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Assembly Speaker ‘Open’ To Another Wisconsin COVID-19 Relief Bill

GOP Leader Robin Vos Says State Response To Pandemic 'Isn't Working'

Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos
Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, at podium, surrounded by fellow Republican lawmakers, unveils a Republican K-12 funding plan that calls for increasing spending less than half as much as Democratic Gov. Tony Evers wanted on Wednesday, May 22, 2019, at the Capitol in Madison. Scott Bauer/AP Photo 

Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said Wednesday he could be open to state lawmakers passing a second COVID-19 relief bill after months of inaction at the state Capitol.

State lawmakers haven’t been in session since mid-April, when the Assembly and Senate met to approve a bill aimed at tackling some of the social and economic problems spurred by the coronavirus pandemic in Wisconsin.

In an email statement on Wednesday, Vos, the top Republican in the Assembly, said he would be “open to a second relief bill” if “Congress fails to provide additional state assistance.”

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Congress sent roughly $2 billion to Wisconsin as part of the coronavirus relief bill, called the CARES Act, earlier this year. The vast majority of those funds have now been spent and must be used by Dec. 31. Attempts to negotiate a second federal stimulus bill have, so far, been unsuccessful. Wisconsin Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson has said he opposes additional federal stimulus spending.

Vos said he would like to review the state expenditures from the CARES Act funding and review what authorizations might be necessary to spend more state money to support people and businesses during the pandemic.

The Legislature approved $75 million in state spending in its April legislation, but using any of the funds required additional layers of approval from the state budget committee. The funds’ availability expired in the beginning of August, because they were linked to a previous public health emergency declaration. Gov. Tony Evers’ administration did not approach the committee with any requests to spend that money, instead focusing on spending the federal dollars.

As COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin continue to explode, Vos said the state needs to increase testing and implement “rigorous rapid testing to find the virus faster.”

“Obviously, what we’re doing now as a state isn’t working,” Vos said.

Vos’ comments come after his Democratic challenger in the state’s 63rd Assembly District, former Burlington Alder Joel Jacobsen, launched a well-funded advertising campaign criticizing Vos’ response to the pandemic. Evers also launched a recent television ad criticizing Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau. Vos, of Rochester, responded with his own ad this week.

For months, the GOP-controlled Legislature and Democratic governor have been at odds over how state government should respond to the pandemic. In general, Republicans have favored a more local approach to issuing restrictions on people and businesses, while Evers has issued statewide mandates for things like mask wearing and business capacity limits. Republicans have challenged the governor’s orders in court.

Vos and Fitzgerald traded letters with the governor earlier this month about meeting to discuss a path forward for potential state legislative action, but such a meeting has yet to take place.

Fitzgerald’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

The governor’s spokesperson said, “It’s great to hear (Vos supports) the governor’s statewide testing effort,” but criticized the GOP for not putting forward a specific plan to respond to the pandemic.

The April legislation was wide-ranging. It lifted a one-week waiting period for unemployment insurance in Wisconsin, required health insurers to cover COVID-19 testing, and barred those insurers from discriminating against people who have or have had the virus.

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