Wisconsin GOP

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Tony Evers promised Friday to veto the first bill passed by the Legislature to address the coronavirus pandemic in 10 months, a Republican-backed measure that Democrats said would do nothing to combat the virus or help reopen the state.

Evers announced his intention to veto the bill moments after the Senate voted along party lines to send it to him.

“Wisconsinites know a compromise when they see one, and this isn’t it,” Evers said. He noted that he supported a more limited version of the bill that passed previously, but since then Republicans added provisions the governor opposed.

Those provisions included prohibiting the closure of churches during the pandemic, barring employers from requiring workers to get vaccinated for the disease and giving the Legislature control of how federal money for fighting the virus is spent.

“I am calling on Republicans in the Legislature to stop playing politics and get to work sending me the compromise bill we worked on together,” Evers said. “Wisconsinites don’t care about political points or who gets the credit. They just want to know that their family, their business, and their neighbors are going to be okay as we continue to fight this virus. Enough politics—just get it done.”

The promise to veto the bill came the day after the Legislature passed a resolution repealing Evers’ emergency health order, undoing the state’s mask mandate that has been in effect since August. Evers issued a new emergency order and mask mandate on Thursday, likely moving the fight back to court.

The Senate did not vote again Friday to rescind Evers’ latest order. Republican Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu said the Legislature had done all it could on that issue and it was now up to courts to decide whether the governor’s actions were legal.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court heard arguments in November in a lawsuit challenging Evers’ authority to issue multiple emergency health orders. Republicans argue the law requires Evers to get legislative approval for extensions after 60 days, rather than issue new orders. Evers contends the changing nature of the pandemic warranted issuing new orders and mask mandates.

Democrats, who unveiled a bill to mandate masks, said the Legislature needs to act no matter what the Supreme Court ultimately rules.

“The issue is masking up in Wisconsin,” said Democratic Sen. Jon Erpenbach at a news conference. “We all know you can’t beat a pandemic in court, no matter what the ruling is.”

The earlier version of the bill passed Friday that Evers supported would limit liability for COVID-19 claims against businesses, schools, governments and health care providers. It would extend the waiver of a one-week waiting period to receive unemployment benefits only until March 14.

Since the bill will be vetoed, the waiting period will go back into effect, costing the state $1.3 million a week in federal reimbursements, the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau said.

The Senate passed the bill 19-11, with all Republicans in support and Democrats against saying it was pointless.

“We are doing nothing to help the people of Wisconsin get their lives back,” said Senate Democratic Minority Leader Janet Bewley.