January 28, 2021

Education Advocacy Update: Mask Repeal Stalls

Education Advocacy Update: Mask Repeal Stalls Featured Image

WEAC members flooded their Assembly representatives’ inboxes to push back against a vote to overturn Governor Tony Evers’ public health emergency and statewide mask mandate.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) Thursday put off the vote, leaving the measure lingering – for the time being. The move came after it was discovered Wisconsin would be at risk of losing nearly $50 million a month in federal aid for food stamps if the measure as written were passed. Senate Republicans, who have already approved the measure, have since made an amendment to a COVID relief bill (AB-1) that they say will address the issue. It is unclear if and when the Assembly may take up the effort to overturn the health emergency and mask mandate again.

WEAC registered against Senate Resolution 3, and educators welcomed news of the stalled measure, noting the irony of the Legislature considering a lift of the health emergency at a time when experts are recommending doubling up on masks.

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All Senate Democrats voted against the resolution, along with two Republican senators, Rob Cowles and Dale Kooyenga. If overturned, Wisconsin would be one of 10 states in America to not require masks.

Many school districts and businesses quickly responded to the potential lift of the mask mandate by setting their own policies requiring students and employees to wear masks.

Tug of War on COVID Bill Continues

The Senate and Assembly continue the tug of war on COVID, with the Assembly meeting this week to reinsert items into a compromise bill reached by Senate Republican leaders and the governor which include:

  • Stripping local government officials of their powers to restrict meetings at houses of worship;
  • Banning employers from requiring a vaccine as a condition of employment; and
  • Giving the Joint Finance Committee oversight of federal COVID relief funds.

The Senate took up the bill Thursday to amend it in an attempt to prevent Wisconsin losing federal aid, should the Assembly vote to end the governor’s public health emergency. The bill goes back the Assembly next.

Along with amending the COVID bill during its session Thursday, schools were at the forefront. Senator Dale Kooyenga took the floor to praise districts holding in-person instruction and chastise those teaching virtually, even suggesting funding be withheld from them. His speech was quickly countered by Democrats including Senator Chris Larson, who thanked public education professionals who are keeping students safe and making virtual instruction, where it is being used, work.

False: Assembly Republican Claim that COVID Bill is a Compromise Fails the Test

A claim by Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna), saying that Assembly Republicans had compromised on a COVID Bill going back-and-forth in the Legislature, was rated as false by PolitiFact in a recent review. The Assembly set aside a compromise COVID bill reached between the Republican-led Senate and Democratic Governor Tony Evers, instead introducing its own version of a bill.

That set into motion a back-and-forth between the Senate and Assembly.

Here’s the bottom line: Wisconsin still hasn’t passed a COVID bill since April 2020, making it one of the least active legislatures in America when it comes to addressing the pandemic.