Republicans pass proposal to give them control over federal COVID-19 funds, approve vaccine bills

NOW: Republicans pass proposal to give them control over federal COVID-19 funds, approve vaccine bills

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Republican lawmakers approved a proposal to allow them to have a say in how federal COVID-19 relief funds are spent, a measure the governor vowed to veto. 

In the latest effort to limit Gov. Tony Evers' executive powers, Republicans in Senate passed a bill to give them legislative oversight on how to spend the $5.7 billion headed to state and local governments. The Assembly is poised to pass the proposal Tuesday evening after hours of debate. 

Right now, the governor has control over how those federal funds are spent, but Republicans argue the Legislature should have a voice in the process. 

“It seems the Democrats want to have a piggy bank where they can choose to give the money with no oversight, no transparency, no ability to judge if it’s the best decision until after the money is out the door,” said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester).

The proposal would require Evers to submit a plan on how he wants to spend the federal funds to the Republican-controlled budget committee. The committee could then approve, deny or make changes to his recommendations. Governor Evers vowed to veto the bill last week because he said getting input from the Legislature would delay helping businesses and other industries impacted by the pandemic. 

Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-West Point) called the bill a waste of time.

“We’re talking about something that just simply (is) not going to happen,” Erpenbach said. “This bill is going to be vetoed, the governor has already said, even before it was introduced.”

Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) argues Democrats previously supported legislation in 2009 that gave the budget committee oversight on how federal funding was spent. During that time, Democrats controlled the state Legislature and the governor’s office. 

“The reason they voted for this was in case a Republican actually won the gubernatorial race, so they would actually have legislative oversight in the process, (for) both parties would have a voice, image that,” said LeMahieu.

Sen. Erpenbach and other Democrats dismissed that argument because the circumstance -- in this case the pandemic -- is much different compared to federal funding Wisconsin received in 2009. 

“Another difference between the stimulus package in 2009 and what we’re dealing with today is that people weren’t dying from a pandemic, hospitals weren’t overflowing,” Erpenbach said. 

The federal relief bill will give the state about $3.2 billion; counties and municipalities will receive about $2.5 billion. Evers said he plans to use the state’s portion on similar incentives when Wisconsin received $2 billion from the CARES Act to prioritize small businesses, COVID-19 testing and PPE, vaccinations, long-term care facilities and other industries directly affected by the coronavirus outbreak. 

Vaccine Bills Pass Legislature 

The Assembly also passed legislation to ban the closure of places of worship during the pandemic and to require Evers to submit a plan for all state employees to return to their offices, instead of working from home. The bill would not force employees to return to work, said Rep. Donna Rozar (R-Marshfield). 

“A plan on when employees can return to in-person work is all the Legislature wants from the governor, said Rozar. “Having a plan helps guide the direction of our state, especially during budget discussions.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York recently decided to end remote work for 80,000 workers as the state begins to phase into their reopening plans. The plan requires workers to return in person by May 3. 

To-go cocktails bill heads to Gov. Evers Desk

Allowing restaurants and bars to sell cocktails to-go could become legal in Wisconsin after lawmakers passed legislation as a way to help businesses profit during the pandemic.

The bill will now head to Governor Evers' desk for final approval. It would allow establishments with liquor licenses to sell mixed drinks with a tamper-evident seal.

The city of Milwaukee advocated for a similar measure, but local leaders have concerns making to-go drinks legal statewide. Instead, Milwaukee officials support allowing local governments to make the decision whether or not to implement.

Another proposal would allow people to order alcohol from taverns and grocery stores online or call in their order to pick it up. 

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