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Capital City Sunday: Incoming Senate Leader on pandemic response, COVID-19 distribution plan

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Reaching a deal on another legislative relief package to address the COVID-19 pandemic continues to face hurdles. 

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) said he not willing to come back into session until January. This comes after Gov. Tony Evers met with GOP leaders last week urging them to take action before federal funding runs out at the end of the month.

Sen. LeMahieu said he rather have the Joint Finance Committee approve funding in the coming weeks to allow the state to continue to pay for testing and another field hospital if needed by using a surplus in the state’s Medicaid fund.

When asked what’s the Senate’s plan beyond using state funds, LeMahieu said there are proposals in the works focusing on vaccination implementation and liability protections for businesses and nonprofit groups.

Assembly Republicans released their own proposals focusing on the state’s approach to the pandemic, but LeMahieu said he wants time to vet those ideas with his caucus.

“There are over 50 ideas from the Speaker’s proposals and some seem pretty good, but with any bill, it’s a good idea to work them through the committee process, talk to stakeholders,” he said.

The incoming Senate Leader does support Assembly Republicans’ proposal to allow JFC to sign off on the state’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan, giving them veto power over the state health department's proposal.

“If state money is being used to distribute the vaccine, I think it’s great to have legislative oversight over that,” LeMahieu said

Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz called the idea ‘dangerous’ to not allow input from health professionals on the state’s vaccine distribution plans.

“This idea is absurd and quite frankly dangerous,” Hintz said. “We don’t need this to politicized and micromanaged by politicians some who don’t even believe in vaccinations, we need DHS to do their job.”

Democrats also widely criticized Republicans’ proposals related to the pandemic such as requiring teachers to head back to the classroom by the end of January, protecting businesses from COVID-19 related lawsuits, and prohibiting local health officers from issues restrictions on businesses like capacity limits and closures.

“Throughout the whole pandemic there’s a lack of urgency and it’s not just about lack of funding there are things we need to be doing to be proactive and demonstrate we can lead," said Hintz.

Pharmacy COVID-19 Vaccinations

Pharmacists in the state are asking lawmakers to ease regulations which they say would make it easier to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine. 

The Pharmacy Society of Wisconsin wrote a letter to lawmakers and the governor asking them to remove hurdles to allow additional pharmacy staff to vaccinate Wisconsinites. 

Assembly Republicans responded to their calls and recently introduced legislation that would allow pharmacy students in training to distribute the vaccine once it’s available.

Under current law pharmacy students are not allowed to until they finish their second year of school, said Danielle Womack, vice president of the pharmacy society of Wisconsin. 

“There’s a number of pharmacy professionals who have certain restrictions for vaccines they can and cannot provide and we’re looking at remove those hurdles to increase access to have an all hands on deck approach,” said Womack. 

Womack said they also asked lawmakers to require health insurance companies and Medicaid programs to reimburse pharmacies once the COVID-19 vaccine is approved by the FDA.

“It makes it difficult for pharmacies to distribute the vaccine on a large scale when they don’t get reimbursements similar to what other providers would receive,” she said.

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Emilee Fannon

Capital Bureau Chief

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