The Assembly and the Senate met on Wednesday of this week to vote on several important pieces of legislation, including a few bills that were held over from our May session. Perhaps the most significant from my perspective as chairman of the Assembly Committee on Veterans and Military Affairs is Assembly Bill 96, which overhauls the leadership structure at the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs. AB 96 was scheduled for a floor vote on May 17, but an objection to the bill’s third reading delayed the final vote until this week.
AB 96 expands the Board of Veterans Affairs to nine members, including at least one from each of Wisconsin’s eight congressional districts; members’ terms are reduced from six years to four years. AB 96 also gives the Governor the authority to appoint the Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs, who must be a veteran. Under current law, the Board appoints the Secretary, which means that the Secretary is appointed by appointees and is not directly accountable to any elected official.
I supported AB 96 throughout the process because I believe that not only is it in veterans’ interests for the Secretary to have good working relationship with the Governor, but also for the Governor to have the power to remove a Secretary who does not perform his or her duties effectively and give veterans the service they deserve. The Governor, regardless of party, is commander in chief of Wisconsin’s National Guard, and I see his position as similar to that of the President, who has the authority to appoint the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. That is the primary reason by why I support allowing the Governor to appoint the WDVA Secretary despite supporting legislation last session that would have allowed the Natural Resources Board to appoint the DNR Secretary.
The Assembly passed AB 96 on a 59-37 vote, and the Senate concurred on a 21-12 vote. It will now go to Governor Walker for his signature.
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