Legislative Republicans unveil proposals to address COVID-19 pandemic

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) – Assembly and Senate Republican leaders unveiled proposals to respond to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, though any legislative effort would require the governor’s signature to be put in place.

The first substantive plan from state Republicans comes 230 days after the state legislature last met.

Assembly GOP Proposals

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos released a list of proposals he said his caucus backs.

“Wisconsin needs a comprehensive response and Assembly Republicans are ready to act before the end of the year,” Vos said in a statement. “We look forward to working with our legislative colleagues and the Governor on bipartisan solutions that the state deserves in this crisis.”

The list includes $100 million to help fund the response to the public health emergency. That is far less than the more than $500 million proposed by Governor Tony Evers. The Assembly GOP is also voicing support for boosting health care staff, testing and creating grants for hospitals. State Sen Chris Larson, (D-Milwaukee), said he likes a couple of items in the plan, namely, a grant program for the hospitality industry.

“I was just on a call with restaurant owners trying to figure out how to make ends meet, and how to make sure that their workers can go to work safely, and they can stay in business,” Larson said.

The list includes ideas that will likely face opposition from Democrats in the legislature and likely Gov. Evers as well.

That includes things like giving oversight power to the GOP-controlled legislature for the state’s vaccine distribution plan, requiring educators to physically be in school buildings for teaching and prohibiting local health officials from being able to close businesses or impose capacity limits on them.

“It unfortunately is on brand with making the problem even worse," Larson said. "A lot of this is just partisan garbage.”

“So many extremely politically divisive items at a time when we need the opposite,” Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz (D – Oshkosh) wrote in a tweet reacting to the Assembly GOP proposals.

Senate GOP Proposal

Senate Majority Leader-elect Devein LeMahieu (R – Oostburg) shared what his caucus is interested in for offering a response to the pandemic.

Sen. LeMahieu released a statement saying he wants the state to use surplus funds in the medical assistance fund to address the ongoing crisis.

“Senate members have serious concerns relating to the most effective distribution of new state funding,” LeMahieu said in a statement. “The transfer of surplus funds presents an opportunity to act immediately and work together with the Governor on a unified, effective response to our shared hardship.”

State Sen Chris Kapenga, (R-Delafield), said “There are definitely issues I think the caucus would support, but we will be having those discussions over the next few days,” about Vos' plan.

Working with Governor Evers

Gov. Evers' office said in a statement of the GOP proposal, “Gov. Evers has repeatedly asked Republicans for their plan to respond to COVID-19 and remains ready and willing to work together on a proposal that will pass both houses with bipartisan support. It’s unfortunate that Republicans can’t even agree among themselves on a plan for our state’s response to this pandemic. “

Governor Evers rolled out his proposals last month. It’s likely the Democratic governor and Republicans who control the Legislature won’t get everything they want and will likely have to compromise.

The Legislature has not met since April when it passed one coronavirus relief bill. State Sen. Lena Taylor, (D-Milwaukee), said at this point, even if Democrats disagree with the plan, she supports something being done.

“Something is better than nothing," Taylor said. "And whatever it is, it’s late. Because people have been in need for a long time, and so I’m glad that there’s something out there.”

Evers held a phone meeting with Vos and LeMahieu on Tuesday, Dec. 1, their second to talk about a path forward for a potential coronavirus relief package.

In a media briefing prior to the meeting, Gov. Evers said he wanted the Legislature to meet in the middle of December rather than waiting until January when the new legislative session begins. Evers noted federal CARES Act funding expires on Dec. 31.

“We cannot afford to have any lapse in testing, contact tracing or any of the other things we do around public health,” Evers said. “Taking a vacation from doing what we know what we need to do, that would probably be the dumbest thing we could think of doing.”

Read the complete list of proposals and descriptions of the Assembly Republican plan here:

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