By LaKeshia Myers
COVID-19 has taken hold across our country and forced us to reconsider what we deem “essential” and has upended “business as usual.” While our governor has been diligent in advocating for more testing, requesting federal intervention, and asking residents to stay home, some policymakers have decided that a “hands off” approach is best, while this is most prominent in southern states, Wisconsin’s legislative Republicans have joined the fray.
On April 14, in what was a first for the state legislature, the State Assembly convened an extraordinary session to tackle COVID-19 relief. The result was Assembly Bill 1038, which included 55 items aimed at helping the people of our state manage as a result of the pandemic. The majority of the topics addressed in AB 1038 were targeted agency requests that required legislative action to help agencies function during the COVID crisis, and measures that would allow the state to apply for federal relief. However, AB 1038 only scratched the surface of what is actually needed to aid the majority of residents in our state. And this is problematic.
It has been stated that the April 14 meeting would be the last of the state assembly. Republican leaders who maintain the majority in both the assembly and the senate have dismissed any ideas of reconvening the legislature regarding COVID-19. To do this would be inexcusable and a clear dereliction of duty. I believe we must meet again, because the health and safety of our constituents depends on it. COVID-19 has shone a light on many underlying inequities that exist across our state such as the lack of broadband access in rural and indigent communities that has hampered the education of many Wisconsin children as schools are now forced to utilize technology to help students make the grade. The fiscal solvency of our state’s colleges and universities is at stake due to the early dismissal of students from campuses. And access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for our healthcare workers remains scarce while manufacturers continue to raise prices beyond affordability. The inequity in PPE availability has caused many hospitals, skilled nursing centers, and community health clinics to suffer.
While AB 1038 was a stepping stone in the effort to grant relief to the people of Wisconsin, it did not go far enough. Gov. Tony Evers has enacted several executive orders aimed at keeping Wisconsinites safe; but it is the duty of the Wisconsin State Legislature to enact laws that are beyond the governor’s scope of authority. And for this reason, I am asking the public to impress upon my legislative colleagues that the legislature must meet again; the people of Wisconsin did not elect us to do a half-job. When lives are at stake, almost doesn’t count.