making it easier to prevent pregnancies
that may be unwanted initially, but later accepted.
Democratic Rep. Katrina
Shankland, speaking before the hearing, said Republicans
want to "check off a box around the time they want to
get elected" to show they support women. Still, she
hoped they would work with Democrats on amendments to
broaden access to contraception under the bill, including
incorporating a proposal she introduced with bipartisan
support that would require insurance companies to cover 12
months' worth of birth control at a time.
Eleven other states have
laws allowing pharmacists to prescribe birth control:
California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maryland, New Hampshire, New
Mexico, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah, Washington and West
The laws vary by state,
with some limiting the types of contraception allowed to
be prescribed by pharmacists or not allowing those under
18 to receive them. And even in states that allow it, not
every pharmacy provides the service because of training
requirements and other restrictions.
In Wisconsin, the much
broader Democratic bill would place no age limits on who
could get the prescription, and patients would not have to
complete a self-assessment form or go through a blood
pressure screening. The bill would make it easier for
women to receive a prescription by prohibiting a
pharmacist from requiring the patient to schedule an
appointment or to provide proof of a clinical visit for
women's health within the past three years.
Dr. Michelle Farrell, owner
of the Boscobel Pharmacy, said she supports the Republican
bill as a way to bridge a gap in health care to make birth
control more widely available to women who have trouble
getting it now with a doctor's prescription. She asked
lawmakers to consider expanding the scope of what can be
The Pharmacy Society of
Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Nurses Association support the
No Democrats have signed on
to the Republican proposal and no Republicans are on the
To become law, the GOP bill
would have to pass the Senate and Assembly, which are both
controlled by Republicans, and be signed by Democratic
Gov. Tony Evers. The governor's spokeswoman, Melissa
Baldauff, had no immediate comment.
In June, Evers vetoed four
anti-abortion bills passed by the Legislature. The move
came after Republicans held a rally in the Capitol rotunda
in an effort to publicize the measures and put pressure on
Evers to sign them. He vetoed them the next day.
Evers, Wisconsin Democrats
propose gun background check bill
Governor Tony Evers speaks during a press conference
announcing a bill that would expand background checks to
most private gun sales in the state at the Wisconsin
State Capitol in Madison, Wis. Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019.
Others speakers at the event included Sen. LaTonya
Johnson, D-Milwaukee, left, who delivered remarks about
constituents in her district who have been affected by
gun violence, and Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul,
MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin Gov. Tony
Evers and Democratic lawmakers on Thursday proposed an
expansion of background checks for gun sales in the
state and called on Republicans who control the
Legislature to pass the measure, even though GOP leaders
have said they don't support such a move.
"It's time to stop waiting for permission from the NRA,"
said Evers, a Democrat, at a news conference to announce
the bill. "Enough is enough, folks. This is a moderate
proposal, folks. It's time to be bipartisan and it's
time to lead."
Under the bill, the Wisconsin Department of Justice
would conduct the background checks on purchases made at
gun shows, online, auctions and other sales that aren't
covered by the federal law requiring background checks
on guns sold through federally licensed dealers.
Sales to a firearm dealer, a law enforcement officer or
member of the armed services, firearms classified as
antiques or a gift or inheritance to a family member
would not be covered.
Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul, a Democrat, said
the state Justice Department currently conducts more
than 100,000 background checks each year on handgun
sales made through federally licensed firearms dealers.
"Their Second Amendment rights were not infringed upon,"
Kaul said. It makes "no sense" that other sales evade
background checks, he said.
"It does not protect Second Amendment rights in any
way," Kaul said of the loophole. "It is just bad policy
that puts people's safety at risk."
Democrats pointed to a 2018 Marquette University Law
School poll showing that more than 80% of respondents
support a universal background check. Evers said
Republicans oppose the idea "at their own risk at the
"This is not a controversial issue anywhere other than
in this Capitol building," said Democratic Rep. Melissa
Sargent, of Madison, who is sponsoring the bill along
with Sen. LaTonya Johnson, of Milwaukee.
Republicans have repeatedly said they have no interest
Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, hours before the
bill was released, said in an interview on WISN-AM that
a background check bill and a "red flag" proposal are
ineffective and "very unlikely" to be taken up by the
Legislature. Red flag laws establish a process to take
firearms away from people determined to be a threat to
themselves or others.
Vos said the proposals won't get at the real issues,
which he said are tied to mental health and dealing with
"There are things we can certainly work together on that
would deal with the problem that's real and not just the
one that's the political answer," Vos said. "There
should be commonsense middle ground."
Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald this
week also said he opposes a universal background check
bill. He said it would violate the Constitution's Second
Amendment. Fitzgerald declined to comment Thursday.
Republican Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke said
the Evers proposal will be reviewed, but he rejected
Democrats' claim that expanded background checks would
have prevented or significantly reduced the number of
"That's why Assembly Republicans have been and remain
committed to providing and expanding mental health
resources to those in need — which has time and again
been a root cause of many of these shootings," Steineke
said in a statement.
Evers called on every Republican to take a stand on his
proposal, which he called a "reasonable and moderate
step" to increase safety. He was joined by 16 Democratic
lawmakers, Kaul, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes and Middleton
Police Chief Charles Foulke.
"This is an issue that should transcend political
parties," Evers said.
Republicans sign letter supporting paralyzed Democrat
MADISON — No Republicans
have signed onto a letter supporting a paralyzed
Democratic lawmaker who wants to be able to call into
some meetings when he's not able to get there in
Rep. Jimmy Anderson, of
Fitchburg, released the letter Wednesday that was
signed by all 35 of his Democratic colleagues but not
a single one of the 63 Republicans.
Anderson sent the
letter to Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. He
has repeatedly denied Anderson's request for
accommodations, including not holding floor sessions
overnight and allowing him to call into committee
meetings. That is currently barred under Assembly
Vos has accused
Anderson of "political grandstanding." Vos
has offered to provide Anderson with recordings of
hearings he missed, but not let him phone in.