Gov. Tony Evers signs bipartisan legislation to address the COVID-19 pandemic April 15, 2020. Submitted photo.

Within hours of the Senate passing the bill unanimously, Gov. Tony Evers today signed a bipartisan COVID-19 bill even as he said there’s “much more work to be done.’’

After calling for the bill to speed up the signing process, Evers said the legislation provides neither hazard pay or workers comp for all frontline and critical workers nor meaningful support for small businesses and farmers.

Senate Dems today tried to substitute a proposal that reflected the more than $1 billion in new state spending that Evers had previously proposed. But it was shot down along party lines before the overall bill passed 32-0.

“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. “This bill is finally a step in the right direction, but there is much more work to be done.”

The final action on the bill comes as the state faced a deadline later this month to change eligibility requirements for the Medicaid program to qualify for additional federal funding. The bill
also would set up the state for more federal money for the unemployment program.

Other key provisions include giving the Joint Finance Committee new powers to move around state money to pay for COVID-19 expenses and reducing the minimum training hours required to qualify as a certified nursing assistant.

Evers had earlier proposed two bills that sought to spend more than $1 billion in general purpose revenue while allowing the Department of Health Services to spend an unlimited amount in dealing with a public health emergency. His proposals also sought a joint resolution that would indefinitely extend the public health emergency Evers issued March 12 in response to the pandemic. Under the proposal, the extension would last until it was revoked by a subsequent executive order or a joint resolution.

The bill that Evers signed adds no new GPR spending.

Evers’ stay-at-home order is set to expire April 24 and his public health emergency May 11. But he indicated in an interview with a Minnesota TV station it could be another month before he starts relaxing social distancing requirements.

Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said the bill that cleared the Legislature is a reaction to the stimulus legislation that cleared Congress and was signed into law. Under that effort, Wisconsin is in line to receive $2.3 billion with $1.9 billion of that going directly into state coffers.

Fitzgerald said the state bill combined elements of what Evers originally proposed with input from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle while “extending a lifeline to the recently unemployed.”

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau said the federal money impacted by the bill is separate from the $1.9 billion the state is set to receive through the stimulus package that was signed into law. LFB previously has noted the Legislature has no oversight in how the $1.9 billion is spent.

“We have to get businesses and the economy moving again, and I’m hopeful that this bill marks the first step in that direction,” Fitzgerald said. “Those revenue streams support our schools, our social safety net, and our infrastructure.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email