Op Ed

The Hunger Games, Wisconsin Edition

You’re on your own as pandemic rages and Republican legislators again refuse to meet.

By - Dec 7th, 2020 02:05 pm
Devin LeMahieu and Chris Kapenga

Devin LeMahieu and Chris Kapenga

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted our lives significantly, killing nearly 4,000 Wisconsinites, devastating our economy and leaving us in a hard place to recover. After more than 230 days since the State Legislature met, Governor Tony Evers stepped up, once again, to provide relief for Wisconsin families.

On November 17th, Governor Tony Evers released a COVID-19 legislative relief package. Governor Evers’ plan dedicates $466 million to COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, vaccination distribution and support for hospitals. The relief package prohibits foreclosures and evictions through 2021. The proposal also makes necessary improvements to the state’s outdated unemployment insurance system. These changes protect our essential workers and streamline the process to expedite unemployment insurance payments at a time when Wisconsinites need it most.

We must pass this COVID-19 relief package. For eight months now, the Republican-led Legislature refused to meet and pass additional COVID-19 relief measures. So far, much of our state response has depended on the federal government. With the federal CARES Act ending on December 31st, Wisconsin can’t afford to waste any more time.

Since Governor Evers was elected, Republican legislative leaders have made it their mission to prevent Governor Evers from getting the job done. The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t do anything to change that. Even from the beginning of the outbreak, Republicans filed lawsuits and supported efforts to make it harder to control the outbreak. Most recently, immediately following the release of the Governor’s proposals, incoming Senate President Chris Kapenga (R – Delafield) said “he didn’t see any reason for the Legislature to act at all.

Last week, Wisconsin had a record number of deaths due to COVID-19. On the same day, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R – Rochester) shared a dangerous assortment of ideas that would hinder our state’s response to COVID-19.

Republicans propose forcing teachers and state workers to work in-person while penalizing school districts for distance learning. The Republicans’ proposal would limit the ability of our local health departments to make decisions to keep their communities safe. Additionally, Republicans propose removing Governor Evers and public health officials’ ability to oversee vaccine distribution and the allocation of federal relief funding. These responsibilities belong to the Governor, but Republicans hope to seize control. Republicans also suggest penalizing Department of Workforce Development employees while they’re trying to process unemployment insurance claims in one of the toughest challenges the agency has faced.

After Assembly Republicans shared these proposals, the incoming Senate Majority Leader, Devin LeMahieu (R – Oostburg) said Senate Republicans have “no plan to immediately meet.” If you feel like we’re headed into our own version of the Hunger Games, you’re not alone. Constituents are left to fend for themselves while the CARES Act deadline is quickly approaching. Even in the middle of a global pandemic, Republicans have demonstrated they’re unwilling to show up for work.

Legislators are still being paid, even though the Legislature hasn’t met for eight months. Republicans demand teachers return to in-person instruction, but they’ve said the Legislature won’t be meeting until next year. While waiting for Republicans to call an extraordinary session, I’ve taken the initiative to hold public conversations on social media, respond to constituents and offer ideas to fix the unemployment crisis and help schools survive through the pandemic.

Partisan gerrymandering put us in this difficult position we find ourselves in today. Republicans manipulated Wisconsin’s maps almost a decade ago during the last redistricting process. The Majority Party created districts that lean so heavily in their favor they’ve stopped listening to you. They’ve ignored pleas to expand Medicaid, implement commonsense gun safety measures, improve broadband access for rural Wisconsin or fix the unemployment insurance system.

Your voice matters; it’s the responsibility of your elected officials to listen and work for you. Earlier this year, Governor Evers established the People’s Maps Commission, a non-partisan redistricting commission, tasked with creating fair districts for Wisconsin. Right now, the People’s Maps Commission is holding public hearings and accepting testimony. Now is your chance to share why fair maps are important to you while the Commission prepares new legislative district maps.

Pay attention and speak up because your future and our democracy are at stake.

Wisconsin State Senator Jeff Smith represents Wisconsin’s 31st Senate District. 

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Categories: Op-Ed, Politics

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