By Senator Lena C. Taylor
Early in March, the 13th to be exact, I made an initial request that the Wisconsin State Legislature take up a special session to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Legislature finally met on April 15. Understanding both the obvious and unintended consequences of policy decisions to minimize the social spread of coronavirus, we should have met sooner. Over a month later, here we stand. In looking at what took us so long to get here, I can’t attribute it to anything other than continued political division. We have a political disunion, that if we don’t stop it, will irreparably harm this nation.
After all, when the President of the United States sought to downplay COVID-19 as nothing more than the flu, we knew we were in trouble. Following his lead, some Wisconsin Republican legislative and party leaders demonstrated a cavalier attitude when discussing this public health emergency. While deaths and positive tests for COVID-19 have risen, we’ve sunken deeper into our political camps. So far, the data supports that we should have acted earlier, both nationally and locally, to put guidelines and resources in place to assist residents during this time.
Compounding the Wisconsin Legislature’s overdue response was the undervaluing of problems facing workers, businesses and communities of color. I represent portions of the city and county that are the hardest hit in the state. We have seen Milwaukeeans, that we know well, succumb to COVID-19. We’ve lost a police officer, a fire fighter, a church deacon and a journalist. We’ve mourned the passing of mothers, fathers, grandparents and friends. We’ve had scares upon learning that a judge, a pastor, and a fellow legislator have been battling coronavirus. When we’ve needed to unite to protect our citizens, wedge politics still reared its ugly head.
In the Extraordinary Session, called by Gov. Tony Evers, Wisconsin passed a bill intended to provide some relief. While elements of the legislation will help dollars to reach our neighbors sooner, there were many holes in our response to the needs of that state’s residents. Republicans marginalized many of the issues that would have provided balanced resources and action to address hazard pay for essential and frontline workers equally. Small business owners, the elderly and families needing help with food or housing are left to fend for themselves. In fact, many Wisconsinites, from local governments to hospitals and healthcare facilities providing critical COVID-19, are being asked to shoulder the brunt of the state’s response. In failing to provide many of the additional public health resources, so many have asked why did we take such a piecemeal approach to dealing with this pandemic. The broader question is, what is the price our state will pay for the lack of a comprehensive approach to dealing with this crisis?