Assembly Republicans Propose New Round of COVID-19 Legislation

The legislation would create a $100 million fund to be used for pandemic-related expenses as well as provide for more legislative oversight over the pandemic response.

By Will Kenneally

December 1, 2020

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Robin Vos

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos is seen on Jan. 22, 2019, during Gov. Tony Evers’ first State of the State address in Madison, Wis. (Courtesy: Emily Hamer / Wisconsin Watch)

Wisconsin Assembly Republicans released a proposed package of COVID-19 bills that provide for more legislative oversight on the handling of the pandemic as well as allocate more resources to combat the virus.

The topline number from the package is the creation of a $100 million fund to be used for pandemic-related expenses. The legislation would also direct the state Department of Health Services to help fund twice the number of local public health officers currently on the books.

Coinciding with the disbursement are provisions to require the Joint Committee on Finance to have approval over the state’s vaccine distribution plan and any federal funds that are allocated to Wisconsin.

The package of bills would also codify issues Wisconsin conservatives have challenged since the beginning of the pandemic, including a limit to local public health officers’ ability to issue capacity limits on businesses, as well as an outright prohibition on banning gatherings in churches.

“After working through ideas and discussions with Assembly GOP members, we have created a robust package to address the critical needs of our state,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said in a release.

The speaker said he built off proposals from the governor for a second round of coronavirus aid. The package includes some provisions that were passed by the governor and Legislature in the spring, including the ability for the governor to transfer state employees between agencies to help in response to the pandemic.

The legislation has some requirements of the executive branch however, like requiring state workers outside of the UW System to return to their offices no later than Jan. 31, 2021 unless they receive a written note from a doctor.

“We look forward to working with our legislative colleagues and the Governor on bipartisan solutions that the state deserves in this crisis,” Vos said.

The governor said during a Tuesday media briefing he was meeting with Republican leaders on a COVID-19 response bill later that day.

Legislative Democrats however, said the bills served to sew more division.

“So many extremely politically divisive items at a time when we need the opposite,” Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz said of the legislation. “WI Republicans haven’t responded to COVID; have sued [Evers] over his response on Covid; and now have provisions that would limit the ability of any local government to respond to Covid.”

Vos said he hopes to take up the legislation before the end of the year. The Legislature last convened in April, during a session in which it passed the state’s initial COVID-19 aid legislation.

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