By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Tony Evers vetoed the first bill passed by the Legislature to address the coronavirus pandemic in 10 months on Friday, a Republican-backed measure that Democrats said would do nothing to combat the virus or help reopen the state.
Evers vetoed the bill that put $100 million toward combating the virus two hours after the Senate voted along party lines to send it to him. The move came as Wisconsin topped 6,000 deaths from COVID-19.
“Wisconsinites know a compromise when they see one, and this isn’t it,” Evers said. He said he would have signed a more limited version of the bill that passed previously, but since then Republicans added provisions the governor opposed. Evers called the bill passed by Republicans a “missed opportunity for meaningful compromise.”
Provisions added that Evers objected to prohibited the closure of churches during the pandemic, barred employers from requiring workers to get vaccinated for the disease and gave the Legislature control of how federal money for fighting the virus is spent.
“I am calling on Republicans in the Legislature to stop playing politics and get to work sending me the compromise bill we worked on together,” Evers said. “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 as we continue to fight this virus. Enough politics—just get it done.”
His veto came the day after the Legislature passed a resolution repealing Evers’ emergency health order, undoing the state’s mask mandate that has been in effect since August. Evers issued a new emergency order and mask mandate on Thursday, likely moving the fight back to court.
The Senate did not vote again Friday to rescind Evers’ latest order. Republican Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu said the Legislature had done all it could on that issue and it was now up to courts to decide whether the governor’s actions were legal.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court heard arguments in November in a lawsuit challenging Evers’ authority to issue multiple emergency health orders. Republicans argue the law requires Evers to get legislative approval for extensions after 60 days, rather than issue new orders. Evers contends the changing nature of the pandemic warranted issuing new orders and mask mandates.
Democrats, who unveiled a bill to mandate masks, said the Legislature needs to act no matter what the Supreme Court ultimately rules.
“The issue is masking up in Wisconsin,” said Democratic Sen. Jon Erpenbach at a news conference. “We all know you can’t beat a pandemic in court, no matter what the ruling is.”
The earlier version of the bill passed Friday that Evers supported would limit liability for COVID-19 claims against businesses, schools, governments and health care providers. It would extend the waiver of a one-week waiting period to receive unemployment benefits only until March 14.
Since the bill will be vetoed, the waiting period will go back into effect on Sunday, costing the state $1.3 million a week in federal reimbursements, the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau said. Republicans accused Evers of costing the state millions in federal aid for the unemployed by vetoing the bill.
The Senate passed the bill 19-11, with all Republicans in support and Democrats against saying it was pointless.
“We are doing nothing to help the people of Wisconsin get their lives back,” said Senate Democratic Minority Leader Janet Bewley.
More than 548,000 have contracted COVID-19 in Wisconsin and 6,020 have died, according to the state Department of Health Services. The seven-day average of new cases has been gradually decreasing since mid-November and is at its lowest point in five months.