Relief package passes Senate, 90-8, with Ron Johnson voting no.
Here is a roundup of other Wisconsin stories related to the coronavirus outbreak as reported by UpNorthNews, the Associated Press, and other Wisconsin media outlets.
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Wisconsin Republican Ron Johnson was one of only eight “no” votes Wednesday afternoon as the U.S. Senate passed and sent to President Trump an emergency relief package providing unemployment benefits, sick leave, free coronavirus testing, and food programs for those struggling with job reduction or loss. His vote means every Republican in Wisconsin’s congressional delegation voted no on the proposed assistance.
Johnson was the first Senator to oppose the package by saying he’s concerned that paid sick leave for those who have lost their jobs is “incentivizing people not to show up to work.” He disputed assertions he’s downplaying the virus in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Craig Gilbert. Johnson claimed he’s “not being critical” of the virus response but then added “we also need to really understand the costs of potentially going too far here.”
Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, said in Eau Claire Wednesday afternoon that the expansion and guarantee of free testing is key.
“Testing more people is going to be one of the best ways of slowing the spread of the virus,” Kind said, noting an aggressive testing effort for COVID-19 in South Korea has significantly slowed the virus there.
Wisconsin’s Congressional delegation signed a letter asking for more surgical masks, respirators and other equipment to be sent to the state as they said hospitals awaiting a rush of patients were “critically low” on needed supplies. The lawmakers sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to request roughly 55,000 respirators, 130,000 surgical masks, 25,000 face shields, 20,000 surgical gowns, 100 coveralls, and 72,000 gloves from the national stockpile.
The letter was signed by U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Johnson along with U.S. Reps. Mark Pocan, Ron Kind, Gwen Moore, Bryan Steil and Mike Gallagher. Republican Reps. Glenn Grothman and Jim Sensenbrenner did not sign it.
The state and national Democratic parties are asking a court to extend the state’s vote-by-mail deadline for the upcoming spring elections and to drop voter ID requirements for requesting an absentee ballot. The current deadline is tonight (Wednesday) to request an absentee ballot online or to have it postmarked before midnight, but the parties argued the deadline should be extended to April 3 because more people are likely to stay home and not go to their local polling place on April 7 as the pandemic grows.
The Democrats also want to extend the deadline for absentee ballots to be received. Rather than an 8:00 p.m. deadline on Election Day, they request absentee ballots be postmarked as late as April 7 and received by municipal clerks’ offices within 10 days of the election.
Gov. Tony Evers was part of a conference call Wednesday with some 2,000 business owners where he discussed his desire for the Legislature to return to Madison and make it easier for displaced workers to begin receiving unemployment benefits. Evers has waived the requirement that people prove they’ve looked for jobs elsewhere, but only lawmakers can waive the one-week waiting period for benefits to begin.
Missy Hughes, executive director of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., was part of the call and outlined the creation of a $5 million grant program. The Small Business 20/20 program will provide grants of up to $20,000 for businesses with fewer than 20 employees to assist with payroll expenses, rent, and providing family and sick leave.
The Wisconsin State Senate has postponed its session next week, but its next meeting could be done virtually, the Wisconsin State Journal reports. State law has allowed for virtual meetings in an emergency since 2009, but this would be the first time that law is utilized, according to the State Journal.
Froedtert South Hospital opened a drive-thru coronavirus testing clinic in the Village of Pleasant Prairie, the Kenosha News reports. Testing is available by doctor’s orders only. Eau Claire-area officials are considering opening drive-thru testing sites as well, according to the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram.
Fourteen members of the Green Bay Fire Department are under quarantine after traveling, the Green Bay Press Gazette reports.
Lake Geneva’s tourism industry, which is the largest part of the area’s economy, has already taken a huge hit from coronavirus-related cancellations, the Lake Geneva Regional News reports.
Amazon plans to hire 700 workers for its Kenosha County fulfillment center as part of its goal to hire 100,000 workers nationwide to help address increased product demand amid the pandemic, the Kenosha News reports.
A leader of the union that represents Milwaukee County Transit System bus drivers said drivers are at risk of virus exposure because buses are allegedly not being cleaned well enough and drivers are not being given enough hand sanitizer, WDJT-TV reports. MCTS remains running, while other transit systems such as Green Bay Metro Transit have been shut down.
Looking for the lighter side…
As gatherings are now limited, a group of Milwaukeeans decided to host a virtual open mic Wednesday night.
And adding insult to March Sadness injury, an ESPN simulation released Wednesday morning had Wisconsin edging out Utah’s Brigham Young University to be the big cheese in the canceled 2020 NCAA men’s college basketball tournament. #Sadgers
The Associated Press contributed to this report.