MADISON – Republican lawmakers last week adjourned a special legislative session called four months ago by Gov. Tony Evers to overhaul police practices after the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha.
Incoming Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu of Oostburg and Assembly Speaker Pro Tem Tyler August of Lake Geneva ended the session without bringing lawmakers to the floor or considering any legislation.
The special session had to come to a close before the new regular session begins next week and aides to Republican lawmakers said they plan to revisit the issue as part of the new session. Whether they can muster the votes to pass anything remains unclear.
It’s the latest in a string of special sessions that Evers called and Republicans shut down without taking action.
“After ignoring Gov. Evers’ calls for legislation on agriculture and school funding and property tax relief, it’s not surprising that Republicans who haven’t passed a bill in 258 days refused to show up to work and act on another pressing issue facing our state,” Evers spokeswoman Britt Cudaback said.
The Democratic governor, Milwaukee Bucks players and others called on the Legislature to return to Madison this year to address police conduct and racial discrimination after the August shooting of Blake and the May death of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.
The bills Evers wanted would ban police chokeholds and no-knock search warrants and make it harder for overly aggressive officers to move from one job to another.
Those bills died without ever being taken up when legislative leaders ended the special session last week.
“They said they weren’t going to act, so that part of it might not be a surprise, but hiding it by ending it right before Christmas perhaps is symbolic of a failure to act yet again,” said Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz of Oshkosh.
Republicans never embraced Evers’ ideas but also said they were willing to consider the issues he was raising. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos of Rochester formed a task force focused on racial disparities, educational opportunities, public safety and police policies and standards.
“The Speaker’s Task Force on Racial Disparities continues to meet and Speaker Vos looks forward to getting its report of legislative recommendations,” Vos spokeswoman Kit Beyer said by email.
That panel met for the first time on Oct. 28 and split into two subcommittees, which each met in November and December.
The next meeting will likely take place in early January, according to Rusty Schultz, the chief of staff to Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke of Kaukauna, who is a co-chairman of the task force.
After the subcommittees conclude their work, Steineke plans to release a report that will likely include legislative recommendations, Schultz said.
“I expect those are things we’d bring before the full Assembly for consideration,” he said.
Meanwhile, Republican Sen. Van Wanggaard of Racine is pushing for a suite of bills that would overhaul Milwaukee and Madison’s police and fire commissions; reduce state aid to communities that cut police budgets; and require shootings by police officers to be investigated in a way similar to how the National Transportation Safety Board reviews plane crashes.
It’s uncertain whether Republicans in the two houses can agree on legislation that Evers would support.