UPDATED: 1/20/2021

Brief Recap
Important Update
What You Can Do
The Reality

Last week we alerted you to a bill that was in the State Senate related to COVID-19 issues. The purpose of this article is to provide you with an update and also to alert you to a public hearing that will be held this Thursday, January 21, 2021, in the state capitol on several stand-alone bills that will be mentioned below.

BRIEF RECAP

Earlier this month the State Assembly passed Assembly 1 (with one amendment), a bill related to COVID-19 matters in Wisconsin. Included in the Assembly bill was language that would have done the following:
1) Prohibited employers and state (primarily the Department of Health Services) and/or local health officials from mandating that a person receive a COVID-19 vaccine. (Please note: nothing in the bill would have mandated the vaccine. The provisions were about STOPPING, FORBIDDING any such mandates.)
2) Prohibited the state Department of Health Services and/or local health officials from closing or prohibiting gatherings in places of worship.
3) Limited the amount of time a public school can close down in-person instruction.**
**We alerted you to items 1) and 2) above, but not 3).

When the senate received the bill, senate leadership stripped out the language related to items 1-3 above. We asked you to call your senator and ask them not to pass the bill unless the above provisions were included.  We know you did as we requested, but the Senate proceeded to pass the bill as amended and returned it to the Assembly for what is called “concurrence,” meaning the Assembly has to agree with what the Senate has given them. To date, the Assembly has not met for that vote.  The vote in the senate was 30-2–with only one Republican and one Democrat voting against it.

IMPORTANT UPDATE

The Senate did not believe Gov. Evers would pass the Assembly version, but senate leadership believed everyone could agree that businesses, organizations, churches, etc., needed protection from people suing them because they caught COVID while on their property or at one of their events. Senate leadership got assurance from Governor Evers that he would sign a bill that focused primarily on this liability protection—and that’s what the Senate stuck with. However, Senate leadership immediately after the vote said they were not yet done with the issue and would be doing “stand-alone” (single issue) bills on several more COVID-related matters very soon. Wisconsin Family Action received assurances that this was true and that items 1) and 2) above would be among those bills.

Within a day, bills related to all three of the above-noted issues were being circulated for co-sponsors.  And late yesterday, we learned that a public hearing is scheduled for all of those bills: 

Senate Bill 4 – Deals with prohibiting certain state and/or local officials from mandating the COVID-19 vaccine
Senate Bill 5  – Deals with prohibiting employers from mandating the COVID-19 vaccine
Senate Bill 6 – Deals with limiting the amount of time a public school can close down in-person instruction
Senate Bill 7 – Deals with prohibiting local health officers from closing or prohibiting gatherings in places of worship

These bills are currently in the Senate’s Committee on Human Services, Children and Families, chaired by Senator André Jacque (R-DePere). The hearing will be held in Room 201 Southeast in the State Capitol beginning at 12 noon this Thursday, January 21. The overflow room for the hearing will be Room 300 Southeast. Senator Jacque is the author of Senate Bills 4, 5, and 7. The hearing notice is available HERE. Typically the bills are taken up in the order in which they are listed on the hearing notice, although the Chairman can at his/her discretion change the order.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

  1. Plan to attend the hearing and speak if at all possible. This is especially important for pastors and ministry leaders who are concerned about the reach of the state and/or local officials interfering with their church’s operation and ministry. Prepare written testimony if you are going to speak. Plan to bring 10 copies of your testimony with you. Helpful information regarding testifying at a public hearing is available HERE.
  2. If you can’t attend the hearing but want to let the committee members know your opinion on the bills and how you want them to vote, send them an email. You can email all 5 committee members by clicking HERE.​​​​​​  You can also call the committee members:
    Chairman Sen Andrè Jacque – 608-266-3512
    Vice-Chair Sen Joan Ballweg – 608-266-0751
    Sen Eric Wimberger – 608-266-5670
    Sen. LaTonya Johnson – 608-266-2500
    Sen Melissa Agard – 608-266-9170
  3. If you are not a pastor or ministry leader, be sure to forward this email to your pastor and let him know about the bill related to churches and the hearing on Thursday.
  4. If you are interested in watching the hearing, visit wiseye.org and click on “Live” or scroll down to a listing of the broadcasts for that day.
  5. Share this page/info with friends and family members who may be interested in these issues/bills.
  6. Pray! Last in the list but certainly not last or least in importance.

THE REALITY
Some have asked us why anyone should care about these bills, let alone work to get them passed in the state legislature, because it’s pretty much a given that the governor will veto them. That’s a legitimate question for sure. Our response to this is that, first, it’s always right to do right. These bills aren’t perfect. We wish they weren’t restricted to COVID-19; we think they should be broader in their scope and more general in their application. But in this situation, these bills certainly do what they need to do for the current crisis. Second, once the bills land on the governor’s desk, it’s all on him. He will have to answer to the public for why he wants to invade personal privacy and violate people’s conscience, medical decisions, and religious beliefs by allowing officials and employers to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine. He’s the one who will have to explain why he thinks churches should be considered “non-essential” in this crisis but abortion facilities and liquor stores are considered “essential.” Let him tell parents that he’s just fine with schools be shuttered indefinitely for in-person instruction. These bills will put Governor Evers clearly on the record–and that’s very important as we head into another election cycle. He’s up for re-election in 2022.

Many thanks for engaging in your government! Your voice matters regardless of who is in office at any level of government.  Good citizenship requires we engage even when we don’t think we will “win.” God calls us to faithfulness–faithfulness to the truth and to our duty–not to victory. We are grateful for you!


THANK YOU–AND AN UPDATE!

Yesterday we sent out two rush emails when we learned about the State Senate going to the floor in just hours to vote on a bill that did not include language on at least two important issues–language that had been included in the Assembly version of the bill, AB 1. The two issues were 1) limiting the authority of the state (in particular the Department of Health Services) and/or local health officials from closing places of worship and/or limiting capacity during COVID-19, and 2) prohibiting employers, the Department of Health Services, and local health authorities from mandating the COVID-19 vaccine.

We urged you to contact your state senator immediately and ask them to vote no on the Senate’s version of the bill because these two issues were not included. We know you did as we asked, because we have heard from numerous senate offices saying their phones were very busy yesterday!  Thank you, thank you, thank you!  Those calls are so very important!  One strategic senate office told me this morning that while their phones were very busy yesterday, they found the callers to be extremely polite. In fact, the staffer told me the callers were nice and courteous. This staffer was incredibly impressed. In case you don’t think how you speak to a legislator matters, well, here’s proof that it does. Thank you for calling and thank you for doing so with grace and civility. You have definitely made a difference. It is so true that for Christians, we must think bigger, look higher and expect more–of ourselves especially!

All that said, the Senate yesterday passed the Substitute Amendment to Assembly Bill 1 WITHOUT amending it to put back in the language related to the two issues I’ve noted: vaccine mandate and protections for places of worship. The measure passed with just two senators objecting: Senator Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) and Senator Chris Larsen (D-Milwaukee). I knew when all but 1 Democrat supported this measure what had happened. The Senate had made a calculation that the governor would veto the bill as passed by the Assembly. Senate members especially wanted liability protections for businesses, schools, churches, etc. so that people cannot sue them for getting COVID because they were in their place of business or at an event sponsored by the entity. That liability protection was the central part of the Senate Substitute Amendment, and Senate leadership had received word that the Governor would sign that bill. As a result, the senate made the decision to pass the bill as they had amended it.  Now it goes back to the Assembly for final concurrence and then to the governor for signing.

So what about our very real concerns for not having the vaccine mandated and making sure places of worship aren’t forced to close or to limit capacity?

As you can imagine, I was talking to senators yesterday about this. Immediately after the vote, I talked with a senator who said our concerns were going to be put into stand-alone bills and that these bills would be in circulation soon. I can confirm that this is true–and will give you the specifics as soon as the information is made public. The bills will need a significant number of co-sponsors, and we will be asking for your help to make that happen. Then, once they are introduced and assigned bill numbers and committees, public hearings will happen. We will let you know about those as well. The bills use the exact same language as what was in the Assembly’s original bill.


I’m encouraged by all this. I’m heartened that the new senate leadership, Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) and Senate President Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield), are listening to constituents and to us as an organization. We definitely need to hold our elected officials accountable, and I can assure you we will do everything we can to see that these standalone bills pass and go to the governor, even though he may and likely will veto them. I say let him veto them; November 2022 will be here faster than any of us realize (that’s when we elect a new governor).

In the meantime, I urge you to stay informed and involved. We will keep you updated on these bills and many others (some pro-life bills are already in the works) as we go through this legislative session. Your voice is unbelievably important. Elected officials do listen. I can’t say for sure that we wouldn’t be talking about standalone bills for the vaccine mandate and protections for places of worship if we hadn’t put some pressure on senators, but your calls definitely made sure they will be a reality.

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