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State lawmakers split on proper COVID-19 response

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Ahead of a scheduled meeting Friday between Gov. Tony Evers and leaders of the Republican-controlled state Assembly and Senate, state lawmakers from south-central and southwestern Wisconsin highlighted the gaps the state's top elected officials still have to bridge before reaching agreement on a comprehensive COVID-19 relief package.

Thus far, the governor's office has released its own package containing a series of proposals while Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said in a press conference Tuesday, Republicans in that chamber had their own set of initiatives but had not yet drafted any bills.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin recorded an additional 83 COVID-19 deaths Thursday with 236 more people hospitalized.

State Rep. Todd Novak (R-Dodgeville) said Thursday he liked parts of both the Assembly GOP's proposal and said there were items in Evers' plan he could support.

Novak said he supported the GOP's initiative to double the amount of contact tracers and the provide relief for small businesses, although the proposal to date has no specifics on what that relief looks like. Novak said there were limitations how much state government could do to prevent the spread of the virus.

"People have to have personal responsibility. I wear a mask when I'm out and people need to wear their masks, they need to social distance, wash their hands," Novak said. "You can legislate a lot of things to help businesses, hospitals and everybody else but you can't legislate personal responsibility and that's something we all stress."

State Rep. Lisa Subeck (D-Madison) said she believed state lawmakers should go further to enforce compliance with guidance given by local, state, and national public health officials.

Subeck said she believed the state had both the authority and a duty to go further and require mask wearing in public amid the increase in new cases across the state.

"If folks aren't wearing masks, we can't get back to business as usual," Subeck said. "We will not recover until we get the pandemic under control and wearing a mask is a big piece of that. Government absolutely as a role in ensuring we do so."

Subeck said she believed the GOP leadership in the Assembly should use Evers' proposal as a baseline for the plan it puts together. The governor's proposal includes requiring heath insurance providers to cover COVID-19 treatments and vaccinations, which Novak said he would support.

Evers' plan would also allow worker's compensation to cover COVID-19, would waive school report cards for the 2020-21 school year, and ban evictions and foreclosures through 2021.

"We have got to take a look at what happens when people are evicted or foreclosed upon in the midst of a healthcare crisis," Subeck said. "How can we control a pandemic if we have people without a place to go?"

Novak said he believed some of the governor's ideas, including the eviction moratorium, were not directly related to the pandemic itself.

"How is putting an eviction ban in place, or extending one, how does that stop COVID?" Novak asked. "I think the main focus here is we need to focus on COVID right now."

Even if the Assembly GOP and Evers find middle ground, nothing will pass without the support of Senate leadership. Incoming Senate President Chris Kapenga told a reporter from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he was cool to both Evers and Vos' proposals.

Novak said he was confident Senate leadership would eventually get on board with a proposal that had the support of Assembly leaders as well as Evers.

"(Senate Republicans) have new leadership over there and they're getting their sea legs," Novak said. "This is not the first time Assembly Republicans and Senate Republicans aren't starting out on the same page."

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A. J. Bayatpour

Reporter, WKOW 27

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