Powerful special interests behind lawsuit immunity in Republican COVID bill

By: - January 6, 2021 11:33 am
Picture of US dollar bill Washington wearing a face mask

Image by Anton Petrus | Getty

The state’s most powerful special interest business and trade groups support a Republican bill that would give businesses broad immunity from lawsuits brought by customers and employees who contract COVID-19 even if businesses don’t follow public health guidelines.

The measure, Assembly Bill 1, was introduced Monday by GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, of Rochester, and approved by the Assembly Health Committee after a hearing on Tuesday. It now goes to the full Assembly. GOP legislative leaders hope to get the bill approved and to Democratic Gov. Tony Evers by the end of the week.

AB1 would also:

Restrain state and local governments and health officials from imposing restrictions or shutdowns on businesses. Public health orders limiting capacity or imposing shutdowns would only last for up to 14 days. Each extension of those orders would last for up to 14 days and would require a two-thirds vote by elected officials for each extension.

Make it harder for public schools to switch from in-person to virtual education. A switch to virtual education would require a two-thirds vote by a school board and would only last up to 14 days. Subsequent extensions would also be limited for up to 14-days and each extension would require a two-thirds vote by a school board.

Prohibit state and local governments from imposing public-gathering restrictions on places of worship.

Prohibit state and local health officials and Wisconsin employers from requiring people to get COVID-19 vaccinations.

Increase the authority of the GOP-controlled legislature over federal money spent by the state on COVID-19 programs and relief.

The liability provision would make businesses, local governments, and school districts immune from COVID-19 lawsuits even if they did not follow local, state, or national orders to close or limit their capacity because of the pandemic.

The special interests backing the bill include:

Americans for Prosperity, a rightwing electioneering group backed by Charles Koch

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC). The state’s largest business group said in a letter late last month that it leads a coalition of more than 70 business and trade groups that support COVID-19 lawsuit immunity for businesses.

• Association of Wisconsin Tourism Attractions

• National Federation of Independent Business

• Dairy Business Association

• School Choice Wisconsin

• Wisconsin Bankers Association

• Wisconsin Hospital Association

• Wisconsin Builders Association

• Schneider National

Wisconsin Civil Justice Council, a coalition of business, construction, agricultural, and transportation groups

• Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation

• Wisconsin Insurance Alliance

• Wisconsin Grocers Association

• Wisconsin Independent Businesses

• Wisconsin Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association

• Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association

• Wisconsin Restaurant Association

• Wisconsin Dairy Alliance

• NAIOP, the Commercial Real Estate Development Association

• Independent Insurance Agents of Wisconsin

• Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin

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Matt Rothschild
Matt Rothschild

Prior to joining the Democracy Campaign at the start of 2015, Matt worked at The Progressive magazine for 32 years. For most of those, he was the editor and publisher of The Progressive.