On April 14, the Wisconsin Assembly met in its first ever virtual session to pass legislation addressing COVID-19. The Senate is expected to pass the bill, also in virtual session, on Wednesday. With the Assembly passing the bill on a bipartisan basis, it is expected that Gov. Tony Evers will sign the bill into law.
The Assembly’s virtual session featured many members participating remotely via Skype, while the remaining legislators, including leadership, were present in the chamber and practicing social distancing.
As passed by the Assembly, the bill, SB 932/AB 1038, includes provisions to:
- Administration: Allow the Department of Administration to transfer employees among agencies, allow DOA to adjust limited term employee hours, allow state employees to take annual leave before it has been accrued, waive requirements for timely filing of adverse employment complaints by state employees and related in-person meeting requirements, allow Wisconsin Retirement System annuitants to reenter critical positions during the emergency without suspending their annuities, allow state entities to waive in-person requirements.
- Retail: Prohibit returns of food, cleaning supplies, personal care products, or paper product.
- Utilities: Authorize the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands to offer loans to municipal utilities during the public health emergency, allow households to apply for heating assistance under DOA’s low-income energy assistance program any time in 2020 (normally, this program is limited to September-May).
- Local government: change requirements for town meetings and board of review meetings.
- Liability: Exempt manufacturers, distributors and sellers of emergency medical supplies and equipment that donate or sell their product to be exempt from civil liability. Entities would be exempt from civil liability only if the product were sold or donated at a price that does not exceed the cost of production.
- Medicaid: Allow DHS to suspend current copayment/premium requirements for childless adults under MA in order for Wisconsin to receive the enhanced federal medical assistance percentage, require DHS to create an incentive-based MA payment system to encourage participation in health information exchange, require coverage of vaccines under SeniorCare
- Private insurance: Create a “surprise billing” mandate during the COVID-19 emergency that an enrollee cannot be charged more for seeing an out-of-network provider (if an in-network provider is not available) for services related to COVID-19, create a testing for COVID-19 insurance mandate prohibiting cost sharing, ban prohibitions on early refills, create non-discrimination provisions related to COVID-19 diagnosis, i.e., for enrollment, renewal, basis for cancellation, or basis for rates.
- Health care providers: Create liability protections for health care professionals, prohibit DHS from requiring emergency and ambulance service providers to renew their credentials during the public health emergency, waive license renewal requirements during the public health emergency, allow the Department of Safety & Professional Services to grant temporary credentials to former health care providers and providers from other states, lowers instructional hour requirements for nurse aides to the federal minimum of 75 hours.
- Other health care provisions: Implement a public health emergency dashboard with information from hospitals and surgery centers, allow pharmacists to extend certain prescription orders during the public health emergency
- Education: Waive requirements for the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to publish school accountability reports for 2019-20, waive pupil assessments mandated by state law for 2019-20, require school boards to submit to DPI reports on virtual learning, waive hours of instructions for private school choice schools and extend the enrollment period for school choice, allow DPI to waive other statutes or rules related to parental choice, charter schools, or the Special Needs Scholarship program.
- Tax: Allow municipalities to waive interest and penalty payments for property taxes until Oct. 1, 2020, allow the Department of Revenue to waive other tax penalties if persons filed to remit taxes due to COVID-19, conform Wisconsin tax code to changes from the federal coronavirus bills.
- Workforce development: Temporarily suspend the one week waiting period for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits, provide that UI claims related to COVID-19 will not be charged to the employer’s UI account as normally provided, suspend certain limitations of the state work-share program, suspend employee records inspection requirements during a public health emergency.
- Worker’s Compensation: Creates a rebuttable presumption for first responders that an injury during the public health emergency was caused by the individual’s employment, if the employee has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
- Economic development: Require the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation to submit a report to the governor and legislature by June 30, 2020 on a plan to support major industries that have been adversely affected by COVID-19, including tourism, manufacturing, construction, retail, agriculture, and services.
- Funding: Child Care and Development fund block grants from the federal CARES Act are credited to federal block grant appropriations and subject to passive review by the Joint Finance Committee
- Other: Allow the legislature, state agencies, and local governments to suspend deadlines and training requirements during the public health emergency.
Democrats offered several amendments to the bill.
Amendment 1 would have deleted all references in AB 1038 to the specific public health emergency declared on March 12 by Gov. Evers and, instead, would specify that any such provisions in AB 1038 tied to the March 12 declaration would be tied to the current public health emergency, any extension granted by the Legislature, and any other public emergency declared related to COVID-19.
Amendment 2 contained various provisions, including:
- Prohibiting commercial health insurance plans from requiring cost-sharing for COVID-19 treatments and vaccinations and removing time limits on that prohibition
- Creating childcare grant programs and expanding the Wisconsin Shares program
- Removing a provision that provides immunity for health care providers acting in good faith in response to the public health emergency
- Providing $5 million GPR for tourism marketing
- Providing $39 million in GPR for the UW System
- Providing $30 million to Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation for grants to regional economic development organizations and for low interest loans to small businesses
Amendment 3 would have made various changes the remaining Wisconsin elections in 2020: making 2020 elections vote by mail, extending voter registration deadlines, and eliminating voter ID requirements.
All three amendments were tabled on party line votes with no discussion.
Speaker Vos introduced an amendment making mostly technical changes to the original bill. That amendment passed on a party line vote. Changes in Amendment 4 included:
- Tightening up Worker’s Compensation presumption for first responders
- Technical corrections to WorkShare provisions
- Technical corrections to schools provisions, including additional flexibility for school choice audits
- Clarification that health insurance provisions, including out of network billing requirements, apply only during and 60 days following the declared state emergency, not the federal emergency declaration.
- Technical changes to health care provider liability exemptions
- Simplifying the process for retired providers and providers from other states to temporarily practice in Wisconsin, aligning it with the governor’s proposed language
- Technical changes to property tax provisions, allowing municipalities and counties to mutually agree to delay property tax deadlines
- Adding forest products to the list of businesses included in WEDC’s required economic recovery plan to the governor
After adoption of Amendment 4, the bill passed 97-2, with Reps. Jonathan Brostoff (D-Milwaukee) and Marisabel Cabrera (D-Milwaukee) the only no votes.
Read more about COVID-19 legislation and other updates: /covid-19-in-wisconsin/.