Special session on policing begins with no action

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Updated: 5:48 p.m. on Aug. 31, 2020

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) – In less than 30 seconds, both the Assembly and Senate Republicans gaveled in a Special Session on policing called by Governor Tony Evers and then immediately ordered it into recess, aiming instead to have a lengthier legislative process play out while Democrats call for urgency as the national discussion on policing and racial justice hits home with the spotlight on Kenosha following the shooting of Jacob Blake.

“It was the opportunity to act,” Senate Minority Leader Janet Bewely (D – Mason) told reporters. “Unfortunately, they didn’t and the sad news is that they won’t.”

In a statement, Gov. Evers said, “It’s disappointing that there’s no sense of urgency from Republicans, and it’s a letdown to all the people who are asking us to lead.”

Republicans are instead urging patience as they establish a task force that will look into policing, racial and education disparities that was announced by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R – Rochester) earlier this month. It’s a process that could take months to complete, meaning concrete action may not happen until January at the earliest.

“The Democrats’ package of bills is a step in the right direction,” Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke said in an interview. “But we also need to look at in a broader way and get consensus from everybody in the building, Republicans and Democrats alike.”

Democrats – especially members of the Legislative Black Caucus – say the time for talk has passed.

“We don’t need a study committee to verify what we already know,” Sen. LaTonya Johnson said in a briefing outside the Capitol. “We need action and we need Republicans to do their damn job.”

While Republicans could wait for the Speaker’s task force to produce legislation, they have two packages of bills ready to go.

Governor Evers and Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes introduced a package of nine bills in June in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. It includes proposals such as banning the use of chokeholds by officers, no-knock search warrants and a bill to reform police department employee recordkeeping.

Sen. Van Wanggaard (R – Racine) has put forth his own package of legislation that includes things like legislation to create a statewide use of force review board that he said would act as a NTSB for police use of force; a bill to prohibit police departments from disciplining employees who report alleged violations of use of force.

“We’ve been working on these things together as have many of the other legislators from both sides of the aisle,” Wanggaard told CBS 58. “So it hasn’t been like, yeah, ok, we haven’t done anything for four months, we’ve been actively working.”

There are likely some areas of agreement – including a ban on chokeholds/strangleholds and requiring departments to make use of force policies public.

But things like a ban on no-knock search are a non-starter for Republicans, according to Wanggaard and Steineke.

However, Democrats believe through the immediate ordering of the chambers to go into recess for the Special Session Republicans are failing to give the issue its proper urgency and attention.

“It is long past time for us to wait on our colleagues to get it,” Rep. David Bowen (D – Milwaukee) told reporters. “If they gavel in and gavel out today that means they get it quite well. They understand that their silence on this issue, their inaction on this issue sides with White supremacists.”

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Posted: 12:49 p.m. on Aug. 31, 2020

MADISON, Wis. (AP/CBS 58) — The Republican-controlled Wisconsin Legislature took no action in a special session called by the state's Democratic governor to pass a package of bills on policing policies.

The brief session Monday, Aug. 31, came just over a week after a Kenosha police officer shot Jacob Blake seven times in the back. Republicans started the session and recessed in both the Senate and Assembly in less than 30 seconds.

That satisfied requirements of the law that they meet, even though almost no lawmakers were present. It's a tactic Republicans used in November when Gov. Tony Evers tried to force them to take action on gun control bills.

Gov. Evers reacted to the gaveling in Special Session Monday afternoon: 

“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.”

Contributions made to this report by SCOTT BAUER Associated Press 

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