Rep. LaKeshia Myers, the head of the Legislative Black Caucus, joins fellow members and Democrats outside the state Capitol Monday, Aug. 31, to demand action on nine bills backers say would bolster transparency in policing practices.
By Briana Reilly
Published Aug. 31, 2020
As Democrats urged action on legislation to tweak policing practices in Wisconsin, the special session seeking to do just that was gaveled in and adjourned within seconds in both chambers Monday afternoon.
While the session was recessed until Thursday, there's no indication the Republican-led Legislature is planning to take up the package of nine bills Gov. Tony Evers and fellow Democrats are seeking anytime soon.
One top Assembly Republican charged with heading up a task force to tackle those issues indicated action likely wouldn't come until next session, while he looks to use the next few weeks and months to shore up a slate of bills for consideration.
"We will consider that legislation throughout this process of the task force and hopefully, I anticipate coming to the floor hopefully the first of the year with a broad package of bills that does more than this package of bills does to address the problems that people in communities of color are facing," Majority Leader Jim Steineke, who represents Kaukauna, told reporters.
Though Democrats and Evers have acknowledged their bills are a starting point — provisions include one that would ban the use of chokeholds and another to bar the issuance of no-knock search warrants — members of the Legislative Black Caucus earlier Monday demanded immediate consideration of them.
"We have already lost too many Black lives from preventable gun violence and police violence. How many more lives do we have to lose across the state of Wisconsin?" said Rep. Shelia Stubbs, the first African-American lawmaker to represent a Dane County district.
"We are pleading for our leaders to take our grievances seriously and to work toward creating a better world for all," the Madison Democrat added.
Evers began pushing for the legislation in June, as activists took to the streets in the days after George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis police custody.
While he didn't convene a special session at the time, the Legislature had the ability to come in on its own to take up the bills — an option Republican leaders didn't take, with Speaker Robin Vos telling reporters earlier this summer that lawmakers aren't "going to rush into an answer" and any action would not come before the November election.
Asked about the lack of movement in the Legislature on these bills given that Republican leadership had the ability to meet on them in extraordinary session, Steineke pointed to procedural hurdles and the end of the Legislature's regular session as hurdles in the process.
Evers' bills, he said, are going to be referred to the task force, which will then vet the legislation "and hopefully (come) up with more ideas that can help solve the issue long-term."
But Evers in a statement pushed back, saying: "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.”
The task force, announced by Vos last week, aims to look at racial disparities, educational opportunities, public safety and police policies. Democrats have denounced the idea, saying that solutions are well-known and could be tackled sooner.
Rep. LaKeshia Myers, the head of the Legislative Black Caucus, told reporters she didn't support the body's formation.
"I'm an educator by trade," the Milwaukee Democrat said. "There's a time for you to learn things and there's a time for you to get a test. This is test time."
While she said she hasn't yet been asked by anyone to be on the task force, she noted she would want to participate for one reason: "there has to be an African-American person at the table to give credence to what real African-American issues are and give voice to people of color on this particular task force."
Task force members haven't yet been announced. Vos Monday in a statement said the body would include lawmakers and community members.
Gaveling into Monday's special session in the Senate was Chief Clerk Jeff Renk, while Steineke did so in the Assembly. Though Democratic Sen. Jon Erpenbach asked for a call of the house in his chamber, his request wasn't granted before the session was adjourned.
Come Thursday, the Senate and Assembly could gavel out of the special session or decide to extend it once again, recessing it until a later date.