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Businesses urge legislators to OK re-opening plan

By TODD RICHMOND
Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin’s powerful chamber of commerce urged legislators Thursday to adopt its business re-opening plan, telling an Assembly committee that Gov. Tony Evers’ stay-at-home order is crushing the economy and that the state has the coronavirus under control.

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce Executive Vice President Scott Manley told the Assembly’s Republican-controlled state affairs committee that unemployment is skyrocketing and hospitals haven’t experienced an expected surge in coronavirus patients. Some areas of northern Wisconsin haven’t seen any infections.

“The economic impact of shutting down our economy and keeping it shut down has been absolutely devastating, and it’s getting worse every day,” Manley said.

Committee Democrats complained that Republicans orchestrated the hearing, extending invitations to speak only to business representatives and ignoring workers and health care officials. Rep. Christine Sinicki of Milwaukee said the plan appears designed to reduce unemployment rolls by giving people jobs knowing they won’t go to work because they’re too scared of the virus.

“What happens when businesses open too early and workers don’t feel comfortable?” Sinicki said.

Evers’ stay-at-home order is set to expire on May 26 but Republicans are growing impatient as the economy flounders. They’ve asked the state Supreme Court to strike the order down; a ruling could come any day.

WMC is a major contributor to Republican campaigns. The organization introduced its re-opening plan earlier this month. WMC officials said the plan was developed with input from a diverse group of business, government and medical interests. They said it also calls on best practices and recommendations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The plan creates an algorithm that takes into account the local infection rate, health care capacity, population density and other factors to determine what limitations would be placed on a business. All businesses could open, but their operations would be limited based on local factors calculated under the model.

Companies would be given a risk factor of minimal, moderate or substantial. The higher the risk, the more precautions businesses would have to take, including social distancing between workers and customers, operating at a reduced capacity, increasing the use of protective equipment and intensifying cleaning procedures.

The committee wasn’t expected take any action Thursday. Most of the committee members attended the hearing in person in a state Capitol hearing room, although they sat 6 feet apart. Other members and speakers attended virtually through Skype.

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