The Wisconsin State assembly was scheduled to meet 9 AM Tuesday morning to vote on the resolution to end Governor Ever’ s mask mandate – the only statewide effort in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The plan came just two days after the resolution was approved in the state Senate.
But by the start of the Assembly meeting at 2 PM, Republican Speaker Robin Vos told reporters that he will not take a vote on the mask resolution today until they figure out more about its fiscal impact.
That comes after Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reporter Patrick Marley found that ending the mask requirement would likely cut nearly $50 million in food assistance a month to the state, affecting over 240,000 Wisconsinites.
Sherrie Tussler, the executive director of the Hunger Task Force, told the Journal-Sentinel that many low-income seniors would see their monthly benefits for food drop from $204 a month to just $16 if the public health emergency – and the mask mandate – are undone.
Vos, speaking to reporters without a mask, said he had decided to wait for a fiscal estimate before holding a vote on the resolution. He later indicated that a vote to end the mask mandate has been postponed to next week.
Public support for the mask mandate and against the resolution to end it remain clear. According to Marquette Unversity Law School poll in August two thirds of Wisconsintites are in favor of the mandate.
And the list of organizations and groups against the resolution to end the mask mandate has been growing. As of Tuesday night, 46 groups are against the resolution. No organization has registered their support for ending the mask mandate.
One group, the Wisconsin Council of Churches, put it shortly in their opposition: “The Governor’s mask mandate saves lives. Ending it will cost lives.”
Instead, the Assembly went on to pass other pieces of legislation on the agenda, with most discussion on a bill on facilitating and prioritizing COVID-19 vaccine distribution. Republicans argued the Evers administration has failed to properly set out a vaccine distribution plan and put pressure on local hospitals to bear out the vaccine distribution.
Yet Democrats pointed out that the plan doesn’t consider the available supply of COVID-19 vaccines. Representative Lisa Subeck, a Democrat representing Madison suburbs, says Republicans are that Wisconsin will only be receiving 70,000 doses of the vaccine a week, which she called a drop in the bucket relative to the need.
“The problem that we have is one of supply, and this bill doesn’t solve it,” she said. “In fact what this bill does is add more layers of red tape, it adds more confusion, it adds more reporting, more hoops to jump. It makes administration of the vaccine all the harder.”
That bill passed on party lines, 57 to 36.
The state Senate was also at work today, adding an amendment to the COVID-19 relief bill that was poised to be sent to the Governor.
The amendment is proposed by Senator Stephen Nass, a Republican from Whitewater who also co-authored the resolution to end the mask mandate. The amendment allows the governor to issue an emergency order solely to receive federal funds tied to emergency orders. Republicans are joining Senator Nass in saying that responsibility is for Governor Evers to fix.
The Senate swiftly passed the amendment, giving little time for Senators to speak on it. In adjournment, Democratic Senators took their time to address issues with the amendment and the resolution to end the mask mandate.
Senate Minority Leader Janet Bewley, a Democrat from the Northwoods, says the bill is now likely to not be signed by Governor Evers. Bewley told her fellow lawmakers that they have failed to serve the people of Wisconsin.
“We had a deal,” she said. “We snatched victory out of the jaws of defeat awhile ago, and now because of the action by both the Assembly and this body we now are faced with defeat. And we’re gonna cram it right down the throat of victory.”