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Assembly passes COVID-19 relief package during first-ever virtual session

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MADISON (WKOW) -- The State Assembly on Tuesday passed a bipartisan coronavirus relief package during the first-ever virtual session.

About half of the 99 members in the Assembly attended in-person in the chamber, the rest participating via-video chat.

Lawmakers in the Assembly practiced social distancing sitting 6 feet apart in their desks during session, many did not wear any masks but several staffers did.

It was a rare scene of compromise both sides putting their political differences aside to pass the relief bill.

"Democrats and Republicans coming together to make sure we get those resources to intervene, to manage this crisis," said Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh). "I hope this moment calls for something bigger and if we need to act again we will."

Assembly Speaker Vos was also pleased both sides could work together but cautioned Democrats and Governor Tony Evers the state needs to be careful how much it spends during this crisis.

"We will have to come back to fix the economic carnage this has put on our economy," said Vos.

The package passed 97-2, Rep. Jonathan Brostoff (D-Milwaukee) and State Rep. Marisabel Cabrera (D-Milwaukee) voting against. In a statement, both believed the bill fell short of providing relief to "all Wisconsinites."

The package now moves to the Senate where it’s expected to pass during a virtual session Wednesday. 

Most of the package allows the state to spend more than $2 billion in federal aid coming to Wisconsin after Congress approved a stimulus bill last month. 

It also allows the state to get more money for Medicaid, unemployment benefits and authorizes the budget committee to use funds for emergency purposes 90 days after the public health emergency is lifted. 

Other provisions ease licensing requirements for health care workers allowing them to use temporary credentials without having to renew during the coronavirus outbreak. The bill also will reduce training requirements for nurses.

UNEMPLOYMENT

As Wisconsin reaches record-high levels of the number of people filing for unemployment, lawmakers passed a provision waiving the one-week waiting period to receive benefits. 

It would be waived for anyone who applied between March 12 and Feb. 7, 2021.

From mid-March to the first week of April, the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development says it received more than 313,000 new applications for unemployment benefits. During the same time one year ago, the DWD got just about 1,800 new claims.

MEDICAID:

The legislature also approved a provision allowing the state to be eligible for an additional $150 million in federal Medicaid funding. 

The state was on track to lose an increase in federal dollars because the state was not in compliance with the federal stimulus bill approved by Congress. This bill makes the necessary changes to get the funding.

It allows the Wisconsin Department of Health Services to suspend rules set in February that made changes to the Medicaid program for childless adults adding premiums and co-payments. 

PHARMACY EXTENSTIONS:

Creates an alternative authorization for a pharmacist to extend a prescription up to 30 days after the conclusion of that public health emergency declared on March 12, 2020. Under the bill, during that period, the prescribing practitioner is exempt from having to contact the prescribing practitioner or his or her office, and certain other requirements also do not apply.

DEPARTMENT OF WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT:

Requires the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation to submit a report to the legislature and the governor by June 30, 2020, that includes a plan for providing support to the major industries in Wisconsin that have been adversely affected by the COVID-19 public health emergency, including tourism, manufacturing, agriculture, construction, retail and services.

SHIFTING STATE EMPLOYEES

This authorizes the secretary of administration to transfer employees from any executive branch agency to another executive branch agency during the public health emergency. The bill would also require the state’s chief economic development agency to create a plan by June 30 to support the major industries adversely affected by the pandemic, including tourism, manufacturing, agriculture, construction, retail, and services.

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Emilee Fannon

Capital Bureau Chief

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