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Wisconsin Legislative Bills to Watch

Assembly Bill 1 (AB1)

The COVID-19 Relief Package has stalled. The GOP-led Assembly passed its version Jan. 7, and Gov. Tony Evers said he would not sign it. The GOP-led Senate then unveiled its own, pared-down version and overwhelmingly (29-2) passed it Jan. 12. Evers said he would sign that version, but the Assembly has signaled it would not. 

Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna) said Tuesday in a statement that the Senate version was a “disappointment” because it “doesn’t provide protections for places of worship,” “fails to allow those who want to opt out of the COVID vaccine to do so,” and “fails to prevent local health officers from shutting down local businesses on a whim without approval from elected officials.”

The parts that Evers and Democrats disliked were eliminated in the Senate version. They refer to the statutory authority of local public-health officers, who are currently able to do “what is reasonable and necessary for the prevention and suppression of disease” by forbidding public gatherings when necessary, including in schools, churches and other public gathering places. 

The first Assembly iteration of the bill would limit that authority by: 

• Allowing local health officers to enforce an order to close or restrict businesses to control outbreaks of COVID-19 for only up to 14 days, unless extended by the local governmental unit;

• Prohibiting local health officers from closing or forbidding gatherings at churches and other places of worship to control COVID-19 outbreaks;

• Prohibiting local health officers from requiring individuals to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, when currently they could require vaccinations during a state of emergency; and 

• Prohibiting employers from requiring an individual to receive a vaccination against COVID-19 or to show evidence of having received a vaccination.

Although disagreements center on the public-health portions of the bill, the wide-ranging legislation would affect numerous areas, including the correctional system, courts, education, employment, health and human services, insurance, the legislature, public utilities and retirement. For example, it deals with how to handle the bodies of the deceased because of COVID-19, allowing nursing homes and assisted-living facilities to designate essential visitors to provide support for residents during a time when the facility is limiting visits, and allowing for year-round school open enrollment.