Gov. Tony Evers said he would veto the Legislature’s COVID-19 response bill, shortly after the state Senate passed the final version.
The final bill contained provisions that were nonstarters for the governor, including an amendment that would limit his ability to declare a COVID-19 public health emergency only to seek federal funds.
“Wisconsinites know a compromise when they see one, and this isn’t it,” Evers said in a statement. “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 had agreed to an earlier bill passed by the state Senate, but that bill was later amended by the Assembly to prevent employers from requiring employees get COVID-19 vaccines, stop local health officials from barring religious services, and create greater legislative oversight over federal COVID-19 funds.
The bill further bounced back-and-forth between the legislative chambers as Republican lawmakers worked out a plan to avoid losing money through a federal food stamp expansion while also ending the governor’s mask mandate. The governor’s mask mandate is tied to a public health emergency declaration, the latter of which also makes Wisconsin eligible for certain federal funds.
Republicans landed on the amendment that would only allow Evers to declare an emergency to seek federal funds, which the Assembly approved Thursday.
The bill is the first legislation the Legislature has passed regarding the pandemic since an initial bill last spring.
“It’s taken far too long for the Legislature to take further action on this pandemic,” 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,” he added.
“Is this the perfect bill in front of us? No. It might not be the perfect bill,” said Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu. “The governor needs to sign this bill, this bill is vitally important for the state of Wisconsin.”
It is unclear what the next steps would be for COVID-19 relief in Wisconsin once the governor vetoes the legislation. It took more than a month of negotiations between the governor and legislative leaders to come to the current impasse. This also comes as the governor has taken unilateral steps toward the state’s COVID-19 response, including issuing a new mask order Thursday just hours after the Legislature threw out his previous order.
This also comes ahead of budget negotiations that will begin this spring, as the current budget cycle ends in June.