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GOP COVID package no longer includes mandate for schools that went virtual to pay parents
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GOP COVID package no longer includes mandate for schools that went virtual to pay parents

Inauguration for 2021-22 legislative session

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, addresses members on the opening day of the 2021-22 legislative session Monday. Republicans mostly ignored a compromise plan by Gov. Tony Evers responding to COVID-19, introducing a package of proposals, some of which the Democratic governor strongly opposes.

A Republican COVID package, proposed on Monday, no longer includes a requirement that school districts that have been mostly virtual to pay parents of students hundreds of dollars each to offset child care costs.

That idea was opposed by the Racine Unified School District, which said it doesn’t have the resources — $1.6 million — to pay $371 to each student’s family since it hasn’t offered in-person learning since March.

The package brought forward Monday was proposed by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester. It may soon see a vote in the Committee on Health, which was scheduled to meet Tuesday afternoon. A full Assembly vote could be coming this week.

State Sen. Steve Nass, a Whitewater Republican whose district includes a small portion of southwestern Racine County, said last month he would not support any COVID response package that did not require districts that had been mostly virtual in fall 2020 to pay families.

However, with Republicans controlling 21 of 33 seats in the Senate and 61 out of 34 seats in the Assembly, it would take many more votes than just Nass breaking from the GOP to force a change in the Republicans’ response to bills brought forward by Gov. Tony Evers and the rest of Wisconsin’s elected Democrats.

Some compromise

The GOP proposals, unveiled after members of the Legislature were inaugurated Monday afternoon, would bar mandatory vaccinations (the state has already indicated it doesn’t plan to mandate); prevent local health officers from issuing coronavirus restrictions for more than two weeks without other approval; protect businesses from lawsuits seeking damages for COVID-19 exposure; temporarily relax restrictions for K-12 students seeking open enrollment outside of their resident school district; and require two-thirds approval by school boards for schools to offer virtual instruction.

Other measures would grant the GOP-led Legislature authority over how future federal aid dollars are spent — something Evers has adamantly opposed; prohibit the Wisconsin Department of Health Services from limiting public gatherings at churches; and allow residents at long-term care facilities one visitor.

“We can’t allow an unelected bureaucrat to rule over communities like a dictator, picking and choosing what businesses should fail or forcing schools to be virtual,” Vos said, in reference to efforts last year by DHS Secretary Andrea Palm to mitigate spread of the coronavirus.

The package does contain some measures in the compromise bill proposed by the governor, including allowing the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee to transfer $100 million in certain appropriations for COVID-19 expenses. The bill, like Evers’ proposal, also allows the coverage of vaccinations under SeniorCare.

But the GOP package would require the governor to submit to the budget committee any future plans for spending of federal COVID-19 dollars, a proposal Evers has opposed.

Mitchell Schmidt and Riley Vetterkind of Lee Newspapers contributed reporting to this article.

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