State Rep. Joel Kitchens says he’s willing to take a look at the farm-related bills that Gov. Tony Evers wants the Legislature to pass, but he questions the governor’s tactic of calling a special legislative session.

In his State of the State Address Jan. 22, the governor touted a package of eight bills he said were aimed at addressing rural economic challenges facing Wisconsin. He signed an executive order requiring a special session Jan. 28 to “consider an act upon” the bills.

Rep. Joel Kitchens
Rep. Joel Kitchens

Instead of a special session, Assembly and Senate leaders introduced the bills and referred them to committee, where Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said public hearings will be part of the process.

In his weekly report to constituents, Kitchens, R-Sturgeon Bay, said introducing bills and asking the Legislature to pass them the following week is not a good idea.

“First, it’s not the role of the governor to write legislation. That is the responsibility of the state Legislature,” he wrote. “By holding a special session, we are also not being given the chance to properly vet and evaluate the proposed bills through the normal legislative process. That means no public hearings, which also robs you of your chance to let us know how you feel about the bills.

“Plus, it doesn’t give us any time to consult with stakeholders to see if the legislation will help farmers and if it is something they actually want.”

Kitchens said his first concern looking over the $8.4 million package was that it calls for creation of 20 new state positions, but until he gets feedback from constituents, he doesn’t feel comfortable committing to a vote one way or another.

“I spent my entire career as a large animal veterinarian working very closely with farm families, and I understand as well as anyone the challenges they face,” he said. “The sad reality, however, is that we are limited in what we can do on the state level to lessen their financial struggles. I want to help wherever we can, but, as political leaders, we must resist the temptation to spend money just so we can say we are ‘doing something.’”

Kitchens’ full statement:

Gov. Tony Evers spent a good portion of his recent State of the State address expressing the need to assist farmers before calling on the Legislature to convene this week for a special session to pass his $8.5 million package of bills aimed at improving Wisconsin’s struggling agriculture industry.

While it’s nice that the governor is finally showing an interest in helping people outside of Milwaukee and Madison, a special session – for many reasons – is not the right way to do it.

First, it’s not the role of the governor to write legislation. That is the responsibility of the state Legislature.

By holding a special session, we are also not being given the chance to properly vet and evaluate the proposed bills through the normal legislative process. That means no public hearings, which also robs you of your chance to let us know how you feel about the bills.

Plus, it doesn’t give us any time to consult with stakeholders to see if the legislation will help farmers and if it is something they actually want. As for myself, I had concerns about the bills right away when I saw they required the addition of more than 20 state positions. At first blush, it would appear the legislative package is more interested in expanding bureaucracy than investing in rural communities.

But until I can have more time to review the proposals and ask the farmers and conservation groups in my district for their views, I just don’t feel comfortable committing to a vote. I know many of my fellow lawmakers feel the exact same way. We shouldn’t be forced to pass legislation just so we can learn what’s in it. That is why Assembly and Senate leadership decided not to have the Legislature take part in the special session this week.

I spent my entire career as a large animal veterinarian working very closely with farm families and I understand as well as anyone the challenges they face. The sad reality, however, is that we are limited in what we can do on the state level to lessen their financial struggles. I want to help wherever we can, but, as political leaders, we must resist the temptation to spend money just so we can say we are “doing something.”

There is a perception among many citizens that floor sessions are an opportunity to discuss issues and arrive at solutions. I can tell you that, in reality, floor sessions typically are characterized by political theatrics and grandstanding in front of television cameras. They are not a good venue for meaningful debate. Where we make real progress is meeting outside of session with interest groups and other legislators so we can determine if compromises need to be made and, if so, where.

I look forward to these bills going through the normal legislative process so my colleagues and I can gain a better knowledge of the governor’s proposals, thereby allowing us to make informed decisions that are in the best interest of all Wisconsinites.