February 6, 2021

Legislative Update

On Friday the Senate voted to concur with Assembly Bill 1, which passed the Wisconsin State Assembly on Thursday. The bill addresses a number of issues relating to COVID. In my opinion, it was an overall good bill. Evidently, Governor Evers’ opinion is that the bill is overall a bad bill since the bill was vetoed hours after passage.    

While I have reservations about some provisions in the bill, when taken as a whole, I believe this bill provides a net positive to Wisconsin business, families, and individuals.  I’m not a fan of omnibus bills (meaning there are multiple provisions in a single bill, which means one’s support for the bill has to be considered overall as a package). I would prefer these matters were dealt with on an individual basis. 

The bill does address many COVID related concerns we’ve heard the most about. In summary, the bill as amended does the following:

  • Extends the work-share, employer charging, and waiting period changes to unemployment benefits;
  • Requires the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) to address call center hours and unresolved UI claims;
  • Gives DWD authority to waive certain eligibility requirements for extended unemployment benefits;
  • Prohibits COVID-19 vaccine mandates by employers, the Department of Health Services (DHS), and local health officers;
  • Authorizes payment for certain services within the Medical Assistance (MA) program;
  • Creates requirements related to access and reporting of health care data;
  • Requires SeniorCare program to provide vaccine coverage by January 15, 2021;
  • Authorizes DHS to operate a COVID-19 at-home testing program;
  • Limits DHS and local municipalities’ authority to limit gatherings in places of worship;
  • Modifies standards for issuing cremation and death certificates;
  • Requires nursing homes and assisted living facilities to allow in-person essential visitors under certain circumstances;
  • Extends health insurance coverage for prescription drugs, out-of-network services, COVID-19 testing, and vaccinations;
  • Provides legislative oversight over the use of federal funds for COVID-19;
  • Allows the Joint Finance Committee to transfer up to $100 million in existing funding during the national emergency, for expenditures related to the emergency;
  • Authorizes the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands to make loans to municipal public utilities;
  • Allows extensions relating to occupancy permits and payment of property taxes;
  • Allows students at technical colleges and University of Wisconsin institutions to satisfy certain course requirements with volunteer or other work that assists Wisconsin in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • Allows for the flexibility to rehire a retired public employee, the temporary transfer of an employee from one state agency to another, and increases the number of hours a person in a limited-term employment position may work.
  • Specifies the Governor may only declare additional public health emergencies related to COVID-19 for the purpose of receiving federal emergency funds related to the pandemic;
  • Prohibits the Governor from exercising any other emergency powers during a public health emergency other than activation of the National Guard;
  • Includes liability protections for businesses that take reasonable precautions to prevent the spread of the virus;
  • Prohibits mandatory vaccinations by businesses and government entities;
  • Addresses possible shortages of health care workers by allowing providers who hold valid credentials from other states to serve as ambulance service providers, emergency medical responders, or emergency medical services practitioners;
  • Prohibits cost sharing for COVID testing, meaning testing will remain free of charge;
  • Forbids surprise billing by out-of-network providers for COVID related testing and treatment;
  • Allows students to more easily transfer between public school districts under open enrollment if it’s in the best interest of the student and makes it easier for substitute teachers to get a job if there’s a shortage;
  • Allows pharmacy students and dentists to administer vaccines pursuant to a prescription order;
  • Allows interest and penalties to be waived by local taxing authorities for late payments if the full amount is paid by October 1;
  • Requires the governor to submit a plan to the Joint Finance Committee for how he plans to spend the money under what is called a “passive review” process.

I appreciate your feedback on any, or all, of the provisions above. For more detail, please see this memo prepared by the nonpartisan Legislative Council. 

I will do everything in my power to encourage dialogue and compromise between the governor and legislative leaders. The fact is the moment calls for legislative and executive branch action and our efforts will be to set politics aside and seek solutions. Our effort and my support for future legislation will be with the aim of ensuring the state’s COVID response properly balances our civil liberties, economic wellbeing and the public health.