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Democrats seek to take up COVID-19 relief items as separate bills

State Capitol ANCHOR

MADISON (WKOW) -- Out of the ashes of a failed month-long effort to pass a $100 million COVID-19 response package, Democratic lawmakers say they plan to introduce many of the bill's contents as standalone items.

There is reason for urgency with at least one of the provisions -- by allowing the one-week waiting period for unemployment benefits to come back into effect, the state is now losing $1.3 million per week.

Democratic lawmakers said this week they want to take a number of the items in the version of the bill passed by the Senate as separate bills.

Governor Tony Evers and Senate Republican leaders compromised on the bill before Assembly leaders added items including a ban on employers requiring workers to get vaccinated, prohibiting local health officials from closing places of worship, and giving the legislature more power over future federal relief.

Evers said last Friday those changes prompted him to veto the bill.

None of the Democrats' proposals have been formally introduced as bills but lawmakers said they wanted items like the unemployment waiting period waived again as its own bill.

Other provisions would allow out-of-state medical professionals to temporarily practice in Wisconsin, allow people to receive reimbursement for out-of-network charges related to COVID-19 treatment, and extend call center hours for people seeking to file for unemployment benefits.

"There was broad agreement between Republicans and Democrats on the version of the coronavirus bill that was passed by the Senate," said Rep. Lisa Subeck (D-Madison). "Let's take those items and get them passed. We can keep talking about the other stuff."

Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Cedarburg) said Thursday he was open to taking up provisions as standalone bills.

While Stroebel agreed the waiting period issue as something that could be addressed, he said his biggest concern was taking up language Senate Republicans added to the bill that would protect businesses, schools, and other entities from being sued over virus-related claims.

"I definitely know that the most important thing we need to get is liability reform," Stroebel said. "What that is for is that's for our schools, businesses, churches, non-profits, so they can open without the fear of predatory trial lawyers."

Kit Beyer, a spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), said earlier this week Republican leaders were discussing the possibility of bringing up some provisions as standalone bills but had no other details to share.