Under the proposal, recall elections could only be triggered if an official is charged with a crime or violates the state's ethics code.
Orville Seymer, a member of the grassroots group Citizens for Responsible Government, quoted from the Declaration of Independence when testifying before the Wisconsin Assembly's Committee on Campaign and Elections Tuesday.
"That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form," read Seymer.
Seymer said he chose these "powerful" words to reinforce his opposition to a proposed provision that would make it more difficult to recall state officials in Wisconsin.
Recall elections "are not a privilege, but a right," Seymer said. The public's fatigue from a round of recall elections during 2011 and 2012 has created enough animosity toward recalls, he added, making legislation unnecessary.
"[Lawmakers] should make room and time for other issues," he said.
But Dave Callender, legislative associate for the Wisconsin Counties Association, said the group supports the provision. Not only have county board members been removed from office for making tough decisions in an effort "to comply with the needs of the county," but the two-year election cycle allows for the routine monitoring of county decisions, Callender said.
A year after Gov. Scott Walker beat back efforts to remove him from office, Republicans continue to push for changes to Wisconsin's recall law.
Under the proposal, recall elections could only be triggered if an official is charged with a crime or violates the state's ethics code. The Wisconsin's ethics board would decide whether or not a recall is warranted.
Sen. Sheila Harsdorf (R-River Hills), one of the authors of the recall provision, told members of the committee that the recall elections held in 2011 and 2012 cost taxpayers $18 million. She also said the current law "jeopardizes" elected officials who make tough decisions on the job.
"I believe there is a place for recalls, there is a place when there has been violations of code of ethics or criminal violations," said Harsdorf, who prevailed herself in a recall election in August 2011. She added that general elections are a time to act on policy you agree or disagree with, not recalls.
But Rep. Terese Berceau, (D-Madison) questioned "what people are supposed to do" when an official is not forthcoming about an issue while campaigning. Critics point out that Walker did not disclose his plan to eliminate collective bargaining rights for most public workers -- which was ultimately approved as part of Act 10 -- until after he was elected.
Harsdorf said recalls should not revolve around political differences. The recent recall elections took place not because people did not know about Act 10, she said, but because they did not agree with it and were intent on changing the makeup of the Legislature.
The recall proposal is part of a larger elections bill (AB 225) that would also revise the state's voter ID bill and make changes to policies for voting absentee and at the polls. Under the bill, absentee voters who fail to include the address and signature of a witness would not have their vote counted. Failing to sign a poll book would also invalidate the vote of electors.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), co-author of the bill, told committee members he is planning to have the Assembly pass the bill by June 30, before the end of the session.
Rep. Frederick Kessler (D-Milwaukee) raised concerns about that plan, saying there is time in the fall to deliberate and discuss further.
But co-author Jeff Stone (R-Greendale) backed up Vos: "It's about getting things done and moving the state forward."
Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa (D-Milwaukee) noted that there was still no price tag on the legislation: "We should have a fiscal note before us before we vote on this bill that affects the Wisconsin voter."
Vos replied that he "runs for office on fiscal responsibility." Allowing individuals to vote and doing it through a fair process is among his highest priorities as a legislator, he added: "We cannot put a price on democracy."