Evers signs coronavirus relief package, says he wants it immediately

Published: Apr. 15, 2020 at 10:20 AM CDT
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Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers has signed the coronavirus relief package passed unanimously by the state Senate just hours earlier.

“My pen has been waiting for weeks to sign legislation that guarantees Wisconsin will capture our fair share of federal dollars under the CARES Act and ensures workers experiencing unemployment and underemployment won’t be forced to wait an extra week for needed benefits to kick in," Evers said.

Evers asked the legislature to send him the bill soon after the state Senate passed the bill Wednesday. The Assembly overwhelmingly passed the bipartisan bill on Tuesday.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald explained lawmakers developed this bill in response to the CARES Act, the federal government's $2.2 trillion stimulus package that allocated $2.3 billion to Wisconsin. He said it included Gov. Evers initial proposal as well as input from both chambers.

“This bill puts working men, women, and families of our state first, by extending a lifeline to the recently unemployed," Fitzgerald said. “We have to get businesses and the economy moving again, and I’m hopeful that this bill marks the first step in that direction."

Also calling the legislation a step in the right direction, Evers added that it "falls short of what is needed to address the magnitude and gravity of what our state is facing."

According to Evers, the proposal doesn't include hazard pay or workers compensation benefits for frontline and critical workers. He also claims it will not provide meaningful support for small businesses and farmers.

Some lawmakers echoed Evers, saying the bill does not go far enough to help the people who need it most.

"We are left with a skeleton that lacks muscle, that lacks real content. It offer little now to help the families, farmers, those living in poverty, people without the Internet, small businesses," said Assistant Senate Minority Leader Janet Bewley (D-Mason)

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) acknowledged the bill is not perfect and there is more work to be done.

"It might be the first bill of a number that we are going to have to pass in the legislature, but it is timely and I think it's been well thought out and I think it will help," Fitzgerald said.

After the bill made it through the Assembly on Tuesday, Speaker Robin Vos explained there are 55 provisions that address a wide range of issues stretching from unemployment to insurance. The bill waives the one-week waiting period for people to receive unemployment benefits and requires the state's economic development agency to create a plan by the end of June to help struggling industries.

The bill also creates a $75 million emergency fund managed by the Joint Finance Committee. It also allocates more federal dollars toward healthcare and loosens restrictions on healthcare workers so they can continue working.

Lawmakers also detailed the bill would allow pharmacists to extend prescriptions, ensure COVID-19 testing comes at no cost to patients and would block certain insurers from denying coverage if a patient is diagnosed.

"We are here today to our jobs, because so many people around the state have been doing theirs," Vos said.

Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh) said while it is time to act, there were things left out of the package that he hopes can be addressed later.

"I don't think one piece of legislation could begin addressing the magnitude of the current movement, but we need to act," he said.

Hintz, among other Assembly Democrats, proposed amendments to the bill that was voted to be tabled. One would have every election held in 2020 be all mail. Hintz said he looks to build on Tuesday's actions and does not want lawmakers to write off convening in another session.

Senate Democrats proposed a similar amendment Wednesday. The amendment would also make it easier to request and receive absentee ballots, but that amendment was tabled.

In a statement, Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul said that “We should be doing more to support these essential workers than simply ensuring that they’re able to receive worker’s compensation benefits if they contract COVID-19. But, because of an amendment that gutted a protection for first responders that originally had been included in the coronavirus bill, the legislation that passed the state legislature doesn’t even do that."