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Senate to take up its own version of COVID-19 relief legislation next week

Senate to take up its own version of COVID-19 relief legislation next week

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After the Republican-controlled state Assembly passed likely doomed COVID-19 legislation earlier this week, Republicans in the state Senate are now planning to pass their own version of a COVID-19 plan early next week.

For now, the Senate plan is short on details. The Senate finance committee has scheduled a hearing on the Assembly’s bill on Monday.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu said the committee will amend the Assembly’s version, and then pass the amended package during a floor session on Tuesday.

LeMahieu’s office declined to provide more details on the plan, and said they would come on Monday.

Assembly Republicans on Thursday passed a divisive COVID-19 package that lacked support from the Senate’s GOP members and faced a likely veto by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers if it reaches his desk.

LeMahieu told the Wheeler Report on Wednesday that Republicans in the Senate have not reached a consensus on the package.

“There is a reason that was an Assembly bill and not a Senate bill,” LeMahieu said.

In a statement Thursday, Sen. Stephen Nass, R-Whitewater, said he wouldn’t support a COVID-19 relief bill that doesn’t reopen state government, give funding priority to schools that provide in-person classes, require school districts that have been operating online since September to compensate parents and “prohibit the excessive powers of both state and local public health bureaucrats to control every aspect of our daily lives.”

Assembly Republicans initially proposed COVID-19 legislation late last year that would have forced school districts to pay $371 to each student’s family if it has offered at least 50% online instruction since September. However, that item was ultimately dropped from the latest package. Nass told the (Racine) Journal Times in December that the bill must include compensation to parents of students who have attended mostly online classes in order to gain his support.

The Assembly Republicans’ package was unveiled on Monday, almost two weeks after Evers proposed his own COVID-19 bill, and includes several items on the governor’s list, such as providing the GOP-led budget committee the ability to spend up to $100 million on COVID-19-related expenses, extending the waiver of the state’s one-week waiting period for unemployment claims and a pledge to address the state’s unemployment claim backlog.

Republicans did remove a measure originally floated last year that would give the Legislature authority over the state’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout. The item was dropped because Evers was unlikely to support it.

However, Republicans also have included several items Evers has described as “poison pills,” such as preventing local health officers from issuing coronavirus restrictions for more than two weeks without additional subsequent approval and requiring two-thirds approval by school boards to offer online-only instruction. The GOP package also would prevent employers from requiring workers to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Another measure would grant the GOP-led Legislature authority over how future federal aid dollars are spent through June 30 — which Evers and Democratic lawmakers have opposed.

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