Assembly lawmakers pass several bipartisan bills

By: Sanika Bhargaw, WMTV

MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -- Ahead of Tuesday's legislative session, both Assembly Democrats and Republicans highlighted a package of 13 bills aimed at improving water quality.

All but three bills have bipartisan support. The bills cover a wide range of topics, including regulations on storing and treating firefighting foam containing PFAS and programs to protect groundwater and lakes.

Lawmakers said these bills are a great first step, but the issue still needs more work.

"Challenges with water quality did not start overnight, they started decades ago, so this is going to take some time and these bills are just the beginning," said State Representative Todd Novak (R-Dodgeville).

Assembly members also said they hope passing these bills will encourage more action on the issue.

"If the 10 bipartisan bills our caucus supports pass the Senate and the governor signs them, that will be a great start for water quality in Wisconsin, but only if we commit to future action," said State Representative Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point).

As of 6 p.m. Tuesday, lawmakers at passed seven of the 13 bills.

Earlier, lawmakers also unanimously passed a bill aiming to reduce prescription drug costs.

The bill regulates pharmacy benefit managers, or PBMs, requiring them to register and be licensed. PBMs act as middlemen between insurance companies and patients. They decide what is and is not covered.

Supporters of the bills say PBMs often increase drug prices. Lawmakers hope this bill will help hold them accountable.

"This has been a 12-round boxing match in my opinion, it's been hard fought, but we finally got to a bill I think that will really benefit all of our constituents," said State Representative Michael Schraa (R-Oshkosh).

The bill would also remove a "gag clause" on pharmacists. Under that rule, pharmacists cannot tell patients that they can find a drug at a lower cost if they pay out-of-pocket instead of through insurance.

"The bipartisan group was I think aimed at, let's try to have more transparency, let's try to get rid of the incentives that drive up costs that are not consumer friendly," said Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh).

The Senate still has to pass their version of the bill regulating PBMs. The Senate Committee on Health and Human Services held a public hearing last week.

Later this week, both the Assembly and Senate are expected to vote on a $250 million income tax break.