MADISON – Democratic Gov. Tony Evers offered scaled-back, $100 million legislation Monday to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic in hopes of getting Republicans who control the Legislature to pass a relief package before the year ends.
Evers and Republicans in recent weeks have said they want to do more to fight the pandemic but have been unable to reach a deal quickly. Complicating matters, Republicans in the state Senate and Assembly haven’t been able to agree among themselves on what to do.
In a Monday letter, Evers asked Republican leaders to act within the next two weeks on a bill that he said included elements all parties have said they could support.
“It is time to move forward on provisions where there is agreement,” Evers wrote.
Republicans who control the Legislature have passed one bill during the nine-month pandemic, giving Wisconsin lawmakers the distinction of being one of the least active state legislatures in the country.
Evers and GOP legislative leaders began meeting to negotiate a second relief package a month ago, after not speaking to each other for six months. With 10 days to go until the end of 2020, it’s unlikely a new bill will become law.
“Wisconsinites are demanding and deserve the legislature to reconvene and pass legislation that addresses the continuing needs of our response to COVID-19,” Evers wrote to the Republican leaders.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos of Rochester said in a statement it was Evers’ job to negotiate a COVID deal, “not just give us his summary of where he thinks we are.”
“I would hope he’d reconsider his decision to walk away from the table,” Vos said in his statement.
Incoming Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu of Oostburg did not offer a reaction Monday to the latest proposal from Evers.
The $100 million price tag on Evers’ latest bill is much closer to what Republicans have signaled they could stomach. They called a $541 million package Evers proposed in November far too expensive.
The new bill includes a number of elements Evers has proposed before, including ones that would make it easier for doctors from other states to work in Wisconsin; provide more funding to hospitals and nursing homes through the state-federal Medicaid program; and ensure COVID-19 testing is available to the public for free.
Evers’ proposal would also make COVID-19 vaccinations available through the SeniorCare prescription drug program and the state’s BadgerCare Plus health care program.
In addition, the legislation would expand call-center hours for unemployment offices and put in motion plans to end a backlog of unemployment claims.
Evers asked the lawmakers to consider later a second piece of legislation that contains additional spending, as well as provisions that Republicans oppose.
Evers has previously said the outgoing Senate majority leader, Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau, is refusing to let the Senate meet before the year ends and he is sworn into his new job representing the 5th Congressional District.
This month Vos offered his own $100 million plan, but it contained a number of provisions opposed by Democrats, such as one that would give lawmakers control of distributing vaccines and limit the power of local officials to issue health orders.
LeMahieu didn’t embrace Vos’ plan and said Evers should present a more modest plan to the Legislature’s budget committee, which could authorize some additional spending.
“We want to get the surplus money to the frontline, but he has to ask for it,” LeMahieu said in a statement last week.
LeMahieu did not say how much he would be willing to spend. He said Republicans were unwilling to bring the Senate into session until January at the earliest.
Molly Beck of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.
Contact Patrick Marley at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.