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Senate GOP introduces its own COVID-19 bill

By SCOTT BAUER
Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Senate Republicans unveiled their own scaled-back COVID-19 response plan on Monday, a measure that goes farther than Gov. Tony Evers wanted in many areas but takes out several provisions he opposed that were in a bill passed by the Assembly last week.

The same bill must pass both the Senate and Assembly and be signed by the Democratic governor before becoming law. A Senate committee planned to hold a hearing and vote on their plan on Monday, setting up a vote in the full Senate on Tuesday just hours before Evers is set to deliver his State of the State address.

Release of the bill comes as the two-week average of new positive COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin continues a climb that began in late December. To date, there have been nearly 507,000 positive cases and 5,157 deaths.
State health officials planned to provide an update Monday on the state’s vaccination efforts. For now, Wisconsin is focused on vaccinating more than 500,000 health care workers and nursing homes residents. Assisted living residents were to be vaccinated starting in two weeks. State health officials have said the next phase of vaccination, which is likely to include people 75 and older, first responders, K-12 teachers and corrections workers, will likely start by the end of the month.

Meanwhile, the Legislature and Evers have been unable to reach a deal. Evers put forward a plan that he said included only items that Republicans in both the Senate and Assembly agreed with after weeks of negotiations. But the Senate and Assembly introduced their own competing and differing, bills.

Evers has voiced opposition to the Assembly bill and he had no immediate reaction to the Senate version. A spokeswoman for Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos did not immediately return a message asking whether the Senate proposal was acceptable to the Assembly.

The Senate bill contains provisions that Democrats and Evers oppose, like limiting liability for COVID-19 claims against businesses, schools, governments and health care providers. It also extends the waiver of a one-week waiting period to receive unemployment benefits only until March 14. Evers had wanted that waiver extended into July.

But the Senate bill also removes numerous provisions that Democrats and Evers had objected to — moves that could be signs of progress toward a deal. Taken out of the Senate bill are provisions that would:

— Prohibit local health officials from ordering businesses closed for more than two weeks at a time.
— Forbid employers and health officials requiring that employees be vaccinated for COVID-19.
— Require school boards to approve all-virtual learning with a two-thirds vote every two weeks.
— Give the Legislature control over the spending of federal COVID-19 funding.
— Allow dentists to administer the COVID-19 and flu vaccines.

 

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