New Wisconsin Senate Leader Acknowledges 'rOcky Start'

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Senate's new majority leader acknowledged Thursday that he got off to a “rocky” start after he ran afoul of Assembly Republicans on a COVID-19 relief bill earlier this year.

Senate Republicans elected Devin LeMahieu of Oostburg as majority leader in November. He replaced legislative veteran Scott Fitzgerald, who won an open congressional seat. Almost immediately, LeMahieu clashed with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos on a COVID-19 relief bill.

LeMahieu developed the bill with input from Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. Vos refused to accept the bill and Assembly Republicans came up with their own measure. They added provisions that Evers didn't support, including prohibiting closure of churches, barring employers from requiring workers get vaccinated and giving lawmakers control of federal pandemic relief dollars. The governor ultimately vetoed the proposal.

WisPolitics.com President Jeff Mayers asked LeMahieu about his relationship with Vos during a interview Thursday. LeMahieu said he has an open line of communication with Vos and they talk frequently.

He then added: “There will be a learning curve, just like everything in this job. I think starting out, in all areas, being a new leader, maybe there's a little rocky start, but I think we definitely have generally the same goals in mind."

Asked if he was referring to the COVID-19 relief bill fight, LeMahieu responded, “Well, just different areas. Coming in, you make mistakes, you learn from them. Yeah, I think we had disagreements on where we wanted to go with (the bill)."

He said he worked with Evers because he felt it was important to pass something dealing with COVID-19 and he'll keep looking for ways to work with the governor. But he said Evers doesn't seem interested in working with him, citing Evers' resistance to a new round of GOP bills that would would strip him of control of federal pandemic relief aid and give it to legislators.

LeMahieu also told Mayers that he doesn't have support within his caucus for legalizing marijauna for either medicinal or recreational purposes.

Evers' 2021-23 state budget calls for legalizing the drug, but LeMahieu said it remains illegal under federal law. Discussions about legalization should happen at the federal level, not in “some rogue state without actual science behind it," LeMahieu said.

Evers' budget also calls for raising the minimum age for purchasing tobacco and vaping products to 21. LeMahieu said that makes sense since it would be in line with federal law.

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