Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News this week. Thankfully, this bill is still dead.
Gov. Tony Evers is urging the Republican leadership of the Legislature to pass his self-styled “compromise” bill addressing the ongoing health concern precipitated by COVID-19. Setting aside, for a moment, that Evers’ bill is not a compromise (hint: compromise bills are rarely announced by only one side) and that Evers has actually taken the Legislature to court over the legality of bills passed in a so-called “lame duck” session, let us examine the priorities of the governor during the ongoing health concern.
Evers’ bill consists of 17 provisions. Seven of the provisions are designed to expand government and/or reduce the government’s accountability to the people. Eight of them would make waste, corruption, and graft easier with taxpayer money. And two of them are regulatory overreaches that will wreak havoc on citizens and the economy.
Given Evers’ background as an educrat, it is not surprising that his bill begins with the absolution of the government education establishment from the strictures of accountability. Under his bill, government schools would not be required to administer pupil assessments and the State Department of Public Instruction would not be required to publish the annual school and school district accountability report for the 2020-2021 school year. Evers seeks to remove any evidence of just how much government education failed the children of Wisconsin this school year.
Ominously, Evers seeks to allow any state entity to waive in-person requirements until June 30, 2021, “if enforcing the requirement would increase the public health risk.” You will take note of the fact that no objective standard is given for what constitutes an increase to the public health risk. While this may impact things like court proceedings, Evers’ likely target it to waive in-person requirements to obtain official state photo identification and the spring elections. With this provision in law, Evers could provide a massive gateway for illegal aliens to obtain official photo identification and force the upcoming elections to be conducted 100% by mail.
The bill also seeks to funnel unemployment insurance payments into the hands of people who do not need it. It would permanently allow people who are receiving federal Social Security disability payments to also receive unemployment payments. Under current law, someone who is receiving money because they cannot work due to a disability is not eligible for unemployment payments because they are already being compensated for not working. The bill would also completely waive the requirement to seek work in order to receive unemployment payments until July 3, 2021. Wisconsin’s unemployment rate is at 5% and employers are again struggling to find workers. Anyone who is able and willing to work can find a job. Evers should focus his attention on fixing the unemployment payment backlog that his administration has allowed to languish for the previous nine months.
Evers is also sure to take care of the state bureaucracy. His “COVID relief” bill would allow state government employees to take their annual leave even if they have not completed the required six-month probationary period. Evers would lavish additional funding on the Department of Health Services and the Department of Administration while expanding their powers. The DOA would be given arbitrary discretion to shift money around to fund unemployment payments and DHS would be given a grand mandate to operate COVID testing and treatment facilities in perpetuity. The Department of Revenue gets a nod too with the arbitrary discretion to distribute grants to small businesses. The arbitrary discretion of any government official is an invitation for corruption.
Most shockingly, Evers would completely prohibit any foreclosures or evictions until July 1, 2021. He would do so without providing any relief for the thousands of property owners, big and small, who would be forced to completely pay for the housing for people unable, or unwilling, to pay their mortgage or rent. Should this provision go into effect, it will force a wave of bankruptcies for small- and medium property owners and force the prices up for people who do pay their bills. While one might be willing to grant Governor Evers credit for trying to stick up for struggling families, this measure is so breathtakingly stupid and destructive that no such credit can be issued.
Governor Evers’ bill is a mishmash of bad ideas interspersed with measures clearly designed to unshackle the state bureaucracy. Its only redeeming quality is that it will never pass. True to his character, Governor Evers announced this bill after a series of insincere discussions with the legislative leadership designed to give him the cover of having negotiated something. He did so while giving the Legislature a ridiculous deadline of less than two weeks during the holiday season to pass it. Thankfully, the legislative leadership has signaled that they will not be bullied by a duplicitous governor offering nothing but a list of destructive decrees.
The fact that Governor Evers is devoid of good ideas does not release the legislative Republicans from their duty to convene and pass meaningful legislation to help Wisconsinites who continue to feel the impact of COVID-19 and our government overreaction to it. They should start with universal school choice to allow families to escape government schools that failed so badly during this time, liability protections for employers, and prohibit state taxpayers from paying to bail out local governments that enforced more restrictive COVID-19 measures that crippled their own local economies.