Wisconsin Republican leaders convened a special session of the Legislature on police reform for less than 30 seconds Monday as the state deals with simmering tensions after the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, and the killing of two protesters in Kenosha.
Republicans left the session open rather than adjourn it, which allows them to take action at a later date, although they gave no assurances that they would do so.
Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, had called the Legislature into special session to take up police reform measures. GOP lawmakers signaled they would not be present for as the Republican-controlled body returned for the first time since April.
Wisconsin law does not require lawmakers to debate or vote on legislation during a special session, and a previous special session Evers called late last year to address state gun laws went similarly.
Evers has pushed lawmakers to take up bills on police use-of-force standards and ending “no knock” warrants. State Republicans have said they’ll take more time to craft their own proposals, some of which include enacting stricter penalties for committing acts of violence against police and penalizing local governments that decide to shift part of law enforcement funding into other services — commonly referred to as “defunding” the police.
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The governor expressed disappointment with the lack of immediate action.
“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,” Evers said in a statement, according to The Associated Press.
Assembly Republican leaders pointed to a recently announced task force that they said would consider legislation. Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, a Republican, said votes might take place in 2021, but he did not make any promises, as The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported, noting that no state Senate Republicans were present for the session.
Blake’s shooting, which was recorded on video, has led to unrest and protest in the streets of Kenosha, where last week, a pro-police teenager, Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, is alleged to have shot and killed two protesters and injured one more.
The special session comes after players on the Milwaukee Bucks called on the Legislature to tackle police reform following their walkout at an NBA playoff game last week to protest Blake’s shooting, which the state Justice Department is investigating.
The session opened one day before President Donald Trump is scheduled to visit Kenosha.
Evers and the city’s mayor called on Trump not to visit the city, with Evers writing to the president that he is “concerned your presence will only hinder our healing.”
“I am concerned your presence will only delay our work to overcome division and move forward together,” he wrote.
Tweeting Monday morning, Trump wrote: “If I didn’t INSIST on having the National Guard activate and go into Kenosha, Wisconsin, there would be no Kenosha right now.”
“Also, there would have been great death and injury,” Trump wrote. “I want to thank Law Enforcement and the National Guard. I will see you on Tuesday!”
Evers activated the National Guard early last week at the request of local officials, and days later he increased their presence and accepted the president’s offer of federal law enforcement support.