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State Sen. Lena Taylor: It’s ‘Irresponsible’ To Oppose Mask Mandate

Democratic State Senator Urges Legislature To Meet To Respond To COVID-19 Pandemic

State Sen. Lena Taylor announces her bid for Milwaukee Mayor
State Sen. Lena Taylor announces her bid for Milwaukee Mayor on Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019 outside her home on the city’s north side. Alana Watson/WPR

The state Legislature recessed for the year in the spring, but a Democratic state senator is urging her colleagues to come back to the Capitol as Wisconsin continues to contend with the novel coronavirus pandemic.

While state lawmakers reconvened briefly in April to address education, unemployment, health care and government procedures amid the pandemic, those provisions ended with the first emergency order.

Since then, the state’s top leaders have been at odds over how to respond to the pandemic. Republicans legislators have opposed Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ emergency orders and successfully challenged state Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm’s powers in the state Supreme Court. They disagree about what the state of emergency allows the governor to do and said they want new restrictions to go through the Legislature’s rulemaking process. In a lawsuit headed for the state Supreme Court, Evers’ statewide mask mandate is also being challenged.

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Amid the legal wrangling, the current status of the pandemic in Wisconsin appears to be worsening. Cases of COVID-19 in the state have been surging since September. According to The New York Times, Wisconsin ranks third nationally in most cases per 100,000 residents over a seven-day period. Wisconsin Department of Health Services reported a record 5,262 new cases Tuesday.

With the situation apparently worsening, Democratic state Sen. Lena Taylor, who represents the 4th District, said lawmakers should reconvene to respond to the crisis. Taylor joined WPR’s “The Morning Show” earlier this month to discuss COVID-19 in Wisconsin and criticized the lack of a legislative response.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Kate Archer Kent: How has the pandemic been affecting people in your district?

State Sen. Lena Taylor: The pandemic has been devastating for individuals. Many people are without work. And then on top of all of that, the individuals in one of the communities in particular and in the city of Milwaukee where I was born and raised and live, the number of individuals that have tested positive and people who have passed away have been great. Many hotspots.

What would you like to see as you look around to your fellow lawmakers? How can the Legislature mitigate this public health crisis?

LT: Well, one of the things we could do is come in session, meet, discuss the things that are happening in our districts and in our communities and what we would be able to do in order to address those issues. I think it’s very, in my opinion, irresponsible of leaders who are pushing so hard against the things that matter, like the mask mandate, the use of masks. Suggesting and fighting so hard about schools, making the choice to be virtual versus being in person. Not coming in so that we can create consequences for parents who send their children to school knowing that they are positive for coronavirus.You know, how do we put people in a position so that they are encouraged to do the things to help save everybody’s life?

KAK: Republicans have been vocal in their opposition to the mask mandate and the extension of the emergency order. Are you concerned that these disagreements will have an effect on public compliance with the order?

LT: I do believe that when you have leaders who are a part of pushing back on something that is solely for the purpose of trying to reduce the spread of the virus, that it does send mixed messages, wrong messages. I do believe when leaders do not prioritize to come in, to meet, to do the people’s business, that it does send the wrong message, especially when they can come in and literally fill the same building, the people’s house with 100 to 200 plus people in order to hear a partisan speech, you know, from a national secretary.

(Editor’s note: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke to a group of Republican Wisconsin lawmakers at the state Capitol on Sept. 23.)

It is troubling for me to not see leaders stand up and encourage the behavior that we want to see.

(Editor’s note: A caller who identified himself as Saul from Stevens Point, Wis., posed a question to Taylor about how Republican leaders in the state Legislature have used state funds to block the Evers administration’s actions in court as opposed to convening and passing legislation.)

KAK: So, Saul, very concerned about the litigious nature that he sees among the Legislature, among legislators.

LT: The Legislature has full control to do the people’s business and the amount of money that their friends and their supporters are making in the law firm for the court proceedings that they’re doing have been outrageous amounts. And at this time, what we do not have as much revenue that’s coming into the state when there are counties and municipalities and villages that are challenged financially. This is not the time for the state Legislature to be spending money irresponsibly by going to the courts when, if you feel that strongly about it, come on in. Come in. You have the ability to do whatever you want as the Republican Legislature. They have that ability. They have the votes in order to do that.