State Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater). (Screenshot from Wisconsin Eye broadcast)
Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) is attempting to prevent Wisconsin’s public universities from instituting any measures to protect against the spread of COVID-19. With just six weeks remaining before the fall semester begins, administrators are working to boost vaccinations among students as the contagious delta variant of the virus spreads across the state.
Nass, the co-chairman of the Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules (JCRAR), announced Thursday he’d be introducing a rule that would require the UW System to get approval from the Republican-held committee before instituting mandates of vaccines and masks or testing requirements for unvaccinated students.
Nass is one of the Republican members of the Legislature who has been most critical of the state’s university system and has been outspoken in his opposition to protections against the virus throughout the pandemic.
“Unfortunately, some chancellors in the UW System consider themselves mini-Andrea Palms not beholden to following state law and moving quickly to take advantage of the Delta-variant hysteria to enact excessive Covid-19 mandates,” Nass, whose district is near UW-Whitewater, said in a statement. “The legislature should not drag its feet in utilizing the powers we have to prevent state agencies from abusing the statutory and constitutional rights of citizens as was done in 2020.”
In recent weeks, the delta variant has become the dominant strain spreading through Wisconsin and the country — causing an increase in infections and hospitalizations in parts of the state with large numbers of unvaccinated residents.
UW System interim President Tommy Thompson, former secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said in a statement that the UW system needs every available tool to prevent the virus from spreading through campuses once students return in September.
“From day one when I started as President of the UW System, the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff during a global pandemic has been our top priority and responsibility,” Thompson said. “Given my experience as a former United States Health and Human Services Secretary, I know the biggest threat to in-person classes this fall would be actions that strip the UW System of the tools it has so successfully used to date to address outbreaks and reduce the spread of COVID-19. Just as we have this past year, the UW System will continue to use its authority to take nimble and reasonable steps that enable us to keep our campuses open for the education students need, parents expect, and Wisconsin deserves.”
Rep. Lisa Subeck (D-Madison), the ranking Democrat on the rules committee, said in a statement that Nass’ proposed rule was trying to rush through a rule to micromanage the UW System.
“First and foremost, our UW System has a responsibility to provide a safe and healthy learning environment for its students and staff,” Subeck said. “Senator Nass’s proposal to micromanage health measures put in place by UW System and Campus leaders endangers public health on campus and may even jeopardize the ability to return to in-person classes this fall.”
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“Now, Senator Nass is attempting to ram through his wrongheaded proposal on a paper ballot without either a public hearing or even discussion by committee members,” she continued. “It is clear that this power grab will have negative consequences for our campuses and our communities. The least Senator Nass could do is to allow an open and honest discussion that engages health experts, university leaders, and the students and staff who will be impacted.”
The ten-member administrative rules committee of the Legislature is set to take up the proposed rule in a “meeting” on Aug. 3, however he scheduled the vote to take place by paper ballot, which means there will not actually be any meeting, just a vote taken by paper ballot. There will be no public hearing, or even a discussion, Subeck clarifies. “I think Nass is pretty clearly not wanting to have a meeting and actually have to talk about this.”
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