Gov. Tony Evers on Wednesday introduced legislation meant to slow the spread of COVID-19 and cover costs if the state delays public construction projects.
Among other things, Evers’ latest proposal would give the state a way to cope with cost increases on public projects if they have to be temporarily closed down. According to a memo from Evers’ office, the proposal would give the State Building Commission $100 million in borrowing authority to offset higher costs that could follow shut downs. The state Department of Administration is now still bidding out and overseeing state construction projects.
“The state may have to close buildings or jobsites for public or members’ safety during the (public health emergency) which may result in higher than anticipated capital costs,” according to the memo.
The proposal would also allow “critical” workers to claim worker’s compensation benefits if they contract COVID-19 at work. Current law allow workers to claim the benefit if they catch a communicable disease such as COVID-19. Separately, it would provide $20 million in grant funding to support broadband expansion over the next two years. About 43% of rural residents in Wisconsin lack access to high-speed internet, according to the Wisconsin Public Service Commission.
The bill also includes $50 million in grants for health care providers, money that can be used to convert space into treatment centers, and would waive a waiting period that now forces laid-off workers to go a week before receiving unemployment benefits.
In a statement, Evers said he was concerned the $2.2 trillion stimulus package President Donald Trump signed last week wouldn’t be sufficient to cover the state’s needs as the coronavirus continues to spread. Wisconsin could get about $2.2 billion in from the stimulus bill, according to the setate’s nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
The state Republican-controlled Legislature hasn’t yet set a date for when it could take up Evers’ new bills, although the hope is to have a vote scheduled for as early as next week.
“We need to take aggressive legislative steps here in Wisconsin for not only the health and safety of our families and workers, but for our state’s economy,” Evers said in a statement. “I’m calling on the Legislature to convene without any further delay to take up these proposals supporting our healthcare providers, essential workers, small businesses, and families across our state who need our help during this difficult time.”
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos agreed that lawmakers should act quickly.
“Our hope is to get a bill that everyone can vote for,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said. “The goal would be to have that as soon as we can.”
At the same time, Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said they do not support Evers’ proposal to indefinitely extend an order directing businesses to close and residents to shelter in place. Republicans have said they want to better understand the $2.3 billion that’s coming to the state as part of the federal stimulus before proceeding, although they’re planning to convene soon.
This isn’t the first legislation Evers has proposed in response to the coronavirus. Last week, he floated a roughly $700 million aid proposal but that was quickly dismissed by Republicans.
Evers’ latest proposal contains further provisions that would cut taxes for low income people; waive penalties and interest for property-tax payments; increase funding for Medicaid providers; create a COVID-19 reinsurance program to lower health insurance premiums; provide grants for food assistance and meal delivery; and extend grant funding to small businesses and workers.Follow @natebeck9