MADISON, Wis. - The Republican-controlled Wisconsin Legislature took no action in a special session Monday called by the state's Democratic governor to pass a package of bills on policing policies 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.
Republicans kept the session open rather than adjourning it, which means they could take action at a later date, although there are no signs they plan to do anything soon.
“Their silence on this issue, their inaction on this issue, sides with white supremacists,” said Democratic state Rep. David Bowen, a member of the Legislative Black Caucus, at a news conference Monday urging Republicans to pass the bills.
Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, on the same day Evers called the special session, said he intends to convene a task force on “racial disparities, educational opportunities, public safety, and police policies and standards.” Vos on Monday decried the special session as “divisive and partisan politics” and instead said the task force, to be chaired by a Republican who is white, was “an opportunity to bring people together to find solutions.”
Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, who is running for Congress, said that combined with GOP bills related to policing, “there will be dozens of proposals that the Legislature will work through in the coming months.” Last week, Republican state Sen. Van Wanggaard, a retired police officer and one of Evers’ loudest critics, proposed that state aid be cut to any community that reduces police budgets.
Evers decried the inaction, saying the people of Wisconsin don't want another task force or more delays.
“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,” Evers said.
The country's attention has been focused on Wisconsin following the Blake shooting and the killings two days later of two people by a 17-year-old from Illinois who faces first-degree homicide charges. Blake's family said he is paralyzed from the waist down.
The state Department of Justice is investigating the Blake shooting. The Justice Department said officers were responding to a domestic dispute and Blake did not stop after Tasers were used on him. Kenosha police Officer Rusten Shesky shot Blake seven times in the back as he tried to get into his vehicle. The state Department of Justice has said a knife was discovered in Blake's car, but they haven't said if was carrying it when officers encountered him.
On the third night of violence after the Blake shooting, authorities say teenager Kyle Rittenhouse intentionally killed two protesters. Since those shootings, the marches and demonstrations in Kenosha have been peaceful.
President Donald Trump plans to visit Kenosha on Tuesday, raising fears among some that his visit could reignite unrest. Evers has asked him not to come. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden spoke with Blake's family last week.
Evers first unveiled the package of policing bills in June, shortly after the killing of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police. But he called the special session with 24 hours after Blake's shooting, trying to force the Legislature to take action.
The Legislature hasn't met in over four months.
Gov. Tony Evers
The bills Evers wants the Legislature to take up would do a number of things, including ban the use of chokeholds by police and no-knock warrants; create statewide standards for police use of force; require police officers to annually complete at least eight hours of training on use-of-force options and deescalation techniques; and require every law enforcement agency to have a use-of-force policy and make it publicly available online.
While Evers has tried to use Blake's shooting to force action from the Legislature, his opponents have criticized his response to unrest in Kenosha, saying he didn't act quickly enough to quell the violence that resulted in dozens of businesses being burned to the ground, suffering millions of dollars in damage.
A woman from Burlington began a petition drive last week to recall Evers and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes from office.