Wisconsin State Journal. January 26, 2021.
What’s this? Cooperation at the state Capitol? More, please
The first major bipartisan proposal to address COVID-19 in nine months at the state Capitol deserved swift approval Tuesday.
Instead, the Republican-run Assembly monkeyed with details of the compromise, jeopardizing passage.
The Democratic governor and the GOP-run Senate had agreed to a solid package of health measures targeting the deadly pandemic earlier this month. The Senate voted 29-2 for the negotiated COVID-19 relief bill. Gov. Tony Evers quickly pledged to sign it, saying he was grateful to work with new Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, on the effort.
Neither side got everything it wanted. Yet the proposal is a needed dose of relief. Assembly Republicans should stop complicating the bipartisan deal.
The package that the Senate and governor agreed to would guarantee insurance coverage for COVID-19 testing and vaccinations under Medicaid and SeniorCare. It would encourage college students to volunteer for pandemic-related work. State agencies could seek up to $100 million in funding.
The governor got some of his priorities, while accepting some Republican demands.
LeMahieu touted limited liability protections the bill grants to businesses, schools, governments and health providers to avoid frivolous lawsuits related to the virus. The bill also continues to waive a one-week waiting period for unemployment benefits until spring. Evers had wanted the waiver extended until summer.The proposal didn’t go far enough for some senators on the left and the right. That’s to be expected of any compromise.
What’s important now is making progress and getting this reasonable deal done.
But it takes three to tango at the statehouse. And Assembly Republicans faulted the Senate for supposedly caving to the governor’s demands. To the contrary, securing legal protections for nervous business owners, schools and nonprofits was a top GOP priority the Senate had secured.
Some of the Assembly’s demands never had a chance of clearing the governor’s desk, such as micromanaging local school boards and public health officials. The Assembly on Tuesday altered the compromise bill to ban employers from requiring vaccines, prevent public health officials from limiting gatherings at churches to slow the disease, and give itself more say in spending federal money.
The result is delay and doubt over whether any relief measures will pass.
COVID-19 cases are falling in Wisconsin but still high, with about 1,500 more cases a day. More than 5,700 people have died in our state from the disease, with dozens of additional deaths every day.
If the vast majority of senators from both political parties can agree with the governor on a solid package, then Speaker Robin Vos and his GOP colleagues in the Assembly should be able to agree, too.
Kenosha News. January 31, 2021.
Editorial: Assessing Gov. Evers at the midway point
Gov. Tony Evers and his administration passed a milestone at the start of the year - the halfway point in his four-year term as governor. Two words come to mind in assessing his term thus far - ineffectual and uninspiring.
Of course, part of ineffectualness is due to divided state government. The Democratic governor is up against a Republican-controlled Legislature. And Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and former state Senate Majority Leader (now congressman) Scott Fitzgerald took a page out of the Mitch McConnell playbook that worked to block the governor’s agenda at every turn, including the gaveling in and out within minutes special legislative sessions called by the governor.
Evers has up until just recently been unable to forge compromise with Republicans. Just last week he was able to craft a COVID-relief bill with the Senate, only to see Vos and company in the Assembly delay the plan.
The governor shares part of the blame for not being able to forge trust with the majority party in the Legislature. Last June, it was revealed that someone in the Evers administration secretly taped a May meeting of the governor and GOP legislative leaders. That is certainly not a way to build teamwork and to expect to be greeted with open arms the next time a meeting is needed or requested. The taping of the meeting likely complicated negotiations on responding to the pandemic.
While Evers surely knew going into his governorship the formidable obstacles he would face with the Legislature, he certainly could not have foreseen the coming COVID-19 pandemic. That brought forth the political minefield of the mask emergency orders, embraced by many in the state but also loathed by others, and which are playing out at this very moment as the Assembly considers voting down an extension of the order.
The Achilles heel for Evers during the pandemic, though, was the unemployment aid debacle. Due to unanticipated demands on staffing and, according to the governor’s team, outdated equipment and software, some Wisconsinites waited months for assistance checks. The Evers administration stumbled about as they tried to right that process, which eventually led to the dismissal of Workforce Development chief Caleb Frostman.
During a time of crisis, Americans and people worldwide look to their leaders for reassurance and Evers throughout the pandemic crisis has not been sufficiently able to follow the historic lead of FDR, Abraham Lincoln or Britain’s King George VI in their moments of national crisis. Evers has not been able to assuage worried and sometimes desperate Wisconsinites. It is abundantly clear that Evers, the mild-mannered former school administrator, has not been able to convey the aura of confidence that Ronald Reagan or even Tommy Thompson could during their terms as president and governor respectively.
In a Jan. 24 report that is part of a project with Politifact tracking promises Evers made during his 2018 campaign, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported no to little progress on efforts to reduce the state’s prison population, addressing efforts to build prosperity for rural residents and seeking veterans’ input on efforts to bolster the solvency of the state Veterans Trust Fund.
If Evers is to make a better grade for the second half of his term as governor, he will need to continue to work to find ways to forge compromise with the Legislature, which will require shelving some of his goals and ideals. He also needs to work at projecting confidence. Those are pillars of effective leadership.
La Crosse Tribune. January 25, 2021.
Editorial: Assembly should allow remote participation — just like the Senate
At this point, a year into the pandemic, we have all changed how we meet and do business.
Zoom, Webex, conference calls and more have replaced physical meetings most everywhere, and work is proceeding. It’s different, but by this point we are used to it.
We said most everywhere, because there are exceptions. And a notable exception is the Assembly in the Wisconsin Legislature, where leadership hasn’t recognized that a pandemic must change the way things get done.
The Republican leadership is more known for opposing most everything supported by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, most notably opposing the mask mandate that is in place simply for public health.
This leadership, however, also has never pushed for any change in the way the Assembly meets and holds committee meetings.
So a year into the pandemic there is no remote testimony or voting allowed in the Assembly. Meet in person to participate. Wear a mask if you want to but don’t force others to.
Just the legislature’s way, you say. No it isn’t. In the upper chamber senators can attend remotely and even vote remotely. And it’s been that way for about 30 years.
We might not know much about this since the Legislature hadn’t met for months, but now that they are meeting again this refusal to change the rules in the Assembly should gain attention.
Take a recent hearing of the Assembly Committee on Sporting Heritage and Senate Committee on Sporting Heritage, Small Business, and Rural Issues in the Capitol.
This made headlines as Democratic representatives complained that they were denied a request to participate remotely,
Assembly committee chairman Rep. Treig Pronschinske, R-Mondovi, denied the request. At the same time, Senate members were allowed to participate via telephone or online.
Rep. Diane Hesselbein, D-Middletown, told the Wisconsin State Journal that she watched the informational hearing online, in which lawmakers discussed the reinstatement of the state’s wolf harvesting season in 2021.
“This is completely unacceptable, especially when there was no requirement that people wear masks,” Hesselbein said. “We are in the middle of a pandemic. Many workplaces and businesses have gone to great lengths to comply with CDC guidelines for their employees and customers. The fact that Republican representatives think health guidelines don’t apply to them is dangerous.”
During the hearing, several GOP lawmakers, including Sen. Rob Stafsholt, R-New Richmond, criticized the Department of Natural Resources, including department Secretary Preston Cole, for submitting written testimony, but not participating in-person.
“I think it is an absolute failure by the secretary of the DNR, Gov. (Tony) Evers and his administration and the DNR as a whole to fail to show up to this hearing,” Stafsholt said.
DNR spokeswoman Sarah Hoye pointed out that the hearing was informational only and “due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and because there was not an option to testify remotely, the Committee Chairs allowed the DNR to submit written testimony.”
The DNR announced in early December that wolves would be delisted from the federal list of endangered species on Jan. 4 and the official season would begin in early November.
“How can we continue good conversation and good government without having them here in-person?” Rep. Ken Skowronski, R-Franklin, said during the meeting. “I mean, we’re here, why not them?”
So committee hearings - informational or otherwise - are proceeding without Democrats and government officials because of House rules requiring physical attendance.
No counter opinions are welcome unless in person, wearing masks or not.
There is no excuse for this. If House leaders are unsure what to do to proceed during a pandemic, they can simply ask Wisconsin Senate leaders. They have it right.
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