Empower Wisconsin | Jan. 8, 2021
By M.D. Kittle
Madison — The Republican-led Assembly on Thursday passed an amended, COVID-19 relief package, a compromise version aimed at checking the power of local unelected health bureaucrats.
The bill, which passed on a party line vote, includes COVID liability protections for schools and businesses, up to $100 million in funding for the fight against the virus, and safeguards for civil liberties.
It remains to be seen whether the key amended language is enough to win support from reluctant Republicans in the state Senate.
In its original form, AB 1 prohibited local health officers from issuing public health orders longer than 14 days without approval from their elected councils or boards. The amended version changes the length of such orders to two business days, unless the local government body approves an extension of the order by a two-thirds vote. Extensions are limited to 14 days.
Further, the amended version makes clear, “Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to confer any authority on a local public health officer to close or restrict capacity in places of worship or businesses.”
Of course, local governments controlled by Big Government liberals — Madison, Racine, Milwaukee — will have no trouble extending their overreaching health orders.
Senate sources tell Empower Wisconsin the amended bill is “undeniably better” than the original version, but concern remains that the measure confers on public health officers authority they do not — or should not — have. Wisconsin has seen multiple examples of bureaucrats expanding the law, abusing their power, and drastically curtailing liberties.
State Sen. Steve Nass issued a press release before passage of AB 1 warning about the “unintended consequences” of giving health officers codified powers.
“We should not rush to pass a feel-good bill for politicians or special interests,” the Whitewater Republican said. “Instead, we should continue working to get a bill that meets the needs of families and protects the civil liberties of our constituents.”
Senate Republican leaders have been conspicuously silent about the bill, but even critics of some provisions say there are a number of good proposals in the package. Not the least of which, they say, is a measure that shields businesses, schools and nonprofits from what legal experts predict will be a wave of COVID-19 exposure lawsuits.
Assembly Republican leaders hailed the bill and its fast passage as a victory for Wisconsinites in the battle against a faceless enemy.
“This bill provides assistance to hospitals, small business owners, and the hard-working people of Wisconsin during these difficult times,” Rep. Mark Born (R-Beaver Dam), co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee, said in a statement.
Among its key provisions, the relief package demands the dysfunctional Department of Workforce Development get its act together and clear up the backlog of unemployment claims, many of them stuck in adjudication for months. It also demands accountability from a governor who has failed to account for his decisions in spending taxpayer money.
School Boards would have to approve denying students in-person education by a super-majority vote every two weeks, giving hope to families trapped in inadequate virtual learning systems.
“Assembly Bill 1 is the first bill of the new legislative session and undoubtedly will be one of the most important for our communities,” said Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna).
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) acknowledges the bill is a compromise package, a give and take crafted to survive Democrat Gov. Tony Evers’ veto pen. His liberal allies in the Legislature hate it. Like Evers, they want more, much more, taxpayer dollars and broader government control.
“Wisconsinites need a real, robust response to this pandemic, including investments in community testing and contact tracing, help for struggling families with rent and food assistance, provisions to help prevent evictions and foreclosures, health insurance for low-income families through the Medicaid expansion, and hazard pay and sick leave for frontline health workers,” Rep. Greta Neubauer (D-Racine) said in a statement.