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After Months Of Inaction, Wisconsin Assembly Republicans Release COVID-19 Package

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Andy Manis/Getty Images
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A person gets tested for COVID-19 at the Alliant Energy Center on November 24, 2020 in Madison, Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Assembly Republicans are backing a $100 million coronavirus relief package, about a fifth of what Democratic Gov. Tony Evers wants to spend on fighting the virus.

The Legislature has not met since April, even as virus numbers have spiked in Wisconsin. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Assembly Republicans announced their COVID-19 package Tuesday.

Among other measures, the package would double the number of local public health staff who address COVID-19, prohibit COVID-19 test co-payments and establish legislative oversight of the vaccine distribution plan.

On the economic front, the package would provide payments of $371 to parents of students who’ve had at least 50% virtual instruction since September, create business grants for the hospitality industry, and the state Department of Workforce Development would also be required to eliminate the backlog of unemployment insurance claims.

And, nursing homes would be required to allow one “essential” family member to visit, under certain circumstances.

“Wisconsin needs a comprehensive response and Assembly Republicans are ready to act before the end of the year,” said Speaker Vos. “We look forward to working with our legislative colleagues and the governor on bipartisan solutions that the state deserves in this crisis.”

But it doesn't appear Senate Republicans are on board, let alone Gov. Evers. Senate Republican Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu said Tuesday that Senate Republicans had “serious concerns” about new spending and instead wanted to tap surplus from the state's medical assistance programs. He didn't say what he wanted to spend the money on, or how much. “It’s unfortunate that Republicans can’t even agree among themselves on a plan for our state’s response to this pandemic,” said Evers' spokeswoman Britt Cudaback.

Vos met virtually with LeMahieu and Evers twice in the past two weeks, and Assembly Republicans announced their ideas after the second virtual meeting between Evers, Vos and LeMahieu.

Evers has proposed a $500 million coronavirus relief package for the Legislature to consider. It would halt evictions and foreclosures through 2021 and continue to allow people to collect unemployment immediately, without a one-week suspension period.

Under Evers’ plan, people who get COVID-19 at work to receive worker’s compensation benefits — even if they work in health care. Evers would also require health plans to cover testing, diagnosis, treatment, prescriptions and vaccines related to COVID-19.

The wide-ranging proposals announced by Assembly Republicans include some crossover with what Evers wanted, but also many ideas he is unlikely to support. He did not comment on their specific proposals, but Cudaback said Evers remains ready to work on a bipartisan plan that can pass.

“So many extremely politically divisive items at a time when we need the opposite,” said Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz.

The package would offer weekly COVID-19 tests for home use but prevent health officials from prohibiting public gatherings in churches. And, Teachers would also be required to work from school buildings, not at home, even when teaching remotely.

Assembly Republicans want to require the state Department of Health Services to create a plan for distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of the month. But Republicans also want to prohibit employers or government health officials from requiring people to get vaccinated.

The GOP proposal comes as the state reported 4,078 new COVID-19 cases and an additional 107 deaths, a state record.  There have been 3,420 deaths from COVID-19 to date in Wisconsin and more than 390,000 cases.

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