Gov. Tony Evers vetoed a COVID-19 relief bill Friday after the GOP-controlled Legislature made too many changes to the compromise bill.
Gov. Tony Evers vetoed a COVID-19 relief bill Friday after the GOP-controlled Legislature made too many changes to the compromise bill.

As promised, Evers vetoes a measure loaded with restrictions on fighting the pandemic. Assembly Republicans blew up an earlier compromise between Evers and Senate GOP.

After weeks of ping-ponging a COVID-19 relief package between the Assembly to the Senate, the final bill was so loaded down with poison pills that many Democrats assumed Gov. Tony Evers would have no choice but to veto it. 

Almost 30 seconds after it was approved by both chambers, Evers announced he was planning to do just that. 

“Unfortunately, Republicans once again put politics before people, abandoned that compromise, and passed a bill they knew I wouldn’t sign,” Evers tweeted. 

A couple hours later, he officially vetoed the bill. But it didn’t have to be this way. 

Maryland, which has an only slightly greater population than Wisconsin, also has a divided government, but together Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and the state’s majority Democrat legislature implemented and maintained safeguards to reduce the spread of COVID-19. 

Maryland’s peak number of new cases on Jan. 9 was 3,754 new cases with a 7-day average of 2,885 cases per day, according to data compiled by the New York Times. Wisconsin’s peak on Nov. 18 was 7,989 new cases with a 7-day average of 6,564 cases per day, according to UpNorth News’ records.

The bill the legislature sent to the governor’s desk on Friday was the first in almost 300 days.

“It’s taken too long for the Legislature to take action on this pandemic,” Evers tweeted. “Wisconsinites don’t care about political points or who gets the credit—they just want to know that their family, their business, and their neighbors are going to be okay. Enough politics—just get it done.”

How did we get here

Negotiations for a COVID-19 relief bill began in December and culminated in Evers putting forward a compromise bill that included items both parties had agreed on and asked that the Legislature put it to a vote right away.

Instead, Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) decided to ignore Evers’ bill and another put forward by Democrats in order to fast-track the Assembly Republicans’ bill. Vos tried to pitch it as a bipartisan bill, but Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh) called the bill divisive and said it, “prioritizes the wishes of their special interest backers over the public health needs and economic challenges of Wisconsinites.”

When the bill made it to the Senate, the Senate stripped it of its more controversial provisions and reworded others that the governor was hesitant to endorse. When it passed the Senate, Evers said he would sign it as long as the Assembly didn’t change it.

Instead, Vos excoriated Senate Republicans for, “cav[ing] to the governor’s demands.” 

Assembly Republicans amended the COVID-19 relief bill to reinstate controversial provisions that prohibited vaccine requirements from either employers or public health officials, restricted local governments’ ability to institute capacity limits or close houses of worship due to safety concerns. It restricted school boards’ ability to restrict in-person classrooms due to safety concerns. And it required legislative oversight over the use of federal COVID-19 funds, seizing control from the governor. 

After the Senate realized that a separate resolution to dissolve the governor’s emergency health order and face mask requirements jeopardized almost $50 million in monthly federal FoodShare funds, it also slapped on a provision stating that the governor could only declare such an emergency in order to receive federal funds.

When Evers officially vetoed the bill two hours after the final Senate vote, said it represented, “a missed opportunity for meaningful compromise and the continued partisan obstruction that has plagued our state’s response to this pandemic from the beginning.”

It was the second time in as many days that Evers rejected legislators’ efforts before they could even get to their parking spots. On Thursday, shortly after the Assembly took a final vote to kill the current statewide face mask safeguards, Evers announced a brand new set.