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Wisconsin Legislature releases coronavirus-response bill (UPDATE)

Wisconsin Senate President Roger Roth, middle right, speaks on March 24 during a mock session in the Joint Finance Committee Room, in Madison,. The Republican-controlled Wisconsin Legislature has released its coronavirus-response bill, a proposal the Legislature plans to vote on starting on Tuesday in its first-of-its-kind virtual sessions where most lawmakers will be dialed in remotely. (Steve Apps/Wisconsin State Journal via AP, File)

Wisconsin Senate President Roger Roth, middle right, speaks on March 24 during a mock session in the Joint Finance Committee Room, in Madison,. The Republican-controlled Wisconsin Legislature has released its coronavirus-response bill, a proposal the Legislature plans to vote on starting on Tuesday in its first-of-its-kind virtual sessions where most lawmakers will be dialed in remotely. (Steve Apps/Wisconsin State Journal via AP, File)

By SCOTT BAUER
Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Republican-controlled Wisconsin Legislature on Monday released its coronavirus-response bill, a proposal lawmakers plan to vote on starting Tuesday in first-of-its-kind virtual sessions that they will attend remotely.

Gov. Tony Evers, who had objected to an earlier version, had no immediate comment on the latest 87-page proposal. Evers said on Friday that he was hopeful a bipartisan deal could be reached. Leaders of minority Democrats in the Legislature also did not immediately return messages Monday.

The key provision that Evers objected to in the earlier version would have given the Legislature’s GOP-controlled budget committee the power to make any cuts in spending it wanted.

That provision was removed from the latest plan.

The budget committee would be allowed to allocate up to $75 million in emergency funding during the public health emergency and up to 90 days after it’s over.

The Assembly was expected to vote on the bill Tuesday, followed by the Senate on Wednesday. Some lawmakers will be physically present in Madison, while the others will attend via video- and teleconference for the first time in the Wisconsin Legislature’s 172-year history.

“We crafted this bill taking into consideration the governor’s proposals, reacting to legislation passed by Congress, and receiving input from both parties in the Legislature,” Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said in a statement. “There is no such thing as a perfect piece of legislation, but action is desperately needed right now.”

Much of what the Legislature intends to do is clear the path for spending of more than $2 billion coming to Wisconsin as part of the federal stimulus bill. Key provisions would clear the way for Wisconsin to receive more money for Medicaid, unemployment benefits and more.

The bill would suspend the one-week waiting period for people to receive unemployment benefits. It would be waived for anyone who applied between March 12 and Feb. 7, 2021.

That was a provision Evers pushed to include, given that Wisconsin’s unemployment rate was projected to reach record-high levels due to the widespread closures caused by the pandemic.

By Sunday, 144 deaths people have died from COVID-19 in Wisconsin with more than 3,300 confirmed cases.

The bill also: prohibits certain insurers from prohibiting coverage based on a COVID-19 diagnosis; attempts to ease the licensing and credentialing process for health care workers, including allowing former providers and those from outside Wisconsin to get temporary credentials; reduces nurse training hour requirements; and makes health care providers immune from civil liability from services provided during the pandemic.

The bill would also require the state’s chief economic development agency to create a plan by June 30 to support the major industries adversely affected by the pandemic, including tourism, manufacturing, agriculture, construction, retail, and services.

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