Rep. Shelia Stubbs (D-Madison) joins activists and community leaders Aug. 31 at the Capitol in calling for lawmakers to act on police reform bills. (Photo © Andy Manis)
Rep. Shelia Stubbs (D-Madison) joins activists and community leaders Aug. 31 at the Capitol in calling for lawmakers to act on police reform bills. (Photo © Andy Manis)

Goal to have bipartisan package of bills ready for start of next legislative session in January.

The co-chairs of the Assembly task force on racial disparities agreed it is time to put partisan differences and politics aside and move with urgency to address racial disparities in Wisconsin.  

“That’s how we show not only the state but the nation that the government isn’t completely broken, that Democrats and Republicans still can work together on the big issues of the day to get things done to make significant change in people’s lives,” said Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna), a  co-chair of the task force.

Rep. Shelia Stubbs (D-Madison), who was named co-chair of the committee Tuesday by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), agreed. Stubbs said Steineke said it best when he said “it’s time to leave politics at the door.”

“As you can see now, we are stuck. The Democrats and the Republicans, we are stuck,” said Stubbs during a press briefing with Steineke at the Capitol. “Our governor did the best he could do with the authority that he had and right now this (the task force) is what we have.”

Steineke and Stubbs held the briefing to provide updates on the task force’s creation and objectives. For instance, the task force will consist of 15 to 20 members, with community members outnumbering the number of lawmakers. 

Whether or not state senators participate is still up for debate, said the co-chairs. Members of the public who are interested in serving on the task force should email speakerstaskforce@legis.wi.gov. While Stubbs and Steineke will review the pool of applicants, the final decisions will be made by Vos, Stubbs said. 

The tumultuous, unproductive history between Gov. Tony Evers and Republican lawmakers was repeatedly addressed by Steineke and Stubbs. Evers has twice called a special session to address violence and police reform. He called the first session on gun reform last November. Republican lawmakers gaveled in and out without debating or voting on any bills.

Calls from the Black community for police reform started in earnest following the May death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and grew louder following the shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, by a Kenosha police officer Aug. 23. Blake is now paralyzed from the waist down.

Republicans gaveled in the special session Monday called by Evers to address police reform, and Steineke said Tuesday they will not gavel out the session “in case the task force completes its work by the beginning of December.”

Steineke said the task force will likely meet for the first time at the end of this month or the beginning of October, with a goal of completing its work and presenting a package of bipartisan bills to lawmakers by the start of the next legislative session in January. He said members will likely meet every two or three weeks. 

“We’ll set as aggressive a schedule as we can to get to the point we want to get to by the end of the year,” Steineke said. 

Wisconsin Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, talks to the media Aug. 31 after Republicans decided not to debate a package of police reform bills. Instead, Republicans are moving forward with a task force that he and Rep. Shelia Stubbs (D-Madison) will co-chair. (Photo © Andy Manis)

Stubbs said everyone already knows the bills up for discussion. They include the package put forward by Evers in June, and most of those were suggested by the Black Caucus, Stubbs said. She said the issue at hand is bringing people on board—community leaders, faith leaders, and activists—to reach a consensus. 

“I am willing, as a Democrat, to come to the table, and move forward,” Stubbs said. “I don’t want to see another Black person killed while unarmed. There is no other way to do it.”