MADISON – A coronavirus bill Assembly Republicans passed Thursday won’t be able to get through the state Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, said Republicans in his house don’t back the bill championed by Assembly Republicans.
He made his comment just days after Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, claimed Senate Republicans were on board with the bill.
“That is not the case,” LeMahieu said of Vos’ claim. “There is a reason that was an Assembly bill and not a Senate bill.”
The Assembly passed the bill 56-34, with all Republicans in favor and all Democrats against it. Unless Senate Republicans have a change of heart or Assembly Republicans agree to amendments, it will get no further.
Mike Mikalsen, chief of staff for Sen. Steve Nass of Whitewater, said the Assembly bill doesn’t include key provisions that Nass and others want, like requirements for schools to open for in-person instruction.
“The Assembly version is not one the Senate is prepared to go with,” he said.
Though Vos falsely stated Senate Republicans support the bill, Mikalsen said the caucus didn’t know the bill was coming until last weekend.
Even if the Senate got behind the bill, it would be unlikely to become law. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers opposes many aspects of the bill and has said he would likely veto it if it got to him.
The developments leave Wisconsin Republicans in the same place they have been for nine months — divided over what, if anything, to do on the pandemic.
Assembly Republicans said they had hoped to find Democratic support for their legislation, even as their colleagues in the Senate remained skeptical of their bill.
“This bill implements ideas and priorities from both sides of the aisle and should have been an easy bipartisan vote,” Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, said in a statement.
Democratic lawmakers in the state Assembly blasted Vos for requiring an in-person vote during a pandemic on a bill going nowhere.
“This is ridiculous,” new state Rep. Deb Andraca of Whitefish Bay said.
“So we’re at the Capitol, geared up in PPE, waiting for our GOP colleagues, some of whom won’t wear masks, to finish caucusing, so we can start a session that is now half an hour late, to vote on a bill that will never become law,” Rep. Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit, said in a tweet. “In the meantime, our constituents await relief.”
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Assembly Bill 1 would put $100 million toward fighting COVID-19, require insurers to provide testing and vaccines without cost to individuals and make the vaccine available through the state’s SeniorCare prescription drug program.
In addition, the bill would put off until March the reimposition of a one-week waiting period before those out of work can claim unemployment benefits. The one-week waiting period has been suspended during the pandemic but is slated to go back into effect in February.
The bill also includes numerous provisions opposed by Evers, such as ones that would make it harder for schools to hold virtual classes; protect businesses, schools and local governments from coronavirus-related lawsuits; limit the power of health officials to act without the approval of elected officials; prevent the closure of churches and other places of worship; allow more visits at nursing homes; and give lawmakers oversight of federal funds the state receives to fight COVID-19.
Vos, LeMahieu and Evers have had some talks in recent weeks on COVID-19 legislation, but made little headway.
Vos did not say Thursday what he wants to do now that the Senate opposes his bill. He also did not explain why he had claimed on the Assembly floor on Monday that the Senate backed him.
Contact Patrick Marley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.