GOP senators pass bills protecting gasoline-powered cars, restricting unemployment insurance

GOP lawmakers also passed a provision that would block new state vaccine rules for kids entering school

The top of the Wisconsin State Capitol is seen through trees
The Wisconsin State Capitol. Angela Major/WPR

There could be no state or local bans on gasoline-powered vehicles or other devices in Wisconsin under Republican bills now headed to the governor’s desk.

The measures, which would also prohibit bans of other devices that run on fossil fuels, are likely headed for vetoes by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.

Senators also passed a package of bills aimed at tightening the state’s unemployment system, including one that could kick people off unemployment insurance if they fail to show up for job interviews or decline job offers.

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Republicans also used a procedural maneuver to block new rules by Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services that sought to update Wisconsin’s vaccine requirements for children entering schools and day cares.

Here’s a rundown of Wednesday’s Senate action.

Bills would prohibit bans on gasoline-powered cars, other devices

GOP backers of the bills involving gas-powered motors say they’re aimed at preventing the kinds of bans that have passed in a handful of other states, including California.

Seven states have banned the sale of gasoline-powered cars starting in 2035. Wisconsin is not one of them.

One would ban state agencies and local governments from restricting the use of motor vehicles based on the energy source they use to power the vehicle. The other would prohibit state agencies and local governments from restricting the use or sale of any device based on how it’s powered. That would include any restrictions on stoves or appliances powered by natural gas.

GOP senators passed the bills Wednesday with only Republican votes. They passed the Assembly along party lines earlier this year. No lawmakers discussed the plans.

Speaking to Wisconsin Public Radio after the Senate’s vote, Sen. Cory Tomczyk, R-Mosinee, said the plans would let new and old technologies exist simultaneously.

“These are bills that don’t restrict the citizenry, they restrict the government, and that’s the underpinnings of a good piece of legislation,” Tomczyk said. “Madison can’t ban gas engines but Mosinee can’t ban electric vehicles. Everybody gets a choice.”

A variety of industry groups support the GOP bills while environmental groups oppose them.

When the plan went through committee, the American Lung Association issued a statement saying that for children living with asthma and allergies, the use of natural gas in the home can worsen symptoms.

“The American Lung Association strongly opposes this bill as it would prevent communities from choosing to protect the health of their families and the environment,” read the statement.

A spokesperson for Evers did not respond to an email seeking comment Wednesday.

New restrictions on unemployment benefits

Republicans also passed a package of bills that would put new restrictions on the state’s unemployment insurance program.

One would cut off unemployment benefits to someone who declines a job offer or doesn’t show up to a job interview.

Another would make it easier to find workers guilty of misconduct if they damage their employer’s property and would give the Legislature’s budget committee the power to block extended benefits granted by the federal government.

A third would add a variety of new requirements to the unemployment program, requiring recipients to apply for openings suggested by the state Department of Workforce Development even if they’re searching for other jobs on their own.

Yet another plan would require the state to search more aggressively for unemployment fraud.

Speaking earlier in the day, Democrats called them a case of misplaced priorities.

“This is Republican colleagues looking for some sort of gotcha votes,” said Senate Minority Leader Melissa Agard, D-Madison. “But I would think that they would be able to read the room. When it comes to outcomes of elections in Wisconsin over the last little less than a year, they’re on the wrong side on this issue.”

No Republicans spoke about the plans during Wednesday’s Senate session.

Evers vetoed a similar package of bills last year.

Blocking a rule on vaccines

Republicans also put the finishing touches on a move that will block new vaccine requirements for children entering schools and day cares.

The updates introduced by Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services would have added meningitis vaccines to the list of immunizations required for students. The changes would have also required parents to get a medical provider’s sign-off if they want to cite prior infection as a reason for skipping the chickenpox vaccine.

Additionally, the DHS changes would have added statewide criteria for identifying a “substantial outbreak” of chickenpox or meningitis and changed the threshold for a substantial mumps outbreak from at least 2 percent of the unvaccinated population to at least three connected cases.

A legislative rules panel voted to temporarily block the changes earlier this year. On Wednesday, Republicans in both the Assembly and Senate used a procedural tactic to all but guarantee that vote remains in effect until the next legislative session in 2025.

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