2021-2022 Session Assembly Bill 1 / COVID-19 Pandemic

Not only has the COVID-19 virus rendered countless people around the state, country, and world ill, some suffering complications and/or death, but it has taken a toll on our society as a whole. Our young have been denied an in-person education as our elderly in assisted living and nursing homes have been deprived of family visits. Healthcare staffs have been overworked and too many local businesses have shut their doors.

Last April, the Wisconsin legislature approved a relief package to address both the virus and the economy. Governor Evers’ administration was given the tools to ease the economic burdens placed on Wisconsinites as their livelihoods were indefinitely suspended.  In all, his administration controlled the $2 billion allotted from the federal government through the first federal aid package for the virus entitled The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Over the last few months, the legislature has been working with the governor to further address the state’s health and economic status. In order to protect Wisconsin tax dollars we waited to see what financial aid the federal government directed toward the state with their current coronavirus aid bill.  

Negotiations with Governor Evers ceased when he removed himself from discussions last month. However, discussions continued between the Wisconsin State Senate and Assembly. Below are a few of the 44 issues addressed in the 2021-2022 Session Assembly Bill 1.

  1. Government health plans and "any health insurance policy" must cover COVID-19 testing and vaccines without imposing any copayment or coinsurance on the individual covered under the policy or plan.
  2. Pharmacy students and dentists would be allowed to administer COVID-19 and flu vaccines.
  3. Includes medical assistance reimbursements aligning with Medicare for hospitals who are providing skilled nursing facility (SNF) beds to patients who cannot return to a nursing home, outpatient procedures that have been moved to another facility to free up space for COVID-19 patients, and swing-beds which is an option hospitals can use to create more space for COVID-19 patients.
  4. No Out-of-Network charges for COVID-19 related health care until conclusion of the national emergency or June 30, 2021.
  5. COVID-19 vaccinations covered by SeniorCare for low income individuals currently in the program.
  6. Permanently allowing out-of-state health care providers holding valid credentials to start practicing in Wisconsin more quickly to help fill workforce shortages on the front lines, as well as through telehealth.
  7. Ensures families can safely visit their loved ones to provide needed support for those struggling with isolation. A nursing home or assisted living facility resident or their power of attorney would have the ability to designate an essential visitor. The essential visitor would need to comply with the public health policies of the facility when visiting the resident in compassionate care situations.
  8. Authorizes pharmacists to extend needed prescription orders without doctor authorization and allows for early refills of prescription drugs.
  9. Allows taxation districts after making a general or case-by-case finding of hardship, to waive any interest charges and penalties for a late installment payment, provided that the full amount of the payment is received on or before October 1, 2021.
  10. The temporary suspension of the one week waiting period for Unemployment Insurance (UI) would be extended through March 2021. Additionally requires the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) to produce a plan to reduce the processing UI backlog and extends DWD call center hours to 12 hours a day/7 days a week.
  11. Sets aside $100 million to combat COVID-19. Monies could be spent by Governor Evers Administration after receiving approval from the Joint Committee on Finance (JFC). The Legislature authorized a similar provision back in April of 2020 for $75 million that the Evers Administration decided not to utilize.
  12. Employers would be prohibited from mandating their employees to get COVID-19 vaccinations, or show proof of receiving vaccine, as a requirement of employment.
  13. Department of Health Services (DHS) and local health departments cannot require anyone to get a SARS-CoV-2 vaccination.
  14. Specify that the duration of any order issued by a local health officer to close or restrict capacity of businesses may not exceed 2 business days unless the governing body of the local government unit in which the order is intended to apply approves by 2/3 vote an extension of the order.
  15. Statewide prohibition on local health officials closing a church or place of worship.
  16. A school board may not provide 100% virtual instruction to pupils in lieu of in-person instruction unless approved by a 2/3 vote of the members of the school board. Extension vote would be required every 14 days.
  17. According to the non-partisan Legislative Reference Bureau, "The bill establishes a civil liability exemption for entities for any act or failure to act resulting in or relating to a person's exposure to the novel coronavirus identified as SARS-CoV-2 or COVID-19 in the course of or through the performance or provision of the entity's functions or services. Under the bill, immunity does not apply if the act or omission involves reckless or wanton conduct or intentional misconduct. Entities are defined to include any legal entity, including businesses, associations, governmental entities, schools, institutions of higher education, or nonprofit organizations, as well as employers or business owners, employees, agents, or independent contractors of the entity, regardless of whether they are paid or volunteer.
  18. Gives the Joint Committee on Finance oversight of federal COVID-19 funds and how they are spent here in Wisconsin.

This bill builds upon the previous action taken last year by the legislature to combat COVID-19. I’ve co-sponsored and voted YES to 2021-2022 Session Assembly Bill 1 to aid the state on its road to both health and economic recovery.