These Republicans Said Wisconsin Needed Another COVID Relief Bill. Now They’re Silent.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, are among 10 GOP lawmakers who said COVID relief package passed by the state in April was a first step. (Courtesy: WisconsinEye)

Ten legislators won’t say if they want another state bill.  

When the Senate and Assembly passed the state’s first and only relief package more than 100 days ago, multiple Republicans referred to it as a “first step” or imperfect, and several others issued statements saying they looked forward to working with Democrats to move the state’s pandemic response forward.

“This bill isn’t perfect, and it might be the first bill of a number that we are going to have to pass in the Legislature,” Senate Majority Leader Scott Fizgerald, R-Juneau, said in April before the Senate voted on the relief package.

Since then, the Legislature has done nothing to address the worsening pandemic. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Fitzgerald have not expressed any interest in calling their chambers back into session.

COVID-19 cases have undergone a tremendous spike in Wisconsin as the state has been left with a patchwork of local rules and regulations to slow the virus’ spread. Confirmed cases have jumped from 3,700 to roughly 50,000 as of Tuesday, and deaths rose from about 180 to more than 900. The unemployment rate has remained devastatingly high, and a Democratic bill package to clear an overwhelming backlog of unemployment payments sits without action.

In total, 10 legislative Republicans indicated more would need to be done or said it was important for a bipartisan response to safely reopen the state. None answered questions from UpNorthNews this week about whether they still believe that.

Rep. Scott Allen, R-Waukesha, said in an April 15 statement that legislators would “continue to monitor circumstances and adjust accordingly.” He did not respond to questions asking if he felt the state could do more right now, or if he felt any adjustments to the state response were necessary.

Like Fitzgerald, Sens. Robert Cowles, R-Green Bay; Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville; and Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, noted that issues remained unresolved.

Cowles said the relief package was an “important first step.” Stroebel acknowledged the bill “does not solve all our problems” but that it laid the groundwork for “future action if necessary.” Their offices did not respond to requests for comment, nor did Fitzgerald’s.

“This will not be our only response, but it is a very strong first-step to clear the way for our state to respond and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Marklein said in an April 15 statement.

Marklein’s office said he was not available for comment.

Rep. Robert Brooks, R-Saukville, also called the bill a “first step” in an April 14 statement. Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt, R-Fond du Lac, told his constituents “more will be done in the coming weeks and months.” Their offices did not respond to a request for comment.

Reps. Travis Tranel, R-Cuba City; Mary Felzkowski, R-Irma; and Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, all praised the way the state’s legislators came together.

“It was our job as legislators to step up to the plate and ensure we’re doing all we can to ease that burden as much as possible,” Steineke said in an April 14 statement.

Tranel, Felzkowski, and Steineke’s offices did not respond to requests for comment.

In a June 26 interview with the Wisconsin State Journal, Fitzgerald said Wisconsinites should not expect the Legislature to reconvene at all this summer because “nothing has risen to that level.”

In a series of tweets last week, Senate Minority Leader Janet Bewley, D-Mason, highlighted Fitzgerald and the other Republicans’ past statements in contrast with their current inaction. 

“Here we are, 100 days later, and those statements seem like empty promises,” Bewley said.