By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republicans who control the Wisconsin Senate won’t take up any COVID-19 relief measures before January, the incoming majority leader said Wednesday, even though Assembly Republicans have said they’re open to coming in this month and Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has urged swift action before federal money runs out.
“We’re not coming back in December,” said Sen. Devin LeMahieu, who takes over as majority leader in January.
LeMahieu also told The Associated Press in an interview that he has not yet studied a wide-ranging proposal for coronavirus-related measures released late Tuesday by Assembly Republicans. The legislation put forward by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos is the first since the Legislature last met in April.
“Frankly, I haven’t had the chance to go through it very in depth yet,” said LeMahieu, of Oostburg. “It’s such a new document. I’m sure there are some good things in there we could take a look at.”
Republicans who control the Legislature are at odds on what the next step should be in fighting the virus, which continues to spread in Wisconsin.
The state reported 3,777 new confirmed cases on Wednesday, bringing the total to more than 395,000. The seven-day average of new cases was 3,664, which is down from highs seen in mid-November but still five-times higher than three months ago. The numbers still show high community spread, the state Department of Health Services said.
There were 82 new deaths reported, for a total of 3,502 since the pandemic began.
The Assembly GOP package includes making it harder for schools to hold virtual classes, protecting businesses and governments from lawsuits, offering weekly rapid antigen tests for home use and continuing to prohibit co-payments for COVID-19 tests. Vos also wants to create a $100 million fund to be controlled by the Legislature’s budget-writing committee to be used for virus response, including paying for testing.
The package of roughly 50 proposals was blasted by Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz as being politically divisive when lawmakers should be finding ways to come together to fight the pandemic.
LeMahieu said there were “some good things” in the Vos proposals, but he couldn’t say yet what Senate Republicans would support or reject. LeMahieu said the easiest way to move forward is by tapping medical assistance program surpluses that occurred because of an influx of federal relief money. That surplus is currently $120 million and is projected to grow to $269 million by July, LeMahieu said.
“It’s not new taxpayer money,” LeMahieu said. Senate Republicans have “serious concerns” about any new spending, he said.
The money could be used to pay for COVID-19 testing, including to continue using the Wisconsin National Guard, and for additional overflow care facilities to help ease the strain of patients on hospitals, LeMahieu saud.
Evers met virtually with Vos and LeMahieu on Tuesday. LeMahieu said Evers asked to meet again Thursday and he planned to do that.