(Illustration by Morgaine Ford-Workman)
(Illustration by Morgaine Ford-Workman)

Economic stimulus package includes direct checks to Americans and new funding for combatting the coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. Tony Evers used his weekly radio address to promote the economic stimulus and COVID-19 relief package proposed by President Joe Biden. The American Rescue Plan was being debated Friday in the US Senate, having overcome a procedural hurdle by Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson. 

Johnson used a procedural motion on Thursday to block a vote on the package of economic stimulus and pandemic funding by forcing the entire 628-page bill to be read aloud by Senate clerks. The process began at 3:25 p.m. and ended at 2:05 a.m. Friday. When Democratic senators gathered hours after the reading, one proposed dramatically shortening the debate period prior to voting. Since no Republican senator, including Johnson, was around to object, the motion passed.

In his radio remarks, Evers said the Biden plan is a well-rounded package that will help families, workers, small businesses, schools, and local governments. His remarks last slightly over one minute:

“Hi everyone, Governor Tony Evers here.

“Recently, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the American Rescue Plan.

“This is a new COVID-19 relief package that has broad support across Wisconsin because in addition to providing critical funding to continue to ramp up our vaccine distribution, this plan supports our small businesses with a $50 billion investment to help them keep their doors open and lights on. It also supports our workers and families with $1,400 relief assistance for individuals and it supports our communities with $350 billion going to state and local governments.

“It also helps our kids by providing $130 billion to our schools and universities so that our kids and educators can learn and teach safely.

“From Wisconsin small businesses and workers to our kids and schools, this federal assistance is needed by Wisconsinites in every corner of the state.

“The American Rescue Plan, coupled with our Badger Bounceback agenda, will help make sure our communities and our state can get through this pandemic then bounce back and better than before. So, let’s get this done, folks.”

The political advocacy group Protect Our Care noted that the late-night public reading of the plan in the Senate chamber, however sparsely attended, negated a different Republican opposition tactic of claiming that no one knew the contents of a particular bill.

“Republican senators can no longer claim ignorance of what’s in the overwhelmingly popular legislation,” the statement from Zac Petkanas said. “They are now crystal clear the package includes funding for $1,400 direct stimulus checks, faster vaccine distribution, lower health care costs, faster school reopening, small businesses struggling to keep their doors open, expanded unemployment insurance, and aid for state and local governments to keep frontline healthcare workers on the job. Will they still vote against the funding to crush the virus and get our economy back on track anyway?”

An audio version of Evers’ remarks can also be found on Soundcloud.

More Wisconsin News

Rep. Kind, All WI House Republicans Vote Against Federal Police Reform. Kind Says More Funding Needed.

US Rep. Ron Kind (D-La Crosse) and all of Wisconsin’s House Republicans on Wednesday night voted against the federal police reform bill named after George Floyd, the unarmed Black man killed last year by a Minneapolis police officer.

In a statement to WKOW-TV, Kind said he voted against the bill because it did not include funding he sought for de-escalation and bias training, and because it would ban qualified immunity, the controversial legal doctrine that shields cops from civil liability, as a defense for law enforcement in federal civil lawsuits. He signaled he may support a revised version of the bill.

“This is a long legislative process and I look forward to working with the Senate to improve these provisions so there is a strong bipartisan bill to support,” Kind said. 

The bill would also ban no-knock warrants and chokeholds—tactics that resulted in the high-profile police killings of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, and Eric Garner in New York City—create a national police misconduct registry, and limit police department’s ability to acquire military gear. A comprehensive summary of the bill is available here.

“George Floyd’s tragic death sparked a movement across the country calling on our country to protect Black lives,” Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Milwaukee) said in a statement. “The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act would take critical steps to create the needed change in policing that millions, including in Milwaukee, have called for.”

Kind voted in favor of the bill when it was first introduced in the House last year. Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Green Bay) voted against the bill Wednesday but didn’t cast a vote last year.

In floor remarks, Rep. Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau), called the bill “a step in the wrong direction” and criticized numerous provisions, including those that would limit military equipment acquisition and end qualified immunity.

“Instead of focusing on how we can help the police build trust in the communities, this bill focuses on how we can take from the police,” Fitzgerald said. “Clearly the bill is designed to satisfy those that seek to defund and dismantle the police.”

The reform bill now faces an uphill battle in the Senate, where Democrats would need to flip 10 Republican votes to overcome a filibuster.

Voting Deputies May Return to Nursing Homes, but Some Residents Will Be Left Out

[Editor’s Note: This story has been edited to reflect the uncertainty of whether voting deputies will be allowed into some nursing homes after a Friday vote by a Republican-led administrative rules committee in the Legislature.]

Special voting deputies (SVDs) will be sent back to nursing homes and other residential care facilities who allow visitors leading up to the April 6 election, but it’s unclear how residents in such facilities will be able to cast a vote if their facility doesn’t let visitors in the building.

Republicans on the Legislature’s administrative rules committee on Friday suspended the Wisconsin Election Commission’s guidance on SVDs, leaving no path to absentee voting for residents in facilities that won’t let SVDs in the building.

“It’s going to make it harder for some of the most vulnerable people in the state to vote,” said Sen. Kelda Roys (D-Madison), a member of the rules committee.

Under state law, ballots can’t be mailed to voters in residential care facilities until an SVD has made two visits—an impossible requirement to fill if SVDs can’t get in the building. The law does not address what happens when SVDs are denied entry, so the Elections Commission on Tuesday said SVDs could mail absentee ballots if they first made two “tele-vists” to administrators of care facilities that won’t allow SVDs. 

The rules committee said the Elections Commission must submit a formal emergency rule request to reinstate that guidance. 

Roys said that by adding the additional layer of red tape, Republicans haven’t left enough time for a solution to be reached, putting residential care facility residents at risk of being disenfranchised in the April election. 

Elections commissioners on Tuesday ordered staff to draft a rule request that matched its now-defunct guidance; however, the rules committee still ultimately has the power to block it and leave voters in limbo.

The Elections Commission banned SVDs from going into facilities last March due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s threat to the elderly. The ban allowed clerks to mail absentee ballots to nursing home residents without first making two attempts to send an SVD.