Empower Wisconsin | Jan. 6, 2021
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — For all their whining and complaining about the legislative inactivity of Republican lawmakers, not a single Democrat on the Assembly Health Committee bothered to show up in person Tuesday for a public hearing on a GOP COVID-19 relief bill.
The committee took more than two hours of testimony on Assembly Bill 1, which provides up to $100 million in state funding to fight the virus, COVID-19 lawsuit protection for businesses and schools, and a return of power to parents tired of failed virtual education for their children. AB 1 passed in executive committee on a party-line vote.
Per usual, Democrats opted to attend the public hearing via video from remote locations, leaving several empty seats in the hearing room. Another show of COVID fear solidarity from the minority party.
“I’m disappointed that not one of our Democrat colleagues spent not even a minute in this room giving the respect to the people who have come here to testify on this bill,” he said, noting how vehemently the left campaigned on the majority’s decision not to go back into session following passage last spring of coronavirus relief bills.
Just this week, Gov. Tony Evers tweeted:
“It has been 264 days since the Legislature has passed a bill, and frankly, it would be inexplicable for any other topic to be taken up prior to passing one that addresses our most pressing needs — especially one on which we’ve already found common ground.”
It has been 264 days since the Legislature has passed a bill, and frankly, it would be inexplicable for any other topic to be taken up prior to passing one that addresses our most pressing needs for our COVID-19 response—especially one on which we’ve already found common ground.
— Governor Tony Evers (@GovEvers) January 4, 2021
His allies on the health committee didn’t see much common ground, however, all voting against the compromise bill.
State Rep. Jimmy Anderson (D-Fitchburg) said he was “genuinely hurt” by Sanfelippo’s comments, scolding the Republican that lawmakers don’t have to be at a public hearing in person to represent the public.
That’s certainly the position of the governor, who closed state buildings long ago, at taxpayers’ expense.
The Republican COVID-19 relief package includes a measure requiring Evers to submit a plan by the end of the month to bring state employees back to their offices by March 1. Another proposal calls for the reopening of the Capitol to the public.
AB 1 includes 44 provisions. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said the package is noticeably different from the version his caucus supported late last year. Some measures were removed “in a good faith effort” to put together a bi-partisan bill that Evers would sign, Vos said.
Still, it will deliver “much-needed relief to the citizens of our state,” the speaker said.
The bill includes a measure that would protect schools and businesses from lawsuits related to COVID-19 infections. Democrats and their trial lawyer friends aren’t fond of the measure. Cory Fish, general counsel for Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, testified that in survey after survey COVID liability immunity shield legislation is the top priority for WMC’s members.
While critics of the legislation say there have been relatively few lawsuits tied to COVID-19, Fish noted there have been “several waves of COVID litigation” across the country.
The bill puts more power back in the hands of parents and local elected officials. One measure requires a two-thirds vote every 14 days from school boards to maintain virtual learning. Another provision allows parents to transfer their kids into school districts that have learning options more suited to their children. A proposal that didn’t make the cut — in the spirit of compromise — is a provision that would have required school districts that have employed virtual learning models to return some funding to local property taxpayers.
Local health officials will still be able to issue health orders restricting activities and capacity at public gatherings, but the orders must come up to a vote by local elected officials every 14 days, under another provision in AB 1.
“Elected officials, the ones ultimately accountable to the people, should vote on any order that would force someone to close their doors or restrict their capacity,” Vos said.