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Assembly plan a first step, but senate needs to act

After seven months of sitting on their hands while second guessing every decision made by Gov. Tony Evers, Assembly Republicans last week unveiled a package of COVID-19 legislation and demonstrated that they are ready to be leaders in handling the state’s response to the pandemic.

There is a lot to like in the proposal as well as some more of the same political gamesmanship that has been the hallmark of relations between the legislature and governor’s office.

On the plus side, the legislation will:

• Create a $100 million fund to respond to the public health emergency

• Double the number of local public health staff working on the COVID-19 response

• Offer weekly rapid antigen tests for home use

• Continue the prohibition of copayments for any COVID-19 tests

• Establish limited liability for schools, businesses and local governments • Create business grants for the hospitality industry As has been typical with recent legislatures, the package seeks to further steal local decision making authority. The proposal would require in-person instruction and that any decision to go virtual would have to be with a two-thirds majority of a district’s school board members. The super-majority provision is largely symbolic, since, in practice, most area school board decisions are unanimous or close to it.

Other provisions, such as mandates to the Department of Workforce Development to eliminate a backlog of unemployment claims or having the legislature have oversight of any vaccine distribution plans are nothing more than playing politics. Ordering a mechanic to work faster in repairing your car isn’t going to accomplish much if all you give him to work with is some baling wire, a screwdriver and a pair of pliers. Likewise, legislative control over vaccine distribution opens the door to political quid pro quo rather than real need in determining who will have first access and who will have to wait in line. How long will rural Wisconsin have to wait before our teachers, healthcare workers, first responders and other essential employees get access to vaccines?

While there is plenty to like or dislike about the proposal, the important thing is that the Assembly is showing it is a willing partner in providing solutions, rather than just complaining about how the governor is doing things. No legislation package is perfect and it is during the give and take of the legislative process that the proverbial wheat is separated from the chaff.

With the Assembly seeming ready to come off its long vacation, the next major hurdle is getting action out of the state Senate. Unfortunately, rather than elect a coalition builder willing to move the state forward, the new Senate leader seems focused on continuing his predecessor’s paralyzing partisan political posturing. Rather than allowing the full Senate to have input and action, incoming majority leader Sen. Devin LeMahieu of Oostburg seeks to remake the already overpowered joint finance committee into a modern day Star Chamber making decisions without the input of the 116 other members of the legislature. Such a consolidation of power is bad for Wisconsin government regardless of which party is in power.