A Republican attempt to override Gov. Tony Evers’ veto of funding for a northwestern Wisconsin mental health facility failed Thursday on a party-line vote.
The effort, which brought impassioned Assembly floor speeches from western Wisconsin legislators, did not draw any Democratic votes needed to clear the two-thirds majority needed for a veto override.
The vote would have been the first step — a successful effort would have moved it along to a similar Senate vote — in reversing the Democratic governor’s veto of $15 million for a northwestern Wisconsin mental health facility. The legislation was tucked into the GOP-controlled Legislature’s budget, parts of which Evers used his partial-veto powers on.
The governor argued in his veto message the request was outside the normal process for Building Commission projects. However, Evers directed the $15 million to be steered toward expansion of the Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center in Madison as part of the veto.
The move roiled Republicans, including New Richmond Rep. Rob Stafsholt, who appeared to reference Sen. Patty Schachtner, D-Somerset, in his criticism of Evers and a female senator from northwestern Wisconsin who opposed the $15 million measure.
“I was appalled by both of those decisions,” Stafsholt said during Assembly floor debate.
Stafsholt is rumored to be mulling a run for Schachtner's Senate seat. He later confirmed he has been approached by others encouraging him to run and that he is "considering all options and have been discussing it with my family and friends before I make any decisions about the future."
Rep. Shannon Zimmerman, R-River Falls, urged Assembly members to put politics aside ahead of the override vote.
“You're going to be human in helping others who are in desperate need,” he said.
The issue centers on transportation of people who have been deemed a threat to themselves or others and receive what’s known as an emergency detention. The process calls for law enforcement to transport those people to a secure mental health facility in Winnebago — an eight hour round trip from St. Croix County.
Law enforcement officials from western Wisconsin have urged lawmakers for years to find a solution to the problem, which saddles local agencies with high transportation costs and forces the people in mental crisis to endure a long ride while handcuffed in the back of a squad car.
Stafsholt said he learned that can mean three such trips if the person is brought back for a court hearing and then returned if deemed a continued risk.
“Think of how many hours that is,” he said. “That’s asinine.”
Despite the override’s failure, the issue is unlikely to go away. Attorney General Josh Kaul on Oct. 31 held a summit focused on emergency detentions.
Meanwhile, there are two other bills — one that would spread out $5 million for regional crisis stabilization facilities, the other for a $15 million expansion of mental health beds at an Eau Claire-area hospital — that have been introduced and referred to committees. Schachtner, along with GOP Reps. Warren Petryk, of Eleva, and Gae Magnafici, of Dresser, have backed the $15 million bill for Eau Claire-area hospital beds. Schachtner also backs the regional crisis stabilization legislation.
Stafsholt has said he intends to introduce his own legislation related to emergency detentions.