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Wisconsin’s GOP refuses to participate in special session on criminal justice reform called by Governor

Republicans refused to take action on the request by Governor Evers for criminal justice reform and police accountability and transparency during a special session on August 31.

Within a day following the Kenosha police shooting of Jacob Blake, Governor Evers issued an executive order that called for a special session of the Wisconsin legislature. The order only had the power to convene the session, and lawmakers were under no obligation to participate.

The governor asked lawmakers to take up nine bills that he and Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes introduced earlier this summer, in response to Black Lives Matter protests across the state that came in the wake of the George Floyd killing in Minneapolis.

The package includes bills that would ban police use of choke holds, ban police use of no-knock warrants, create a civil penalty for racial profiling, establish statewide use-of-force standards for all law enforcement agencies, require every officer to complete at least eight hours of training on use-of-force options and deescalation techniques each year, require the Department of Justice to collect demographic information on use-of-force incidents and publish annual reports, and create a $1 million grant program for community organizations that have violence-prevention programs.

Democrats showed up at the Capitol in Madison ready to take action, but the majority party failed to do their job. Republicans, which control both the State Senate and State Assembly, simply went through the procedural motions on August 31. They gaveled in the special session, and immediately gaveled out without discussion or debate. Instead, the GOP leadership offered to form a task force to consider the issue.

Governor Evers criticized the GOP’s task force approach, saying that Wisconsinites wanted quicker action from lawmakers.

“The people of Wisconsin don’t want another task force or more delays — they want action and results, and they want it today, not tomorrow or some day months down the road. It’s disappointing that there’s no sense of urgency from Republicans, and it’s a let down to all the people who are asking us to lead. We have been talking about these bills for months, and Republicans have had plenty of time to consider them on the merits. I encourage Wisconsinites to contact their elected officials and ask them to show up and get to work to pass these bills. We don’t have time to wait.”

Historically across the Jim Crow South, such public commissions created to solve racial inequity were actually used as a pacification method to support the abusing institutions. The GOP inaction also follows a habitual game plan of ignoring the needs of Wisconsin residents.

“Wisconsin Republicans have not shown up for work in 138 days,” said State Representative Dianne Hesselbein. “Our state facing a pandemic, economic uncertainty, and civil unrest due to the continued inequities we witness on a daily basis. A task force is an excuse for their continued inaction. It’s clear that Republicans have simply given up on governing.”

Earlier this year, Governor Evers called special sessions on support for farmers, the agriculture industry, and funding for education. Republicans in the Legislature ultimately adjourned those special sessions without sending any bills to the governor’s desk. As of August 31, it has been 138 days since the Legislature last passed a bill.

“As legislators it is our job to evaluate the state statutes and propose changes that better serve The People,” said State Representative Robyn Vining. “It’s our job to hold ourselves accountable in tackling systemic racism and inequity. It is also our job to see preventable violence, and evaluate the statutes for how better laws can mean a more fair, just, healthy, safe, equal, transparent, and accountable world for everyone. That is what has been done by the legislators who have introduced these bills for violence prevention, and more transparency and accountability in policing.”

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