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Gov. Evers announces COVID-19 relief bills, Republicans not fully on board

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MADISON (WKOW) -- After more than six months since the Wisconsin Legislature last met to pass legislation to address the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Tony Evers is announcing a series of bills related to the coronavirus crisis as infections rage across the state.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, also revealed his ideas to help slow the spread of COVID-1,9 but said he doesn't have plans to draft any legislation.

Instead, Vos wants to meet with the governor to hash out both of their ideas to help Wisconsinites during the pandemic, he said during a press conference with Assembly Republicans.

"We are trying to be sincere... here are some good ideas we have and we think (Evers) has some potentially good ideas as well and then hopefully we can find that common ground," Vos said.

Speaker Vos' call to find common ground with the governor comes after seven months of inaction at the state capitol. In April, lawmakers approved a COVID-19 relief bill aimed at addressing some of the problems caused by the pandemic, but since then things have only got worse.

Governor Evers office released a package of bills earlier in the day -- some proposals include banning evictions and foreclosures, waiving the one-week waiting period for unemployment benefits, and requiring insurers to cover testing and treatment, as well as any vaccination.

Evers staff sent the bills to Vos and Senate Majority Leader-elect David LeMahieu on Monday, but neither replied.

"It is our expectation your offices will have the needed conversations with your caucuses and leaders will come ready to discuss and finalize the bill with the Governor on Friday," said wrote Zach Madden, an Evers staffer in an email.

In response to Evers proposals, Vos said he rather see the state double the number of contact tracers, invest in rapid tests, and provide additional funding to struggling businesses.

Vos said he doesn't oppose Evers proposals but believes they don't go far enough.

"Many of the things Governor Evers put on the table we already pass in the spring," he said. "My perspective is what we’ve done so far is not nearly enough... and I would like to have new ideas thrown out there."

The governor's spokesperson, Britt Cudaback, said on Twitter, Republicans are playing politics for not wanting to work with Evers after sharing legislation with GOP leadership.

"It’s shameful that Republicans are watching our state face an unprecedented crisis and would rather continue playing politics than work with the governor to do what’s best for the people of our state," said Cudaback.

Without both sides agreeing on the next steps to take during a time coronavirus cases are surging, overwhelming our hospitals, it could take time for lawmakers to agree on a new COVID-19 relief package.

Gov. Evers COVID-19 Relief Bills

One bill would allow critical workers, including healthcare workers, to claim worker’s compensation benefits related to COVID-19, presuming they got sick on the job.

Evers introduced a bill that will, when a vaccine is available, would ensure health insurance plans provide coverage for those who want to get vaccinated. It would also require coverage for testing, diagnosis, treatment and prescriptions related to COVID-19.

Under another proposal, insurers would be required to cover all telehealth services -- the same as in-person services. Another proposal gives flexibility to pharmacists to extend most prescription refills by 30 days through 2021.

UNEMPLOYMENT

As thousands still wait for their unemployment claims, Evers announced that he wants to suspend the one-week waiting period for unemployment insurance through the end of 2021. Currently, the waiting period is set to go back into effect at the end of this year.

The governor is also seeking to allow the Department of Workforce Development to enact rules relaxing work search requirements.

Another proposal would waive provisions of the Work-Share program through next year.

Social Security Disability recipients would also receive concurrent unemployment insurance benefits, under one proposal.

The Department of Health Services would also be allowed to issue an order prohibiting evictions and foreclosures, waive interest, penalties, or payments on governmental loans and debt through the end of
2021.

SCHOOLS AND FAMILY

To give schools more flexibility during the pandemic, Evers is seeking to waive student assessments and school report card requirements for the 2020-21 school year.

Another would allow rehiring of retired teachers and reinstate their licenses to help alleviate shortages at K-12 schools.

Other proposals include:

  • Prohibit insurers from requiring prior authorization or imposing quantity limitations below a 90 days supply through the end of 2021.
  • Provide the Division of Personnel Management with additional flexibility to state agencies to retain and recruit staff to help ensure that state agencies can dedicate the maximum level of resources to the emergency response.
  • Establish that insurers will reimburse providers for out-of-network care (including telehealth) resulting from COVID-19 related disruptions at 250% of Medicare rates.
  • Waive in-person appearance requirements through the end of 2021.
  • Allow online notaries to perform online notarization of estate planning documents (such as wills and trusts) through the end of 2021. This would afford Wisconsinites who want to do estate planning during the pandemic the ability to do so remotely.
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Emilee Fannon

Capital Bureau Chief

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