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Wisconsin Republicans get briskly to work on killing constituents, selves

The 2021 legislative session is off to a predictably nauseating start.

Good lord, Wisconsin is going to be in hell for such a long time. The state legislature began its 2021-22 session on Monday, both houses still firmly under Republican control. Both chambers acted swiftly to pass a resolution that re-opens the state Capitol to the public. Republicans held in-person inauguration ceremonies to follow Democrats’ separate, virtual ceremonies last week. 

Republicans did not create a requirement for people to wear masks or maintain proper distancing inside the Capitol. Republicans have previously used their powers to crack down on signs, singing, and reporting in the Capitol. But when it came to mask mandates, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos offered some oily platitudes about how people can voluntarily determine what’s best for themselves and their families. (The concept of there being other families who might suffer as a result of your actions seems to elude him.) Vos just recently appeared alongside U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan in an emptily “bipartisan” PSA, produced by a firm with right-wing ties, urging Wisconsinites to always wear a mask. The lack of a mask requirement in the legislature upset Pocan, who has known Vos long enough that he really should have seen this coming. 

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Wisconsin Republicans have still not passed new legislation addressing the COVID-19 pandemic for in 265 days (big hat tip to Dan Shafer for keeping that running count). As of Monday, coronavirus had killed 4,884 Wisconsinites. Vos announced plans this week to move ahead with a slate of 44 legislative provisions, expressing confidence that Republicans in both legislative chambers would quickly pass it, presumably without much opportunity for input from Democrats or from the public. A Tuesday morning hearing was announced Monday afternoon. It’s basically the plan Republicans floated in December, which achieves little in the way of COVID relief and a lot in the way of allowing Republicans to obstruct COVID relief. As the Wisconsin State Journal reported, however, Republicans do seem to be dropping a few of their most heinous ideas, including provisions that would require public school teachers to provide in-person instruction and penalize school districts for holding virtual classes. 

As of Monday afternoon, Democratic State Sen. Chris Larson observed Republican legislators “huddling feet apart without masks.” WKOW reporter A.J. Bayatpour tweeted out an astonishing image of solemn Republicans standing un-masked during a moment of silence for COVID victims. From Wisconsin Eye videos of the sessions, it looks like most of the Republican lawmakers present kept their masks on, but even one person playing fast and loose is unacceptable. 

Some of these people or their staff are going to get sick, and they will endanger other people while they’re at it. Perhaps they’ll have more in-person political events while they’re at it. They’re also going to ram through COVID “relief” legislation that restricts the ability of local governments to take safety measures and allows the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee to hold up the expenditure of federal relief funds. Governor Tony Evers has offered some compromise legislation, but who knows what kind of leverage he really has here—Republicans clearly feel shielded from the political consequences of inaction, and apparently see a lot of political reward in actively making the crisis worse.

As a pharmacist in our state faces criminal charges for sabotaging hundreds of vaccine doses, Republicans are sending the message that blithe stupidity about the pandemic is a valid expression of one’s chosen political and cultural principles. If the current, prolonged flare-up of new cases in Wisconsin doesn’t stop them, nothing will.

And that’s just the first day of our legislative season, folks. What wonders await?!

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