Wisconsin Legislature Not Convening before 2021

After almost nine months of waiting, incoming-Senate Majority leader Devin LeMahieu announced that the state Senate does not plan to reconvene in 2020. The Assembly concluded its legislative business for the 2019-20 legislative session. The Senate, however, did not conclude its business and due to COVID-19, delayed convening the last available session days (March 24-26). There were 158 bills awaiting action by the state Senate after being passed by the Assembly. Those bills will now need to restart the legislative process again in January 2021.

Sen. LeMahieu clarified that the Senate would not reconvene in December to take up a second round of COVID-19 relief legislation. The legislature last came in session in April to pass legislation (2019 Act 185). Recently, Governor Evers met with Sen. LeMahieu and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos to discuss another relief package. The Governor released his proposal on November 20, which included several policy proposals that were included (but have since sunsetted) in Act 185. In addition, the governor is proposing $541 million in spending to continue the current pandemic response efforts such as COVID-19 testing, contract tracing, capacity support and vaccine distribution.

On December 1, Speaker Vos released a Legislative Fiscal Bureau summary of the Assembly Republican’s COVID-19 plan which includes some proposals from Act 185 and the Governor’s plan, but also several additional policy items, including more local public health workers, funding for electronic devices for schools, payments to parents of children receiving majority virtual instruction, and business grants to the hospitality industry. In addition, the Assembly Republicans proposal would create immunity from civil liability for claims related to COVID-19 for a person (such as a business) who complies with then-applicable federal and state statutes related to COVID-19.

Senate Republicans have yet to release any specific policies from their caucus, saying instead they liked a lot of the Assembly Republican’s ideas. Also, earlier this month Sen. LeMahieu released a statement advising DHS to request a transfer of surplus Medicaid funds to fund state COVID-19 response activities. Governor Evers told the press he is not supportive of using Medicaid funds for this purpose. Funding from the federal CARES legislation expires at the end of the 2020. Wisconsin received $1.9 billion to fund various pandemic response efforts.

Discussions continue to be ongoing regarding another state COVID-19 package. One thing is certain now, however – legislation will not be passed in December.