Capitol Update
by Senator Howard Marklein
April 17, 2020


The First COVID-19 Relief Bill in Wisconsin

On Wednesday, April 15, 2020, I joined my colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, to vote for a COVID-19 Relief bill with 55 provisions.  This bill enables Wisconsin to maximize the funding we will receive from the Federal government, allow our state agencies flexibility, remove obstacles and support the citizens who have been impacted by the Safer At Home order. Governor Tony Evers signed the bill immediately on Wednesday, April 15, 2020.
This will not be our only response to the crisis, but it is a very strong first-step to clear the way for our state to respond and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. A very clear, yet thorough, summary written by the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) is available at the following link: https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/misc/lfb/misc/114_summary_of_provisions_of_sb_932_and_ab_1038_4_13_20.pdf
This bill includes a lot of provisions, but there are several that directly and immediately impact the people, businesses, organizations and communities I serve.  This bill includes a suspension of the one-week waiting period for unemployment compensation. It defers property tax payments. It maintains county fair aids, even if county fairs are not held. It allows towns to postpone their annual and board of review meetings.
The bill postpones requirements for licensing renewals for health care providers and emergency medical services (EMS) so that they can worry about responding to the crisis, rather than the red tape of licensing.  It provides $75 million for the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee (JFC) to respond to issues that are not covered by the Federal government.
The Assembly passed this bill 97-2.  The Senate passed this bill 32-0. Governor Evers signed the bill immediately.
As I said, we will likely write additional legislation to continue to respond to this pandemic. The Federal funding and response is also evolving and we will continue to find ways that we must flex and fill-in-the-gaps in our state’s response.
One of the most obvious gaps, to me, is that the Federal funding and programming does not currently provide relief for agriculture.  But I believe that this is evolving. 
This past week, I talked with Randy Romanski, the Interim Secretary for the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) about Wisconsin’s response and opportunities within the Federal government’s package. I encouraged him to ask Governor Evers to spend a portion of the $1.9 Billion he has in discretionary funds from the Federal government on agriculture and rural Wisconsin. 
I also signed-on to a letter to Secretary Sonny Perdue at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to encourage the Federal government to buy and store commodities while restaurants and schools are still shut-down.  Our food supply chain has been radically impacted.
I also believe that it is time to plan for the “exit strategy” from this lock down. I have been in communication with other Senators about this over the past week. I think there is a reasonable way to move forward and get our economy going again while protecting the health and wellbeing of our citizens.  We are not going to be able to flip a switch, so we must be working on this now.
Our hospitals, businesses of every size and citizens need to see a light at the end of the tunnel. I have heard from many hospital leaders, business owners, farmers and constituents who are very worried that they will not be able to financially recover if this goes on much longer. They wonder about the data and modeling that is being used to make decisions.  They wonder about the intent of the Safer At Home order – were we meant to flatten a curve, or not? It sure appears that we have been successful.  Our hospitals tell us that they are ready to weather a surge in COVID-19 cases if one happens, but they cannot remain on standby forever.
Again, I look forward to our continued work on these issues and appreciate your input as we turn our attention to re-opening Wisconsin in the near future.
As always, please do not hesitate to connect with me to provide input, ideas or to seek assistance.  My team is working remotely but continues to be available to serve you. Send an email to sen.marklein@legis.wisconsin.gov or call 608-266-0703. Leave a message and a member of my team will follow-up with you.