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Senate GOP, Evers agree on COVID compromise, Assembly not on board


Rainbow over the Wisconsin state capitol building in Madison, Sept. 30, 2020.

MADISON (WKOW) -- The Wisconsin State Senate passed a coronavirus relief bill Tuesday that stripped out controversial provisions from the Assembly version that likely would've led to Governor Tony Evers vetoing the measure.

Evers said Tuesday afternoon he would sign the Senate bill and urged Assembly Republican leaders to pass that version of a COVID-19 response plan.

However, Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke (R - Kaukauna) said he was "incredibly disappointed" in the version the Senate passed and indicated Assembly Republicans would not approve the scaled-down version, meaning Wisconsinites will continue to wait for additional COVID-19 aid from the state. The legislature last passed a bill in April which, to date, is its only response to the pandemic.

The Senate version included the ability for the state to transfer as much as $100 million toward coronavirus relief. It would extend call center hours at Department of Workforce Development for people filing unemployment claims, and would continue to waive the one-week waiting period for unemployment benefits.

The bill would also allow people to receive reimbursement for out-of-network charges related to COVID-19 treatment and continue allowing out-of-state health care professionals to practice in Wisconsin.

The Senate version removed provisions that would restrict how long local health departments could issue orders that close or limit capacities at businesses, would make it harder for school boards to move to all-virtual learning, and would ban employers from requiring workers to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Evers on Tuesday publicly thanked Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R - Oostburg) for reaching a compromise Senate Republicans and Evers could agree upon.

Democrats in both chambers of the legislature spoke out against a provision giving legal immunity to businesses, schools, nonprofits, and local governments. It would require people attempting to file lawsuits for COVID-related claims to prove "reckless" or "wanton" conduct.

Democrats also sought to amend the bill to include money for food, rental, and child care assistance, as well as additional grants for small businesses. The amendments did not pass in either the Assembly or the Senate.

The immunity provision was in the Senate version, although Evers indicated he would compromise on that in exchange for Republicans dropping some of the items in the Assembly bill.

A statement attributed to the Senate Republican caucus praised the compromise that led to the bill's passage.

"This is the unified governance our state needs right now," the Senate GOP statement read. "It’s refreshing to start off the year and legislative session with a comprehensive, bipartisan plan we can confidently share with constituents as we continue to combat COVID-19 and safely re-open our state."