Quorum Call

Senate Republicans today amended a COVID-19 bill in an attempt to spare the state from losing millions in enhanced food stamp funding after their vote to overturn Gov. Tony Evers’ public health declaration put the funding at risk.

The amendment from Sen. Steve Nass, who co-authored the joint resolution to overturn Evers’ emergency order, would allow the guv to issue another declaration “solely for the purpose of receiving emergency or other allotments under the federal Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Act of 2020.” The public health declaration now in place also serves as the foundation for the statewide mask mandate Evers issued.

Today’s move came after Republicans realized the state only qualifies for the enhanced FoodShare funding if there’s a public health declaration in place. According to the Department of Health Services, the enhanced benefit means more than $49.3 million for 242,507 households in January alone.

Between May and December, low-income families received more than $260 million from the enhanced benefits.

Senate Minority Leader Janet Bewley, D-Town of Mason, slammed today’s move as “a failure to the Wisconsin people.”

“We snatched victory out of the jaws of defeat and now because of both the actions of the Assembly and this body we are facing defeat,” Bewley said, indicating Evers would veto the bill. “The people of Wisconsin are going to get nothing.”

But Nass countered that “what we have done is to preserve those funds going forward.”

“If the governor vetoes that, all of the money going back to May of last year will be in jeopardy, so it will be interesting to see what he decides,” Nass said.

The chamber in a 45-minute session cleared the amendment by voice vote, with little discussion ahead of the vote. Sen. Tim Carpenter, D-Milwaukee, later asked to be recorded as voting against it.

The change was added to a COVID-19 bill that has been hung up by disagreements between Assembly and Senate Republicans over the approach to the bill. Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, struck a deal with Evers that included stripping out a host of provisions the Assembly had added in exchange for liability protections for businesses, schools, nonprofits and others.

But the Assembly added two amendments on Tuesday. Both restored provisions the Senate had stripped out of the bill. That includes a prohibition on employers requiring a COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of employment, stripping state and local authorities of their power to restrict meetings in places of worship, and giving the Legislature oversight of federal funds to address the pandemic.

The amended bill now heads back to the Assembly, which has to sign off before it can go to the guv.

The Senate on Tuesday approved a resolution to overturn the public health emergency 18-13. That resolution is now before the state Assembly, which was scheduled to convene at 9 a.m., but delayed going to the floor until early afternoon as questions were raised about the impact of overturning the public health emergency, which serves as the foundation for the mask mandate Evers issued.

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