Evers drafts ‘compromise’ bill on COVID-19, urges GOP leaders to act

    Gov. Tony Evers 11/24/20 media briefing via YouTube
    Gov. Tony Evers

    In a move that carried the air of “put up or shut up,” Gov. Tony Evers sent the Republican leaders of the state Legislature a draft bill Monday incorporating what he described as “the items on which all of us can agree” to further address the COVID-19 pandemic in Wisconsin.

    Evers’ proposal incorporates items from an outline that Assembly Speaker Robin Vos put out at the beginning of the month. Vos’ outline, in turn, was a response to a broader draft bill that Evers released more than a month ago on Nov. 16.

    The governor took the additional step of submitting draft legislation on the new bill. Although Vos issued his 50-point, 23-page outline Dec. 1, the Assembly speaker has not released draft legislation based on that plan.

    The proposed bill Evers put out Monday followed a series of meetings he has held with Vos and incoming Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, trying to reach a common framework for a bill based on their respective plans.

    “All parties have agreed there are items in each of our three proposals that we could support,” Evers wrote in a letter to the two GOP leaders on Monday.

    But among the Republican provisions are several that “are either unworkable, overtly political, or are items my administration has addressed or is already working to address,” he added, “and you likewise have objected to several of the proposals that I have put forward, even some that were passed” in the only COVID-19-related legislation that the Legislature has passed to date: Act 185, the bill signed in April to implement Wisconsin’s allotment of the federal CARES Act.

    Evers called the bill he sent them Monday “a commonsense compromise that includes the items on which all of us can agree,” urging the lawmakers “to take it up without delay.”

    The new bill includes measures temporarily allowing greater flexibility in managing state employees; temporarily streamlining licensing for health professionals from out of state and streamlining some other healthcare regulations; expanding Medicaid reimbursement for hospitals in connection with COVID-19 care as well as for pharmacists giving COVID-19 vaccines; and measures capping insurance companies’ out-of-network charges for patients and barring health insurers from charging patients for part of the cost of a COVID-19 test.

    Several of the proposed bill’s provisions extend through June 2021 measures that were part of Act 185 and were due to expire in March 2021.   

    The Evers compromise bill also incorporates two items that Republicans have demanded to address the state’s unemployment insurance (UI) backlog brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic: requiring the state Department of Workforce Development (DWD) to present a plan for ending the backlog in 30 days, and extending the hours for the DWD unemployment insurance call-in lines to 12 hours a day. Evers noted in his letter that extending the hours would require the Legislature to make an appropriation to cover the added cost.

    Along with the draft bill, Evers submitted a second piece of draft legislation — a rewrite of his Nov. 16 draft that includes measures to continue suspending the one-week waiting period before unemployed workers can begin collecting unemployment insurance and continuing to waive student assessments. Both were part of Act 185.

    Evers urged the GOP lawmakers to act quickly. “Wisconsinites are demanding and deserve the legislature to reconvene and pass legislation that addresses the continuing needs of our response to COVID-19,” the governor wrote. “I agree, and I hope at the very least this first compromise bill will be sent to my desk quickly and without delay, even if it means meeting during the next two weeks, and remain hopeful it will only be the first of several bills passed by the Legislature to support our state’s continued response to this pandemic.”

    In a statement issued late Monday, however, Vos essentially rejected Evers’ bid and charged that, by advancing a bill, the governor had abandoned their talks.

    “I’ve consistently said I would like to get another COVID bill done in December. It’s too bad we weren’t able to meet that goal. It’s the Governor’s job to work with us and negotiate a Covid package, not just give us his summary of where he thinks we are,” Vos said. “I would hope he’d reconsider his decision to walk away from the table.”

    Vos said that if Evers “continues this path, I look forward to continuing the discussion with the Senate so that we have a final bill early next month.”

    LeMahieu’s office did not respond to a request for comment Monday evening.

    Erik Gunn
    Senior Reporter Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, along with related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.