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The U.S. House chamber, with members socially distanced, shortly after passage of a $2 trillion-plus coronavirus relief bill on March 27, 2020. (C-SPAN) The U.S. House chamber, with members socially distanced, shortly after passage of a $2 trillion-plus coronavirus relief bill on March 27, 2020. (C-SPAN)

The U.S. House chamber, with members socially distanced, shortly after passage of a $2 trillion-plus coronavirus relief bill on March 27, 2020. (C-SPAN)

Haley BeMiller
By Haley BeMiller November 25, 2020

Wisconsin Assembly speaker says state passed one of the first COVID-19 bills, but that’s wrong

If Your Time is short

  • Thirty-six states and territories had adopted or enacted 174 COVID-19-related measures before Evers signed Wisconsin’s relief package. 

  • Evers already had the authority to declare health emergencies, issue orders and spend federal aid before the pandemic hit. The relief bill didn’t add to that.

Gov. Tony Evers and Republican legislative leaders are back at the drawing table after months without speaking to each other in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.

Evers met with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and incoming Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu on Nov. 20, 2020, to discuss the governor’s proposed COVID-19 relief package. The meeting came days after Vos held a news conference to discuss "new legislative initiatives."

The talking and jockeying comes as the state’s case counts continue to rise, with daily deaths topping 100 for the first time on Nov. 24, 2020.

In a Nov. 22, 2020, interview with WKOW, Vos expressed a desire to find common ground with the governor and put politics behind them. But his comments took a partisan tone as he shifted the blame for months of inaction away from Republicans. 

"We passed one of the first (COVID-19) bills in the entire country, empowering Gov. Evers to act," he said. 

Is Vos’ recounting of history correct?

One of the first?

Evers signed a COVID-19 relief package on April 15, 2020, the day it reached his desk and 14 days after Republicans first began drafting legislation and weeks after the governor offered his own proposal to legislative leaders. 

By then, many other states had already begun tackling the pandemic.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 36 states and territories had adopted or enacted 174 COVID-19-related measures by April 14. Nearly 60 were resolutions that didn’t carry the weight of law but handled legislative housekeeping and, in Alabama, urged residents to bump fists instead of shaking hands. 

The remainder were bills that governed the pandemic response in the respective states.

Alaska and Massachusetts changed rules around unemployment benefits. New Jersey banned evictions during public health emergencies. Minnesota and Vermont enacted comprehensive response packages. Several legislatures moved money around to manage the pandemic, while others addressed specific issues such as student meals, price gouging and coverage for telehealth services.

Featured Fact-check

Vos spokeswoman Kit Beyer pointed to the database as evidence for the speaker’s claim, but in reality, it undermines his position.  

Empowering Evers

The rest of Vos’ claim suggests the COVID-19 relief package empowered Evers to act.

"The legislation gave the governor broad authority to respond to the coronavirus and ensured that Wisconsin received more federal dollars, especially in the areas of unemployment insurance and health care (Medicaid) funding," Beyer said.

But this too is off base.

The relief package did facilitate the transfer of CARES Act funds, allowing the state to capture additional federal Medicaid dollars. But $25 million in federal funding for unemployment went out the window because lawmakers didn’t pass a piece of legislation quickly enough.

What’s more, state statute already granted Evers the authority to declare public health emergencies, issue orders and distribute $2 billion in federal dollars without the legislature’s approval. The relief bill didn’t do any of that.

Our ruling

In a recent interview, Vos claimed "we passed one of the first (COVID-19) bills in the entire country, empowering Gov. Evers to act."

This is wrong on both fronts. 

Wisconsin lagged behind many other states in passing COVID-19 legislation, to the point where lawmakers lost out on federal aid for unemployment. And Evers’ ability to manage health emergencies came from state law already in place when the pandemic hit.

We rate Vos’ claim False. 

 

 

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Wisconsin Assembly speaker says state passed one of the first COVID-19 bills, but that’s wrong

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