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Capital City Sunday: Lame-duck session, shortage of nurses & election lawsuits

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MADISON (WKOW) --- Some Republican state senators are floating the idea of meeting in a lame-duck session after the election to vote down Gov. Tony Evers' mask mandate.

Senate President Roger Roth (R-Appleton) said Republicans also might convene for a lame-duck session to pass a prescription benefit management bill and other legislation, but didn't say whether he's for voting down the statewide mask order, which other Republicans support.

Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) suggested lawmakers would come back after the election to vote down the mask requirement, an idea also supported by Sen. Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield).

Democrats are challenging Republicans to come back into session before the election in effort to hold lawmakers responsible for their views on mask, however GOP leaders insist it's not about face-coverings instead how the governor issued his emergency order.

“If we’re coming in for lame-duck session to take a position on the mask mandate, it’s really spineless on the part of Republicans and GOP leadership not do to it before the election because people deserve to know," said Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-West Point).

Some Republicans also don't believe masks are effective in preventing the spread of COVId-19. When asked what it will take to change these views, Erpenbach urged his Republican colleagues to visit a hospital or an emergency room.

Lawmakers remain at odds over the next steps to take in addressing the pandemic as the state counties to rank one of the worst in the country for COVID-19 cases, deaths, and hospitalizations. 

Gov. Evers said he's willing to meet with Republican leaders to discuss their plan to address the pandemic, noting their opposition to his emergency orders aimed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“Republicans won’t sit down the DHS-Secretary Andrea Palm or the governor, instead they have a goal to go to court, and going to court is not the answer to the issues we are dealing with COVID-19.”

Nursing Shortages “Dire” in Wisconsin 

Another crisis is looming for the health care industry: not enough nurses.  A shortage of health care workers during this crucial time for Wisconsin is the next challenge facing hospitals.

Gina Dennik-Champion, the chief operating officer for the Wisconsin Nurses Association, says while the nursing shortage has been a historic problem in the state well before the pandemic, right now she said the lack of frontline workers is “dire.”

“I would say this is probably the worse we’ve been,” said Dennik-Champion. “This period of time is pretty critical for any health care facility.”

The state is seeing a surge of health care workers who are either contracting COVID-19 at work or out in their communities and others are leaving the profession to keep their family safe. The stress of the job is also a breaking point, says Dennik-Champion.

“Their stamina is not like it was and I don’t know how long you can stay in high gear to take care of the population that’s in our hospitals.”

Health care facilities are transferring nurses more than ever during this pandemic to help fill staffing shortages and to help reduce the burden on hospitals that are overwhelmed with patients.

Wisconsin also opened a field hospital at the State Fairgrounds in West Allis to care for patients. The National Guard currently has no staff working at the facility, a correction to comments made by Dennik-Champio during the interview. Medical staff hired through a firm are working at the alternative care facility on the fairgrounds.

Another concern facing frontline workers is having enough PPE, personal protective gear, as some nurses are having to sterilize and reuse masks.

“There’s a lot of anxiety right now, given the surge is there going to be an adequate supply and nurses find out every how much PPE is available.”

Two Democratic lawmakers recently sent a letter to Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Peter T. Gaynor for PPE support in Wisconsin.

Election Lawsuits

Courts are having to decide -- again -- whether or not to count absentee ballots days after the election or they will decide whether to keep state law in place, which means ballots are due by 8 p.m. on Nov. 3.

Democrats and non-partisan groups are taking a case up to the U.S. Supreme Court seeking the court to consider counting absentee ballots that are received up to six days after the election. 

Leading up to April's primary election, a similar legal challenge was considered but was ultimately ruled ballots would not count if they are postmarked after the polls close.

UW-Madison Law Professor Rober Yablon who specializes in election law says the decision could be significant if the court rules not to extend the deadline, but on the other hand, says a lot of people have learned from April’s primary election to return ballots ahead of time.

“People have more time to prepare this time around compared to April and voters are more aware to not wait until the last minute,” said Yablon.

“Therefore the fewer people should be affected if the Supreme Court rules to keep the law in place.”

Gov. Tony Evers also filed an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate a court injunction, which would allow absentee ballots that are postmarked by election day to be counted if they are received on or before November 9, 2020.

The injunction also allowed for additional poll workers to be recruited and trained in communities where there remains a need.

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Emilee Fannon

Capital Bureau Chief

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