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Evers Criticizes Legislative Committee Vote That Could Limit UW System's Ability To Take Action Against COVID-19

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Steve Shupe
/
Flickr
A Republican-controlled legislative committee has blocked the University of Wisconsin System from taking several steps to fight the coronavirus without its approval.

Updated Wednesday at 9:09 a.m. CDT

Gov. Tony Evers is criticizing a vote Tuesday by a Republican-controlled legislative committee that could limit the University of Wisconsin (UW) System's ability to take action against COVID-19 with greater testing, masking or vaccination requirements.

The newly-passed motion requires the UW Board of Regents to move ahead with its COVID-19 policies as emergency rules within 30 days, meaning the GOP-led Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules could scrutinize the emergency rule and then suspend all or part of it. The vote came without a formal meeting or public comment.

This move comes as the delta variant is sending daily virus cases upward in Wisconsin and around the U.S. On Tuesday, the state health department confirmed nearly 1,400 more COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin, continuing a recent uptick as about half the state remains unvaccinated.

After a news conference in Milwaukee Tuesday, Evers briefly spoke with WUWM. The Democratic governor focused his criticism on the committee chairperson, Sen. Steve Nass of Whitewater, a Republican.

"To put it bluntly, it's a real stretch. I'm not sure how one individual in the Legislature can all of a sudden tell the University of Wisconsin System how to kind of run their day to day stuff. Where does he stop?," he said.

Gov. Tony Evers
Chuck Quirmbach
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, at a press conference Tuesday.

Evers predicted the issue will go to court. "Nass will lose that argument. But in the meantime, what message is he sending to the University of Wisconsin System about who's in charge here? Not a good thing," he added.

In a statement on Nass' legislative website, the lawmaker portrayed things much differently. Nass wrote, "The UW System can no longer ignore state law with regards to COVID-19 mandates affecting students and campus visitors."

Nass went on to contend that "government-issued COVID-19 mandates have failed miserably in dealing with this virus." He said Americans need to be able "to make voluntary informed decisions based on their individual health circumstances."

UW System spokesman Mark Pitsch said the committee's action “feels like a political statement; our focus is to ensure we are doing what needs to be done now to safely open for in-person teaching this fall.”

The committee vote was six to four — with all Republicans voting for the measure and all Democrats against. The committee’s Democratic members said the move is contrary to public health recommendations.

“Legislative Republicans sat idly by for nearly a year, refusing to lift a finger to help stop the spread of COVID or address the economic devastation it caused,” Sen. Kelda Roys, D-Madison, said in a statement. “Now, they’re doing something even worse — abusing their positions to ensure that the virus spreads faster, by discouraging vaccination and masking and taking legally dubious steps to stop reasonable mitigation practices.”

Late Tuesday, UW-Madison reinstated an indoor mask mandate for all students, staff and visitors beginning Thursday. A similar requirement for UW-Milwaukee begins Wednesday.

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