Updates from the State Senate - April 14, 2020

The photo above was taken at Pamprin Park in Howard.


Robert Cowles


Serving Wisconsin's 2nd Senate District








Dear Friends and Neighbors,


It hasn’t been long since my last e-newsletter, but it’s been a busy few days as the State Legislature has finalized and introduced a comprehensive bill to address the COVID-19 outbreak in Wisconsin. It took some time to review the federal legislation and highlight all the places the state needed to make changes to fill any gaps, but I’m pleased that we rolled up our sleeves and got the work done. I’ll go into details on this bill below, along with a couple of other updates that I wanted to share as we all navigate these difficult times.



State Legislative Package on COVID-19


Much like the rest of the country, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted our state like we haven’t experienced in our lifetimes. Not a single Wisconsinite has been shielded from the impacts of this outbreak and the measures to slow the spread of COVID-19.


Not long ago, the Assembly passed the Legislature’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak on a bipartisan vote. This comprehensive effort was the result of weeks of bipartisan negotiations to create this package that looks to lessen the blow on households, businesses, schools, and local governments by taking a measured, multifaceted approach that capitalizes on federal funding and fills in the gaps at the state level.


The changes included in the bill will help to keep our schools from falling behind, provide additional assistance for those facing unemployment, remove financial barriers to testing, keep our medical professionals’ and first responders’ focused on their critical work by delaying license renewal requirements, look ahead to the reopening of our economy, and more. I am pleased to support this important effort, will vote in favor tomorrow when the Senate takes action on the bill, and I will continue to look for ways that I can do my part to help our community get through these trying times.


2019 Assembly Bill 1038 is expected to be voted on by the State Senate tomorrow with the session starting at 11am. After passage in the State Senate, the bill will head to the Governor’s desk for his consideration.


One of the biggest changes to current law will waive the one-week waiting period for Unemployment Insurance benefits through February 7, 2021. I have been contacted by many constituents supporting this change, and I was determined to advocate for this provision to be included in the final bill. This change is also retroactive, meaning that, if signed into law, benefits for the first week would be paid for the first week to everyone who is currently waiting a week or has already waited the one-week after already applying for unemployment benefits.


Another change that I believe will be of key interest to constituents requires health insurance policies, if they would generally cover infectious disease testing, to provide coverage for COVID-19 testing without imposing any copay requirements through March 13, 2021. This provision is critical to help remove a financial barrier to testing for residents as more testing kits become available.


Among the other provisions in this bill, I wanted to highlight a few more provisions that I thought would be of interest to Northeast Wisconsinites:

  • Expands the Work-Share Program which allows employers to reduce employee’s hours during difficult times without laying them off, and allows the employee to have the share of hours they were reduced to be covered by Unemployment Insurance.

  • Requires health insurers to cover out-of-network care for COVID-19 and other services not available at an in-network provider because of COVID-19 at the same cost as they would charge an enrollee in-network.

  • Expands coverage in the SeniorCare program, which assists with prescription drug expenses for older residents, to include vaccination coverage if a COVID-19 vaccination is developed.

  • Prohibits insurers from discriminating against enrollees due to a past or current diagnosis of COVID-19, including prohibiting the cancelling of coverage during a contract term.

  • Makes it easier to renew a prescription for 30-days by giving pharmacists the flexibility to renew most prescriptions without contacting a prescribing practitioner in case that doctor isn’t available.

  • Gives the Department of Health Services the flexibility to adapt to changes that temporarily expands the Medical Assistance program to provide healthcare coverage for those recently facing hard times while increasing the federal aid that will come to Wisconsin.

  • Provides temporary credentials at no cost to health care providers to practice if they’ve had a license expire in the past five years or if they’re licensed in another state.

  • Opens the door to tens of millions of dollars in additional federal aid for daycare providers through the Child Care and Development Fund block grant program.

  • Conforms Wisconsin’s tax laws with federal law changes that, among other things, exempts distributions from retirement accounts from penalties and income taxes for taxable year 2020 and creates additional charitable contribution deductions for taxable year 2020 while suspending deduction limitations.

  • Allows local governments to not assess interest or late penalties on property tax installment payments due after April 1, 2020 if the total amount is received by October 1, 2020 and the local government has made a finding of hardship.

  • Extends the deadlines for applications to choice schools from April 16th to May 14th and for applications for open enrollment from April 30th to May 29th.

  • Removes standardized testing requirements and waiving hours of instruction requirements on all Wisconsin schools for the 2019-2020 school year.

  • Requires the Department of Public Instruction to prepare guidance that will assist school districts in returning to in-person instruction in the 2020-2021 school year.

  • Requires the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation to submit a report to the Legislature and the Governor by June 30th with a plan to support major industries impacted by COVID-19, including tourism, manufacturing, agriculture, construction, retails, and services for consideration in future Legislative actions.


One final item in the bill I wanted to discuss may not have immediate impacts like the provisions above, but is very important long-term. As Co-Chair of the Legislative Audit Committee, a provision I advocated for will direct the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau, beginning on July 1, 2020 and continuing into the following year, to review government programs impacted by COVID-19 and expenditures made by state agencies with funds authorized and spent by our state government. The findings from these reviews will be published quarterly.


While Wisconsin will see billions of dollars in needed financial resources from the CARES Act to combat COVID-19 and assist individuals, businesses, and local governments, disbursing these vast resources in short order carries an immense amount of risk for mismanagement and potential waste. It’s my belief that the Audit Bureau analysis will help Wisconsin better prepare for future emergency responses by improving distribution systems and expanding recordkeeping procedures while ensuring we account for any mismanagement or misappropriations of funding.


If you are interested in learning more about the legislative response to Covid-19 and you have some spare time, you can read the full, 87-page bill on the Legislature’s webpage. For a more condensed summary of the bill including some context around each provision, the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau has prepared a summary of the provisions in Assembly Bill 1038 which is available on their website.



Wisconsin Emergency Assistance Volunteer Registry


Even as residents are facing difficult circumstances and decisions due to the pandemic, I’ve been overwhelmed by the number of community members looking to see what they can do to help our region get through this outbreak and come out stronger than we’ve ever been. I’ve provided a number of ideas for ways you can help out in previous e-newsletters, and now I want to bring a new opportunity for certain individuals to everyone’s attention.


As some hospitals face staffing shortages either because of a surge in patients or because some of their staff have had to self-quarantine due to potential exposure, the state is seeking active or retired health care professionals to help address these shortages. The Wisconsin Emergency Assistance Volunteer Registry allows medical professionals from dozens of occupations to submit their information and be contacted with opportunities to use their specific skills in service to their community. Volunteers may decline opportunities if it isn’t the right fit, and if a volunteer accepts, they will be trained on-site.


If you’re a medical professional and want to learn more about this selfless opportunity, thank you for your interest and please visit the Department of Health Services’ website to get more information about the program and consider signing-up.



Hospitalization and Tracking Data


As of this afternoon, the state Department of Health Services (DHS) has confirmed 3,555 positive tests of COVID-19 in Wisconsin. An additional 37,997 tests were conducted, but were negative for the Coronavirus. 1,049 cases of COVID-19 have led to hospitalization, which constitutes about 30% of cases. This outbreak has also regrettably lead to 170 deaths in our state.


In the counties that make up the 2nd Senate District, 136 cases of COVID-19 have been reported, including 97 in Brown County, 29 in Outagamie County, 6 in Shawano County, and 4 in Waupaca County. Tracking information on a statewide basis and county-by-county is updated by the Department of Health Services on a daily basis at around 2pm. You can learn more and see the updated data in days to come by visiting DHS’s website.


Additionally, the Wisconsin Hospital Association has established a new webpage with real time tracking of hospitalizations related to COVID-19, including information on intensive care cases and ventilator use. This data can be viewed statewide or organized by region of the state. You can find this information provided by the Hospital Association by visiting on their website.



Until Next Time


My staff and I continue to remain available to assist with questions you may have involving state government during this difficult time. While we may not always have the answer right away, we’ll do our best to assist with your questions and concerns revolving around COVID-19 or other issues related to state government.


To find the most up-to-date information on the Governor’s actions, including the ‘Safer at Home’ order, along with each state agency’s role in this outbreak, I’d encourage you to visit this website. You can also find the information I’ve shared in my last six e-newsletters on COVID-19 by visiting my website.


And as always, please feel free to contact my office with any questions or concerns you may have, and be sure to connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for regular updates on Coronavirus and more from around the 2nd Senate District and in the State Capitol.


Thanks for reading!



Senator Robert Cowles
Proudly Serving Wisconsin's 2nd Senate District




Mailing Address: P.O. Box 7882, Madison, WI 53707-7882 | Office: 118 South, State Capitol

Office: (608) 266-0484 | District: (920) 448-5092 | Sen.Cowles@legis.wisconsin.gov




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