Legislative News: Vaccine Rollout; Redistricting; Palm Joins Biden Administration

Governors Accuse Trump of Botching Vaccine Rollout

Gov. Tony Evers, along with Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on Jan. 15 expressing frustration with what they referred to as the “Trump administration’s botched COVID-19 vaccine distribution” and urged Azar to grant permission for states to purchase doses of the vaccine directly. The governors also urged the Trump administration to purchase as many doses as possible so states could get more shots in arms during the coming weeks.

“It has become abundantly clear that not only has the Trump administration botched the rollout of the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine, but also that the American people have been misled about these delays,” the governors said. “Pfizer just announced that as of yesterday, they have millions of doses of the vaccine on hand and are waiting on addresses from the Trump administration so they can deliver the vaccine to states. If you are unable or unwilling to give us that supply, we urge you to grant permission for us to directly purchase vaccines so we may distribute them to the people of Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota as quickly as possible.”

The governors cited a Jan. 15 Washington Post story in which federal officials claimed the reserve of vaccine had already been exhausted, “despite the fact that states have not seen an increase in our allocations and despite Pfizer’s recent announcement that they currently have millions of doses of the vaccine on hand and are waiting on addresses from the Trump administration so they can deliver the vaccine to states,” the governors said.

Court Battle over District Maps Almost a Given

Every 10 years after the census, the Legislature draws new political maps for state Assembly, state Senate and congressional districts. 

Unlike in 2011, when the maps were last drawn, Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, can veto the maps that Republican lawmakers draw. Spectrum News in Madison reported that Evers has already forecast a legal battle.

“It’ll probably have to happen via a court battle, I’m sure,” Evers said.

The Republicans seem to agree on the pending court battle. On their end, the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, along with former Republican Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen, filed a petition in November with the Wisconsin Supreme Court for proposed changes. 

The petition seeks to fast-track legal challenges to newly drawn legislative maps by having cases start with the Wisconsin Supreme Court instead of lower courts, according to the Associated Press (AP). The Wisconsin Supreme Court, which began considering the request last week, will deliberate in private and issue a decision later.

Among those opposed to the Republican-backed changes are Law Forward, a new law firm created to push back against conservatives on redistricting; the government watchdog group Common Cause Wisconsin; the Wisconsin Association for Justice; and the League of Women Voters. The Fair Maps Coalition gathered nearly 2,000 comments opposing the petition.

Palm Tapped for Biden Administration

Andrea Palm is leaving her position leading the Wisconsin Department of Health Services to join the administration of President-elect Joe Biden.

Palm has been nominated to be deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, a development first reported by the Washington Post and confirmed Monday by Gov. Tony Evers, according to Wisconsin Public Radio.

Palm’s last day at her current post was scheduled to be Wednesday. Evers has chosen former Wisconsin Health Secretary Karen Timberlake to lead the state agency in the interim.