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UW System, lawmaker trade shots in COVID-19 policy battle

Published: Aug. 24, 2021 at 12:10 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 24, 2021 at 9:30 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) — The war of words between the University of Wisconsin System and a Republican lawmaker heated up Tuesday after System President Tommy Thompson told lawmakers to “get out of my way.”

“The UW System is not required to seek political approval for every internal management decision, nor should it,” the body, which oversees all University of Wisconsin schools, argued in a statement, contending that it legally controls access to its buildings and facilities.

Thompson was pushing back against the Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules’ declaration that UW System needs a legislative rule to mandate students follow COVID-19 policies.

The head of the state Senate committee, Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater), responded sharply accusing the former Republican governor of believing in big government control over individual rights and not living in the real world.

“It is not surprising that the Ivory Tower administrators at the UW System are openly defying state law to issue Covid-19 mandates to control every adult that dares to walk on their campuses with the notable exception of 70,000 plus ticket paying fans at football games in Madison,” Nass continued, referencing UW-Madison’s decision to only require masks indoors at Camp Randall Stadium, and not imposing vaccine rules.

“Apparently, the UW System has discovered that revenue generating football games don’t spread Covid-19,” he added.

Nass noted that he intends to ask the GOP leaders of the legislature’s two houses, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, to file a lawsuit on behalf of his committee and the legislature as a whole to force UW System to enter the rules process to impose a vaccine mandate.

UW System schools implemented a range of protocols this month heading into the fall semester, including mask and testing mandates. Republican lawmakers responded by voting to block the system from implementing any COVID-19 policies without approval from the Legislature’s GOP-controlled rules committee.

“The students have been thirsting for an opportunity to have a safe environment in which they can go to class, see their professor and interact with students and get back to an as normal as possible college life,” said Thompson. “That’s what I’m providing.”

The university system pointed out that if such guidance existed last year, it may not have been able to set up its community testing or vaccination sites – nor could it have isolated students.

Copyright 2021 WMTV-TV. All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this article.