It's not uncommon for a piece of legislation to go through a series of changes from the time it's introduced to the time it's signed into law. But what aren't usually seen are the tweaks, twists and turns a bill can undergo before it's up for public consideration.
Currently making its way through the Wisconsin Legislature is a proposal spearheaded by Rep. André Jacque, R-De Pere, Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, and Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, to ban research on aborted fetal tissue. Ten Republicans have signed on in the Senate and 42 are backing it in the Assembly. But in discussing the bill, they'll quickly note: "This is André's bill."
It's not that they don't want to take ownership, it's that passing this bill has been on Jacque's agenda since he took office in 2011.
That's why Jacque has no patience for people who think it's nothing more than an attempt to cash in on the political momentum aimed against Planned Parenthood after the release of a series of controversial sting videos.
"I've introduced the same bill, three consecutive sessions," Jacque said. "It's clear the people making that charge don't know what they're talking about."
Jacque noted that he had a draft prepared months ago — in February, records show — and said the suggestion the bill's introduction was spurred by the videos amounts to a "wild" and "demonstrably false" accusation.
One of the sources of that criticism is the liberal group One Wisconsin Now, which points to the bill's drafting files to argue the final version was indeed influenced by the videos.
Drafting files show Jacque's first request was made in February, to redraft a bill he introduced in 2013 related to the disposition of fetal remains. That bill makes no mention of research.
In late July, after the videos were released, Jacque requested the addition of language from his 2013 legislation banning the sale or use — including research — of fetal body parts to the bill. At the end of July, he requested a redraft to remove the original language regarding disposition of fetal remains, leaving only the bans on research and sale of fetal body parts.
On August 5, records show another redraft request, to revert the bill to his 2011 proposed research and sale ban.
OWN research director Jenni Dye noted that the provisions of the original drafting request are no longer part of the bill being introduced and said the timing of the addition of the research ban language suggests it was driven by the release of the Planned Parenthood videos.
"It's hard to tell what these guys despise more, science or women's healthcare. But what is clear is that this bill is nothing but ill conceived political opportunism," Dye said. "Drafting files show the provisions now in the bill were motivated by the discredited videos being used to justify the latest right wing assault on women's healthcare. And according to experts, this bill is a grave threat to incredibly important research being conducted in Wisconsin to find cures for devastating diseases like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, diabetes, cancer and more."
Registered against the bill are the Wisconsin Medical Society, the Medical College of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Alliance for Women's Health, the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce, a group that lobbies on behalf of University of Wisconsin-Madison faculty and a trade association representing biotech companies. Representatives from some of those groups have expressed cautious optimism toward potential changes lawmakers are considering adding.
The bill's authors are working with Legislative Council to draft amendments designed to help it withstand a legal challenge. One fix is planned to clarify the definition of "experimentation."
Lawmakers are also considering amendments related to the bill's effective date and to allow work to continue on a line of cells developed from a legally aborted fetus. Some additional cell lines could be allowed, pending the wording of those amendments.
An amendment is in the works to specifically ban research on fetal tissue obtained from abortions after January 2010. But Dr. Robert Golden, dean of the UW-Madison school of medicine and public health, said that still endangers research that could save lives. He compared the amendment to "giving someone a parachute with a bunch of holes."
"This is not simply about the economic impact, as damaging as that would be," Golden said during the bill's public hearing. "What it’s really about is the unnecessary halt of vitally important research that has the potential to save countless lives."
Jacque pushed back on Golden's argument, citing written testimony he received from David Prentice, vice president and research director of the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute. Lozier argued that "continued use of fetal tissue presents no advantage to medical research and raises grave ethical concerns."
Jacque also dismissed OWN's suggestions that his drafting requests were politically motivated.
He argued there were no significant changes made to the legislation throughout the drafting process and said the elements related to the disposition of fetal remains will likely be reintroduced as separate legislation in the future.
The biggest change resulting from the videos, Jacque said, is that he thinks the bill has a better chance of becoming law with increased public attention on the use of fetal tissue.
Gov. Scott Walker hasn't publicly committed to signing the bill, but has voiced support for some elements of it.
"I haven't talked to the governor about the bill," Jacque said. "I have talked to members of his staff. I have every expectation he'll support it and I haven't received any request for changes."
Kleefisch on Wednesday said he expects the bill to advance from committee quickly. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, has said the bill will come to the Assembly floor this fall. Kleefisch said he's "extremely confident" the Senate will take it up around the same time.
"Gov. Walker finds the recently released videos of Planned Parenthood disturbing and abhorrent, and he will work with members of the State Legislature to pass legislation to ban these practices in Wisconsin and address concerns about this organization," said spokeswoman Laurel Patrick in a statement.