Democrats criticize Assembly proposal as power grab, passage unlikely before new year

MADISON, Wis. — New legislation to combat the coronavirus in Wisconsin is likely waiting for the new year.

The incoming Senate majority leader said Wednesday the group won’t meet in December.

If the legislature doesn’t pass anything by the end of December, it will have gone almost three-quarters of the year passing no additional relief for Covid-19.

On Tuesday Assembly Republicans released their long-awaited legislation, which Democrats are criticizing as an attempt to gain power during an emergency.

Senate Democratic Leader Janet Bewley wants to see something different from her colleagues in the legislature.

“We have very serious work to do and it is not a time to be dickering over the little things,” she said. “It really, really isn’t.”

In the latest legislation from Assembly Republicans, Bewley takes issue with provisions that limit local public health department powers and school boards. She also feels the package gives too much to the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee, which would have oversight over the vaccine distribution plan if this legislation is passed.

“They are giving joint finance very, very clear and specific opportunities to make decisions beyond what would be appropriate for a joint finance committee,” she said.

Other provisions would give the legislature more power to oversee the state’s Covid-19 spending in a move similar to one the legislature took when the federal government helped with recovery from the Great Recession.

So far the bill hasn’t picked up support in the state Senate.

In its own stopgap plan, senators want to allow the Department of Health Services to dip into the surplus in the state’s medical assistance fund once CARES Act money is no longer available.

“We are discussing the Speaker’s Plan as a caucus and are interested in working on some of these items in the new year,” Majority Leader-Elect Devin LeMahieu said in a statement to News 3 Now. “But right now, the Senate Plan to transfer surplus funds to COVID-19 response efforts offers the path of least resistance to quickly beat the expiration of the federal CARES Act dollars.”

The senate has no plans to come back in December, but Bewley is hopeful in the new year they can do more.

“These are smart, compassionate people, and I have faith in them,” she said. “I am going to go into this next session ready to work, ready to listen, but I want the people of Wisconsin to get what they deserve out of their government.”

Bewley said she supports the plan Gov. Tony Evers put out weeks back, which looks to continue parts of the April legislation and pick up some of the efforts the federal government is funding now if more federal relief isn’t passed.