Rep. Joe Sanfelippo, who heads a health panel, contends there is nothing more the government can do to fight COVID-19

MADISON – State Rep. Joe Sanfelippo argued Tuesday there is nothing more Wisconsin lawmakers can do to address the coronavirus after passing legislation to help hospitals and the unemployed six months ago.

“Beyond that, I think we have to remember that this is a virus. There is nothing that government can do,” Sanfelippo said in an interview with the WisconsinEye Public Affairs Network. “You know, we can’t wave a magic wand and make it go away.”

Sanfelippo is a Republican from New Berlin and the chairman of the Assembly Health Committee.

In the same interview, Sanfelippo said he believed Democratic Gov. Tony Evers put the state’s mask requirement in place illegally. But if it is overturned, Sanfelippo said he would support having lawmakers put one of their own in place — an idea other Republicans have opposed.

Sanfelippo’s Democratic challenger, Jessica Katzenmeyer, said as the chairman of the Assembly Health Committee, Sanfelippo should be doing more to respond to the pandemic.

“Rep. Sanfelippo and his party’s inaction is prolonging this crisis and making it harder for us to bounce back,” she said in a statement.

The Republican-controlled Legislature in April passed the wide-ranging coronavirus legislation, which allowed the state to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in federal help, suspended a one-week waiting period to claim unemployment benefits, protected businesses from litigation and gave insurance protections for those infected with COVID-19.

Lawmakers have not passed any legislation in the six months since then.

“We have to realize that there isn’t a lot we can do as politicians,” Sanfelippo told WisconsinEye. “But we need to sit back, let the medical community figure this out, give them the resources they need to do it and let them do it.”

Later in the day, he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he would be willing to consider future legislation if data shows there is more the state can do. He said Democrats are unfairly trying to portray Republicans as uncaring when it comes to the coronavirus.

Fight has unfolded in court

Republican lawmakers have gone to court to try to undo major parts of Evers’ coronavirus response plan. In May, the state Supreme Court sided with Republican legislators and ended the administration’s stay-at-home order.

More recently, GOP legislators filed a legal brief to end the state’s mask mandate, but that effort has been unsuccessful so far.

Sanfelippo told WisconsinEye that he views masks as “not a big deal” but believed Evers had violated the law by putting the mask requirement in place without getting the sign-off of the Legislature.

“The governor seems to think that he’s the only branch of government,” Sanfelippo said.

A judge sided with Evers on the issue last week, but the case is expected to be appealed.

If the matter were left to lawmakers, Sanfelippo said they would put a mask requirement in place. It’s not clear that would happen, given that GOP Sen. Van Wanggaard of Racine has said the Senate will vote down the mask requirement after the Nov. 3 election if the courts haven’t revoked it by then.

“I’m confident we would have passed some type of mask order ourselves, whether it was statewide or a little more targeted could be up for discussion,” Sanfelippo told WisconsinEye.

Contact Patrick Marley at patrick.marley@jrn.com. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.