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GOP Partisanship Over COVID Must End At Wisconsin Statehouse

February 6, 2021

One paragraph, comprising one sentence, jumped from the newspaper Saturday. The news story reported by Mitchell Schmidt for the Wisconsin State Journal said everything we know to be true about the current state of affairs when it comes to passing a COVID relief bill in our statehouse.

(Senate Majority Leader Devin) LeMahieu said the amendments were necessary for the package to get support from both GOP-led chambers.

With a mere 17 words, we can see the central problem as to why we are entering another year with no far-reaching COVID-relief legislation. Reaching across the aisle and opting for a bipartisan plan to address a medical crisis, one unlike anything we have seen in over a century, seems to have never been contemplated. A strong centrist type bill grounded to science could pass both chambers if the Republicans did not feel a need to placate every far-right conservative member.

The greater good be damned!

The latest storylines in this too-long saga as the state legislature, dormant for most of 2020 as the virus raged and ravaged our state, is now in a confrontational stance with Governor Tony Evers. On Friday a veto was used to stop the bill from being enacted. What is most dispiriting about this entire episode is that only a couple weeks ago a senate version of the bill had the approval of Evers. But with ever-more conservative amendments added over a back-and-forth with the assembly, the final version passed by the senate was not one any governor could countenance.

Front and center is thy most outlandish power play I have ever witnessed from any legislature in this state during my lifetime. I say that unequivocally as the issue at hand, the very health and well-being of the citizenry, is at stake. The constitutional discourse Republicans wish to have over the use of masks, and the means by which such orders can be put in place, and by whom, so to ensure the widest use of them at a time of pandemic is so over the line of absurdity that we are in need of creating a new word to best define it.

If Evers is so out of bounds and abused his authority so great then, by all means, the GOP-led legislature should pass their own measure with such health orders mandated. (Tick, tock, tick…) The reason the GOP has played so callously with the greater needs of the state during the pandemic, is their desire to be viewed as adhering to small-government and opting that individuals best know how to stay safe from a virus that has killed over 6,000 of our state residents.

The problem with the GOP approach is that they leave science and medically-driven data out of the equation. That can be justly stated given the bill which was vetoed would have prohibited employers from mandating vaccines for employees and limited local public health officials the ability to limit gatherings at churches. The most shockingly bad inclusion in the bill, from my perspective, was the business liability protections.

As one who has adhered to the health orders and advice over the past year, I yearn to return to stores and shop. I want to eat at restaurants. But if there are loopholes in the way a business can go about its prevention measures and thereby not face legal consequences, it greatly reduces the sense of safety required before entering a brick and mortar establishment. And spending money.

This all cycles back to the bottom line that before there is any economic revival, so to restore employment and the bottom line to a business, we first must win the battle over this virus. But if the majority party only thinks of the issue in partisan terms, and who can make a political score then the entire state will continue to suffer. There must be an abrupt end to the idea of working for only the needs of the GOP-led chambers.

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