(The Center Square) - Democratic senators at the Wisconsin Capitol say the pared-down Republican coronavirus relief package is too small.
Democrats spent their Tuesday fighting the package from Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, designed to survive the governor’s scrutiny.
“We need to do a lot of catch up,” Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-West Point, said on the Senate floor. “We need to really start catching up here and recognize that there are people and businesses here in Wisconsin that need our help.”
Sen. Chris Lawson, D-Milwaukee said the Democratic proposal would help those people and businesses by adding emergency pay for healthcare workers and first responders, would stop evictions for non-payment of rent, and expand unemployment benefits in the state.
“We need to actually step-up to meet this moment in history,” Lawson said. “If we pass the [Republican package] as it’s proposed, we should be graded D-. barely passing. Doing the absolute minimum.”
Republicans complain the Democratic plan would do nothing to get kids back into school or reopen classrooms, noting the Democratic plan would prohibit the state’s Department of Public Instruction from measuring student performance for the year.
LeMahieu was the only Republican to speak to the Republican coronavirus relief plan, and said very little from the Senate floor.
LeMahieu said the proposal does five things, some of them rather technical in nature, but it also ends the waiting period for federal unemployment benefits. Most important to Republicans, the package provides schools, nonprofits, doctors, and small businesses in the state some protection against coronavirus lawsuits.
“The bill we passed in the Senate today builds on our previous negotiations and addresses the critically important needs of school districts, non-profit organizations, and small employers,” LeMahieu said in a statement after the vote. “Throughout this process, it’s been clear all parties want to do what is best for our state. Passing this bill responds to the needs of frontline healthcare providers and gives our state’s economy the tools to safely re-open without the fear of frivolous lawsuits.”
The Wisconsin Assembly will next vote on the package. The governor said after the vote that he is waiting for lawmakers to send the plan to him.
"Although it's not the COVID compromise we originally proposed, AB 1 as amended by the Senate is a good start to support our state’s response to this pandemic," Evers said on Twitter. "The Assembly should pass AB 1 as it was amended today and send it to my desk for my signature without delay.
There are no guarantees the Assembly will approve the package.
State representatives passed their own coronavirus relief package last week. It is much larger, and includes provisions to get kids back into schools and check the power of local public health officers who’ve kept parts of the state all but closed for months.
“In the coming weeks, we will continue the work to open schools, lift gathering bans, and limit the powers of local bureaucrats to shut down churches and main street businesses,” LeMahieu added. “We remain committed to these principles and committed to ensuring our state’s best days lie ahead.”