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Nass pushes lawsuit to settle who sets UW COVID-19 policy

Courtesy: State Senator Steve Nass
Courtesy: State Senator Steve Nass(WEAU)
Published: Sep. 7, 2021 at 6:14 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - A Wisconsin state senator followed through on his threat to urge the state’s two top lawmakers to sue the University of Wisconsin System as the fight over who has final say for COVID-19 protocols on university campuses reaches a new level.

On Tuesday, state Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) formally sent a letter to Senate Maj. Leader Devin LeMahieu and Speaker Robin Vos, asking them sue UW System to determine if university administrators need legislative approval to enact any COVID-19 restrictions.

“The UW System has offered ever changing spin in regard to their claim of having some mythical independent authority to do whatever they want to adult students and campus visitors,” Nass wrote in a statement released alongside the letter. Earlier in the day, Nass pointed to the crowds that packed Camp Randall over the weekend, accusing the university of hypocrisy.

UW System has rejected the committee’s assertion of power, with interim president Tommy Thompson going so far as to tell lawmakers last month to “get out of my way.”

Nass specifically referenced Thompson, who served as Wisconsin’s governor from 1987 to 2001 before departing to serve as the nation’s top health official and insinuated top Republicans could forgo a lawsuit because of his current role.

“If the UW System is allowed to act unlawfully simply because it’s temporarily under the leadership of a former Republican governor, then members of the majority party in the legislature are not committed to the rule of law,” Nass said.

Nass’ move Tuesday comes after his committee, the Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules, voted in August that it would have final oversight any COVID-19 action taken by UW schools by requiring university administrators to go through the legislature’s rule-making procedures. The process would then give the committee a chance to strike down the provision.

Last Thursday, Nass warned his official request would likely be coming as that day would have been the deadline for UW System to submit a rule for his committee’s approval.

Tommy Thompson, former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary and Wisconsin governor, puts on...
Tommy Thompson, former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary and Wisconsin governor, puts on a mask in a public service announcement for the Wisconsin Hospital Association(Wisconsin Hospital Association)

Thompson and UW System Board of Regents President Edmund Manydeeds III responded last week when Nass issued his initial warning stating the lawmaker and his fellow co-chair, Rep. Adam Neylon, never held a public hearing on the matter.

The UW System heads stated that such a hearing would have given the committee a chance to identify the policies in dispute, and that, in its current form, “the directive is overly broad and lacks reasonable specificity by which to evaluate and discuss concerns rationally.”

Thompson and Manydeeds’ letter also sought to turn the language of a bill introduced in May against Nass. In his proposal, the Assembly member explicitly sought to prohibit UW System schools, among others, from requiring COVID-19 testing or vaccines. While the measure didn’t make it anywhere, UW’s top administrators questioned why the legislature would need to rein in power Nass claims they don’t have.

Neither LeMahieu nor Vos have indicated if they will file a lawsuit.

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