Today, St. Croix County Judge R. Michael Waterman upheld Governor Evers’ statewide mask mandate after a challenge by a conservative law firm.
The Republican-backed lawsuit was heavily criticized by state Democrats, who say Republican lawmakers aren’t taking responsibility during the ongoing pandemic.
In his ruling upholding the mask mandate today, St. Croix County Judge R. Michael Waterman pointed out that the GOP-controlled State legislature has the authority to reconvene and end the state of emergency, but has not chosen to do so.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that the legislature would actually save taxpayers money if they dropped the case and convened to vote against the emergency order. The GOP argues that doing so would acknowledge the legality of Evers’ Emergency Order.
According to Pat Poblete, a writer for the online political news site WISPolitics, a quorum of lawmakers have met in each chamber of the legislature just once since Governor Evers’ issued a public health emergency back in March, many times less than the handful of other full-time legislatures in the country.
“These other 9 full-time legislatures have met, on average I believe the number we came to was 18 times more often,” Poblete says.
Republicans argue that this discrepancy is because other states with full-time legislatures are writing their budgets, which requires more meetings. They also argue that the legislature’s floor schedule was, as always, agreed upon by both parties at the beginning of the legislative session, in January.
Of the nine other full-time legislatures in the country, only Hawaii and Ohio have biennial budgets. Hawaii’s legislature has met 43 times, and Ohio’s 23 times since the beginning of the pandemic in March.
“The fact that the Republican party has politicized a pandemic is pretty disgraceful,” says Emily Siegrist, a Democratic candidate running for an assembly seat against incumbent Dan Knodl.
Siegrist says that Republican leaders aren’t taking charge during an ongoing crisis.
“Robin Vos and Dan Knodl are just sitting on the sidelines and twiddling their thumbs,” Siegrist says.
Although the legislature still has no plans to convene for the rest of this year, four Republican lawmakers have begun drafting new legislation to increase punishments for protesting.
Siegrist, who is running against one of the authors of the new legislation, Republican Representative Dan Knodl, says the bill is meant to distract from the state legislature’s lack of action during the health crisis.
“I think for them they need to do something to say they’re doing something,” Siegrist says, “and also to deflect that they haven’t done anything for our state to handle the pandemic.”
Representative Knodl could not be reached for comment.
Governor Evers called legislators into a special session this summer to address a package of bills on police reform. While legislators did not meet on that issue, Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has created a task force on racial disparities after the shooting of Jacob Blake.