Gov. Tony Evers vetoed COVID-19 legislation after the Senate passed it in an extraordinary session Friday, another sign of stalemate in the state’s pandemic response.
The legislation has bounced between the two chambers for weeks. In a 19-11 party-line vote, the Senate passed a final amended version with measures Evers opposed. The last time legislation reached the governor’s desk was in April.
Evers vetoed the legislation immediately and said he objected to provisions that would “make it more challenging to mitigate the impact of COVID-19.”
“Wisconsinites know a compromise when they see one, and this isn’t it,” Evers said before his veto. “We had a bill that Republicans and Democrats supported — and one that I said I would sign if it was sent to my desk — that passed the Senate on a bipartisan vote. Unfortunately, Republicans once again chose to put politics before people, abandoned that compromise and passed a bill they knew I wouldn’t sign.”
That version left out some controversial measures, including giving the legislature oversight of federal COVID-19 funds, prohibiting employers and state and local health officials from mandating COVID-19 vaccines and limiting health officers’ authorities to close places of worship.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, said the $100 million proposal was approved by both chambers and “should have become law.”
“By vetoing the bill, Governor Evers is saying no to getting more vaccinators in the pipeline by allowing dentists and pharmacy students to administer the vaccine. He is saying no to giving parents the ability to transfer their students to school districts that offer in-person learning. And he’s saying no to protecting schools and businesses from frivolous lawsuits,” the Republican leaders said in a joint statement.
Senate Minority Leader Janet Bewley, D-Mason, said Republicans “have again failed” Wisconsinites.
“The Republicans should have stood by their word and followed through with the bipartisan bill that they previously agreed to last month. I had hoped that we could come together to pass the previously proposed legislation that was agreed upon by everyone,” Bewley said in a statement.
The legislation passed Friday would have extended the suspension of the one-week waiting period for claiming unemployment benefits until March 14. The waiting period, a policy adopted by Republicans in 2012, went back into effect on Sunday. Not extending the waiting period waiver will cause the state to lose $6.5 million in federal funding for unemployment benefits over the next five weeks.
“After months of poor management and a massive claims backlog at the Department of Workforce Development that left so many people struggling without benefits, it shows another oversight within the Evers administration,” Vos and LeMahieu said.
The bill would have also required the Department of Workforce Development to publish a plan to address unemployment claim backlogs and expand call center hours until weekly claims are at levels comparable to last year. Modernizing the unemployment system has been a point of contention in recent weeks and Evers again called for the legislature to take action on Thursday.
The veto came one day after Evers reissued an emergency order mandating face coverings immediately after Republicans repealed the mask mandate, preventing a loss in federal food assistance funding. Assembly leaders had offered an amendment that would have allowed Evers to declare a public health emergency solely to receive federal funding. Republicans hope the Wisconsin Supreme Court will weigh in on Evers’ ability to issue multiple emergency orders.
state news writer