The first thing you have to understand about Steve Nass is that he wants to get under your skin. So, don’t let him. Just cooly turn him aside.
Sen. Nass is a Republican from Whitewater who has been practicing “owning the libs” since before Donald Trump gave it a name. He routinely does stuff (and by “doing stuff” I mean mostly putting out press releases) designed to provoke outrage among liberals. His specialty is beating up on the UW system in general and the UW Madison in particular. As vice chair of the Senate Universities and Technical Colleges Committee he has an especially high platform to do that.
But Nass also co-chairs the Joint Committee for the Review of Administrative Rules, a surprisingly powerful legislative backwater. For a few years back in the 1980’s, I was staff to the JCRAR, so I’m familiar with it. Here’s how it works. When the Legislature passes a law there are often lots of details that are left unanswered. So, it’s up to the agency charged with administering the law to fill in the blanks. Those details can be important, and so the JCRAR gives the Legislature a chance to make sure that the agency is being true to the intent of the law when it fleshes things out.
What Nass plans to do tomorrow is to tell the UW that any policy that requires masks or COVID testing on campus would constitute a rule. Then when the UW promulgated that rule, Nass would use his committee to block it. The bottom line is that Nass and five other members of the Legislature (the Republicans on the JCRAR) would dictate policy that impacts the health of thousands of students and faculty and staff (not to mention the wider communities with which they interact) on every UW campus.
But here’s what the UW can do: nothing. Simply say that they disagree with Nass and the JCRAR that mask and testing requirements constitute a rule and, so, give him nothing to block. Attorney General Josh Kaul and Gov. Tony Evers’ legal staff should jump in behind the UW with both feet.
The statutes actually spend more time defining what is not a rule than what is. The legal definition of a rule contains about two dozen things that are specifically not rules, even if they would otherwise meet the definition. These include things that relate to, “the curriculum of, admission to or graduation from a public educational institution, as determined by each institution” and policies that, “establish personnel standards, job classifications or salary ranges for state, county or municipal employees in the classified civil service.”
So, an argument could be made that masks and testing relate to admission to the UW and are also a personnel standard for those state employees who work there. Is that arguable? You bet it is. So argue. Argue before the JCRAR. Argue before a circuit court. Argue before a court of appeals. Argue before the state Supreme Court. And when you’re done with all that arguing, it’ll be graduation day, 2022 and, with luck, COVID will be truly behind us.
Look, there’s no other way to say it, Steve Nass is just a clown. He wants your attention. Don’t give it to him. Don’t engage with him. Just sweep him aside.
Welcome to the 166th day of consecutive posts here at YSDA. Thanks for reading!
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