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Wisconsin Republicans disagree on COVID-19 bill

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Republican-controlled Wisconsin Legislature is divided on a coronavirus-response bill that the state Assembly was passing on Thursday but that the Senate GOP leader said his chamber is opposed to.

Even if the current bill were to somehow pass, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has signaled his opposition and would likely veto it.

Evers and Assembly Democrats have their own proposals that Republicans do not support. The Legislature hasn’t passed anything related to the pandemic since April, and recent talks between Evers and Republican leaders failed to result in a deal.

When he introduced the Assembly bill on Monday, Speaker Robin Vos said Senate Republicans supported it. But Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu said Thursday that was incorrect.

“That is not the case,” he said. “There is a reason that was an Assembly bill and not a Senate bill.”

Vos did not immediately return a message asking why he had said Senate Republicans were on board if they are not.

The proposal up for Assembly approval contains many provisions Democrats are opposed to, including waiving liability for COVID-19 claims for businesses, making it more difficult for schools to remain all virtual, and giving the Legislature control over future federal money for pandemic response.

The GOP proposal exposed sharp divisions at a public hearing on Tuesday. Many businesses came out in support of it while public-health agencies were generally against it. Health officials are particularly opposed to a provision that would set limits on their ability to close businesses for no more than two weeks at a time if there was a spike in coronavirus cases.

Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, speaking ahead of the Assembly vote, said it was “a meaningless vote since we know it’s not going to become law.”

“Today is just sort of a political exercise that is being made for chest pounding and talk radio,” Hintz said.

Democrats have objected to Republicans not requiring masks to be worn in the Assembly chamber or allowing members to participate remotely. Hintz called it “reckless and absurd” to be in session under those conditions, especially for a bill that will not become law.

Wisconsin surpassed 5,000 deaths from COVID-19 on Wednesday, as the total number of cases neared half a million. The number of positive COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin peaked in mid-November and had been declining since, but started to rise again in late December.

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