Senate Dems to GOP leaders: Come back in session

    Republican Senate President Roger Roth adjourns the body April 15, the last day the Legislature met in session. On Friday, Oct. 9, Senate Democrats wrote to GOP leaders of the Legislature to go back into session and act on legislation to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic. (Photo: Screen capture from Wisconsin Eye)

    State Senate Democrats have called on the Republican leaders of the state Legislature to come back in session for the first time in 178 days and take up legislation in response to the state’s escalating cases of COVID-19.

    “Our state is in crisis, worsened by your inaction and by your desire to file lawsuits instead of passing bills that will make a difference in the lives of your constituents,” states a letter from the caucus to state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) that was made public shortly before noon on Friday.

    “We shouldn’t need to tell you the grim reality of the global pandemic in Wisconsin, but every time Governor Evers has tried to respond to this crisis, Republicans in the Legislature take him to court or outright reject his efforts to begin the rules process,” the letter states.

    The call follows a standoff between the GOP leaders and Gov. Tony Evers over the statewide mask order and a health emergency order that took effect Thursday, Oct. 8, limiting public, indoor gatherings to 25% of the rated capacity of buildings covered by the order.

    On Monday, Oct. 12, the Legislature’s Joint Committee for the Review of Administrative Rules (JCRAR) will meet to vote on a motion that would order the Department of Health Services (DHS) to submit the building-capacity order as an emergency rule requiring the Legislature’s approval. The Evers administration has taken the position that DHS can enact the order on its own without going through the rulemaking process.

    Noting in particular the strain that a record number of cases of COVID-19 has put on the health care system, the letter cites legislative proposals Democrats have been circulating since the Legislature adjourned in April, when lawmakers met to vote on a comprehensive bill that was needed for the state to receive its share of the federal CARES Act relief related to the pandemic.

    In the months that followed, Democrats have drafted legislation to provide hazard pay and other benefits for healthcare workers and unemployment insurance proposals to remove hurdles that they blame for burdening applicants and contributing to the clogged system as claims have skyrocketed. The letter also urges lawmakers to take up bills that would expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and allow early canvassing of ballots cast in the Nov. 3 election.

    “States nearby and next door have met several times to help their people handle the mounting challenges of this unprecedented pandemic,” the letter declares. “In contrast you and your allies have filed more lawsuits than you have passed bills in the last six months. Come to the table and join us.”

    Erik Gunn
    Senior Reporter Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, along with related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.