by Alan Hovorka, USA Today Network-Wisconsin
STEVENS POINT – Any taxpayer-funded venue in Wisconsin would be required to play the national anthem before all sporting events under a new bill from Republican lawmakers.
The bill, from Sen. Patrick Testin, of Stevens Point, and co-authored by Reps. Scott Krug, of Nekoosa, and Tony Kurtz, of Wonewoc, would apply to Lambeau Field, American Family Field, the Fiserv Forum and all other venues created or maintained with taxpayer support. It carries no penalties for venues that do not comply.
"Some will tell you that our country is broken, and that our traditions no longer have purpose," Testin said in a statement. "I disagree. American symbols like the flag and our national anthem have the power to unite. They remind us that despite our differences, we share a common bond."
A statement from Testin's office indicates Wisconsin veterans groups support the bill.
In an interview with USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin, Testin said the bill is written broadly and doesn't specifically target professional, college or youth sports. The bill doesn't mandate player or spectator participation in the anthem. He said he's open to adjustments on the bill's language.
The legislation comes in response to the decision by billionaire Mark Cuban to not play "The Star-Spangled Banner" during Dallas Mavericks games earlier this month. Cuban, owner of the Texas basketball team, reversed his decision after the NBA reiterated its longstanding policy to play the anthem before games.
The legislation would preempt any sports venues in Wisconsin from doing what Cuban did, Testin said in a statement.
"My bill helps avoid any controversy by being explicitly clear: If state funds are used in the construction or maintenance of the venue, then the teams that utilize it will show respect to our country," the senator wrote.
Some Democrats criticized the move Thursday as a distraction from focusing on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
"So refreshing to see the *checks notes* chair of the Senate Health Committee do everything in his power to help us get through this pandemic safely," state Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, wrote on Twitter.
Sen. LaTonya Johnson, D-Milwaukee, was more blunt in an interview with USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin.
"I think that’s crazy as hell," Johnson said. "The question is 'why?' In the state Capitol, for me as a person of color and as a representative of a community that has been vastly impacted by COVID-19, there are more important things to legislate on, like masks."
Johnson, a member of the state's Black caucus, said she doesn't understand why Testin is more focused on writing legislation targeted at cultural issues when he chairs the Senate's Health and Human Services Committee.
Testin said the Legislature can do multiple things at once. He cited the Legislature's COVID-19 relief and unemployment insurance reform bills that Gov. Tony Evers vetoed. Evers vetoed the package for a number of reasons, including that it limited the power of local health officials to respond to COVID-19 and gave lawmakers a say in how federal coronavirus aid is spent.
Johnson said she thinks the proposed anthem legislation is disrespectful given that the controversy surrounding "The Star Spangled Banner" at sporting events in recent years stems from athletes of color kneeling during the song as a way to protest societal and racial injustices.
Testin said he believes the bill is anything but that. With the 20th anniversary of 9/11 approaching, he said he hopes the nation's flag and anthem can evoke the sense of unity it had the years after the terrorist attacks.
"I would contend that these aren't minimizing those efforts. There is racism in this country and there are things for us to work on," Testin said. "While we may have differences and that these may be polarizing times, what unites us is that we are all American citizens."