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Bipartisan bill to remove “R” word causes disagreement ahead of vote

MADISON (WKOW) — A bill that would remove the “R” word from Wisconsin’s administrative code created controversy at the Capitol.

In January, Rep. John Jagler (R-Watertown) introduced a bill that would remove “mental retardation” from state code and instead replace it with “intellectual disability.”

Last month, Governor Tony Evers issued an executive order calling for the same action. Executive orders are effective immediately and for Republicans, they found the governor’s actions “disrespectful” for not giving them a heads up.

“This was a really wasted opportunity that could have started this session out on a high note,” said Rep. Jagler. “If all of us worked together it could send a message to families with disabilities that we understand.”

The disagreement came to the forefront as lawmakers voted on the bill Tuesday. It passed the Senate and Assembly and now heads to Governor Evers desk.

While both Republicans and Democrats agree the offensive language needs to be removed, dueling proposals caused tension during a session that already began with a shaky start. In December, Republicans passed laws to curtail some of the powers of the governor and attorney general.

Republicans argue this could have been a bipartisan effort and a fresh start. Governor Evers said it wasn’t about taking credit, instead, he wanted to take action immediately and do what was best for the state.

“I will support the bill going forward and I’ll sign it,” said Evers. “I view this as covering all the bases that all this wasn’t a one-upmanship on anybody. I feel that the issue was important enough that we needed to move quickly.”

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos instead viewed it as a lost opportunity.

“Why would you not want to do something that can bring people together in a way that would be actually a permanent fix opposed to what it looked like a political stunt?”  said Vos.

Rep. Jagler said his measure was introduced in response to the Department of Health Services finding out the “R” word is still being used.

Emilee Fannon

Capital Bureau Chief

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