Breaking down the Republican-authored COVID-19 response proposal
MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Top Wisconsin lawmakers are also looking to fast-track COVID-19 relief on the state level.
On Tuesday, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos made his pitch for the Republican’s response bill.
The bill is lengthy. It touches on 12 main topics followed by nearly 60 sections of explanation. One topic that takes up multiple pages is Education.
If approved, the document lays out new rules for Wisconsin schools. The text says starting Jan. 11, teachers can’t teach virtually unless the school board members approve that measure by two-thirds of a vote, otherwise it must be in person.
The school board’s approval for virtual teaching is also only valid for two weeks. Then the board is required to vote again to re-authorize the ruling.
“Under this bill, parents will have the ability to transfer school districts providing their children the opportunity for in-person learning,” Speaker Vos said during his testimony. “In addition, school boards must vote every two weeks in order to remain virtual, giving parents much needed stability.”
The proposal is pending, but as leaders in the state legislature continued conversations about COVID-19 relief, some business owners brought up concerns about the legal response if a customer catches the virus and blames the establishment.
“Liability” and “immunity clause” were two words that came up repeatedly on Tuesday, mainly from those in the restaurant industry.
There is some divide among business owners. Some support a Section 59 in the Republican-authored COVID-19 response bill, which says businesses can’t be taken to court for civil litigation if a customer believes they caught the virus in their establishment.
“There’s no proof linking restaurants practicing COVID-19 best practices as sources of covid-19 outbreak clusters,” Kristine Hillmer, Pres. and CEO of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association said.
Hillmer said this is a good thing and that the language of the passage protects already vulnerable establishments.
Section 59 also says health departments are not allowed to shut restaurants or establishments down for more than two weeks at a time.
“Our industry has become a major fall guy for this pandemic which also makes us a major target for frivolous lawsuits over exposure to COVID-19,” Hillmer said.
Others testifying within the restaurant industry did not agree. Many people came forward, including an attorney expressing concern that this kind of language would let the “bad actors,” not following COVID-19 protocols safely, would slip through the cracks.
“It’d be really great if we could get legislation passed to help people be safe, keep our businesses closed so we can stay closed, so we can open up again sooner and beat this thing faster,” Chef and Owner of Liliana’s restaurant, Dave Heide said.
Heide said, overall, legislators are missing the point of what they’re capable of right now.
“What we need is your [legislative] support, we need your financial support, we need you leading from above telling us it’s okay and how it’s going to be okay,” Heide said.
The bill is expected to head to the Assembly floor for a vote on Thursday.
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