Brief

Nass asks Republican leadership to sue UW System over COVID mask mandates

By: - September 8, 2021 2:49 pm

Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) wants to pick a fight with Tommy Thompson.  

Last month, Nass and his fellow Republicans on the Joint Committee for the Review of Administrative Rules passed a motion attempting to force all UW System COVID-19 policies to first be approved by the committee. Thompson, the interim president of the UW System and a former Republican governor, ignored the motion and gave leadership at all UW campuses the go ahead to institute mask and testing mandates for students on campus. 

“Why would they want to sue and lose,” Thompson said at a virtual event last month. “And why do you want to fight with Tommy Thompson, for god sakes?”

This week, Nass — a longtime critic of the state’s public university system — escalated his fight with Thompson, asking Republican leadership in the Legislature to approve a lawsuit against the UW System. In a letter to Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg), Nass asked that the Legislature sue the university system to force COVID-19 policies to be approved by the rules committee. 

“It is sad that Interim President Tommy Thompson has once again shown his belief in big government control over the rights of individuals to make their own health related decisions,” Nass said in a statement. “This fight is not solely about mask mandates or testing requirements. This fight is really about the desire of multiple chancellors to dictate every student, employee and campus visitor be vaccinated for Covid-19 or be banished from their campuses.”

Thompson and university administrators have repeatedly said they don’t intend to mandate vaccinations — preferring to give  students incentives to get the shot, even over the objections of faculty and staff. Every UW campus currently has an indoor mask mandate in place and most classes are being held in person. 

Legal experts have cast doubts on the validity of the Nass motion passed last month and other members of Republican leadership have said they’re wary of going through with a lawsuit. 

In an Aug. 26 tweet, Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna) said he was opposed to a lawsuit. 

“I want to thank [Tommy Thompson] for his leadership,” Steineke wrote. “I appreciate his efforts to keep the university system open without mandating personal health decisions when it comes to the vaccine. While I encourage [people] to get the vaccine, I strongly oppose [government] mandated vaccinations”

“As students look to return to class for the first time in months, a lawsuit from the Legislature would only add more confusion during an already stressful time,” he continued. “We’ll continue to monitor the decisions made by System, and stand ready to respond if future actions warrant it.”

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Henry Redman
Henry Redman

Henry Redman is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner who focuses on covering Wisconsin's towns and rural areas. He previously covered crime and courts at the Daily Jefferson County Union. A lifelong Midwesterner, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in journalism in May 2019.

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